The Military and Militarism

A major barrier to civilized, intelligent debate arises when we fail to see critical nuances, and when we lump together viewpoints that seem similar but that really have substantial differences.

An example: one of my big pet peeves is the conflation of “military” and “militarism,” as if anyone who ever put on a uniform or led people in uniform was by definition a militarist. In truth, the vast majority of people who make a career defending their countries do so with no other agenda than to keep their nation safe and try to make the world a better place.  It is a truism that nobody hates war more than a warrior: they are the most exposed to and impacted by the unrestrained horror of combat.

In fact, the greatest militarists in history were not soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines: they were politicians, pundits, demagogues, and defense contractors. Today, that list includes a broad range of the American citizenry, and even evangelicals. If you want to understand from whence cometh the American desire to wield the hammer of kinetic power, Andrew Bacevich’s superbly researched The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War points to the sources of militarism, and the average person in uniform doesn’t even figure.

Why is this important? Because when we start making the military equivalent to militarism, we undermine the legitimacy of providing for our own national defense. Militarism is a bad thing. But let us not forget that the US armed forces have stood against some of the largest sources of militarism in history. When by action or neglect you defang your military, you simply telegraph an invitation to the nearest militarist to use your country as a doormat.

Both a wise citizen and a capable statesman should stand opposed to militarism and should guard against it in themselves. But that is not the same as seeing the armed forces as a hammer and all of the worlds problems as a series of nails.

On George Will and Scripps College

Late last summer, George Will was invited to speak at a respected public policy forum at the Scripps College in Pomona, California. He was then abruptly disinvited. The reason given for the withdrawal of his invitation was his recent Washington Post column on rape on college campuses. According to a statement by Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga, “after Mr. Will authored a column questioning the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students, we decided not to finalize the speaker agreement.”

The column was awful, but the actions of Scripps College were a travesty.

Good Column Gone Bad

Let’s start with the column. In it, Mr. Will makes an important point that calls for deeper examination: when you celebrate or reward victimhood, victims tend to proliferate. He could have launched into a discussion of perverse incentives that can turn social programs into perpetual entitlements. Instead, he undermines his point by attempting to illustrate it with the worst possible example he could have chosen: the issue of sexual assault on campus.

Progressivism and its baggage have invaded our college campuses, politicizing instruction, fattening administration, and de-legitimizing an entire range of political views. Yet events make clear that those same  campuses do not yet have in place the right kinds of mechanisms to define, prevent, address, adjudicate, and punish sexual assaults. We can argue whether the tonic will cure the disease, but there is truth to the diagnosis. Mr. Will’s column was muddle-headed and embarrassing.

Good Intentions Gone Bad

I applaud the administration and students of Scripps College in their desire to show support to the victims of rape on campus. That said, no matter how you try to spin this, Mr. Will was disinvited because the views he expressed in one editorial out of some four thousand that he has written for the Post in the past 40 years was found objectionable.

To exclude him for that reason is to either demonstrate naked partisanship or to surrender to political correctness. Either is conduct unbecoming an academic institution, the lifeblood of which should be open debate and discussion of all viewpoints, however nauseating or preposterous.

The right thing to do would have been to bring Mr. Will to campus and allow him to speak his piece. If the Scripps students disagreed with Mr. Will, they could demonstrate that they not only possessed the maturity to offer him a forum for his views, but also the intelligence and passion to artfully rip him to shreds in public debate. Sadly, they will be denied that opportunity. That Scripps did not take this course in the name of political orthodoxy reflects no credit on the institution, its faculty, its students, or its alumni.

Debate and the Nation’s Future

When I was an undergraduate at UCSD in 1983, Angela Davis came to speak on campus. My College Republican friends and I raised no furor about it. What is more, I went to hear her speak despite my fundamental objections to her political and economic views, and despite her alleged provision of firearms to an underaged criminal who then used them in a kidnapping. In a mostly Davis-friendly crowd, I challenged her viewpoints and was shouted down, and rightly so: in my passionate disagreement, I had neglected to prepare a question that could be delivered with more logic than raw emotion. Nonetheless, I will treasure that day: nothing is more invigorating, more empowering, than having the chance to face in open debate a public figure whose views you oppose.

I wish only one thing for the students of Scripps and every institution of higher education in our great country: that they have as many opportunities as possible to face up to their political opponents in open debate. For if we do not teach our children to do that, to address their differences in dialogue, even heated dialogue, the only course of action left to them is to disregard or ban those with whom they disagree. Down that path lies a divided nation at best, and at worst, tyranny.

On Huckabee

What Huckabee and many other social conservatives like him do not understand is that the reason a growing number of conservatives are rejecting the typical social conservative agenda has little to do with political correctness or fear that society may reject them. It’s not about politics; it’s all about liberty.

Justin Haskins
Mike Huckabee, Social Conservatism, and Hypocrisy in the GOP – Reason.com.

The Fed is Afraid of Goldman. This is Bad.

United States of Bankers
Rod Dreher

The American Conservative
September 29, 2014

One of those stories where the pull-quotes speaks for themselves, demanding no narration.

The American Conservative is all over the story of how the Feds are terrified to regulate Goldman Sachs et al. NPR is all over it. Pro Publica is all over it.

Time to wake up, folks. Forget the non-issues being used to divide the nation. The Right, the Left, and everyone in between need to get together and put an end to the corporate capture of the organs of our government.

And if you don’t think that’s an issue that every American should be screaming about, you had best explain yourself. Use the space below.

Ebola Demands Science First, not Politics

Nassim Taleb: What People Don’t Understand About Ebola”
Shane Ferro

Business Insider
October 17, 2014

One of the reasons that it is unconscionable to take a gratuitously partisan position on the current Ebola outbreak is that genuine dialogue is obscured by politically-motivated posturing. Let’s be blunt: anyone taking a position on Ebola to either attack or defend the current administration is taking away from our ability to address the problem, and you would be advised to shut up. You’re not helping.

And let’s be clear: some of the rhetoric being tossed about in an effort to calm the hype has shot into logically-indefensible territory. Shane Ferro quotes Nassim Taleb, he of The Black Swan, in the latter’s effort to shut down the “nothing to see here” crowd.

The argument that the US should be more worried about a disease like cancer — which has more stable rates of infection than Ebola does currently — is a logic that Taleb calls “the empiricism of the idiots.”

The basic idea: The growth rate of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

Isolate the source of the disease, address it there. The longer we wait to do these things, the more pain we are buying the planet.