Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trying to Get Inside the Mind of the Left

On of my pastimes is to figure out what makes leftists think the way they do. I have plenty of disagreements with conservatives, and as a former-conservative-turned-libertarian I believe I have a very good understanding of how they think, cuz I used to think those thoughts. But leftists can puzzle me, because to be a dedicated leftist, one has to put on all sorts of mental blinders. You have to become like a Scientologist and simply ignore huge swathes of reality because it conflicts with your worldview.

To be a dedicated leftist, you must entirely ignore the unqualified success of free market capitalism and ignore the dismal failures of socialism. You must purposefully not think about the actual effects of the policies you advocate and concentrate only on your intentions. You must put your own preconceptions above the facts.

I'll give you an example: poverty in America. To anybody living in Bangladesh or Guinea, the idea of poverty in America is a joke. What we call "poverty" in this country would be a comfortable middle class life-style over there, because the alleged poor in this country live in such abundance. You simply cannot argue with the facts, that the overwhelming majority of the "poor" in this country have a higher standard of material living than the average upper-middle class person of forty years ago did. The average poor person in this country has air conditioning, cable tv, cell phone service, at least one car, more living space than the average Japanese family, and despite the myths, has ready access to affordable nutritious food.

I have pointed this out to leftists, and while they usually don't deny it, they ignore it and move on. They find other ways in which to distort the truth the poor in America to create the impression that things are worse than they seem. I pointed out to a leftist that his map of "food insecurity" in this country happened to correlate perfectly with a map of obesity. The obvious answer, after a quick look at the facts, is that the "food insecurity" thing is a myth, his answer was to blame obesity on greed and inequality. Huh? You truly have to shut your brain off and drink the Kool Aid to be a leftist.

The thing is, leftists used to have pretentions of being scientific (they sometimes still do, they are always talking about this or that "myth" they have debunked with half-truths and distorted statistics), and they still practice cargo cult science in abundance in such areas as "education research" or "social theory." But for the most part that pretentions seems to have flown out the window. Which explains why they are always so eager to shut down viewpoints other than their own (yes, they do want to get Rush off the air).

It's hard for me to understand how they function, because my instincts are to look at the facts and draw conclusions, theirs are to stick with their conclusions regardless of the facts. I saw that America's immigration and drug policies weren't working and I changed my mind. They see that capitalism is working and invent things to complain about.

Here is an article that is a great example. Let's look at some of the examples of leftist non-thought present:

Gorski wanted Parsons USD 503 teachers Wednesday to grasp that, "The achievement gap is not as much an achievement gap as an opportunity gap. ... By calling it an achievement gap it puts full responsibility on our most disenfranchised, and I think that is problematic."

I hear this repeated all of the time, and there is no denying that different people face different opportunities. That cannot be overcome, one cannot "redistribute opportunities." The wealthy will always exist and they will always have opportunities that the average person will not have. That is not the same thing as saying that the wealthy will always be able to achieve things that ordinary people will never achieve, it just means those achievements will come harder. Despite the obsolete leftist belief that most wealthy people inherited their money, the fact is that most wealthy people actually earned their money, and many if not most of them started off with ordinary family backgrounds. Leftists hate this because it shows how well the free market system works. Due to their religion of collectivism (and yes, I believe that all dedicated leftists belong to that religion and put it ahead of all else--their behavior makes more sense when you think of them that way), they do not want to see meritocracy and individualism working well. So they must poo-poo. Despite the night-and-day difference in track records between collectivism and freedom, they must make faith-based statements like "it's not an achievement gap, it's an opportunity gap." The reason this speaker says we musn't "blame the victim," or however you want to phrase it, is because it conflicts with his religion--collectivism. Moving on:

Culture of poverty, first coined by Oscar Lewis and based on ethnographic studies of a few small Mexican communities, is the idea that poor people share all the same beliefs, values and behaviors -- such as frequent violence. He extrapolated his findings to suggest a universal culture of poverty.

The rest of the article is about how wrong this all is. While the exact details are worth debating, right off the bat the leftists misunderstand/purposefully distort. They present a straw man version of a competing philosophy and then debunk it, a common tactic of the reality-denier. In reality, Lewis wasn't talking about all poor people, which is why if you try to apply this philosophy to all poor people you will fail. Rather, he was talking about cultures which are pathologically inclined towards poverty for the reasons he outlined. Chinese immigrants who came to this country poor but whose descendants became doctors, scientists, engineers, and professionals were not what he was talking about. Poor white southerners, ghetto-dwelling black people, Hispanics, and other groups which have much higher rates of generational poverty, generational criminality, illiteracy, etc. etc. are what Lewis was talking about. Ask anybody who actually lives in such a community and they will agree whole heartedly that such a culture of poverty exists, a culture that glorifies ignorance and slovenliness and a life of crime, and that denigrates education and hard work as being for suckers. Leftists use the fact that not every single member of a poor community fits this mold as a reason to dismiss the theory entirely, when it is the best explanation there is of the generational poverty we see in this country.

Instead, they fall back on the old, old socialist notion that "the system" is to blame, and that education is biased in favor of English speakers and their is a "glass ceiling" preventing non-whites from succeeding, etc. This view falls to pieces when one looks at the history of Chinese immigrants in this country (German and Jewish immigrants are worth looking at too but Chinese were the most discriminated against by "the system" so their success is the best example to use).

Apart from black slaves during the era of slavery, there is probably no ethnic group that was more discriminated against in America than Chinese immigrants. They were restricted in numbers, forced (by law, not by the free market) out of gainful employment and into menial work, exploited, lived in poverty, grouped into ghettos, forbidden to marry whites, the list goes on. Their children grew up in families that did not have access to the mainstream white culture, didn't speak English, etc. Every aspect of "the system" was against them. Today their Chinese-American descendants outperform whites on IQ tests, educational scores, incomes, representation in the professions, science, medicine, etc. How did they do that? Because they didn't have a culture of poverty. The culture of poverty is a real thing. Leftists hate this because it does indeed transfer blame for the achievement gap onto a dysfunctional culture, which there is no government fix for. In fact, government redistribution schemes only make things worse by acting as a massive enabler for illegitimacy, improvidence, laziness, etc.

To believe the poor are poor because of their own shortcomings ignores the impact of rising costs of health care, gasoline, housing, utilities and food.

More blaming the system. There's not doubt that higher price levels affect the poor the worse, but blaming poverty on systemic causes like this doesn't fit the facts. The poor, as I've pointed out, have better housing, utilities, food, etc. than many middle class people in other countries. Many poor people will cut back on medical spending before cutting their cell phone or cable tv service. That is improvidence and an aspect of the culture of poverty, but leftists don't want to talk about it.

Regarding stereotypes of the poor -- they are lazy, live on welfare, are wasteful, abuse drugs and alcohol, are prone to crime and violence and they do not value education -- Gorski said they have all been proven wrong. They are myths perpetuated by parents, police and the media.

Here's another example of how you have to put on mental blinders to be a dedicated leftist. Any astute googler can, in just ten minutes, summon the data which shows that the poor in this country do indeed work fewer hours, tend to subsist on welfare more often (although the rolls declined after welfare reform, which the left hated, and the creation of the American welfare state has not made a dent in American "poverty levels"), they do tend to abuse drugs and alcohol more, they do tend to be over-represented among criminals, and they do tend to value education less. Ask any cop.

But as you might expect, when you put their backs to the wall with facts, the left has an excuse for each one of these. The poor work less because they are discriminated against and so can't find work (in that respect they are actually partially correct, the existence of minimum wage laws ensures that the least productive among us will always be unemployable), or they have to go on welfare because greedy Big Agri/Big Pharma/Big Oil/Big Whatever charges too much (gosh, how did the Chinese ever lift themselves out of poverty?), if they abuse drugs it's because there isn't enough government funding for arts centers and community centers, and (I love this one) if they are over-represented among those being arrested, or prosecuted, or in prison (yes, yes, and yes) it's because the wealthy use the law as a way of keeping down the poor.

This is a hand-me-down of a modified version of one aspect of Marx's philosophy, and in spite of our many disagreements I actually have respect for Marx and do not like to see him distorted. The wealthy do not, in fact, use the law as a political tool to keep the poor down (they do, however, use the law as a political tool to direct customers/subsidies to their businesses, which is an example of statism, not free market capitalism) because keeping the poor down is a waste of their time. The poor keep themselves down, for the most part.

Bad social and cultural habits tend to come in groups. It's not surprising that people whose cultural and family background predisposes them to either improvidence, or crime, or illiteracy, or drunkenness, or something similar, would simultaneously and by extension predispose them to the others. This is why the poor tend to be the most obese among us and the wealthy tend to be fitter. People with bad habits tend to have them in groups, people with good habits (hard-working, values education, provident, etc.) tend to have those habits in groups too.

Leftists shrink from this culture of poverty thing for two big reason, the "blame the system" reason I already talked about (that's where the religion of collectivism comes in) and because it sounds like an old-fashioned, classist viewpoint, when in fact it is in complete disharmony with classism. Classist viewpoints see the socioeconomic classes as static, that poor people beget poor people, rich people beget rich people, middle class people beget middle class people, etc. You will hear (or heard, since this is an archaic viewpoint in western culture) that people were "bred for" a life of servitude, or "bred for" aristocracy, or whatever. This is a disgusting, elitist viewpoint that is the cousin of racism.

The idea of a culture of poverty is entirely different, because it does not begin by saying that poverty is generational, but begins by saying that where poverty is generational, then, ceteris paribus, a culture of poverty is to blame. That is, for those segments of the lower classes that do not ascend over the generations, it is a cultural phenomenon at work. There are cases where "the system" can be blamed for generational poverty, such as the former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, etc..........

Regarding welfare, the majority who collect welfare are not the poor, but those who work and lose their jobs for a short time. Despite popular notions that so much of the U.S budget is spent on welfare, less than 1 percent goes toward welfare.

Actually more like 15% of GDP is spent on welfare (that's excluding education, including education it's closer to 20%). How can one be a leftist and hold facts in high regard? And notice how leftists, as part of their religion, love to make welfare sound like a program we all take part in, rather than something reserved mainly for the generationally poor, by using statistics that are too broad to really tell you much. In this way they can claim the the idea of the welfare cheat or the single mother who breeds to get welfare is a "myth" that has been "debunked." But anybody who has seriously studied American welfare knows darn well that abuse of the system abounds (though it has been reduced drastically after welfare reform, which, again, the leftists hated, so here they are taking advantage of the good results of a policy they hated, and trying to spit it back in our face as a failure of understanding our part).

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