Welcome Reader

I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

Book Review of Do No Evil




The following review is from Kirkus, the nation's premier book reviewer:

"An effective integration of ethics, morality and business principles. In a logical progression, Berumen offers a historical review of major thinkers in philosophy and ethics, including John Locke, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes and many others. He develops a framework for universal morality in which moral imperatives--rather than being matters of subjective opinion--immutable. The basis for universal morality, however, must be the avoidance of death and suffering, not just the general pursuit of good--"Being good is not good enough to be moral." The author also dissects current ethical debates, including extensive discussions, of social justice, animal rights and the environment. He explores the free-market economy, acknowledging what he believes to be the superiority of capitalism over socialism--"My theory shows that capitalism is not only ethically permissible, but also that socialism is more difficult to justify on ethical grounds"--and he highlights the principles of individual ownership and property as anchor points in his argument. He balances his argument by noting that the rights to property must be limited, and that morality provides a check on unrestrained capitalist pursuits. In the final section, the author elucidates the many layers of the managerial and corporate environment, deftly analyzing the fiduciary, social and moral relationships between the players in a corporation.

A fresh, convincing ethical examination. "

Selected Links for Reviews/Purchase: 

Trump and Trumpism: American Fascism

I was watching a CNN program where a wag was describing Trumpism as populism, and then giving cover to Trump’s followers as aggrieved people motivated by legitimate concerns. It motivated me to write this open polemic to friends, some of whom confuse voting their conscience with principle. The two can be separable.

To my Friends of the Right, Left, and Center:

It is over year, now, since I first went on record and predicted Donald Trump would become a major political force and the eventual nominee of the Republican Party. Many of my friends at the time thought I had lost my mental bearings. I have not in the meantime changed my mind about either Trump or Trumpism. It would appear that he will lose the US election, although that is far from certain, and I won't rest easy until he does. And that ease will doubtless be short-lived, for I am less than enthusiastic about the likely alternative, Hillary Clinton, though I much prefer her over Trump. I also am very worried about the fact that he will have come very close, and that speaks to an ominous undercurrent in the US that is both large and powerful, and that will remain with us for the foreseeable future. It is a clear and present danger to the nation and, hence, a danger to the world.

When I was young, it was a commonplace on the political left to brand our rightist opponents as Fascists. More often than not, it was used as a facile pejorative, and without much thought to the lexical or historical meaning of the word. We knew it was bad, representing things we eschewed, and to identify the opposing right with brutal authoritarian regimes seemed appropriate enough. The appellation was overused and often used inaccurately. It thereby lost much of its significance.

In more recent years, it has not been uncommon to hear rightists use the term to brand leftist thought or activists. Bill O'Reilly, the loudmouthed, bully-broadcaster on Fox News, is guilty of this kind of abuse ... to cite just one recent example, he called David Silverman, the leader of an American atheist group, as being fascistic for his positions against organized religion and his support of separation between church and state.

In some quarters, Trump, now the Republican candidate for President of the US, has been called a Fascist or someone who supports fascistic beliefs. Others reject this, branding him as a mere populist or garden-variety authoritarian. And his followers, they would have us believe, are just gullible innocents oppressed by their circumstances and victimized, beguiled, and held hostage by his hateful rhetoric. I believe this is complete nonsense, I should like to posit that Trumpism is indeed closely linked to the ideas of historical Fascism; that Trump himself has all of the essential qualities of a Fascist leader; and what is more, that his partisans, wittingly or unwittingly, are a part of a fascistic movement. It does not matter that they do not know the etymology or history of Fascism. They in fact support it, and for all practical purposes, they are therefore, themselves, Fascists. Much like the millions of Germans who denied they were Nazis because they were not card-carrying members of the Party, we can no longer allow this distinction without a difference (i.e., I support Trump and Trumpism, but I am not a Fascist) to be swept under the rug and ignored as it often has been.

Contrary to a now common description, Trumpism is not simply a form of populism, although it shares some of its characteristics. Some liberals, especially in the political, academic, and pundit classes, are seriously guilty of whitewashing and, thereby, diminishing Trumpism's insidious character by referring to it as populism, and then qualifying it further by speaking of the grievances of its constituency. It enables them to evince sympathy for the perceived legitimate complaints and anger of the (supposed) underclass, while remaining critical of Trump himself, essentially offering excuses for the reprehensible behavior ... hate, violent overtones, jingoism, racism, and misogyny ... of his supporters. Always looking for sociological explanations for their fellow man's depravity, liberals' abiding sense of fairness and caring for the downtrodden (who themselves could care less about the liberals or their views) can sometimes obscure their perceptions of the reality of venal, evil forces. This was true in the 1930s, and it is just as true now. The consequence is a tolerance of the intolerable by distancing his supporters from Trump himself, and from Trumpism, I think this is a mistake and, often enough, even disingenuous and cynical, as though they represent potential voters and thus we cannot afford to alienate them,

The fact is that Trump's followers' views are deplorable, and Trump is the catalyst and lens for refracting their vile beliefs, Trumpism would not be possible without them. It matters not that some may even be our friends or relations, making an exception only for the mentally incompetent. Liberals and conservatives both need to call a spade a shovel and stop excusing the inexcusable.

Populism has taken various forms on the political right and left in different times and parts of the globe. It has a long history, at least dating back to Pericles in Athens and Julius Caesar in Rome, Broadly speaking, in modern times, populism is a political movement that centers on economic grievances, primarily, though not exclusively, by workers, the less affluent merchant class, and farmers, against the economic, social, and intellectual elites who are perceived as the causes of their privations. Andrew Jackson might well be the best example of an early populist leader in the US, and to date, the only truly populist president. The Populist Party of the 1890s consisted of farmers and some labor unions that denounced a system, whereby, in the words of David M. Kennedy & Lizabeth Cohen’s  American Pageant (2005), “the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few." One of the great populist leaders of this era into the early 20th century was Williams Jennings Bryan, a charismatic, religious orator and sometimes presidential candidate who railed against capitalist elites, as exemplified by his famous "Cross of Gold" speech. Huey P. Long, Sr., "The Kingfish," a governor and senator from Louisiana, led a populist movement in the Great Depression, and, had he lived, he might well have become president. Populism regained currency, again, in the 1950s. The historian Richard Hofstadter and sociologist Daniel Bell compared the anti-elitism and populism of the late 19th century with that of Joseph McCarthy's grievances against communism and American power elites, In the late sixties and early seventies, George Wallace led a third-party, populist movement that centered on race segregation, And the modern Tea Party has many elements of populism with its focus on white, male grievances with racial and anti-immigrant overtones.

Bernie Sanders' candidacy also capitalized on some populist sentiments against the elites, with much emphasis on the real and imagined burdens of white youth and the various real and imagined malefactions of the wealthy, and it is therefore not altogether surprising, after his primary loss, that there has been a small number of converts to Trumpism--or that there are some sentiments or grievances that are similar ... or if not out-and-out converts, there are people who rationalize (mistakenly, I believe) that Trump could be no worse than the alternative.

To no small degree, the Tea Party movement was a precursor of Trumpism, and it cannot be denied that Fascism and Trumpism have characteristics of populism, and particularly in the sense that people are rallied against others who are seen as the root cause of their various misfortunes. But there are also some significant differences between populism and Trumpism. None of the aforementioned populist movements were truly fascistic in nature. Trumpism is different.

I hasten to acknowledge that Fascism is not a systematic doctrine, it is difficult to characterize, and there is considerable debate to this day as to what constitutes true Fascism. In many ways, it is incoherent as an ideology, and an admixture of ideas sometimes even in opposition to one another. It is best, I think, to look at some general characteristics that its several strands possess, but as much as anything, also to consider the actual behaviors of its leaders and followers from a historical perspective.

Fascism has many fathers in terms of its origins and evolution; but in terms of what I'll call European "movement" Fascism, a phenomenon that reached its apotheosis with Hitler and Mussolini, it is principally rooted in fin de siècle Italian, German, and French political thought, and as an offshoot of various Italian and German social movements, but particularly in Italian syndicalism and pan-German nationalism, Among the most influential thinkers were Georges Sorel, Enrico Corradini, Georg von Schönerer, Wilhelm Riehl, Oswald Spengler, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. There are others, but most influential of all, that is, prior to Adolf Hitler––was Benito Mussolini, himself, who catalyzed the views of various thinkers into a well-organized political movement, Hitler, of course, took it to another level, and, in the process, he nearly led the world into the abyss.

There is a myth that Trump resembles Mussolini as a person. It is often repeated, but said by people who obviously know nothing of Mussolini beyond the swaggering character that they see in old newsreels, Perhaps in his exaggerated attempts at machismo this is true, but it really ends there, Mussolini was a learned and well-rounded man, he had a doctorate and wrote learned papers, including one on Machiavelli's Prince ... a man who spoke several languages ... and he was a gifted orator with cogent syntax, the latter being a great distinction from Trump,  In contrast, Adolf Hitler's learning was eclectic, Aside from being a brilliant orator and dramatist, perhaps only equaled by Winston Churchill in recent times, Hitler was naturally bright and retentive. He also was a gifted street psychologist, a master of branding, use of media, and marketing, much as Trump is; however, from his youth, and also like Trump, he was intellectually lazy, and uninterested in systematic learning or scholarship. His venue was the coffee house and beer hall, not the library, much as Trump’s is television. However, unlike Trump, Hitler was exceptionally disciplined in managing his public persona, in control of his political machinations ... exposing himself only very carefully ... and rigorous in conducting his personal relations, The personality comparisons are not what are important about Trump ... for there are not many, really, and they are at best quite superficial.

So what is Fascism?  First of all, let's nip one common misunderstanding in the bud, It is does not fit in the traditional categories of right and left, which is not the way the self-styled intellectuals representing either ideological extreme would like to have it, believing Fascism to be the ideology of the other side, and which partly explains why it can appeal to erstwhile members of both ends of the political spectrum, It is nearly always presented by academics as a species of far right-wing politics ... but that is overly simplistic ... it is much more complicated than that. No less than an authority than Hitler himself thought Nazism, a species of Fascism, transcended left and right, borrowed from both, and was what he called "syncretic,” In the broadest terms, here are ten characteristics one will find in the three previously successful, large-scale fascistic movements in Europe. Taken individually each attribute may be found in other kinds of movements. But taken as a whole, in combination, I believe they typify Fascism.

1. Fascism is a form of hyper-nationalism that capitalizes on two principal things ... one, strong patriotic feelings, often founded on a mythical past that never occured, and two, the vilification of groups seen as sullying the nation and detrimental to the national interest, often represented by an ethnic or religious group, modernism, cosmopolitan elites, and outsiders more generally. ["Make America Great AGAIN."] [I am putting America first.] ["I think the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control."] (...just to name three of many--but more to follow illustrating the same point.)

2. While there certainly are elements of anti-elitist populism, Fascism also seeks to co-opt people in power, for power is its ultimate objective, and because it is more than willing to use utilitarian means to attain its ends, it will curry favor with economic, political, and intellectual elites wherever and whenever it can to secure it. [Simply look at GOP leaders and moneyed donors who previously denounced Trump, and the latter’s wiliness to use all the tools at his disposal of the elites his followers decry, e.g., the media.]

3. Fascism freely borrows from both socialist and capitalist doctrines ... for power is its goal ... and there is not a systematic economic doctrine other than that which is seen as necessary to attain power and to benefit the state, co-opting whatever economic power or centers of influence necessary to attain those ends, whether through markets, corporate interests, or popular measures with the masses ... so it is perhaps no coincidence that Mussolini was once a socialist involved in the labor movement (which he would destroy), and that Nazism had a vibrant socialist wing in its earlier years ... one eventually quashed (the Night of the Long Knives) by the mid-thirties and replaced by a kind of quasi-capitalism, an economic system best described as state corporatism. ["Well, the first thing you do is don't let the jobs leave. The companies are leaving. I could name, I mean, there are thousands of them. They're leaving, and they're leaving in bigger numbers than ever. And what you do is you say, fine, you want to go to Mexico or some other country, good luck. We wish you a lot of luck. But if you think you're going to make your air conditioners or your cars or your cookies or whatever you make and bring them into our country without a tax, you're wrong."] [From Trump's chief economic adviser, Steve Moore: "Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy. I’m not even a big believer in democracy."]

4. Conspiratorial and exclusionary thinking about groups and forces aligned against the movement is part and parcel to all fascistic movements, and plays a central role in the rallying cries of its leaders, whether the bogeyman is international Jewry, a particular ethnic group, the bourgeoisie, large corporate interests, liberal elites, Bolsheviks, or the media. [On Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs,' crime and are 'rapists'."]["I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall.] [I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people (ed: that is, Arabs) were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."] ["Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population."] ["On The Wall Street Journal: 'They better be careful or I will unleash big time on them."]["We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated."]

5. When out of power, fascistic movements always declaim against the legitimacy of those in power as usurpers who, through their machinations, rig outcomes and are not the true representatives of the people or nation. Already, a potential loss is being declared as a result of voter fraud and media rigging. Hints at violence as a consequence are not uncommon, ["I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing many, many millions of people. In many cases first-time voters ... If you disenfranchise those people? And you say, well, I'm sorry, you're 100 votes short, even though the next one is 500 votes short? I think you'd have problems like you've never seen before. I wouldn't lead it, but I think bad things will happen".]["Polls close, but can you believe I lost large numbers of women voters based on made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Media rigging election!"] ["Election is being rigged by the media, in a coordinated effort with the Clinton campaign, by putting stories that never happened into news!"]

6, Every successful fascistic movement has been led by a charismatic and often bombastic demagogue who is seen as and who claims to be the embodiment of the nation, the vessel of the national will, and as the exceptional person--one without whom the nation cannot prosper or survive. The state and its leaders effectively become one, ["I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created."] [After delineating the ills of the nation: "I am your voice. I alone can fix it."]

7. Fascistic movements view violence as a just means of achieving its ends, whether outside of or through the state, and law and order are common code words. Calls for violence or hints of violent recourse against opponents are common. There is often an exaggerated, hyper-masculinity on parade, with glorification of toughness and strength and power. There is a display of an authoritarian bearing, and the leader’s followers are admirers of it. ["When somebody challenges you, fight back. Be brutal, be tough."] ["When Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water."] ["If she gets to pick her judges – nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know."] ["Why can’t we use nuclear weapons."] ["You know what I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them. No, no. I was going to hit them, I was all set and then I got a call from a highly respected governor."]

8. Despite the popular appeals to "law and order," a trope of authoritarianism more generally, the fascistic conception of law lies outside of any legislative or judicial proceedings or the kinds of protections or due process enshrined by a constitutional authority. Often the law is construed as that which us willed by the individual or individuals in power. ['It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system. I had a rigged system, except we won by so much. This court system, the judges in this court system, federal court. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. Ok? But we will come back in November.'] ["The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight."] [On telling generals to violate the Geneva Conventions, US Constitution, and the Uniform Military Code of Justice: "They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me. I’m a leader; I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it."]

9, A common attribute of fascistic movements is the creation of alternate realities, often with an adamant and repetitive disregard for the truth, even in the face of abundant veridical evidence to the contrary, especially when it serves the ends of the partisans or when said evidence conflicts with doctrine. ['An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.'] [(On unemployment: 'I've seen numbers of 24 percent — I actually saw a number of 42 percent unemployment. Forty-two percent. 5.3 percent unemployment -- that is the biggest joke there is in this country. … The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it's a 30, 32. And the highest I've heard so far is 42 percent.']

10. Symbolism is often an important aspect of Fascism, especially patriotic symbols that evoke feelings of group identity. The Nazis, in particular, made effective use of this. [An example, one of many, would be Donald Trump Jr.'s tweeted picture with the Trumps next to a green frog, a common alt-right/anti-Semitic and racist symbol, Of course, all the standard patriotic regalia and lighting and music are part and parcel to the Trump campaign, as it is with every campaign; but there are insidious instances of using other racist and anti-Semitic memes and symbols.]

This is by no means exhaustive, but I believe it captures the essentials, and though right and left populist movements might share in some of these characteristics in various times and places, when taken as a whole, I think they are substantively different, I have bracketed just a small sample of statements by Trump himself, or gave some examples myself, simply to illustrate and encapsulate some of the reasons why I think he meets these ten criteria. The amount of additional evidence is simply overwhelming. These are all in addition to his hateful statements towards the disabled and women, an admission to committing physical assault, and to being a sexual predator. Not to mention Trump’s threats to prosecute and jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton, if he wins, or, if he loses, to not recognize the results of the election. The latter are among the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes everywhere.

While I think Fascism and what it conveys is an important descriptor, and one worth preserving and using when it fits, I will readily admit its overuse has diminished its force and gravity. Moreover, it seems to many to be a dead doctrine, one now buried in the historical dustbin. It isn't. Setting that aside, though, the fact remains that the ascendancy of Trump and his craven Republican converts represent the most dangerous political phenomena in the US in the modern era.

The only silver lining is potential that an intellectually and morally responsible center-right party will rise from the ashes, and the apparent destruction of the modern Republican Party, a party transformed (historical irony, here!) by the white flight of the post-Confederate Democrats after the Civil Rights legislation of the mid-Sixties, and an unholy alliance between corporate welfarests and assorted disaffected racists, white Evangelicals, and white workers, a coalition cobbled together by Nixon and Reagan (the so-called silent and moral majorities, respectively), with the help of considerable gerrymandering at the congressional level, courtesy of the likes of Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove. And all the while,  the more rational establishment is winking at the crass incitements of the unlettered by the Breitbarts,  Limbaughs, Hannitys and O'Reillys of the world, believing at the end a rational man can be inserted (e.g., a McCain or Romney), whilst the rabble are returned to their guns and religion. I strongly suspect both Nixon and Reagan would be appalled by the Frankenstein monster they helped to create--culminating in a hydra-headed amalgam of the Old Confederacy, Palinism, and Trumpism. It is no longer the party of Javits, Dirksen, Eisenhower, or T.R. (who left the party, despite today's ahistorical Republican hagiography of TR), let alone the party of Lincoln, Today it is the party of the ultimate vulgarian, Donald Trump.

Even with Trump's probable defeat, I worry about the possibility of violence, an intractable divide in our population, an impotent executive with a recalcitrant congress (that already lies in wait to foil her and perhaps even to impeach her), and an unstable world with dictators, fanatics, and jingoists run amok, some considerable amount of which is of the United State's own making.

I am not a fan of either Bill or Hilary Clinton, I have not had a choice that I thoroughly liked since George McGovern in the general election of 1972, But I do not doubt Hillary's intellectual or emotional bona fides, and I do believe that she believes in many of the same things that are most important to me (and most of my friends), not least of all, the rule of law, principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights, equality under the law, and a societal obligation to care for the least among us. She is more belligerent and hawkish than I would like; but she is also a quick study and learns from her mistakes, Perhaps she will have learned more about the unintended consequences of military interventions that are not in our strategic interests. I eschew her lawyerly-like triangulation and prevarications, a quality she shares with her husband; but these are certainly not unique to politicians of all political stripes. I also regret her seeming instinctive secretiveness (I still remember her “secret” health care committee days in the nineties), and her occasional (to be sure, sometimes understandable!) paranoia. With that said, she is much less of a liar than either her husband or her opponent, or for that matter, even the average politician, This is empirically verifiable by going here http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jun/29/fact-checking-2016-clinton-trump/, Trump represents a danger not only by virtue of his sordid and incoherent policies, but also because of his very unstable and petulant temperament. It would be a mistake to be fooled by his apparent isolationism and pacific statements, for his past behaviors and language are hyper-aggressive, and he has an overwhelming need to appear tough–––and like many of those who are especially egocentric and thin-skinned, he indicates a massive problem with self-esteem veiled by a fragile ego. This is a mixture for disaster with someone in charge of the most powerful military, police, and intelligence apparatus in the world,

It is said it couldn't happen here, Well, I suspect something similar was thought in the most technologically advanced, literate, and cosmopolitan nation on the face of the earth in the late 1920s and early 1930s. And it not only happened, it happened very suddenly, And in the process, both conservative and liberal forces were co-opted or eliminated. Had there been a choice for, say,  Pappan or Schleicher over Hitler in 1932-33, both imperfect men, but not Fascists, and both realistic alternatives at the time, tens of millions of lives might have been spared, I do not expect Trump will kill millions. But I do think he could irrevocably alter the course of history in a dark and sinister way.

Our choice is clear, I think, and it is essential that we do everything we can not to simply defeat Trump and Trumpism, but to defeat both by the widest margin possible at all levels ... in the hope of marginalizing his and his followers' power ... and to do all that is possible to change the balance of power in the congress, and especially the Senate, lest much mischief be done to damage the office of both the presidency and the nation. To let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or even the acceptable, is now simply unacceptable, given the stakes. Stein, Johnson, or McMullin will not and cannot win the presidency. To vote for any of them, or to write in another, or to not vote at all, simply reduces the margin between the forces of rationality and Trump. It therefore is a moral imperative to make that margin as large as possible for all of our sakes, and for the sake of posterity. He must not simply be defeated, but he must be utterly defeated. In the end, voting one's "conscience" ought not to be unconscionable. Put another way, a vote for anyone other than Hillary in this election is not a vote against Trump, but mere self-gratification with the delusion of acting out of principle.  


The evidence demonstrates that it is a waste of time to reason with Trumpers. This is not meant for them. Feel free to pass this on to the ones who might yet make a difference in the election ahead. It is more than a matter of conscience, notwithstanding the unsatisfactory choices. It is a matter of principle.

MB

21st Century Rock Queen: Miley Ray Cyrus

From the time Elvis exploded the musical universe and shook everyone up; Jerry’s piano burst into balls of fire; Mick had us all under his thumb; Janis took a piece of our hearts; Cherie bombed us; and Ann went all crazy on us, the best rock ‘n roll has always been in-your-face, bold, evocative, guttural––embroiling our animal spirits in a way that no other modern musical form can. It is basic, primeval, carnal, sensual, blood boiling, and rhythmic with a driving back beat that compels us to get up and move. One can find melodious, smooth, structured, soothing music elsewhere viz. on Broadway, in church, at a piano bar, at the opera, in the dentist's chair, or in elevators.  Rock doesn’t calm.  It doesn’t charm. It doesn’t sooth. It excites. It enlivens. It takes one to another plane. And as often as not, it is overtly sexual. There’s a place for that other stuff, to be sure; but none of it does what rock can do. And rock can use those smoother, melodious forms quite effectively as punctuation marks. Indeed, the best rockers do exactly that. Take early Elvis, who had one of the best voices ever ... he could be very silken and smooth … but he also could rock down lonely street like no other singer before or since. Rock always riffs into something more primal: it gets our hips moving, hormones flowing, spines tingling, feet tapping, and our hearts pounding. It makes pictures in our minds; it brings memories imprinted long ago to the forefront; it grabs onto us; and if we let it, it can both elicit and communicate emotions in a way no other musical style does. 

Today we see comparatively little of this in popular music's structured, formulaic, often over-produced, uninspired, and highly-stylized forms. But there is one person who encapsulates all that is best about rock. She defines it. The best rock artist of our time is a pint-sized, pixie rocker named Miley Ray Cyrus. What? Hannah Montana née Destiny Hope Cyrus dba Miley Cyrus––the Disney apostate and now a whirling, twerking Dervish of the VMAs a couple of years ago––that Miley Cyrus?  Yes, that one, one in the same. But twerking Miley is sooo passé. She’s on to new things. It got your attention though; it changed the game. It wasn’t just elaborate stagecraft or computerized pyrotechnics, all fun to watch, to be sure--but now commonplace and expected. Miley woke you up. She startled you. She shocked you. And like Elvis decades before her, it brought out all the prissy Puritans and up-tight moral scolds in full force. Now, before you get your panties in a wad, and before boomers start invoking the old gods: John, Paul, Ringo, and George, hear me out.

It is true that Miley does pop. And country. She’s got that authentic Nashville twang. Her musical roots are not dissimilar to pop sensation Taylor Swift’s, her near contemporary. Miley is also a damn good balladeer with a surprisingly wide, 4-octave vocal range, which is the same range as the melisma queen, Christina Aguilera. Technically speaking, she's  (D2) E2 - G#5 - E6 (C7) ... which very few singers can match. For more comparisons, soprano powerhouse Celine Dion has a 3-octave range and pop diva Mariah Carey has a 5-octave range. In contrast to these three singers, and many others in today's popular music scene, Miley's notes are definite, precise, and without unnecessary embelishment.  She doesn’t warble around a note to excess or bore us with gratuitous runs, as has become annoyingly customary. Her natural state is as a mezzo-soprano.  But she can comfortably hit the high notes when she wants to, and she can go to lower registers more comfortably and with greater resonance than most females. 

And it is equally true that Miley is as punk as all get out, a rocker redolent of other great female artists such as Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, and Ann Wilson. She is capable of belting out any rock anthem there is ... and she can add many herbs and spices of vocal articulation along with the visuals of her supple body language and vividly expressive countenance to enhance the emotional impact, be it uplifting, sensual, angry, or sad ... and unlike many, she can do it all without props if she so desires. Her unencumbered, visage, hands, posture, and movements are able to say it all in a way that no stage artifice possibly could. Like the best rockers, no, like the best artists, she also doesn’t give a fuck what people think … it’s her art and she is going to do it her way. And that is what the most innovative rockers do.

It was very upsetting to those who saw her as the adorable, clean-cut Hannah to be transformed from her Disneyfied chrysalis into a sexual, self-confident, woman-in-control, punch-you-in-the-face rocker who would strut, prance, gyrate, grind, and stick her tongue out--not altogether unlike the bad-boy Mick Jagger did decades ago, who also, like Miley today, set many a parent on edge. Some still haven’t gotten over her metamorphosis, calling her disgraceful, slutty, or worse. She has done nothing more risque than Madonna did on stage for a longer period of time starting thirty plus years ago; it’s just that no one ever thought of Madonna as being like Hannah Montana.  But unlike Madonna, off stage she’s more of a quiet homebody, happiest being with her pets and in her home. Oh yeah, she has partied and experimented, but not unlike many kids in their late teens and early twenties. She was a typical kid and young adult, for Heaven's sake ... or at least with a typical young person's desires---desires undoubtedly constrained by what Disney expected for most of her teen years that she was finally able to unleash ... and typical except for being very rich, talented, and with a lot of access.  

Also like Madonna, and Madonna's heir, Lady Gaga, Miley is attracted to holistic performance art, one involving her voice, her body, costuming, and props of her own unique design and style … and often enough, with trappings intended to provoke, evoke, titillate, and reflect whatever mood she happens to be in that day. However, as I said earlier, Miley needs nothing but her own voice and body to convey emotion. Don't get me wrong, she likes props, indeed, to excess in my view; however, these are as much as anything a product of her youth and her penchant for shocking people, and they are altogether supplementary. Indeed, I don't think there's a performer today who can visually transmit feeling as impactfully and artfully as she can with her body, alone, without additional staging. And she is able to dominate a stage with her considerable vocal ability … and she can rattle your emotional cage with intention and purpose such that you feel exactly what she wants you to feel, which is what she is feeling, for she is like a prism of emotional energy directed in a coherent beam that penetrates her audience. You see it visually, for she is nothing if not physically expressive; but you also hear it come from deep within her, and you feel it inside you, whether it is sadness, anger, happiness, loving, or just wanting to get down and party. Her voice rises up from her chest in her 106-pound (soaking-wet) tiny frame as if it were coming from a deep cavern.  She uses her head voice rarely, but when she does it is pure, effortless, and she can go there with either soft tenderness or with piercing power. I think the real key to Miley's musical brilliance is that she is an empath, rather like a Geiger counter of emotion.  She feels everything and she communicates, no exudes for all to see, what she feels naturally. 

Miley is the daughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus. She was born in Tennessee in 1992. She’s been around for so long it’s easy to forget she is only 24. Miley was wont to entertain from a very young age, seeking attention and center stage, and she had her first professional break in bit roles on her father’s television show, Doc. But what carried her further was no one other than herself and her own talent. No parental advantage makes one a superstar. She did that all by herself. Very simply, the girl could sing, and her smile and personality could light up a room. She had the vocal chops and the charisma that came across on both screen and stage. Indeed, her very name, Miley, is derived from the appellation and nickname “Smiley Miley,” indicative of the fact she was always happy and smiling as a child; her name was eventually formally changed from her birth name, Destiny Hope, to Miley Ray.  

By 13 she was a Disney television star where she played a wholesome teen … Miley Stewart, a regular teen girl by day, and by night––in disguise––a veritable jr. rock goddess and teen idol, Hannah Montana. She quickly became Disney’s biggest star--a multi-platinum album artist, a movie star, and one of the biggest concert draws in the history of the tween-teen market. By the time she was 16 she was famous the world over as a real-life teen idol. Under the careful guidance of her parents … despite incredible wealth at a young age (she’s worth several hundred million dollars), the pressure of being constantly watched and judged, she remained centered. 

Miley doesn’t have a backstory of financial privation, a dysfunctional family, or the customary (often invented) Sturm und Drang to inform stereotypical rocker angst. Her family was well-to-do, loving, and close knit … they still are. She apparently was even part of the so-called Purity Ring, chastity movement––and by comparison to many in her celebrity peer group, even her age group more generally, she’s has had relatively few romantic entanglements, notwithstanding a reputation to the contrary. The slut-shaming crowd, always at the ready to tear down women who dare to use suggestive or overt sexuality in their art, promoted the idea that her stage persona represented the way she behaved off stage. No doubt, in part this resulted from an intentional effort by Miley to shed her goody-two-shoes image; but it does also represent what she felt at the time, what a great many young adults feel at that stage in their lives, in fact, and she is nothing if not pathologically authentic about herself ... whether about her love life, sex life, likes, dislikes, worries, laments, and her pains. She bares her soul for all to see on stage and hear in song, and she is completely vulnerable. What you see is what you get with Miley. And what you see tomorrow may be entirely different than what you saw today or yesterday. Her art reflects how she feels at the moment. To observe her in concert (I've only seen those recorded and available on YouTube or television) is to see her performances always vary with her moods. 

Perhaps the biggest child star since Shirley Temple, it’s hard to express your adult artistry when everyone expects you to be a perpetually virginal, sweet, and precocious fifteen-year old.  She has effectively shed that image, but in truth, she is closer to being the good girl she grew up being, because she actually is a good girl (well, she likes marijuana and says fuck a lot ... but so what, that's tame), and she is in many ways the opposite of an unbridled party girl that those who don't follow her think she is. She is kind, selfless, gentle, sensitive, and full of grace. She is always in control even when she seems out of control.  She knows precisely what she is doing, and by all accounts from those who know her best, she is in complete charge of both her art and her life.

By her late teens, Miley wanted to break away from the Disney mold … and it was time for a full-grown, normal woman to emerge and to release the pent-up musical energy she held inside while dutifully purveying very respectable bubble-gum pop. Her first truly adult hit came with her oft covered pop-country anthem, "The Climb," which won MTV's best song from the  2009 movie, Hannah Montana: The Movie, and also the Teen Choice award for best single. This was soon followed by "Party in the USA,"  the infectious song from her album, Time of Our Lives, along with the award winning lovesong, "When I Look at You." These efforts resulted in Miley becoming iHeart Radio's International Artist of the Year in 2009. Her evolution as a serious rocker really began with her album Can’t Be Tamed in 2010, with the eponymous hit song and the sultry, “Who Owns My Heart.”  This is where we start to see some cracks in the good-girl shell. But these were still in between her earlier pop self and her rock self. The latter came full force with her next album, Bangerz, released in 2013, when like Venus emerging fully-formed from the head of Zeus, a rock goddess came forth with songs such as “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” (director's cut) … the former an in-your-face, party hardy, I don’t give a damn, paean to having youthful fun, and the latter an angst-ridden anthem of love and heartbreak, alternating between emotional capitulation to fulsome outrage, and a song that gives one more than an inkling of her vocal prowess. Bangarz had some mediocre tracks ... but so did Sgt. Pepper's and Exile on Main Street. Her "FU" song, for example, seems gratuitously in-your-face and without much point, a mere throwaway. The album was a hit, and “Wrecking Ball" (click for record-breaking, explicit version) deservedly charted at number one in the United States. 

Several songs in Bangarz were accompanied by visually stunning, and provocative videos with record-breaking views, and “Wrecking Ball” won MTV’s “Video of the Year” in 2014. Perhaps more than any other video in recent memory … and aside from the raw sexuality … in “Wrecking Ball” she is able to convey emotion in an authentic, evocative way that few singers can match, and one senses, or more accurately, one really knows that she is feeling the emotion she’s describing, that it’s not just an act, and her facial expressions and real tears, even a runny nose, add to and even say more than words alone could possibly convey. One doesn’t have to see it to feel it, but seeing it enhances the listening experience due to a powerful and charismatic presence that she visually conveys.

Miley’s next venture was Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, a quasi-psychedelic collaboration with the Flaming Lips featuring some pieces with subtle overtones of both country and punk. It received mixed reviews, as is the case with most worthwhile stuff, because it won’t satisfy the watered-down, pedestrian tastes of those accustomed to cute, smooth or flouncy, bouncy pop. Miley does things her way, and she made the album available for free! This is an internationally famous artist that could easily have made millions from it. That's the thing about Miley: she is true to herself and, first and foremost, to her art., and she marches to the beat of her own drum, critics be damned. It makes her nearly unique in the superstar arena. She actually does things for free.  

Petz is an avant-garde, highly experimental, autobiographically authentic, at times salacious, and in places, brilliantly conceived--and mark my words, it in due course will be seen as important and transitional.  The best pieces were written solely by Cyrus; but she had collaborators on some. In a word, Petz should be considered a remarkable work from any artist, but particularly remarkable given that it came from a 22-year old. No one but Miley Cyrus could write and sing a heartfelt tearjerker about her pet blowfish, the late Pablow (along with some other tributes, thus the title). Laugh if you will; but then listen to it Then there's the vulnerable Miley of "I Get So Scared," which portrays the mixed-up honesty of a young woman trying forget a past love while playing the field. Or how about the plaintive "Slab of Butter" (get past the introductory stoner talk); the melancholy "Cyrus Skies"; the haunting "Karen Don't Be Sad";  the deep and provocative  "1 Sun"; or the lyrically light "Space Boots" --- nothing in Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic repertoire was better than these, and most of it was not nearly as good.  Petz is in parts a work of considerable genius. It has some very explicit and personal tracks about sex; offputting to some, no doubt--but that's Miley Cyrus, or at least she's the one willing to tell it in song, for it is not at all unexpected or uncommon for a young person to have many of the same feelings and anxieties that she evinces and manages to express so beautifully, and also often bluntly and unvarnished, which will undoubtedly make some listeners uncomfortable with the unfettered exposure to her inner emotions and desires. To be sure, there are a few throwaways (it's a double album, there are 23 tracks--and again, it was released at no cost), but it is a radical, extraordinary, and welcome departure from over-produced, derivative pop. 


While all this is going on, Miley has been involved in a great many charitable endeavors. At the grand old age of 24, she is one of the most generous celebrities in the world. She has contributed a great deal of money, time, and energy to causes ranging from the City of Hope to helping homeless and at risk youth. She has been very involved in supporting the rights of LGBTQ persons. People who have worked for her and who know her personally attest to the fact that she is a remarkably kind and compassionate person.  This sits in juxtaposition to her critics, the pious moralists who find tight pants, exposed skin, and some youthful, hormonal stage antics by a girl in her early twenties to be so reprehensible, but who in their suffocating sanctimony probably do comparatively little, if anything at all, to ease the privation of the less fortunate. Since her Hannah Montana days, she has used her celebrity to great effect in order to ease the suffering of others in different ways. Not just with money, mind you, but with her feet. Often, for example, she would … and still does … visit sick kids in hospitals to their delight, and she visits and encourages homeless and outcast kids. Recently she formed her charitable foundation, Happy Hippie, which supports various worthwhile causes primarily centered on youth.

One of the things that illustrates her integrity is her sense of loyalty--one that differentiates her from many in her industry--for example, the fact that she has kept the same musicians as her principal band since she was a young teen. That is highly unusual in an industry that manifests comparatively little fealty, and where there is considerable turnover in the musical support staff of a star of her stature. She doesn’t simply cast people aside, and she takes care of the people who depend upon her and upon whom she depends (see interview with her musical director and drummer since age 12, Stacy Jones). And she shows absolutely no jealousy or pettiness towards the successes of others in her industry, including her own musical family. Indeed, she goes out of her way to help others get ahead, and not least of all her little sister, Noah.


Now let’s get one thing straight: Miley Cyrus has vocal abilities which greatly exceed the capacities of the average pop or rock star. She uses her natural instrument to suit the music and the mood … she can growl, yell, croon, use falsetto, be smokey, go high or low, be smooth or sweet, devilish or coquettish, plaintive or assertive. When she rocks out, she uses her rock voice, which is incredibly powerful and capable of shaking the roof.  Her natural position is mezzo-soprano, but she is comfortable just about anywhere in the tolerable listening range. But unlike many of her contemporaries, she is in no need of auto-tune (click for examples) or high-tech help, notwithstanding the fact she does like to experiment with techno-electronica. Anyone who doubts her basic rocker pipes should listen to her hair-raising cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” with Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, and Blake Shelton as part of television talent show, The Voice, where she is one of the musical judges. Or if you have any doubt about her ability to do a powerful ballad that can stand-up to anything Adel or Celine can do (actually, for my own tastes, she is better, and her vocal range is certainly larger), check out the song “Hands of Love” written by Linda Perry for the movie, Freeheld. Or listen to her Happy Hippie Backyard Sessions (available on You Tube), where she illustrates her remarkably smooth and powerful lower range in a duet with soprano Arianna Grande, covering Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over;” or her cover of the emotional Dido classic, “No Freedom”, where it is  visually evident that she is enveloped and transformed by the sentiment the song conveys;” and listen to the incomparable justice she gives to her godmother Dolly Parton’s pleading ballad, “Jolene”.   My point is, don’t think even for a moment that she can’t carry a tune. She can hold her own with the very best divas of any era.


She’s only 24! Keep that in mind. At that age, the Beatles and the Stones best work was yet to come. Miley Ray Cyrus has already done quite a bit. Both in her music and as a compassionate and extraordinarily giving human being. And I hope and fully expect that there is much more to come from her. I can’t wait.




A Concise Polemic on Politically-minded People and Ideology (Only Partly Tongue-and-Cheek)

I don’t mean this in a personal way. It’s not about a particular politician, though I could name many–––but I simply don’t like politicians as a class. This is true notwithstanding their political orientation, and even when I agree with many of their positions. I put political activists, who are not themselves professional politicians, at a close second.  I was once one long ago, for what that’s worth. I know there are many I would find likable enough in the particular, that is, when I know them, personally--for after all,  I do like most people when I get to know them; but I dislike them as a class, which is to say, in the abstract. You see, I think that in order to be a politician--or to a lesser degree, perhaps, even a political activist--one must possess characteristics that I simply dislike, indeed, often enough, even loath. Perhaps first and foremost, there’s the fact that politicians and their acolytes presume to know what’s best for me. They seek to arrange my life and the lives of others, and they want to tell me and others what to do, how to live our lives. They also assume that the economic goods that I acquire fairly, whether it is by luck or desert, are at their disposal to achieve their ends, and, further, that they are in a position to tell me not only how to behave , but what I ought to think to be a deemed good person. No doubt they sometimes know better than I do, but probably not nearly as often as they think, and it doesn’t really matter to me if they do know better, for they presume too much, and, besides, I don’t trust them to decide. So, I resent this presumption from the outset.

Yes, I know---there are the descriptions (and often enough, self-congratulatory ones) of public "servants" doing well by others, patriotism, and personal sacrifice. We hear a lot of that, and more about it in a moment. For now, it is sufficient to say I am bothered by the fact that politicians of every persuasion possess a certain kind of personal grandiosity, a sense of self that is most likely entirely unjustified, a belief that they are specially endowed or entitled, with insight into truth and justice others lack, and with a destiny to fulfill some end-state conception that they hold to be true, and to which they’d bind the rest of us, left, right, or center.

Then there’s the matter of lying.  Now, human beings lie, almost (I say almost not quite believing it; it’s really a weasel word) without exception. Sophisticated psychological studies show that people lie astonishingly often; granted, it's usually about unimportant things, but often enough on some important ones, too. But most human beings are not governing large numbers of other human beings, and therein lies the difference. In a democracy, in order to succeed, politicians must be untruthful at least some of the time, either by commission or omission, and if not in a blatant way, then in a vague, slippery way, and usually a bit of both––for in no other manner could they at once be elected and also appeal to different constituencies with different and, often enough, opposing interest. We are all liars, it’s just a fact and there’s no denying it without lying again.  But as opposed to most of us, politicians lie as a part of their profession. In other words, one must be something of a scoundrel in order to succeed as a politician.

An honest ideologue would be no better, for an ideologue is by definition unyielding and doctrinaire, and he imagines his principles and ideological system to be paramount and above all other concerns, and the facts on the ground or the opinions of others are unlikely to alter his view.  Indeed, facts that are contrary to the ideology are rejected or twisted to fit, for the ideology is indubitable. A very personally dishonest ideologue is even worse, of course. And there’s a good chance he will be, for, as I said, people lie, and in the case of the lying ideologue in power, lies can have big consequences to many others. Hitler, Mao, Lenin, and Stalin all come to mind.  So that leaves us with dictatorship, an authoritarian regime, and that is obviously no better, honest or otherwise––indeed, history shows it is much worse. Since the time of Plato, intellectuals have yearned for a philosopher king, some might even have fancied themselves as well-equipped to be one.  But there's not a philosopher I've known personally or read who I think would be a good king. Indeed, most would be terrible. Besides, there's no reason to believe they are any more honest than the rest of us, and there's plenty of evidence to show this is true based on a study of the personal ethical standards of philosophers. As a consequence of all of this, dishonesty is simply something we must accept if we are to have democracy, which, as Winston Churchill among others has averred, is the worst system except for all the rest.

Returning to an earlier point, no one perpetuates the idea of the virtue of public service and the personal sacrifices of politicians, and the sacrifices of their peers, even their deceased (most especially then!) opponents, more than politicians, themselves, which is more often than not little more than self-flattery and self-justification. It really sickens me when I hear many politicians praise one another for their public service, as though they encounter untoward dangers and great personal sacrifice by seeking power over the rest of us. Heroes among them are few and far in between. And their tiresome paeans to one another and lauding the public service and greatness of others (most notably during obsequies)  are mostly just disguised justifications for their own predilections for meddlesome activity.

I do not mean to say that political achievement is not sometimes actuated by good intentions with desirable or even noble ends in mind.  But I think there is usually much more behind it than noble motives, and that in at least equal measure there is a desire to fulfill personal needs, namely, personal success, even glory, and certainly to gain the satisfaction that comes from having power and control over others, not to mention their approbation. There is a certain kind of neediness that attends most political temperaments. A politician by his very nature is something of a narcissist, some more than others, of course---but all seem to have a fair dose of it. I don’t find such people worthy of great admiration, generally, though I make very few notable exceptions. For every Winston Churchill or Abe Lincoln, there are literally tens of thousands of Bill Clintons, Donald Trumps, and George W. Bushes in terms of personal characteristics. But this isn’t about the former two, a decided minority among politicians, even the best of them; rather, it’s about most in the political class.

As for patriotism, it is an emotion akin to supporting a favorite sports team. A perfectly human emotion, mind you, but one that is a vestige of the tribalism of our primordial past. It is not altogether dissimilar to what gang members feel about their gang. And the symbols of patriotism: flags, insignia, and statues and such, are akin to a gang’s or sports team’s colors. Love of country is essentially love of an abstraction, one that is more often than not idealized and not even based in reality, but in what we imagine, rather like many Norman Rockwell paintings. How many politicians say they love their country, but, at the same time, seem to hate their government, or at least whenever the opposition is in power ... and, except in the imagination of the libertarian or ;yearnings for the Old West,  isn't government the very sine qua non or essence of country. Oh, they mean what their country stands for, they will say ... or its people.  But the things it is alleged to stand for are the idealized laws that form the government and the arrangements of society. And at any given time they are likely to detest half or more of the people, anyway--people with whom they disagree for one reason or another. Patriotism is really a silly concept. More than that, it has proved to be dangerous. This is not to suggest that I am personally devoid of such feelings, but I do view them as primitive, and not especially worthy of rational men, feelings that ought to be subdued and controlled, not nourished.  Moreover, such emotions, these tribal feelings that underlie patriotism, or in their more vigorous manifestations, nationalism and jingoism, are the source of considerable evil in the world, the cause of horrible wars and much suffering. With that said, I separate patriotism … the love of country and the (not uncommon) feelings of one’s country’s superiority or exceptional nature … from duty to country … or more specifically, it is distinct from duty to the society that has offered certain benefits and protections to one, and duty to one’s neighbors and family, or more broadly speaking, duty to one’s countrymen.

I have a rather Socratic view of this matter, which is to say that I obey the laws of my society and fulfill the duties assigned to me (within the limits of conscience and what I deem to be morally right), such as paying taxes, not committing crimes, obeying contract laws, and even defending it when it becomes necessary. Much as Socrates refused exile instead of death when found in violation of Athenian law by a "democratic" assembly of citizens … a society from which he said he gained much and had a duty to obey.  I do see limits to this, but there’s merit to accepting the laws of the state in many instances. While I might not have explicitly signed-up for or accepted these duties, neither did I explicitly deny the benefits or opportunities bestowed upon me, many or even most of which I took for granted.  Therefore, my acceptance of those duties is implied by my having also freely taken advantage of the rights and benefits bestowed upon me. Again, there are exceptions of conscientious objection, in which case, one suffers the consequences, as did Socrates, though I would not go so far as he did in suggesting one owes one's life.

Insofar as I subscribe to tolerance, not of everything, mind you, but of differences that obtain in society that do me or others no harm, and, therefore, of pluralism; believe that the material goods and assets fairly acquired by others belong to them to own and to dispose of as they wish, with few exceptions (such as causing individuals or society to suffer as a result of this possession or use, e.g., spewing toxins from my factory into the air, to give an easy example); accept the role of logic and science, which is to say, reason; believe in the rule of just law, and not the caprice of men (understanding that civil disobedience is sometimes defensible); hold that people ought to have the right to choose their leaders; believe that individuals have certain rights that supersede the rights of states or majorities; and eschew superstition and ignorance–––I suppose I might be characterized as a liberal or liberal minded. But I do not hew to any overarching system of beliefs from which all other social principles or practices are derived, the hallmark of the ideologue, that is, other than the most rudimentary kind of moral principles that can be derived from conjoining two very important concepts–––one, impartiality, and the other, rationality, the latter meant in the psychological sense, which is to say impartial rationality. One or the other concept is not sufficient, by itself, for they must be joined as separate, but vital concepts to arrive at a moral code that can be universal. It is irrational (in the psychological sense) for one to choose his own suffering (or death) for no other, greater reason (such as to avoid greater pain, such as surgery might require, or in order to protect a loved one), and if we act impartially, we in effect extend this basic, rational principle of avoiding suffering and death to others, and without regard to the benefits or disadvantages that inure to one’s own self or to others. This is a long way of saying that the guiding principle is to avoid causing unjustified suffering, and that all other just universal principles are derived therefrom.  By universal, I mean principles that apply to everyone at all times when the essential facts of the matter or the same. No one could impartially reason that we ought to promote happiness, though, or some conception of the good … for there is no objective standard of reference for what that means, that is, one upon which all rational people would agree. Rational people do agree on suffering, however, and that it ought to be avoided. To not avoid it for an overriding reason is simply irrational. Conceptions of the good (or happiness) vary, however, and their is no objective reason to prefer one over the other. There is such a standard for suffering and death, and their avoidance is even a condition of rationality. To extend this to others is where impartiality comes into play, and I contend that it is the basis of a universal moral code, one from which all social practices ought to be analyzed, and one which takes into account logic and the facts.

As I said, a system of the good … that which we apprehend as the kind of good one ought to promote or act upon for society as a whole or for people individually … cannot be similarly universalized as a requirement (as with the avoidance of suffering) to apply to all in a way that all rational men would agree, for there are no objective standards of reference to validate what one person thinks is good versus another’s conception, and neither reason nor rationality require it. One need only examine various and opposing political and religious systems to see that people have varying conceptions of the good, and there is no where an objective standard by which to measure them. Nothing in reason suggests we should prefer one end over another. And there is nothing necessarily irrational about acting immorally.  There is nothing irrational about, say, stealing or murdering another. It is the conjoint principle of impartial rationality that extends personal rationality to others.

Reason (I do not mean psychological rationality, here) deals with means quite well; but as David Hume said, it is silent about ends and desires. Political systems are often simply manifestations of desires, what we prefer, which reason can lead us to fulfill, but that are in and of themselves (the desires or ends) not the products of ratiocination.  There are of course exceptions to rules that we might devise through impartial rationality, such as do not lie or kill. The justification to an exception comes from my willingness to universalize an exception, impartially, such that I, too, or one I love, could be the victim of it, or the beneficiary, given the same essential facts of the matter. That is the nature of impartiality. Thus, thereby, one might universalize the suffering attendant to war, to use an extreme example, in order to defend or save more lives or preserve the liberties of many. But this must be done without regard to who benefits or loses given the essential facts of the matter. This, impartial rationality, is the only political “system” that I hold to be true, and from which all political acts are to be judged … indeed, all social acts are to be judged by it.  As a consequence, I am no rightist, leftist, or centrist.  I am a rational objectivist.

There are things that bother me about self-described leftists. Foremost among them is their certainty about how others ought to live their lives. But also one of the principal traits of the left is the focus on motives or on good intentions, and the emphasis is on what lies behind an act, something in the mind or will that gives the act (or the intention to act) its moral meaning and merit.  I reject this quasi-Kantian outlook, though I accept much else of what Kant says about morality, especially in relation to impartiality, which is the root and true merit of his categorical imperative.  Morality is about what we do, not simply about what we feel or believe. Sentiment is worthless as it pertains to morality, that is, unless it is followed by the right act. Would that it were so easy to be moral as to believe a certain way! Religious people understandably confuse piety and belief with morality. In this leftists also share views found in various religious doctrines, and perhaps most notably those Christian doctrines that consider morality to be more about what we believe than about what we do. Motive or intent––belief, is given great credence among leftists and Christians, alike. And it is not uncommon for either to question the motives of all they oppose, and to praise the motives they support, notwithstanding the consequences of their acts.

And as with leftists of various stripes, many Christians believe there is something impure about wanting and acquiring things, or to make a profit or gain in the process of expending labor or by serendipity, or in investing one’s goods to acquire even more. The New Testament itself tells us that it is hard for the rich to enter Heaven. Of course, this is often overlooked, too. But to all leftists and many religious people, the profit motive is not a good motive. This very doctrine is also at the heart of much socialist doctrine. Profit is conceived as something that is not grounded in moral desert and it is therefore bad, and profit-taking is a zero-sum proposition, where someone gains and someone loses, and profits are unearned if un-associated with personal labor, for the leftists makes a fetish of labor and believes it mystically confers ownership. Thus, the oxen must own the ground he plows.  Leftists often know very little of economics. And they engage in a kind of metaphysics that defies reason. They confuse poetics with both morality and economics. One of the most telling forms of evidence is their analysis of economic globalization, which has has more to do with pulling literally hundreds of millions out of abject poverty than any other phenomena, but which the left sees as morally bad because of what they view as the unseemly, corrupt motives lying behind it. Leaving that aside, leftists, like Christians, also put great emphasis on moral desert, or at least what they conceive it to be, and they are often completely confused about morality as a result.

So-called capitalists (I am not one–––I believe both capitalist acts and socialist acts can be justified, depending on the facts) are wrong to say capitalism and private property are justified because they are more efficient than state-ownership of economic goods or state-controlled pricing––even though an abundance of empirical evidence suggests it. That would be a utilitarian argument. However, efficiency is not a moral criterion in and of itself. Private property and its disposition, which is to say, how we use it, are justified on moral grounds, when it is property that is fairly acquired. To take it without justification is theft. And that is so because it is irrational to desire the expropriation of one's own fairly acquired possession, and therefore, impartial rationality would require us to extend this principle to others. With that said, note the emphasis on justification. There are exceptions, and sometimes it is moral to take another's property for reasons that we can universalize. Such as supporting the state that nurtures and protects us. Again, morality trumps efficiency. More precisely, moral effectiveness is not always efficient. Such exceptions must be carefully weighed. Quite aside from the moral constraint of not causing unjustified suffering, not everything that is efficient is also effective, that is, if the end we wish to promote (effectively) avoid or prevent suffering.

People on the political right ground much of their dogma on moral desert, which is to say that the advantages one has are actually deserved. They often ignore the effects of good fortune, e.g.,  being born in a particular place, having particular experiences, including a particular kind of upbringing, genetic advantages, and accidents of coming in contact with the right people at the right time.  They ignore luck, in other words. And as a consequence, the things they acquire are thought to be all due to their special moral desert. The corollary to this is that the privations of others, or at least of many, are in some manner their own fault, which is to say, deserved––and often enough thought to be the result of slothfulness or shiftlessness, or even in some cases because god wills it to be that way. They ignore the advantages bestowed upon them as individuals that others did not have, and through no fault of their own. They assume those advantages are in some manner just the way things ought to be, that they are merited, much as the disadvantages of others also must be their just lot in life. Consequently, they are more loath to share their gains in a general sense through, for example, taxation, notwithstanding the fact that society and accidents of birth and experience have made possible much of what they have.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people on the right are less generous than people on the left. Indeed, studies show that conservatives are even more apt to give voluntarily to charitable causes (even when church tithing is excluded) than self-described liberals, who apparently believe charity is best handled by the government. They prefer forced giving.

People on both the right and left make a kind of fetish out of democracy, but neither really care much for it when it results in what they don’t like. Democracy is a very messy kind of business––and, let’s face it, people are often not very smart and they sometimes even operate against their own interests, or at least what others (including me) believe to be in their interest, and that’s part of the point. Who gets to decide this?  And why should someone else be in charge of deciding my interests or, similarly, why should I be in charge of deciding another’s?  I am not fond of stupid people banding together to tell me how to live.

On the other hand, there’s little evidence to suggest that smart people are that much better, and, plenty of evidence to suggest they can be dangerous when given unencumbered power. There is unfortunately no good alternative to democracy, certainly not authoritarianism on the one hand or anarchy on the other, though I’d take my chances with the latter over the former. Over time, democracy tends to work out––but the tyranny of the majority always remains problematic, and that is why a system of law, constitutional protection, is necessary in order to protect individual rights from the mob or from the opinion of the moment–––laws made by elected representatives who, though often enough are dishonest and self-serving, nonetheless might be a cut above average in intelligence or at least cleverness, and, therefore, are more capable through compromise at coming up something more sensible than what we’d get with a direct democracy.

Of course, leftists often prattle on about the needs and desires of "the people"–––holding this disembodied abstraction of "the people" and the promotion of the people’s welfare as their special and abiding interest. They make a fetish of the poor too, and yet, studies show they do little themselves out of their own pocket for the poor. They often concern themselves with what others do or don’t do, as opposed to their own lack of beneficence. The right is more inclined to personal bigheartedness, but more in the particular than in general.  Perhaps it is at bottom quite utilitarian in the sense that good works are good tickets to Heaven, and the right tends to be more religious. Whatever the motivation, leftists are notoriously stingy with their own money, and prefer to leave charity others, namely the taxpayer and government. Of course, conservatives tend also to have more money, too, which is certainly a factor in giving more.

The reality is that much of what "the people" really desire is eschewed by the left: their superstitions, values, habits, and leftists have little more than contempt their unwashed ways–––ways the left always seeks to change to suit their conception of what "the people" ought to be, how they ought to behave, as opposed to what they really are, and the way they themselves prefer to behave. You see, the left is all about freedom insofar as what one does corresponds with what they want. Likewise, "the people," who the left only pretends to love, have disdain in equal measure for their would-be protectors. So the left comforts itself, deludes itself, really, with a belief that “the people” are being misled and are ignorant of the true facts, and if they only knew them, they’d come running to their cause. Of course, this is rubbish. The rabble simply enjoys, no–––prefers its "rabbling" ways, and even think the left consists of wild-eyed kooks. I am no fan of the ways of the unwashed masses. But I wish them no harm and believe they are no less deserving of a fair shake and help when it can be given, and I especially believe a civilized society must do what it can to prevent or alleviate suffering. I just admit I am not a devotee to some idiotic abstraction about “the people” or the totem of “the working man,” or in a special virtue of the poor. They are no more virtuous as a class than any other class of human being.

The right is both fascinated by and loves authority, despite its paeans to individual liberty. Liberty is the furthest thing from the typical rightists’ mind, especially as it pertains to the liberty of others. Liberty for themselves, perhaps, though the typical rightist is also enamored of structure. Rightists require strong father figures to tell others how to behave, to provide organization to social existence, and of course, to punish the wicked.  They like order, regularity, predictability … and they generally deplore non-conformity. They also share with the left a special disdain for people with whom they disagree, and they are very often intolerant.  People on the left, of course, imagine they are tolerant and liberal minded, but they are equally intolerant of differences, and they’d just as soon have people with whom they disagree ostracized or in a re-education camp, so don’t believe it.

The right in particular has a love of symbolism and abstractions such as flag and country, the latter being more idealized than anything, often enough some halcyon time from the past that never really was as they imagine.  They love the idea of these things, and often more than they love their countrymen as they really are, and especially those with whom they disagree. They are especially apt to see punishment, retribution, as the proper solution to get others to obey and to obtain justice. It is perhaps not unexpected that they love strongmen as their leaders.  It all fits with their father-figure state of mind. Of course, the left is every bit as susceptible to cults of personality. People on the right and left are not nearly as different as they’d like to believe. It is not surprising that many on the right, in particular, seek the ultimate father figure in their belief in a supreme being who orders the universe and who can tell them what to do, or as often as not, provide justification for what they do. People on the left often settle for some cosmic notion of justice … or natural law … and social forces that inexorably lead to the left’s idealized version of the just society.


Have I made some generalizations? Yes, of course I have! But what I’ve said is mostly true, I think, notwithstanding some of the exceptions. It is not an argument for the center or so-called moderation, either, lest someone mistake my point of view. Moderation is as much a fetish as the various shibboleths of the right and left … taking no positions, a tepid and sometimes even cowardly outlook, compromising when there should be no compromise, or even feeling the pulse of the mob before arriving at a position.  Rather, I am arguing against silliness and pretense. Against ideology and the behavior of ideologues. I am not promoting cynicism, but I am promoting skepticism. I am arguing against systems from which principles flow, and instead supporting the proposition that principles should flow from logic and evidence, and then, before formulating a position, that one should take into account how the essential properties of the facts at hand bear on other, similar instances, and can such a position be willed impartially to apply to all without regard to how one might benefit. I am arguing for making exceptions based on universalizable prescriptions. I am arguing for what I call rational objectivism … and for healthy distrust about those who would arrange our lives through political activity.  Such people are a necessary feature of a well-ordered and just society … and they will be there as long as there are more than a handful of people … but these people and their ideas must be put into proper perspective and viewed through a skeptical lens. END