How “Progress” Makes Us Dumber and More Bigoted

What are due bahar di garofoli?  Where is Moluca?  In trying to navigate Antonio Pigafetta’s Relazione del Primo Viaggio Intorno al Mondo, an uneven account of how Magellan’s small fleet circled the globe, I keep running into such phrases.  The Internet, other than by making an ePub file of the book available for $0.99, proves to be of no help whatever.  I can’t even type the word bahar without Keypad Nanny trying to nip in and “correct” it to Baha’i.  My search of the word garofolo (singular form of the above) insistently proffers the bio, film credits, reviews, etc., etc., of some Hollywood comedian by that name.  The keyword phrase “garofolo in Italian” fared only slightly better.  The comedian again… but also the surfacing of “carnation” as a possibility.  The trouble is that natives of the islands around today’s Indonesia could not have been trading with the Spanish for carnations—bahars and bahars of them—unless the coin of the realm featured that flower as the French piece would a fleur-de-lis.

And please don’t ask what a bahar is.  A former friend’s pleasant Iranian wife bore that name.  The Internet informs us that it means “spring” in Persian and is widely favored when naming daughters.  The area around Indonesia and Java was already largely Islamic by Magellan’s time, as well… but none of this explains bahar as a unit of volume.  Go fish.

I eventually found the Molucca Sea on a map; but Pigafetta refers to an island which he appears variously to call Moluca, Maluca, and Malucca.  Today the main island seems to be spelled Moluka (a perverse bit of virtue-signaling toward nativism, I’m guessing, of the sort that also gives us Beijing instead of Peking and Mumbai instead of Bombay).  Once again, my original search turned up a performer who goes by the tag of Molucca.  In fact, one spelling of the word (and Pigafetta offers vexingly many) brought up two pages devoted to this young black female vocalist.  Well… how young can she be if Magellan’s ships discovered her?

For years, professors would trade stories about students who, in confrontation with a medieval text, would ask, “How did they know about Madonna back then?  I knew she was old, but… wow!”  At some point, the laughter turns to tears… and then the tears turn to a haggard, battle-weary stare… and then your university stops teaching medieval literature in light of its utter irrelevance to modern living.

For long years, too—before 1990, I should say—luminaries of the teaching profession have been heralding the Internet as the greatest educational tool since the pencil.  Youngsters, it was said, would leap from bed to research the orbit of Mars or the historical origin of Halloween.  Most of us realized at the time that the youngster described in this scenario was in fact from Mars, if not a more distant solar system; but a further truth is revealed in my struggles with the Pigafetta text that few foresaw, I think.

The Internet turns out to be a great purveyor of misinformation—not disinformation, as in “fake news”, though it may of course be that, as well; but faking the truth requires conscious effort, whereas the nourishing of numbskulls that I have in mind is an accidental effect.  The most frequent “hits” move to the top.  People type “lesbian” more often than Lesbos these days; so, if you’re trying to translate a passage of Herodotus and don’t pay close attention to Keyboard Nanny, you end up attributing to the entire populace of Ionia a certain deviant sexual practice.  Molucca the vocalist is apparently attracting a following; so, if you attempt to chart the Magellan fleet’s progress, you end up learning a lot about a girl who posts selfies all over the Net.

The design of most search engines does not favor the dissemination of accurate knowledge: it forces upon us a stultifying planification of tastes, where all share a single response when given a cue.

Yes, there are more “scholarly” databases… but my fear is that mis- and disinformation are increasingly making one another’s acquaintance at such locations.  As a scholar, for instance, I have researched Marie de France’s hero Eliduc in databases devoted to literary studies—and I find, over and over, that Sir Eliduc is a philandering swine who would be publicly shamed by the #MeToo movement’s flash mobs if he appeared at the county fair today.  The academy, that is, has itself become so immersed in popular trend that complex factors like the tale’s Celtic provenance, Marie’s interest in Christianizing its pagan elements, and the era’s pronounced taste for allegory in characterization are all brushed aside impatiently.  We’d rather stick with the vocalist and the comedian, even in “higher education”.

There’s a significant sense in which what most people want to be the truth or perceive to be the truth in our e-world becomes The Truth.  Naturally, this has always been so… but it has not always been so to such a degree, it certainly hasn’t been a tendency that dominated the academy in the past as it does now, and it acquires a very strong toxicity when stirred into a democratic republic.  It produces riots and lynch mobs.  My best guess is that the recent spike in young female suicides must be somewhat attributed to the Internet—to its clever, persistent substitution of instantaneous trend (viz., Instagram) for reality.  Young people have no deeper, richer layers of reality to soften the blow when the fragile glass screen where they live develops cracks.  “My God, Madonna is five hundred years old!  Now that the secret’s out, she might as well off herself!”

Just a final word on how the accidental and the conspiratorial can collaborate in the Numbskull Nursery.  I kept referring above to Magellan’s fleet.  That’s because the intrepid explorer himself was slain in the islands that we now know as the Philippines.  What was the “captain general” doing that got him pincushioned by the islanders?  Essentially, trying to convert them to Christianity.  He had succeeded mightily with one group, and then allowed himself to be drawn into that tribe’s rivalry with another.  Pigafetta notes early on that it was a bad idea… but Magellan appears to have been a deeply devout person who sensed a moral obligation in extending God’s grace to poor, naked savages.  That’s not a popular attitude today—but in Magellan, it was most certainly not a cynical bid to dupe a less advanced culture, nor was it prosecuted with open contempt for local traditions.  The man regarded himself as saving the souls of his fellow human beings; and if he was presumptuous in the undertaking, he paid the ultimate price for it.

Our Google world, with its thumbs-up/thumbs-down, toggle-on/toggle-off method of processing facts, readily airbrushes such fine points of motive from the record.  All European explorers were pirates, rapists, and murderers: end of discussion.  All native peoples were children living idyllically in the Garden before Westerners arrived (a trope which the compassionate Columbus’s diaries actually encourage).  Everything European is a force for evil; everything non-Western is as sweet and natural as a cardinal singing in a rose bush.  Not only do the details of individual lives not matter in this reckoning; the oft-repeated pattern of native groups competing with each other to appropriate Western firepower in their own to-the-death internecine struggles disappears from the picture.  We are left simply with the caricatures of a cartoon.

And while such stereotyping occurs as an incidental misfortune attendant upon search engines and keyword phrases, we see daily now how unscrupulously it is manipulated in academe and the political world (if there’s any difference between the two).  Mass guilt without any context is uncritically dished out in classrooms so as to encourage tribalism.  The young are as susceptible to being co-opted into a “voter bloc”—black, Latino, white-hating Caucasian—as they are to burning their spare cash in pursuit of the coolest sneakers.  We hear about “dog whistles” now—and the people who sling the phrase about most vituperatively seem to be the very people most invested in teaching their constituency how to bark.  A black woman, a gay Latino: you gotta vote for that person unless you’re a racist piece of crap.  Hashtag ImVirtuous.

Are any of those Spice Islands taking Western refugees, I wonder?

A Plea and a Warning About Our Dying Religious Holidays

What I am most thankful for during the holiday of Thanksgiving is always the thing I dare not name until after its completion: my son’s visit.  Now that he has safely landed back in Denver, I may say that I’m greatly relieved at his having secured a good job—paying half again as much as I ever earned, and no thanks to his costly Bachelor’s degree—and that I am deeply grateful that he traveled safely.  This species of “gratitude”, to be sure, has more than a little of the heathen about it.  Solon lectured Croesus a long time ago on the risks of declaring any man happy before his span on earth is finished; and the Irish have a saying, Mol an lá um trathnóna (“Praise the day at sundown”) which speaks to the same point.

As Ruth Finnegan says, we’re all pretty much the same underneath our thin veneer of literate conditioning: still a bunch of nervous primates watching out for the next tawny pair of predator’s ears in the tall grass.  And our civilized surfaces grow thinner by the hour, it seems.  If there’s one habit my beloved boy brings home with him that I would as soon see left at the airport, it’s his taste in television fare.  I’m not being theatrical or “snowflakey” when I declare that the level of grotesque violence in movies—and these, to boot, advertised as “comedies”—offends me almost to the boiling point.  Mayhem is not a source of amusement; it was not so even for our caveman progenitors.  Perhaps I am particularly irritable on this subject because of the self-righteous outcry against private possession of firearms that issues from Hollywood as steadily as smog from the streets of LA.  If there are indeed governable influences in play behind most of our mass-shootings, then the desensitization to the pain of others purveyed by the film industry’s blood-porn must rank at the top of the list.  Seldom can this brutality be squeezed behind the fig leaf of realism.  It is a luridly stylized and highly staged orgy, rather, of mauling and maiming, with all the human agony removed.

I know of no words adequate to describe the spiritual squalor of the anomic parasites who grind out such utterly debased and irredeemable “amusement”.  In their company, whores are saints.

On a related but less oppressive note, I was also somewhat dumbfounded by the volume of wholly “pagan” advertising that has clustered around the approach of Christmas.  Yes, I well know that I am naive to be thus surprised.  My wife and I consume perhaps an hour of TV daily (much of it divided between couples flipping houses and the Weather Channel).  Football, a game I now despise for more reasons than ever before, has an attraction for my lad and turns out to be an ideal vehicle for commercial breaks numerous and lengthy (Reason 28 for why I hate the game).  I won’t bore you—or torment myself—by trying to give a full account of all the car ads (speaking of vehicles), electronics ads, and home-improvement ads that washed over my eardrums this past weekend.  I will say as follows: a visitor from another world might be forgiven for supposing that Black Friday and the adipose graybeard belching out, “Ho, ho, ho!” are integrally related and fundamental to some impending celebration.

Or let me put it this way, very bluntly—for I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else volunteering an insight quite the same as the one that at last settled upon me.  The degree of commercialism in our Christmas season has grown obscene: no originality in that observation.  The counter-cultural forces in Hollywood, academe, the news room, and the board room have made the time look almost as grotesque as do those blood-red “comedies” aired abundantly over the same weeks.  One might have supposed that the board room, at least, would have an interest in sparing capitalism the bludgeoning it receives from other quarters… but capitalist marketers have taken almost to parodying the “greed” drive of consumerism (in the same way that bullet-riddled bodies are now so cliché as to be comic).  A few of us realize, as well, that big business is no friend to free enterprise—that the corporatism mingling the DNA of Big Auto and Big Com Tech with Big Government is probably happy enough to hear college professors trashing fair, open competition.

So here’s my climatic insight for the morning.  As our counter-cultural progressive elite has systematically purged Thanksgiving and Christmas of their religious significance, it has of necessity driven those occasions deeper and deeper into an unsavory secularist pit of loud hucksterism.  In other words, the thing most hated by the political Left about our major Christian holidays is a quality largely generated by its own “demystifying” of them.  The more we take Christ out of Christmas, the more we see of Ho-Ho steering his red BMW with the help of a GPS on his smartphone.

To the young, a plea… or a warning: you won’t reduce the vulgarity in our moribund culture by turning your back on religious holidays.  You will, on the contrary, enhance that terminal vulgarity by forgetting that the holidays have a religious foundation.  Don’t let the producers, the professors, the broadcasters, and the marketers fool you: the coarseness lies in their neutering of a mystical time, not in the time’s primitive, outdated mystery.

The Complexity of “Thankfulness” in Our Time

Thanksgiving is an odd holiday here in America, or has become so within my lifetime.  We no longer seem to know quite what to do with it.  In origin, it is profoundly religious.  Well… we don’t exactly inhabit a post-religious society, inasmuch as our utopian progressivism is a very active cult demanding constant and delirious sacrifices; but we certainly don’t buy into the faith of the Founders.

Then there’s the occasion’s political dimension—and we’re extremely uncomfortable with that because, you know, the so-called Pilgrims were genocidal racists waiting in the weeds for their native hosts to let their guard down a bit.  Sure enough, I noticed that one major university has scheduled something like a day of mourning (to ask forgiveness of the non-existent god?) by way of initiating its young charges into the tradition.  Who says we’ve forgotten our past!

My own religious convictions dissuade me from being thankful for circumstantial comforts.  To say that I give thanks for my family’s health would imply (it seems to me) that other families struggling with disease or injury have received less from God; and it would further imply that the Grim Reaper’s being kept from our door a little longer is a great boon.  How does a notion like that jibe with a claimed belief in the spirit’s eternal life and the beatitude of spirits who seek God’s will?

I am thankful, let me say, for the little shocks I have absorbed in retiring to a rural farm (or to a wild hill that, I hope, may become an orchard).  I made mistakes, and I took some knocks for them.  Just yesterday I literally ended up on my face in the mud.  But one is kept humble by such pats on the back, and one also learns to respect the concurrent reality of the surrounding world—the sun and the rain, the stars and the shifting winds.  One doesn’t run around like a maenad (ancient Greece’s answer to Chicken Little) because Climate Change Is Going to Kill Us All; one understands something of where food comes from, of how cycles interlace, of why certain menaces get out of hand, and so forth.  I know now, for example, that my fruit trees will go brown about the edges if the soil isn’t draining sufficiently beneath them; and I have lately read, by the way, that the slight increase of CO2 in the air has actually allowed vegetation around the globe to prosper robustly.  What does it say about your environmental bona fides when you can’t rejoice in that discovery, but must instead hurriedly throw up statistical and rhetorical sandbags until you figure out how to cast the vegetation boom as a dire omen?

I love getting up every morning with eagerness to do more work and see what surprises are in store for me, even though my “up” is sometimes more horizontal than vertical until the muscles thaw out.  I’m thankful that my daily routine no longer consists heavily of tasks which, in my heart of hearts, appear to me likely to do more harm than good to the world.  I passed too many of those years.

I thank God that such rays of light have finally found me—and that so much such light has entered my life just as my time on earth nears its final laps.  Now, as for the political dimension of the holiday…

I am not thankful that a public servant of the stature of Steve Stockman can be sentenced to ten years of prison for a dubious campaign finance violation (punished typically by single-digit months) because he blew the whistle on Eric Holder’s murderous Fast and Furious gambit.  No, I’m not thankful that a political hack appointed to the bench by the opposition party can crucify this man and then taunt him after sentencing.

I’m not thankful that other political carniceros disguised in black robes can make a mockery of democratic elections by ignoring the letter of the law to admit boxes and boxes of tardily, mysteriously surfacing paper ballots.  I’m not thankful that the notion of an independent judiciary, so crucial to the republic’s health, is now such a quaint antiquity that appointments even to the highest bench in the land have all the order, objectivity, and dignity of a rugby scrum.

Pardon my thanklessness, too, for our ever-expanding freedom to dispose of babies at ever-later stages of development.  Though a pencil and a calendar would suffice to remove any risk of perhaps murdering a tiny creature with a soul—and let us nudge the “perhaps” needle to one chance in a thousand, for the incredulous—my heart does not well with gratitude that my fellow citizens need, say, a one-in-two probability of being murderers to introduce just a bit of control into their “sex lives”.  The same people who won’t buy a soccer ball because it was stitched in a Third World sweatshop will deny a thousand times that a “lump of cells” contains the spark of life rather than sleep with their panties on three nights out of thirty.  Why should I be thankful for the plague of having their like as neighbors?

I’m certainly not grateful that “entertainers” and “celebrities” advertise their abortions as badges of glory or punch-lines in Satanic jokes; and I’m not grateful that large audiences appear to applaud them and cry for more.

Absolutely no thanks whatever for news media that advance a Tweet to front-page or top-of-the-hour urgency while utterly ignoring… oh, let’s say the influence upon California’s raging fires of tent cities raised by wandering indigents or environmental legislation that insanely inhibits forest management.  No thanks to these interning propagandists who hear in the Hogg urchin’s latest ignorant eruption of contempt for his elders the voice of the Pythian Apollo, but who have allowed the truth behind the Las Vegas mass-execution of innocents to become a cold case.

Thankful, am I, that one may no longer say “he” or “she” on many college campuses—but that any attempt to discuss the activities of former Nazi collaborator and ongoing cultural saboteur George Soros is denounced as an “anti-Semitic dog whistle”?  Did you fully process that?  I may not refer to you with a “gendered pronoun” lest your tender feelings wince and wither—but you may call me, not just an anti-Semite, but a sub-human mutt if I wish to denounce the man who almost bought off my gubernatorial election for an overt socialist.

Oh, and let me give thanks that a Soros may legally wade into our election process to the tune of tens of millions, but a Stockman or a Dinesh D’Souza does hard time for perhaps bending the rules by a thousand or two.  On second thought… no thanks.

And more ingratitude, I fear, for the “educated” young whose ears are protected from “offensive” exchanges, and who therefore flock to support Bernie because he’s cool, Octavio-Cortez because she’s cute, and any socialist because… well, social media are the most important thing in life.

A quick prayer of no-thanks for the patronizing system that forces me to subscribe to insurance I don’t want in my declining years (but, remember, I’m only a dog that must be forced to visit the vet) and then hits me with a bill for the unwanted coverage—proceeds of which go to subsidizing illegal residents in hopes of buying their illegal votes.

I could turn the cranberry sauce into a block of ice with the full blast of thanklessness in my heart.  It is all directed, however, toward the butchers of a free society that allowed our forefathers to fail, to learn, and to grow.  As a national holiday, Thanksgiving has become for me more sterile and bitter than for those who claim to feel the pain of the Iroquois.  Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that America’s natives preferred a starving, freezing death on their depleted hunting grounds to accepting handouts from the Great White Father.  I wonder how they would have liked the fully overhauled USA?

Four Stages of Pathological Race-Relations—the Last Being Fatal (Part IV)

Earlier, I neglected to christen the first stage of degenerative race relations because I could arrive at nothing better in my auditions than the hideous tag, Rivalry Transfer.  (I hate these noun pairs, so common in current academe, where the leader is forced to become an adjective: “race relations”, of course, is one such.)  I’ll surrender to Rivalry Transfer at last, just because it’s accurate.  Say that two groups are economic rivals; the more socially embedded and (usually) larger group notices some superficial characteristic about the other; then the former group’s deep animosity is transferred to the latter’s surface, and “their slanty eyes” or “their kinky hair” absorbs much casual outrage for the loss of  jobs.

Next we have the defense of the beleaguered minority by established authorities.  I called this phase is paternalistic.  It may also be genuinely racist, as I have argued.  While the “hair-haters” were simple bigots who never put much thought into their response, the paternalists are often fully convinced, after careful consideration, that the “inferior tribe” cannot survive on its own and requires benign steering.

Unfortunately, when one leans on a shoulder in politics, one is apt to find oneself in a choke-hold.  Yesterday’s paternalists, though their condescending motives may have rooted in a warm heart, readily pass the generational baton to manipulators who sustain—or perhaps extend—the sub-class’s misery in order to ensure its support at election time.  A ruinous dependency develops, like a woman’s upon an abusive husband who, however, keeps her well supplied in food and clothes.  This New Subjugation is worse than literal slavery in that the latter offers the possibility of exit, whereas the former is a sealed labyrinth—a dizzying swirl of never-fulfilled promises.

So must this third stage not be the final one?  For where can you proceed from a sealed labyrinth?  Nowhere, from the inside.  The next “advance” is the most deadly in society’s degenerative descent, and it comes from without.  The Subjugationist’s political adversaries have grown ever more vexed at the privileged existence of the “underprivileged”.  Nursed along in dependency by their keepers, they harvest subsidies for food, housing, medical services, and education, and are even regaled with such luxuries as cell phones and televisions… yet (or for that very reason) they never seem to draw any closer to self-sufficiency.  All the while, the mainstream Joe sees his taxes rise as his company is penalized by Equal Opportunity laws, his children nudged from elite colleges or jobs by Affirmative Action… and, to his credit, he understands in his better moments that the paternalist pimp has designed this game, not the pawns shuffled about among select minorities.  Yet those better moments inevitably grow fewer as taxes continue to rise and opportunities to shrink.

The icing on the proverbial cake—or, more accurately, the last slap in the face—is the open contempt to which Joe is constantly treated in public media on account of his resentment.  He is a racist, a bigot, a Nazi, a Hitler, without any of the rigor being sought for these unsavory terms that I have tried to give them in my essays.  He would be Satan if the reference were not placed off limits by his defamers’ longstanding habit of mocking his religious tradition.  As he is plundered, then, he is also demeaned.  (I’ll always remember having “little Richard Nixon!” hissed at my heels because, as an undergraduate in Austin, I passed a booth dedicated to the Black Panthers without ponying up a dollar.  At the time, every thread on my body was several years old.)

The cynical manipulators of the New Subjugation view this rising tension with satisfaction, I am convinced, and apply themselves to seeing that the prisoners within their labyrinth perceive it as a further need for protection.  Gun confiscation, for instance, is a prominent item on the agenda, not because a single mother or a septuagenarian retiree wouldn’t welcome an equalizer when climbing a crime-ridden apartment complex’s stairs, but because… because “they” are training to exterminate “you” with their assault rifles—those white Klansmen and neo-Nazis who number in the millions but are craftily staying low for now.  The Subjugationists, in short, keep their constituency in a state of constant paranoia.

Anyone can see that this stage promises to be fatal to society if not somehow amended.  I will call it the Stage of Engineered Conflict.  To be sure, friction occurs at every phase of strained race relations—but now it is being bred deliberately by those who wish to profit from it.

And the profit isn’t paid merely in the coin of elective sinecures—the automatically renewed terms in office enjoyed by the likes of Alcee Hastings (before his utter disgrace), Maxine Waters, and Sheila Jackson Lee.  Perhaps these worthies, themselves risen from the “victim class” to bask in money and power for the rest of their time on this earth, are quite content to see the arrangement stabilized.  The true Subjugationist, however (what one might call the New Kentucky Colonel—an old-style paternalist in his rhetoric, but a visionary with world domination fluttering in his dreams), must surely have a grander endgame.  He is almost always a white male of almost inconceivable wealth: a profiteer of the tech revolution, maybe, whose hunger has long outgrown 20,000-square-foot mansions and Ferrari collections.  He would be God… but the republic stands in his way.  To complete his design for perfecting the human race (notice that the crazed paternalism lingers), he needs an indefinite suspension of elections.  The two- and four-year cycles of silliness that forever hamper his Plan for Progress must somehow be swept away.

How better to do this than to precipitate a race war?  Rioting in the streets, looting on a national scale… the calling out of the National Guard, which is transformed overnight into a National Police Force… the declaration of martial law and indefinite suspension of free elections… now we can stop cutting bait, and begin to fish.

The beauty of the scheme is that both of the openly hostile parties—the “us” and “them”, the Klansmen and the Black Panthers—can only draw the noose tighter around their neck the more they struggle.  The mainstream taxpayer demands relief.  In doing so, he is in effect cutting off the lifeline to the dependent classes.  These classes, of course, see the mainstream’s stinginess as a poorly veiled effort to eradicate them… and the temperature rises.  Since serious budgetary issues are never addressed (for even large sectors of the mainstream have been wooed with paternalist goodies), the nation continues to spiral toward insolvency.  Collapse is inevitable.

And the first to starve in a cold tenement or to be shot down while looting will, of course, be members of the underclass—the unproductive dependents whose votes are no longer needed, stabbed in the back by the Designer who had protected them so artfully for so long.  But their destruction is all in a good cause: to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.  Or, in that more elegant phrasing of the same sentiment by Lenin’s spiritual forefather, better that one should die than that many should suffer.

May we revise Caiaphas’ profound reflection to read, “Better that many should suffer than that the Superior Being never rise from their ruin”?  Onward, humanity!  Meanwhile, just deposit those rioters in a collective grave: the cemetery’s space is needed, and their individual lives were a public nuisance, anyway.

Four Stages of Pathological Race-Relations—the Last Being Fatal (Part III)

From what I know of history, “unwelcome” minorities who arrive in a community to compete for jobs with native residents are, as one can easily imagine, quickly bonded into self-defensive structures.  Whether Welsh coal miners or Italian stevedores or Irish bricklayers, the intruders respond to the hostility that greets their “invasion” of a local economy by forming their own enclaves, both on and off the job.  The assimilation that eventually takes place should not be romanticized as a few evening classes in English and a happy afternoon at the public park hunting Easter eggs with the city mayor’s children.

Life gets hard at these times—both for the immigrants seeking a fresh start and for the residents seeking to hold on to what they have.  The results of such conflict are seldom happy over the short term.  Yet fusion does, historically, occur within a generation or two.  In the meantime, the formation of mini-collectives among ethnic minorities can wreak great damage on a democratic republic, I believe.  Groups emerge without any official political identity, yet which effectively constitute solid blocs of votes where independent thinking disappears.  I will not mince words, either, in saying that an admission of too many immigrant groups too quickly leads to the appearance of too many such collectivist subsets.  With Irish voting only for Irish, the corrupt Daly dynasty was able to rise and rule in Chicago, where it still enjoys immense influence.  Poles traditionally voted for other Poles in the local elections of Pennsylvania steel country, just as a Spanish surname is of great help to any candidate in most of the desert Southwest.  An Irishman severely menaced the re-election of a legitimately Latin senator in Texas last week by draping himself in a Spanish-sounding sobriquet and playing to the immigrant audience’s sense of obligation to preserve solidarity.

Now, the black experience is distinctly different from these generational tug-of-wars in the degree of paternalism mingled with it.  “Beto” was trying to be both the boy from the barrio and the great white defender (after the fashion of Dan O’Connell in the old country); his would-be constituency of resettled Mexicans was perhaps suspicious of the latter.  As freedmen entered the work force in the late nineteenth century, however, they were usually dependent upon the patronage of some benign white figure who would secure their basic rights in return for support at the polls.  In the South, this grandee might be an ex-Confederate (the stereotypical Kentucky Colonel) who was simply trying to preserve peace in a small town; in the North, a population of freedmen would perhaps make common cause with more politically formidable—but still minority-bound—ethnic factions.  Though such strictures as literacy tests would long limit black participation in elections farther south, a tradition of patronage seems to have evolved up north between the politics of labor-unionism, extensive urban services, welfare relief, etc., and the black vote.  A vote for a Democrat in Boston or Philadelphia was a vote for more labor laws, higher taxes on the wealthy… and more money for black schools and housing.

(To this day, Republicans point to Lincoln’s party affiliation with false naïveté; they surely know full well that the Hubert Humphrey Democrat was not the George Wallace Democrat.  For that matter, Mr. Lincoln did not free those slaves he might have released at a stroke of his mighty pen, and his Proclamation was at least partly a license for Northern commanders to recruit more warm bodies into their depleted ranks as they cut a “liberating” swath deep into the South… but no more of that here.  Let rhetoric bury rhetoric.)

I would consider this scenario to be Stage Two of our nation’s eventually lethal race relations: the Paternalistic Stage.  The Irish, the Poles, and the Italians didn’t need an external, somewhat artificial patron: they clipped out their own supermen from their own cloth.  Before long, as well, their ethnic nurseries were producing leaders across the political spectrum as something like full assimilation was accomplished.  The same Emerald Isle that gave us Joe Kennedy and his boys (along with their family friend, Joe McCarthy) was also forefather to William F. Buckley (and his brother James, the senator).  Sam Alito and the late Antonin Scalia represent the Italian Catholic heritage at least as well as the Cuomo clan… and, of course, we have that enigmatic ideological mongrel, Rudy Giuliani: the big-government, pro-family patriot.

The “pro-family” card is the crucial trump that became tragically shuffled out of the deck in the case of America’s blacks—for Stage Two leads directly to Stage Three.  White political patronage of blacks “who couldn’t look out for themselves” (as my grandmother, the Virginia aristocrat, would have insisted) left the door wide open to abuse.  My sense as an amateur historian rather than a trained one (if that distinction exists any longer) is that Two shifted to Three quite decisively with LBJ’s Great Society initiatives.  I have read that the percentage of black children being reared in traditional two-parent households was in fact slightly higher than the white figure before Lyndon Johnson’s surge of “charity”.

The welfare state changed all of that.  Simply for having babies, women could be paid an annual income from the state’s largesse that catapulted them into middle-class consumerism (if not into the middle-class lifestyle).  My own experience of volunteer-coaching in a black community about fifteen years ago placed me amid mothers of three and four children, all by a different father, who drove vehicles twice the cost of mine and harvested all of their meals from costly drive-thru’s.  One is immediately branded a racist simply for making such observations as this—even when one’s accusers have never volunteered an hour to serve “the oppressed”; but the numbers speak for themselves.  At present, with $1,500 of Medicaid per child per month (one source tells me that the correct figure is now $1,700), a mother of four would log an annual income of $72,000.  My highest salary after thirty years of teaching didn’t reach two thirds of the way to this peak.

The Paternalistic State thus graduates to a successor that might be called the New Subjugation.  Blacks develop almost total dependency upon state subsidies.  The victims of this new servitude are numerous, and the degree of sabotage in their lives often diabolical.  Adults do not learn job skills, having left high school early to tend to the growing nest of chicks or, at most, exiting an inferior high school without prospects of college.  The schools themselves, located in communities where a single parent supervises the children’s homework—and she with minimal education—have little chance of producing scholars yet are allowed, by various devious means, to ratchet up testing scores so that everyone in the system may dodge the dreaded “racist” charge.  The children, in turn, have too much time on their hands in an environment with too little to stimulate young minds healthily.  One sees a girl over here carrying her first child while herself still possessing no more than a child’s understanding of life—not to mention a child’s physique.  (Females who conceive too early are apt to have babies—dare I write it?—with lower IQ’s.)  Over there, a boy tries to figure out how to be male in a world where men don’t support their families and are viewed with contempt by the matriarchy, which only wants their semen.

The black male’s plight in the New Subjugation may indeed be worst of all.  Medicaid sends him no monthly payment, and society—both the ghetto’s and the broader community’s—views him as walking jail bait.  Yet with no skills and hemmed in by distrust, what can he do to achieve any level of self-sufficiency other than peddle illegal drugs or hot cars?  Once in a blue moon, he has sufficient athletic talent to earn big bucks in a professional league (almost always a basketball or football league; baseball requires too much instruction, and such instruction would have required the presence of a dad who never appeared on the scene).  Even should he succeed here, his glory days may be very brief and chased by pure misery; for he has never learned how to handle money, and he likely has a good half-dozen women demanding child support of him.  (I happened to hear lately of an unmarried college football star who has already fathered five bairns.  A black student once told me that girls fling themselves at the boys as soon as they show any sign of athletic promise, hoping for a future payday.)

Now, I do not claim that all the white “protectors” who have created this nightmare were not holdovers from the more benign Paternalistic Stage.  I have no way of placing a percentage on the level of cynical exploitation; neither does anyone else.  Even the more innocent of the paternalists, though, are all too often guilty of “virtue-signaling”: i.e., of shielding the “oppressed and underprivileged” from hard realities not because they care directly about victims, but because they immensely enjoy the guise—the flattering pose—of caring.

Yet some significant percentage of the Subjugation’s architects embraces truly diabolical objectives.  These enablers have seduced the black community into permanent dependency the way a pimp would like to lure a rich john into a sex addiction.  On the one hand, the professional manipulators have an eternally dedicated voting bloc—a mass of lockstep supporters whose true welfare they can ignore year after year without consequence; and on the other, they have public coffers whose depth, as they tell their ignorant and subjugated constituency, has no limit, and whose treasures are being refused only because wealthy adversaries refuse to share and share alike.  Needless to say, the adversaries are white.

It is at this evolutionary point in society’s journey, when race should really be a negligible factor in an individual’s success, that it suddenly becomes foregrounded and magnified to a battlecry.  And a battle indeed seems inevitable, under present circumstances: I shall save the exploration of that sad state for a final ramble.

Four Stages of Pathological Race-Relations—the Last Being Fatal (Part II)

In Part I, I didn’t actually get around to identifying the first of the four pathological stages of race relations.  It was implicit, however, in my definitions.  The touchpoint for the first stage is economic competition: too many people scrambling for too few jobs.  If the rivals break down into easily distinguishable groups—and especially if one of these groups has enjoyed a long run of full employment in a given sector, only to be “invaded” suddenly by Johnny-come-lately outsiders—then you have the recipe for major racial friction.

This scenario would fit handily under my definition of bigotry.  If little overt bigotry existed against freedmen in the Northern states before the Civil War (and I confess to having made no particular study of the matter), this is simply because the industrial North as yet drew few such freedmen into mills and factories.  What training the latter brought with them from the South had been acquired on the farm; and, in any case, a layer of genuine racism would have prevented blacks from working in such close proximity with whites.  Racism as pure ignorance of the Other doesn’t necessarily have a prognosis as lethal as bigotry’s, believe it or not—and here I must ask that you buy into my definitions rather than embrace the clamor of popular culture.  Racism of the, “Dear God, they eat dogs and wear nose rings!” type (in other words), tends to wear away with time and exposure.  The early Mormons thought the rarely seen African specimen of humanity to be the devil’s brood.  Quakers, whose denomination was rather densely embedded in border states like Kentucky, were dedicated abolitionists.

Hence I tend to suppose that, while the North was no haven for freedmen, their greatest disadvantage there in antebellum days was perhaps a high-risk kind of exoticism.  I have many times cited the complacent response of Pennsylvania residents to Alexis de Tocqueville that no black man voting in one of their local elections would have returned home alive; and I’ve also frequently related Richard Robert O’Madden’s experience of returning from Mass at a black church in 1830’s New York only to see his black Catholic friend almost stoned to death in the streets for daring such hospitality.  These were not insignificant matters.  My purpose here, however, is to trace how race relations have degenerated to a point where they now threaten our survival as a democratic republic.  I can discern no staircase of causes from the chatter of Tocqueville’s racist informants or the prickliness of New York’s apartheid to our present plight.  Those conditions and the sentiments behind them were, in fact, a source whose waters quickly petered out under no influence more profound than time and custom.

No, the dominant, red-hot bigotry one would have observed in a Northern industrial center around 1850 was directed at the Irish.  The Potato Famines of the mid- and late-Forties (the blight attacked the potato for more than one season) pried perhaps two million Irish peasants from their homeland.  Not a few had their passage paid—one-way—by landlords eager to shift from tenantry to some more progressive form of agriculture; the same “incentive” distracted the British government from any attempt to extend adequate relief.  The new immigrants, then, arrived with spite at their heels and spite in their faces.  They would do practically any work for any wage under any conditions.  To more settled Americans, they might as well have been animals—as, indeed, they were portrayed by the popular press.  The original “apeman” in our popular culture was not a black freedman but an Irish Paddy.  To be sure, he was genetically Caucasian; but his dress and grooming (or sad lack thereof) set him distinctly apart from third- or fourth-generation American laborers of English and German extraction still somewhat molded by a Puritan ethic, and his Gaelic gibberish leaked into a broken, thickly accented English that left him almost as identifiable as a dark epidermis would have done.

I see little evidence that the educational establishment spends much time laying before our children the complexities of bigotry in our national past.  On the contrary, the North is a beacon of justice and equality, while only in the South does one find one race despising another because of superficial traits.  This isn’t the occasion to analyze the various roles played by slaves in the lives of their owners; but the plantation owner with hundreds of wretched souls to grind beneath his autocratic boot is, of course, a further caricature that captures little of Southern reality.  And to the present point… even the most sadistic masters (they indeed existed, though in statistically tiny numbers) did not loathe their “possessions” as competitors after a livelihood.  They viewed them and treated them, in the worst cases, as sub-human—but were also capable of tending to their needs as they tended to their horses and hunting dogs.  A variety of cognitive consonance surely works within such inhumanity: you can’t treat people like animals and sleep at night, that is to say, unless you convince yourself that they are so.  Again, this sort of “philosophy”, hideous though it is, tends to have a brief shelf-life.  As an explanation for the rumbling racial powderkeg upon which we sit in the twenty-first century, it’s ludicrously inept; yet it receives endless attention in our classrooms in that very capacity, while the parallel racism of the North is airbrushed from the record.

And in the matter of suppressed history, it is perhaps worth a passing mention that the Spanish ruling class adopted this superior posture toward African slaves in the Caribbean—with a vengeance.  (O’Madden’s commentary upon the flagrantly illegal, fabulously profitable slave market in Havana during his ambassadorship turns the stomach.)  Yet Spain is excoriated in academe only for her treatment of native populations in Central and South America; and when the genetic and intellectual heirs of the conquistadors nesting in plush Cuernavaca send their racially mingled masses northward to release pressure from a disastrous economy, we who protest are branded “racist against Hispanics”.  If such a thing as an “Hispanic race” exists, it certainly wouldn’t be represented genetically by most of the migrants, refugees, and adventurers straying into our territory!

Back to bigotry and Stage One: African Americans would “graduate” to being recipients of genuine bigotry after Emancipation, when white manual laborers were now locked in a mortal struggle with them for very limited employ throughout the ravaged South.  It was the more benign sort of racist aristocrat (exemplified in Part I by my beloved but thoroughly Southern grandmother) who sought to intervene between the two groups.  Legendary Confederate guerilla leader John Mosby (my grandmother’s distant cousin) even campaigned on behalf of Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential bid shortly after the surrender, realizing that the alternative to making peace with the Union was a descent into base anarchy.  Many of those statues being hauled down by mobs of semi-literate, self-righteous vandals today were dedicated to just such mediators.  The rioters have in fact reduced themselves to the temperamental level of the Ku Klux Klan, a force whose influence would eventually strangle that of the peacemakers by the century’s turn.

And as the tormented twentieth century grew from a homicidal infancy to a genocidal adolescence, blacks naturally decided to stream from the South into Northern industrial cities like Chicago and Detroit—where they were treated to the reception given to the Irish masses about a century earlier.  How many young college graduates today have heard of Detroit’s white-on-black race riots—not those of 1967, but those of 1943, when northward-shifted blacks eager to participate in the ramped-up war economy were beaten down by 6,000 National Guard troops? How many college graduates have heard of those times? One in a thousand?  Of course not.  One in a hundred thousand?  Just maybe… but not likely.

Such is Stage One.  You hate anyone who makes your survival more difficult (the way, for instance, that I hate my nation’s government as I try to live in retirement: a story for another day).  You can grow paranoid hating everyone who casts a shadow at either elbow, however: misery loves company, and we have a natural attraction to those suffering through a similar predicament.  If we can therefore find neighbors who share in our affliction and dress, speak, and look as we do, we feel that we have allies in the cause.  It’s “us versus them”; and if “they” happen to have red hair or dark skin to go with their odd accent or patois, so much the easier to rally round the flag.

Of course, the minority thus targeted seems bound to sense and respond to the same self-preservative pressures.  One can well imagine how black people would come do dislike white people in such an economic melee… yet, historically, I haven’t found that to happen at this point.  I don’t entirely understand why.  Perhaps direct experience of being on the bottom makes one more sympathetic to the panic of those who feel themselves slipping to the bottom.  In any case, the whipping up of minority antagonism against the oppressive majority appears actually to occur somewhat after—even long after—the majority has ceased to be significantly oppressive.  We’ll observe that toxic fruit starting to blossom at a later stage.

Four Stages of Pathological Race-Relations—the Last Being Fatal (Part I)

This is an issue that “white folks” tend to steer well clear of… but I think it’s time for me to share some observations.  In fact, my thoughts may run on for a couple of weeks.  I have no particular plan for how to lay them out tidily.

The near-election of a rabid socialist to the governorship of Georgia (as of this moment, she has not conceded and the result remains somewhat in doubt) all because—and only because—she is a “black female” is, to me, a clear indication of how our republic might finally collapse.

Another influence pressing me from quite a different quarter is a book manuscript, mostly composed eighteen years ago, that I decided to dust off in the belief that it would offer welcome distraction.  It has done anything but that.  I had collected a mass of statistics once upon a time that seemed to indicate a distinct bureaucratic and managerial bias against black baseball players of the late Fifties and early Sixties.  The subject interested me because a) I enjoy studying history, b) I enjoy baseball as it was played in those days of yore, c) I find that cultural backwaters like sporting events can shed a broad light their society, and d) I have encountered much prejudice (against the honest, the chivalrous, the shy, the reserved) having nothing to do with pigmentation yet very impactful upon personal lives.

Enough of that.  Let it suffice for now that I was shocked by the difficulties I suddenly felt in and around the subject.  Two decades ago, I do not recall encountering them.  Now I am bedeviled, as I proofread my manuscript (a very well written one, if I do say so), by the sense of being another white scholar taking the podium on behalf of mute black men and indicting my race’s treatment of theirs.  I loathe that sort of theatrical self-canonization.  “Hear me, O World, as I deplore my tribe’s conduct.  Though I have not sinned as they, I will wear sackcloth and do public penance for them because… why, because I’m so humble and generous.  If only humanity numbered more people like me in its miserable ranks….”

I have taken the utmost editorial pains to avoid playing that note; and in doing so, I know that I will probably have distanced the book from the very people—the pampered white elite of quasi-academic sociology circles who have strangely taken over the sports page—most likely to buy it.  They won’t like my emphasizing that racial bias almost always provides superficial cover for other stresses or fears that human flesh is heir to.  They want a straightforward “good guy/bad guy” approach to the issue (yes, that’s today’s academy) where “racism” is merely the province of wicked people going about their wicked daily business.

I’m already nearing the end of my writer’s stamina for one morning, at least with regard to this matter.  So allow me to dedicate the final half of Wednesday’s post to simple definitions.  I placed “racism” in quotes just now.  The word is horribly abused.  Let’s begin with “prejudice”.

A medical doctor of my acquaintance is prejudiced against black personnel.  He will no longer hire any under normal circumstances.  This isn’t because he is a racist.  In fact, people of various races currently work for him; but young black technicians, in particular, have shown themselves apt to slap down the “racial discrimination” card if they receive a bad review or are terminated, and the expense of fighting such suits could reduce his practice to bankruptcy.  He can’t really determine from an interview whether a candidate would adopt this strategy in a crunch—and, along with the sexual harassment option, it’s an easy stratagem for any young female of color to deploy.  (Hiring females is inevitable in this doctor’s specialty; but in other fields, they, too, are lately being passed over for the same reason.)  Why should my acquaintance risk putting himself and everyone on his payroll out of a job in order to “do the right thing”?  I’m sure he is fully aware that his prejudice is quite unfair to many individual job-seekers.  The realities of our litigious society, however, force him to be practical.

Prejudice against a certain race, then, isn’t a good thing—but we have collectively created an environment where it may be the lesser of two evils.  People have to survive, and the mere charge of discrimination can be deadly to a business.

The vast amount of what is styled racism in our media in fact belongs under the heading of bigotry.  The bigot has no coherent ideology that induces him to avoid or denigrate people of another race, but neither is his prejudice of the practical sort exemplified in the doctor’s case.  His aversion, rather, is all feeling.  He doesn’t like “those people”: he may even detest them.  Now, there are reasons for the detestation—but he hasn’t thought them through, and may not even be aware that they exist.  Perhaps he or a relative was mugged and robbed by “one of them”, or perhaps “they” have begun competing with him in the area where he seeks to procure his economic survival.  C. Vann Woodward attributed most of the animosity that Klansmen and their communities directed toward freed slaves to the newfound ability of the latter to perform the same blue-collar labor as the former, and usually for a lower wage.  Among the white ballplayers who closed ranks against Jackie Robinson in the late Forties, an anguishing concern that a new wave of talent would steal their jobs away stirred most of their enmity.  That their rivals had the superficially distinguishing characteristic of darker skin allowed them to concentrate a vague unease upon something very observable—and most, as I say, carried the examination no farther.

If I represent the bigot as somewhat deserving of pity, it’s because I often find him so.  The black ballplayers who contributed their testimony to Jackie’s anthology, Baseball Has Done It, were themselves keenly aware that the men they aspired to replace had families to feed, and more than a few of them accepted hostility with a certain compassion.

Where does that leave the true racist—when is that word justified whose hissing sound greets those of us overheard protesting the elitist, oligarchic political visions of Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams, and (apparently) Oprah Winfrey?  Layer upon layer of irony awaits us here.  Perhaps the most sincere racist I have ever personally know was my grandmother, who was also the most loving, generous, self-sacrificing person ever to walk the earth in my presence.  She bore a view of the formerly slave race that she had inherited from a Tidewater, Virginia, culture some three hundred years in the making.  To her, black people had all the virtues of children—a heart-warming naïveté, a joy in whatever the day brings, an eagerness to express themselves openly in song and dance—and also all of the child’s liabilities: an inclination to be readily led, a dangerous susceptibility to the short-term and the sensual, a poor understanding of the distance between public and private space.  These overgrown children required our constant care.  As white people, we had a Kiplingesque burden to bear (and my grandmother was, indeed, born late in Queen Victoria’s reign).  The stewardship we were obligated to assume over them was not at all unlike the duties we’re lectured about today concerning the planet and the natural environment.

Genuine racism, this: the systematic imputation of certain deficiencies to a racial group because of genetic hard-wiring.  The bigot knows nothing about DNA: some of what he doesn’t like about “them” could have a possible genetic source (intellectual parameters, physique, temperamental tendencies), but most of it seems much more conditional (taste in music and clothes, conduct in large groups, language used in public).  The true racist has worked this all out to a level of remarkable consistency.  The “inferior race” is tragically locked into its lower echelon by immutable forces.  One may help its members to survive, and one indeed should if moved by conscience… but one cannot hope that they will ever be able to ensure their own survival.

This, need I point out, is essentially the position of the modern Democratic Party.  It is the noblesse oblige sacrifice of unending resources to assisting a group (through quotas, grants, scholarships, welfare payments, “reparations”) that just can’t survive on its own.  And the members of the race in question, in a final irony, often echo the comments of those born into slavery who were interviewed in their silver years by Roosevelt’s WPA operatives: “The master give you a house, give you clothes and food, give you a doctor, you have holidays and happy times when everybody get together… things was better in slave days.”

The plantation, at its most benign (and there were some relatively humane plantations), was a highly evolved form of socialism.  Today the “race question” seems to be driving us right back to “slave days”—and those who should protest loudest are instead leading the surrender.  This is a most depressing spectacle to watch.

“Virtue-Signaling”: Toxic to Spiritual Growth and Ruinous to Political Health

When I was barely seventeen, I left everyone I knew in the world for the first time in my life and packed it off to summer school at William and Mary, 1,500 miles away.  I hadn’t been in my strange new surroundings a week when something happened that lifted me high in my young eyes (very young, since I had graduated from high school a year early).  In working my way through the cafeteria’s dinner line, I had forked four slices of ham onto my plate, thinking I had only three—and paying for only three at the register.  In the middle of my lonely meal, I discovered my error and promptly returned to the checkout woman to correct it.  She was so visibly amazed and delighted at my punctilious honesty that I basked in the glow of her smile for days.  What a fine young man I was, after all!

So thrilled was I by this good news about my soul that, not more than three or four days later, I dropped a quarter back into the register’s draw, insisting to a different checkout attendant that she had overpaid my change.  She wasn’t amused.  Instead of the earlier smile, the look I got expressed shock and a little outrage.  I went away with a lot more to chew on than green beans and mashed potatoes.

For even if my math had been better than hers (and it probably wasn’t), I knew in my heart that I was seeking an artificial re-ignition of virtue’s fires.  I wanted to feel good about myself again… and in my theatrical, self-centered clumsiness, I had left the attendant in a very awkward position.  I had tried to buy a higher opinion of myself at her expense, not only casting her competence in question but also, very likely, throwing off the receipts at day’s end.

For a boy of seventeen to be as deeply mortified by this incident as I was—and to learn as much as quickly from it as I did—was probably higher praise of my maturity than I knew at the time, or would realize for years to come.  In fact, only recently, as I see “virtue-signaling” at epidemic levels all over the place among people all the way up to my present age, have I understood that some of my neighbors will never grow up.  They’re forever dropping dollars and dimes back into the cash box in the service of some superior cause—only the money is seldom their own, but has been volunteered by them, rather, from the pockets of fellow citizens who require the influence of big-brotherly duress to “do the right thing”.  Meanwhile, the cash box’s contents become so poorly reconciled with proper calculations that planning grows impossible and pilfering rife.  No one can say where those dimes end up… and it’s all thanks to the “good people” who stepped forward to act as society’s conscience.

The idealism that spurs us to stifle self-interest and to strive after a new and higher reality redeems us from a squalid animal state.  It is our finest, noblest characteristic.  When an observer of human affairs like Ayn Rand attacks this uplifting motive as, instead, the most debasing impulse of our species and savages Christianity (for instance) as an emasculation of heart and mind, the reasoning seems insane to me.  (It becomes fully so, in Rand’s case, when she insists on identifying artistic realism with the emasculated Christian mass and romanticism, contrastively, with heroic egotism: Ayn, meet Friedrich Nietzsche.)

That said, I’m afraid there is most certainly a fine—and very perilous—line between genuine, functional idealism and self-aggrandizing delusion.  The “visionary” or “dreamer” who would have us pool all of our resources together so that everyone has equal amounts of everything doesn’t deserve the name of “idealist”, in my opinion.  All true idealism is morally good—and all moral growth requires that the individual struggle and learn.  Insulating a child from the painful lesson of the hot stove by banishing all stoves whatever from his presence only ensures that we have on our hands a permanent child, a foolish brat who, at sixty-five, still won’t tie his own shoes.  This kind of vision is not compassion or social conscience: it is gross self-indulgence—an arrogant parasitism of the soul that gorges itself fat on preempting the challenges necessary to the health of other souls around it. The ostentatiously, sloppily “compassionate” among us are a huge tapeworm in our society’s gut.

Even the rare “dreamer” who uses his own money to sustain others in a state of spiritual anemia remains a saboteur rather than a philanthropist.  And, yes, there are too many of these within the ranks of people who style themselves Christian, though I would have hoped that someone of Ayn Rand’s intelligence might have distinguished between fool’s gold and real coin.  Genuine charity, like all forms of selflessness, is hard.  You don’t throw cake from the window of your coach: you have to figure out how the farmer can grow a healthier crop with his own hands.

When I was teaching literature (always the happiest time of my roller-coaster classroom career), I found Don Quixote a uniquely puzzling work in this regard.  I’ve no doubt that Cervantes wanted us to think the grand old madman not quite as big a fool as he appears to various road agents, pickpockets, prostitutes, and shysters.  In fact, the two “working girls” whom he addresses as fine ladies in his original sally end up being deeply grateful to him.  It costs us little enough to treat our fellow man somewhat better than his deserts, as Hamlet advises Polonius.  Yet our “knight’s” idealism strays far off target when he saves the poor lad Andres from a brutal master only to leave the bully to redouble the blows once a “gentleman’s assurance” has sent him cantering merrily away.  And surely Cervantes didn’t approve of La Mancha’s withered champion when he freed a party of convicts to resume their predations upon law-abiding society….

So where does ennobling idealism end and self-debasing folly begin?  We need hardly doubt that a world without idealism is a jungle, be Ayn Rand’s “romantic” heroes ever so rugged in their individualism; but a world saturated with self-indulgent, virtue-signaling idealism is a morass where might makes right beneath a slimy overgrowth of hypocrisy.

We can demand that our fellow taxpayers pony up the cash to buy health care for the entire planet’s grandmothers… but in the process, we will conveniently have overlooked that there isn’t enough loot in the solar system to fund every state-of-the-art procedure that every person with a pain might want.  We open the gate, rather, to a system more elitist than ever, where the happy few have private doctors on their staff while the many line up to receive aspirin, and where determinations are inevitably made about who is “more savable” or is likely to have a “more useful” lifespan.  (Hint: Grandma will be first to get nudged from the waiting list to the graveyard.)  In ushering in such horrors, we will actually have collaborated in creating a great evil.

We can demand that “refugees” be admitted from nations all over the world on the ground that fleeing a bad economy is as valid as fleeing a murderous dictator.  The populace we admit, however, will bring with it an inclination to flee from, evade, or deflect existential problems of any sort rather than stand and face them—an inclination that, in political terms, translates into a habit of looking to paternalistic rulers for long-term solutions while creating a mess of impromptu, under-the-table quick-fixes.  (Try counting the number of illegal TV cable hook-ups that spill like spaghetti from the power poles of large Mexican cities; blackouts and fires sometimes result.)  Our “charitable” disdain of borders will prove, all too soon, to have assisted in creating a one-world order dominated by an aloof, omnipotent oligarchy and peopled by scurrying ants without moral resolve or civic dedication.

Be sure to reckon at its true, full value the cost of posing your soul in a virtuous light for a loving snapshot.  While you’re hugging the portrait in its gilded frame, you may have to step around a few corpses.