In Praise of Shame

Human beings are flawed creatures. All of us are afflicted, to some degree, by laziness, greed, selfishness, dishonesty and every other distasteful characteristic that haunts our species. Living in civilized society requires us to suppress that side of our nature, and so we’ve developed all kinds of mechanisms to keep those impulses at bay. One of the more important ones, no doubt, is shame: the idea that there are certain things that one simply does not say or do in public, no matter how much one may want to, out of fear that those around us will disapprove.

I was recently reminded of the great value of shame, as I read an interview with Montreal restaurateur David McMillan. McMillan’s flagship restaurant, Joe Beef, needs no introduction to Montreal foodies. Consistently rated as one of the best in the country – if not the world – Joe Beef has flourished in one of the toughest dining markets around. Read more

Talking past each other on identity politics

The debate about whether ‘identity politics’ is crucial or dangerous to liberalism is on. And it is frustrating.

Jacob Levy came out swinging yesterday in defence of the crucial role of identity politics in liberalism, against arguments about the role of identity politics in the rise of illiberalism (and Trumpism) in the U.S., such as those presented by Reason’s Robby Soave and in Mark Lilla’s recent NYT piece. Jason Kuznicki has responded to Levy. Elsewhere, Tom Palmer names identity politics as a danger to liberalism in his fabulous essay on the three fronts of growing anti-libertarianism.

The first order of business seems to be to decide what, exactly, we mean by ‘identity politics’. Jason Kuznicki agrees:

“An equivocation is occurring here, between good and bad, both claiming to be “identity politics.” In cases like that, it’s morally imperative to differentiate rather than to lump together.”

I am concerned about identity politics as it’s represented by Tom Palmer and Jason Kuznicki, so I’ll draw from them as I take a stab at nailing down a definition of the ‘identity politics’ that worries me.
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Time to rehabilitate a pejorative?

As folks struggle to deal with the populist, anti-market realignment on the right, Godwin’s law has been making itself more relevant. People who make the mistake of equating today’s right-populism with national socialism might be forgiven, even if they go too far, for a more appropriate term has been drained of meaning: fascism.

Anyone who says that politicians today are fascist sounds nuts. The word has been applied indiscriminately to dismiss people and policies so often that it’s devoid of meaning, though it’s broadly associated with an unhinged lust for power, disregard for constitutional law, and eugenic racism. But the original intent of fascism aimed at none of these things. I’ve written on how modest the tenets of fascism sound in today’s political climate. Steve Horwitz has been pressing the applicability of the technical term since last summer. The fact is that, fallen as the word might be, there’s simply not a good substitute.

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Not to Praise Castro, but to Bury Him

The life of a revolutionary need not be a hard one: having survived so long one wondered if he was immortal, former Cuban President Fidel Castro died yesterday at age 90. Unsurprisingly, the news was greeted with intense reactions; if nothing else, the man left few people indifferent.

By any reasonable standard, Castro was a disaster for his country. He leaves behind an impoverished land virtually devoid of freedom, where the most banal opening constitutes a major reform. His party won praise for Cuba’s education system, even as it imposed strict censorship, banned private libraries and cut its people off from the world. It won accolades for a healthcare system in which infant mortality is reduced by aborting “substandard” fetuses and doctors are rented to foreign governments like chattel. Castro’s recklessness came close to triggering global nuclear war. His destruction of Cuba’s economy left people on the brink of starvation when Soviet aid collapsed. Many Cubans preferred to float through shark-infested waters on precarious rafts rather than endure his socialist paradise. And not once did Castro give Cubans an opportunity to choose a path different from the one he imposed on them. Read more

It Wasn’t Misogyny

If you’re wondering why Trump won, there’s good news: the internet has the answer. From elite condescension, to uneducated voters, to outright racism, everyone has an explanation.

One of the more popular theories seems to be that Hilary Clinton lost the election due to misogyny: American voters preferred to elect a woefully under-qualified man rather than a supremely-qualified woman. Setting aside Trump for a moment, the implication is that Clinton was a near-perfect candidate, one who could be opposed only by retrogrades (or “deplorables“) obsessed by her sex. So for those of you who find this particular argument convincing, I submit the following for your consideration: Read more

In Search of Silver Linings

Where to begin?

America’s President-elect is a man whose flaws have been so well-documented as to make documenting them redundant. If you remain unconvinced that Donald J. Trump is anything other than wholly unfit in both temperament and ideology to hold the office of the President of the United States, nothing on Earth will convince you otherwise. But, as concerned as I am by the thought of the incoming president, at the moment I’m more preoccupied with the incumbent. Read more

Bridging gulfs

“Peace is not a result of agreement, but of toleration of disagreement.” – F.A. Hayek

A recent episode of This American Life, Will I Know Anyone at This Party?, is a compassionate piece on the struggle within the Republican Party as it moves toward more populist concerns, especially about immigration. It’s worth a listen for Canadians because the same battle is simmering here, and we need to find ways to engage with those who are fearful or feel left behind before it boils over.

The podcast points out that concerns about America’s changing demographics aren’t new, but they are reaching a boiling point among self-identified Republicans. Although these fears are made worse by bad information about immigrants that might be insulated by selective media consumption that rejects alternative viewpoints as part of a conspiracy (‘The Mainstream Media!’), it seems obvious that there is an element of an evolutionary holdover fear of the new and unknown at play. That, at least, is nothing new. Read more

What we mean by democracy

When election season is upon us, there’s a lot of talk about democracy, but more specifically, there’s a lot of talk about voting: Voting as the way that people direct the government’s actions. The elevation of a person or party to power as the way in which the goals and priorities of a society are set. Voting as the most basic and critical political participation.

But people who see voting as the most important way that society is directed, think of voting as the primary duty of a citizen, or think that it’s the best (maybe the only!) way to change the world are wrong. Voting is easy to understand and that makes it easy to prioritize and focus on. Voting is the shiny, round, red cherry on top of the democratic cupcake. But it’s not the cupcake.

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