Archive | September 2013

DailyMail’s new map on Ethnic Distribution in the United States

I have attached DailyMail’s map as a photo; at the bottom of this post, I have included the link to the original article, which features an analysis of the major ethnicities represented. Readers should read that before reading my commentary.

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Here is a fascinating map; but like all fascinating maps, it lies, not out of malice but out of necessity.

The flaw I perceive is its effectively forming blocs in geographic areas, which to some degree implies domination in those areas by particular ethnicities. The resident of Southern California, while knowing that Mexicans are indeed there and indeed form a large portion of the population, would probably be surprised to see the map shaded so as to imply that Mexicans dominate society there. Now this distortion is unavoidable- I cannot fathom how a map could be made which accurately depicted the proper ethnic compositions of each particular place- but it does serve the purpose of establishing general and relative ideas about ethnic distribution.

The Deep South’s portrayal as being heavily populated by African Americans, as with the Southwest’s being heavily populated by Mexicans and the northern and central reaches of the West being heavily populated by those of German descent, are not absolute, but reflective of general population trends- there are MORE African Americans in the South, MORE Mexicans in the Southwest, MORE German-Americans in the West, etc etc etc. Still, one from Southern California will note that there are many, many Whites and Blacks there, one from Virginia will note there are many Latinos there, and one from Western Washington will note that there are a whole freaking lot of various East Asians there- although none of these populations are (or can be) justly depicted on a map which only features the most populous ethnicities in each region.

It is indeed a helpful map; having traveled widely across the United States, I can attest that these general population shadings seem to be manifested in the general cultural feel of the regions- the Southwest generally ‘feels’ more Hispanic, Appalachia ‘feels’ very white, the similarities between locales as disparate as Pennsylvania and Western Washington can easily be explained by the general German dominance in those areas- but regardless, there are complexities which this map cannot address, and therefore all maps of this sort (particularly those made recently of the ethnic composition of Syria) ought to be taken with a grain of salt. In every document there is truth and lie. The world really is more interesting than it seems, and it is too complex to be depicted in full accuracy.

Two final notes- I do not necessarily believe that PERSONAL IDENTITY is as indicative as ACTUAL IDENTITY. The fact that individuals surveyed were asked to provide what they identify as skews the study with the personal bias of hundreds of millions. Now, this information is indeed useful, and generally it seems that most respondents answered honestly. And there are questions that can be answered, inferences that can be drawn, from the mass of people’s opinions about their own identities. But beyond simply being a subjective conclusion, identity seems, also, to be a physical reality existent regardless of what individuals might think of it. And therefore it might be useful for a similar map to be made not using surveys, but other data, in order to find information less clouded by everyone’s pride in their heritage. I do not doubt that such a study would be immeasurably harder; but it would likely be enlightening.

The faction labeling itself ‘Americans’ seems to correspond geographically with a historical faction and ethnicity, the Scots-Irish. This noble breed completed the colonization and subversion of Texas, held out through one of the longest periods of Indian Wars in early American history, and proved some of the ficklest yet most ardent of fighters in the wars with Britain. Andrew Jackson was their offspring. No Americans have been fiercer; and, as their heritage has been mostly forged in the uplands of the New World, it should come as no surprise that they do not identify with any particular corner of the Old World (just as many African-Americans do not care to affiliate with the tribes and nations from which their ancestors came.) It seems that the choice to continue to refer to these people as ‘Americans’ sets up an entire subset of society, an entire people, for a flurry of ‘Murica’ and redneck jokes. I would think DailyMail and the Census Bureau to be more multiculturalist than that, or, at the very least, sufficiently historically informed as to note the connection to the Scots-Irish also.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2408591/American-ethnicity-map-shows-melting-pot-ethnicities-make-USA-today.html

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RePost: Niccolo Machiavelli on his Method of Studying Politics

I have copied here the bulk of Machiavelli’s legendary letter to Francesco Vettori. Ever since the first time I encountered this piece, it has enchanted me; for there is a certain honesty in this method which, I believe, is probably more closely aligned with the reality of study than most (myself included) would like to admit.

The sheer juxtaposition of two ways of life, barbarous and civilized, would by many modes of thought appear to be either an irresolvable paradox or a superfluous load of fluff, distracting from true scholarship. But a little thought reaffirms that at the very least two lamps, reason and experience, though at times contradictory, are in fact complementary to each other and thereby codependent, symbiotic. They must be kept in balance. Other lamps may play their parts, but by observing the ways of man both through bookery and the living of life, the scholar frees himself from those great flaws of the acolytes of reason and of evidence- the one, that snobbish belief that one might know all things by the exercise of one’s own mind, the other, that self-righteous insistence that only the things that have happened can be known.

But though the first two paragraphs here listed are critical, I have placed the third in bold intentionally- for it is this gem of literature which I believe encapsulates how the Study of Man ought to be conducted, when it is conducted by books. While evidence gleaned from the annals and artifacts of old is indeed critical for the understanding of events, nothing quite strikes the chord of connection to oneself like the words of the men of old. And one cannot befriend figures and maps the way they can dead, historic individuals, through their words.

On another note, I particularly appreciate this passage in the fact that it is, in my opinion, the greatest refutation of the ‘Satire’ argument about The Prince. There are those who argue that The Prince was not a serious work, that Machiavelli wrote it to mock the Medicis and show to them an excessively inaccurate and brutal caricature of political life. While certainly context and purpose are central, critical to any work, particularly one so far removed from our own time as a masterpiece like The Prince, the Deconstructionists who argue that ‘Machiavelli did not mean what he said’ do nothing more than obfuscate the record of facts and cast forth a hopelessly inaccurate (and, in my opinion, truly immoral) picture of human nature. 

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“I stay in my villa, and since these last chance events occurred, I have not spent, to add them all up, twenty days in Florence. Until now I have been catching thrushes with my own hands. I would get up before day, prepare traps, and go out with a bundle of cages on my back, so that I looked like Geta when he returned from the harbor with Amphitryon’s books; I caught at least two, at most six thrushes. And so passed all September; then this pastime, though annoying and strange, gave out, to my displeasure. And what my life is like, I will tell you. I get up in the morning with the sun and go to a wood of mine that I am having cut down, where I stay for two hours to look over the work of the past day, and to pass time with the woodcutters, who always have some disaster on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbors…

When I leave the wood, I go to a spring, and from there to an aviary of mine. I have a book under my arm, Dante or Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, Ovid, and such. I read of their amorous passions and their loves; I remember my own and enjoy myself for a while in this thinking. Then I move on along the road to the inn; I speak with those passing by; I ask them news of their places; I learn various things; and I note the various tastes and different fancies of men. In the meantime comes the hour to dine, when I eat with my company what food this poor villa and tiny patrimony allow. Having eaten, I return to the inn; there is the host, ordinarily a butcher, a miller, two bakers. With them I become a rascal for the whole day, playing at cricca and tric-trac, from which arise a thousand quarrels and countless abuses with insulting words, and most times we are fighting over a penny and yet we can be heard shouting from San Casciano. Thus involved with these vermin I scrape the mold off my brain and I satisfy the malignity of this fate of mine, as I am content to be trampled on this path so as to see if she will be ashamed of it.

When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them. And because Dante says that to have understood without retaining does not make knowledge, I have noted what capital I have made from their conversation and have composed a little work, ‘On Principalities’ (The Prince) where I delve as deeply as I can into reflections on this subject, debating what a principality is, of what kinds they are, how they are acquired, how they are maintained, why they are lost. And if you have ever been pleased by any of my whimsies, this one should not displease you; and to a prince, and especially a new prince, it should be welcome….

…Through this thing, if it were read, one would see that I have neither slept through nor played away the fifteen years I have been at the study of the art of the state.”

An Open Letter to Pope Francis’s new non- (or anti-) Catholic Fairweather Fans

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Dear Society, (and I am talking to YOU, acolytes of RationalWiki and ThinkProgress and MotherJones who keep sharing gleeful articles about the Pope’s “progressivism,”)

I’m glad that you now find Catholicism, as Pope Francis has so deftly revealed it to you, to be something other than the oppressive medieval cult you caricature it to be.

But know this- He bows not to you, but to God.

In the grand tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and of the great popes through the ages, including most recently John XXIII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis now reinvigorates within the Church the discussion of its timeless teachings and ideals with the present realities of the world.

As one of the worst Catholics alive and one whose philosophical principles are far divorced from the Church’s teachings, I am none to condemn anyone for their opinion of my faith. But I would thoroughly appreciate it if me and my fellow Catholics were not painted, as we are in present media discourse, as something of a problem for the advancement of society and the establishment of justice. (I now begin to comprehend, however meanly, what the Muslims have endured at the hands of the media for over a decade.)

Read the publishings of the Church. It is the single greatest advocate of human dignity and social justice in the history of Western Civilization, yet the cartoon of it normally presented tends to portray a corrupt, ancient institution whose time has passed, one which must yield to the forces of individualism and equality. Read, and find that its teachings are indeed often the basis of your own secular political ideals! Too often today, articles and essays praising the Pope have referred to the Church as a whole as a monolithic, conservative behemoth. They depict him as a modernizing figure of light in a sea of darkness. While he is a great leader and certainly a great Pope, we Catholics do not depend on his recent statements for moral guidance- rather, his recent statements reflect the opinions and sentiments of a good portion of a billion Catholics worldwide on a certain array of issues. You are right to praise the Pope for innovation- but you could not be more wrong in the context of your praise.

I adore the Pope, for he has articulated, as John Paul II did before him, the Catholic Church’s true teachings in the face of the present problems of our world. It pains me to see him so terribly misinterpreted by the intellectual elites of our society.

I invite all of you to come visit a Church and see what Catholics are actually like, to hear what we actually believe, to feel as we actually feel. Indeed there is an immense diversity within the Church of all of these categories; and it is far removed from the assessment of it published in editorials. Certainly we have an identity; but it is not what you have painted.

Sincerely,

A Bad Catholic, disgruntled by recent events

RePost- Alexander Hamilton on the Nature of Politics

I have copied excerpts from Hamilton’s essay ‘Defence of the Funding System.’ This is the most eloquent elaboration of the underlying reality of the political world I have yet come across. Much of the essay focuses upon credit and finance, fields in which my understanding is quite unfortunately deficient. I have omitted those (equally elegant) segments, and recorded here chiefly what is of direct value to the student of political theory. 

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“A prosperous state of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures nourishes and begets opulence, resource, and strength. These, by inspiring a consciousness of power, never fail to beget in the councils of nations, under whatever form of government, pride, ambition, and a sentiment of superiority. These dispositions lead directly to war, and consequently to expense and to all the calamities which march in the train of war. Shall we, therefore, reprobate and reject improvements in agriculture, commerce, and manufactures?

Again the same causes leading to opulence, increasing the means of enjoyment, naturally sharpen the appetite for it, and so promote luxury, extravagance, dissipation, effeminacy, disorders in the moral and political system, convulsions, revolutions, the overthrow of nations and empires. Shall we, therefore, on this account renounce improvements in agriculture, commerce and manufactures?

Again, science, learning, and knowledge promote those momentous discoveries and improvements which accelerate the progress of labor and industry, and with it the accumulation of that opulence which is the parent of so many pleasures and pains, so many blessings and calamities. Shall we, therefore, on this account explode science, learning, and knowledge?

Again, true liberty, by protecting the exertions of talents and industry, and securing to them their justly acquired fruits, tends more powerfully than any other cause to augment the mass of national wealth and to produce the mischiefs of opulence. Shall we, therefore, on this account proscribe liberty also?

What good, in fine, shall we retain? ’T is the portion of man, assigned to him by the eternal allotment of Providence that every good he enjoys shall be alloyed with ills, that every source of his bliss shall be a source of his affliction—except virtue alone, the only unmixed good which is permitted to his temporal condition.

Let us then say, as the truth is, not that funding systems produce wars, expenses, and debts, but that the ambition, avarice, revenge, and injustice of man produce them. The seeds of war are sown thickly in the human breast. It is astonishing, after the experience of its having deluged the world with calamities for so many ages, with how great precipitancy and levity nations still rush to arms against each other.

Besides what we see abroad, what have we recently witnessed among ourselves? Never was a thing more manifest than that our true policy lay in cultivating peace with scrupulous care. Never had a nation a stronger interest. Yet how many were there who directly, and indirectly raised and joined in the cry of war. Sympathy with one nation and animosity against another, made it infinitely difficult for the government to steer a course calculated to avoid our being implicated in the volcano, which shook and overwhelmed Europe. Vague speculations about the cause of liberty seconded by angry passions, had like to have plunged this young country, just recovering from the effects of the long and desolating war, which confirmed its revolution, just emerging from a state little short of anarchy; just beginning to establish system and order, to revive credit and confidence, into an abyss of war, confusion, and distress!

After all the experience, which has been had upon the point, shall we still charge upon funding systems evils which are truly chargeable upon the bad and turbulent passions of the human mind?

The difference between the true politician and the political empyric is this: the latter will either attempt to travel out of human nature and introduce institutions and projects for which man is not fitted and which perish in the imbecility of their own conception and structure, or without proposing or attempting any substitute they content themselves with exposing and declaiming against the ill sides of things, and with puzzling and embarrassing every practicable scheme of administration which is adopted. The last indeed is the most usual because the easiest course, and it embraces in its practice all those hunters after popularity who, knowing better, make a traffic of the weak sides of the human understanding and passions.

The true politician, on the contrary, takes human nature (and human society its aggregate) as he finds it, a compound of good and ill qualities, of good and ill tendencies, endued with powers and actuated by passions and propensities which blend enjoyment with suffering and make the causes of welfare the causes of misfortune.

With this view of human nature he will not attempt to warp or disturb its natural direction, he will not attempt to promote its happiness by means to which it is not suited, he will not reject the employment of the means which constitute its bliss because they necessarily involve alloy and danger, but he will seek to promote its action according to the bias of his nature, to lead him to the development of his energies according to the scope of his passions, and erecting the social organization on this basis he will favor all those institutions and plans which tend to make men happy according to their natural bent, which multiply the sources of individual enjoyment and increase national resources and strength, taking care to infuse in each case all the ingredients which can be devised as preventives or correctives of the evil which is the eternal concomitant of temporal blessing.”

Full Essay- http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle%3D1385&chapter=92677&layout=html&Itemid=27

 

Thoughts on Gun Ownership

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There is evil in men’s hearts.

After this spate of shootings these last couple of years (including Aurora, Boston, Sandy Hook, the Navy Yard, and smaller things like Chicago today,) I would be inclined to support tougher gun laws, for I do not dogmatically believe that the right to bear ams- or any right for that matter- is more important than the security of individuals. I, the statist, am more than happy to trade liberty for security, should the reality of the situation demand it.

However, I do not find the arguments for stricter gun control to be particularly convincing, either in their logic or in the empirical evidence they claim. Such arguments do not explain the relative peacefulness of the owners of such weapons in other times and places, nor the violence conferred in areas where similar bans are in place. And the supporters of bans seem to forget that the great masses of gun-owners are neither government-despising militias nor mobsters with criminal intent, but seasonal hunters and antique gun-collecters- easily the most harmless of factions extant within the United States. Certainly, if collecting up the people’s guns could put an end to the senseless violence, it would be a noble cause; but as much experience points against the efficacy of that, I find much reason to doubt it.

A wise man once said that a cake is more efficaciously eaten by a nibbling about the sides, than a gouging of the center. Similarly, issues of great pitch and moment might be more efficaciously solved by a managing of their effects and conditions, than a rooting out of their supposed causes.

In the case of mass gun violence, it seems that certain provisions to lightly nullify these effects and conditions are in order. Perhaps studies of the types of individuals tending to commit atrocities ought to be encouraged, and from this data, policy ought to be crafted to profile them and deny them their right of gun ownership. It is not particularly novel; present gun applications screen felons and other sorts of individuals whom the government deems unworthy of the right to bear arms. It should not be too far a leap to screen those who, while perhaps innocent, are nonetheless mentally unfit or politically dangerous. Rights will be trampled upon- thus is life.

The above suggestion raises the question of definitions- why should the government define whether I am too mentally unfit, or politically dangerous, to own weapons? My inadequate answer- for the greater good. Managed injustice is the art of statecraft. I am not concerned with fairness in this suggestion- that can be left to the policymakers.

The reality on the ground must not be forgotten in seeking out solutions. At present most guns are sold through private firms and dealerships, or by private individuals (Godwilling it stays that way) but the hand of the state is evident through the necessity of all sorts of permits and paperwork. Gun owners will be the first to tell you that this paperwork is Hellish to manage; nonetheless, paperwork being the mark of civilization, it is somewhat comforting to know that those seeking gun ownership must be thereby screened. It is probably unreasonable to demand that a host of other tests be piled upon the already mountainous requirements; but certain tests designed to screen out certain types of individuals, I believe, can restrict the purchase of weapons by the dangerous, without too greatly harming the business of dealers.

But, the cunning will say, none of this addresses what a gun owner might choose to do upon purchasing a gun. Nothing says he will not go crazy, or give it as a gift to his mentally deranged or aspiring terrorist nephew! This, I am afraid, is a problem no policy can directly counter. There is, of course, the necessity of strict law enforcement, and the imposition of policies of zero-tolerance for such dramatic infractions of civility-I have elsewhere argued for the public execution of the perpetrators of mass shootings- but as a general rule of thumb, only utter tyranny could control what individuals do with their property, and history shows that even that is not sufficient. There is, however, another muzzle which can be placed over the maw of incivility, one which is not often spoken of.

I speak of healthy civil society. One of the greatest blessings of political life in a republic is the flowering of such groups committed to citizenship and patriotism, a zeal which the darkest tyrannies vainly strive to replicate their subjects. Invariably, these civil society groups tend to correspond to various factions organically existent within the larger society; but that rather increases than decreases their legitimacy, as the free man will love his country both out of patriotism and out of interest. In the case of gun ownership, it seems that aside from social mores and customs, nothing but civil society can make probable a healthy culture of responsible gun ownership. The laws can only place limits around it.

There is, indeed, a civil society group dedicated to gun ownership in the United States- the National Rifle Association. Though it is more often either derided or worshipped for its recent tilt towards ‘defending the Second Amendment’ and its increasingly potent role in national politics, both its supporters and detractors tend to overlook its general purpose, for which it was founded, and which outweighs its activity in Washington D.C. by several orders of magnitude. The NRA publishes guides to safe gun ownership and offers courses on the same subject. It hosts shooting competitions and sponsors gun clubs all across the United States. It is more indicative of that quiet, but still alive and strong, portion of the American heritage which values rugged individualism and frontier patriotism as staples to life, than of the McVeigh-ish anti-government cynicism with which it is often associated. I would posit that the NRA, and similar civil society groups, have done more to create a culture of responsible gun ownership widely across the United States, than anything but the social, economic, and political trends which laid the foundations of that culture in the first place.

But clearly that culture has been eroding for some time, and has never been perfect, for causes which I will not speculate about here. While a wishful desire for a utopian climate of responsible gun owners is comforting for those who worship the Second Amendment, it is not sound policy to wish.

The American people (or at least the sober among them) must come to terms with two realities. First, that gun violence will never cease, and so long as men are men and guns exist, they will turn these tools upon each other. Second, that by a mixture of wise policy and happy, fortunate circumstance, they may alleviate this condition to varying degrees. Dogmatism and lust for perfection create only imbalances which complicate the world, a far cry from the utter simplification which the dogmatic hope for. The reality of life is that the freedom which we grasp is the tyranny we impose, and that that  same liberty from which gushes forth  our happiness provides our anguish.

In a word, then, I see no solution to the issue of gun rights. Americans’ guns should neither be taken nor ensured forever. Prudent policy must correspond to realities on the ground and in the hearts of men, and thus so long as the Left and Right hold their respective views on gun ownership, the usual clamor will erupt every time an evil man extinguishes a few more candles of life. It is the purpose of the statesman, the bureaucrat, and the officer to ensure this happens as infrequently as possible; but that does not absolve the citizens of the Republic of a certain responsibility to promote goodness and civility.

On How Truth Ought to be Written

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Clarity is not only a virtue; it may in many cases be a vice. While the easy communication of ideas is certainly served by clearness, an EASY communication is not necessarily a GOOD communication. While simple facts might best be delivered this way, profounder truths ought to be respected for their profundity, and stored in a labyrinth, not a courtyard; if the mind grasps something easily, it is liable to forget it. Moreover, a mind can more efficaciously be brought to understand if it is forced to THINK, rather than encouraged to memorize. 

Each case ought to be judged by its own merits. For example, in news and politics, and in many matters comparing widely diffused topics, or immensely complex questions of nature or man’s ways, it is usually appropriate to discuss them simply, for the ideas themselves are hard enough and, in order for this intensely practical discussion to be fully understood by its readers, it is only necessary that they know so much.
But the sages of old wrote with serpent tongues for a purpose. In matters relating to that essence of the universe flowing through all things and especially man- that is, many questions of morals, ethics, metaphysics, and politics to some degree- it is oftentimes best to write in riddles and rhymes. These matters- immeasurably more critical to the development of the spirit than any of those discussable by simple speech- require thought and understanding, and if the student believes himself to understand them on the first read, they truly know nothing. They must read passages again and again- they must ponder them, not only in the situation of the study-room but the situation of life- they must develop that relationship with the words of old which can only be described as the love of wisdom. 
Therefore, let he would be wise master both sorts of writing- the practical, that he may live in the world, and the mystical, that he may live in the universe. 

The Badass’s Prayer

I composed this little prayer sometime in late August 2012, a dark time when the light only filtered down to my strangled abyss every few days in the form of some blessing or other. I was drilling with the Trojan Marching Band on Cromwell Field, learning to chair, in a half-focused trance, when it came to me. I ran the idea through my head several times, oblivious to my surroundings, and when a break was called I immediately copied it onto my phone. That night I went home and transferred the message to the whiteboard Dad had bought me. Unknowingly, I used a permanent marker, and thus although I have tried to efface this composition many times in favor of more joyous tracts, it yet remains, a haunted relic of the past, a solemn admonition of endurance in the face of despair. I cannot say that I agree with it in entirety- it is certainly one of the least-well-balanced pieces I have written- but its general principle, that there is bad in good, by growth in hardship, remains locked in my conscience and judgment.

I choose Wolverine for the cover picture because I believe Wolverine to be the most badass of all contemporary movie characters.

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God,

I do not ask

for rest,

for comfort,

for certainty,

for gain;

These are things

for the faint of heart

and the weak of faith.

I ask for work,

because work will make me better.

I ask for pain,

because pain will make me stronger.

I ask for uncertainty, 

because uncertainty will make me wiser.

I ask for loss,

because loss will make me realize

what is never lost,

what will never change,

what will never cease to matter.

I ask for LIFE, 

because I want to LIVE.

These are my requests.

Grant that I may bear them through, with, and in you.