June 23, 2020
Ignore the Signal – Listen to the Noise
By P.J. O’Rourke
The protests all across America are obvious, but what’s most obvious about them is not what’s most important… The message is more fundamental than the mess.
The vandalism and the looting are unnatural catastrophes, and they don’t convey much more meaning than catastrophes of the natural kind.
Destructive people are always among us. They are the friends of chaos, and when their friend is unleashed, they rush to embrace him.
Thieves are always among us, too. Protection of property and law go hand in hand. When law is chased away, property is too. Under the circumstances, property can’t be expected to stick around and hang out with its rightful owners.
Even the violence is less meaningful than it seems. Despite some brutal attacks – from and on the protestors – this isn’t a rebellion. A rebellion requires a clear objective. Although the protestors are quite clear about what they object to, they are less clear about what they want to achieve in an ultimate sense.
The protesters’ demands – justice, ending racism, and eliminating violent, bigoted, and incompetent behavior by the authorities – are so inarguable they almost cause a consensus headache. People of goodwill have been trying to achieve these goals for hundreds of years. In the case of the first demand – justice – people of goodwill have been trying to achieve it for thousands of years.
This Is Not a Revolution
The protesters, while rebelling against government, aren’t intent on overthrowing it. Yes, they’d like to be rid of some of the people who govern us (and who wouldn’t?), but only – it seems – to replace them with people they like better. And, at least at a city and state level, who protesters would like better isn’t clear, either.
The meaning of widespread protests in a democratic nation is different from the meaning of widespread protests in an authoritarian state. Under dictatorship, people are protesting against a system forcefully imposed on them by a self-selected elite. Under democracy, we the people form the system, determine how and with what degree of force the system will be imposed upon us, and elect our own elite to do the imposing. Widespread protests in a democratic nation mean that we’re mad at ourselves.
As well we should be…
America’s Constitution was ratified in 1788, “in Order to… establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility… promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty… ”
None of which it did for a whole bunch of Americans – slaves, freed slaves, Native Americans, or women…
It took 80 more years for the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to be ratified.
The 14th Amendment is unequivocal: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens… nor deny to any person… the equal protection of the laws.” And the 14th Amendment ended with what should have been a knockout punch to inequity: “The Congress shall have the power to enforce… the provisions of this article.”
Yet it took another 96 damn years for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be passed.
And it’s been 56 years since then, with minorities and the marginalized still treated like crap.
No wonder we’re mad at ourselves.
Meanwhile, America has been undergoing changes that exacerbate this underlying fury and make even the majority of Americans dissatisfied with our country. The result is much worse than the protests.
We are not a polarized society. To be “polarized” assumes two poles, such as a MAGA-hat-wearing Arctic and a BLM-poster-carrying Antarctic. The situation is much more complex than that. We are a Big Bang society, with the American singularity flying apart in every direction at the speed of light.
Three enormously powerful forces are causing America to be blown to smithereens:
1. A disconnect between the government and the governed…
Government size and scope has expanded to the point where it has become a universe of its own, in a galaxy far away from ordinary citizens. The sovereignty of America is supposed to reside with the American people. But who among us got to vote on whether to close down our economy and lock ourselves in our homes for months?
A black hole of bureaucracy has been created, sucking every aspect of government accountability into its dense and incomprehensive abyss.
The political classes are space aliens living on another planet ruled by different laws of physics where the only gravity is fundraising, the only thermodynamics are their quarrels with each other… and where the sun shines out their asses.
2. A disconnect between our economy and our home economics…
Finance is decoupled from the business of making a living. They are flush with cash and well-provisioned with goods over at the stock market while we, at the supermarket, scrimp on house brands – Okey-Dokey canned beans, Have-A-Loaf white bread, and Good-E-Nuff bathroom tissue.
The business of making a living has been divorced from work. The work has been shipped overseas where people are willing to do it for pesos or renminbi or rupees instead of money.
Money has lost any relationship to value. George Floyd was arrested – and killed – for spending twenty dollars in the form of a banknote that had no actual value. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the form of banknotes that have no actual value. Are members of Congress at risk of police brutality?
3. A disconnect I wish we could make…
If only we could disconnect ourselves from the Internet and its earthquake leveling and tornado flattening of all our structures of rational discourse. No hierarchies of thought, no norms of debate, no frameworks of logical deliberation can be erected on social media’s shaky ground in the howling wind of viral content.
The Internet’s pandemonium keeps the voices of reason and sense from rising above the clamor of the mob. Everyone is handed a bullhorn, and no one is given a pulpit.
Leadership is trivialized by the Internet. Its tide of vulgarity sweeps away leaders of every kind and deposits them beyond the reach of public attention. There is no one to make the arguments worth arguing for. There’s no one even to make the arguments worth arguing against.
Where is today’s William F. Buckley of conservatism? Where is today’s John Kenneth Galbraith of liberalism? Where’s the Republican Ronald Reagan? Where’s the Democratic Tip O’Neill? Where’s the Milton Friedman extolling free markets? Where’s the John Maynard Keynes critiquing free markets’ effects? Where, especially, is the Martin Luther King Jr., making the current protests peaceful, dignified, and powerfully effective?
And where are we without these leaders?
Well, look around at America’s streets, at America’s businesses, and, indeed, at America’s hospitals…
Without leadership, we’re right here where we are now.
The State of America Today
From the American Consequences Staff
Here at American Consequences, we respect and support the rights of all Americans to free speech – no matter what they say and no matter whether we agree or disagree. We also respect and support the right of everyone to be free from the manifest injustice of racism.
But we frankly admit that we have few, if any, of the right answers to the question that is most relevant in America right now:
How do we create a freer, more equitable, more prosperous American society… and continue the progress that America has made in the past century, the past decade, and perhaps, even the past year?
We do not unequivocally support the demands of the protestors. We also do not unequivocally support the state and its authorities and their responses to the protests. We do not even unequivocally agree with each other, much of the time.
Our sympathy will always lie with individuals – rather than with institutions, identity groups, or cultural categories.
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
Read our June magazine: Half Empty? Half full? Either way, half over.
Welcome to 2020… It’s either the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end.
Looking Forward to the End of Humanity
Eternal life through advanced technology seems like a pipe dream for a society that, until recently, had trouble manufacturing enough masks to save doctors’ and nurses’ lives. Yet Covid-19 may turn out to be just the kind of crisis needed to turbocharge efforts to create what its advocates call a “transhuman” future.
The long road to a Covid-19 vaccine
A vaccine that allows people to live, work, travel, learn and socialise together safely again is the best long-term exit strategy from lockdown. This is recognised in the unprecedented number of Covid-19 vaccine projects under way: 183 by June 10, according to the LSHTM tracker. The chances that one of those will come good seem hopeful but success is not guaranteed.
Inflation dog may finally bark, investors bet
Gold, forests, property stocks, inflation-linked bonds – these are just some of the assets investors are pouring money into on the view that the recent explosion of government spending and central bank stimulus may finally rouse inflation from its decade-long slumber.
The Washington Post‘s Halloween Costume Hit Job Is a New Low for Cancel Culture
This is one of the worst newspaper articles of all time. Between the elite media navel-gazing, the smug sanctimony of the cancelers, the absurd one-sidedness of the narrative structure, the spirit of revenge taken to an odious extreme, it’s hard not to come away feeling nauseated.
And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
Editor in Chief, American Consequences
With the Editorial Staff
June 23, 2020