Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Retreat of the Totalitarian Monster

Take a deep breath.

Now begin reading.

I like to listen to Mountain Stage, a radio show that originates in the Mountain State of West Virginia. On a Saturday night a few weeks ago, I thought about West Virginia and about fantasy and science fiction. More than a few writers for Weird Tales were born in, lived in, or died in the state. Fitz-James O'Brien received his mortal wound in what is now West Virginia, not long before it was admitted to the Union. (West Virginians can proudly claim theirs as the only state to secede from the Confederacy.) As I thought about West Virginia, I remembered a science fiction or fantasy story I read many years ago. In it, a man living in a West Virginia holler gets fed up with Hitler. In a mad vision, he gets in his car and drives to Nazi Germany to deal with his country's most hated foe. I wish I could remember the author and title of that story.

We had an election not long ago. If you remember, it was a little contentious. Only one state (Wyoming) had a wider spread, in terms of the percentage of the vote, separating the winner from the loser than did West Virginia. The loser has since gone home. Like a sasquatch, she is sometimes seen in the woods or on a hiking trail. The winner of the race is moving into the White House this month. In other words, person for person, West Virginians did more for their country than almost every other state did on November 8, not necessarily by voting for one candidate but by voting against the other so decisively. They helped to assure that she--an unindicted criminal, an aspiring tyrant, and one of the most mendacious and corrupt presidential candidates in American history--was flushed down the toilet along with her equally mendacious and corrupt husband. They also helped to prevent at least one constitutional crisis by denying her the presidency.

Two thousand sixteen was a bad year in general for Western-style tyranny, meaning tyranny of the leftist-socialist-statist variety. The United Kingdom voted in favor of its own sovereignty and independence in June. An unhinged socialist was defeated in the American presidential primaries earlier that month. (Small comfort there considering who defeated him.) We can hope that another is nearing the end of his reign in Venezuela. Still more are set to go down in flames in 2017.

Fidel Castro died last year, too, at an entirely too-advanced age. He was praised and his loss lamented by what Lenin is supposed to have called the useful idiots of this world. They are idiots, so of course they are incapable of understanding even the simplest of things, one of which is that Castro, like tyrants everywhere, was a monster. Here is an excerpt from an article called "Credulous Western Dupes and Castro" by John Fund, posted on November 27, 2016, on the website of the National Review (here):
Lastly, for all of Castro’s ranting about the exploitive nature of capitalism, it takes a truly mercenary mind to come up with the schemes his regime employed to garner hard currency--from drug-running, to assassinations to, well, vampiric behavior. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported in 1966 that 166 Cuban prisoners were executed on a single day in May of that year. But before they were killed, they were forced to undergo the forced extraction of an average of seven pints of blood from their bodies. This blood was sold to Communist Vietnam at a rate of $50 per pint. Those who underwent the bloodletting suffered cerebral anemia and a state of unconsciousness and paralysis. But that didn’t stop the executions; the victims were carried on a stretcher to the killing field where they were then shot.
One of the themes of this blog is the manifest monstrousness of human beings in general and of totalitarian leaders in particular. People can be monstrous as individuals, as we all know. People involved in mass movements, of which totalitarianism is the all-too-common end point, practice a special kind of monstrousness, though, one backed by political or intellectual ideas that not only justify their actions but actually require the totalitarian and his minions to murder, starve, torture, imprison, or, as in Castro's case, drain their life's blood from his fellow human beings.

Richard Matheson, a teller of weird tales, doesn't get much credit for an innovation in popular culture: In his novel I Am Legend (1954), he invented the zombie horde, what we might recognize now as another kind of mass movement. Matheson didn't call them zombies. He used the word vampires instead. It was George Romero in Night of the Living Dead (1968) who turned the zombie, previously a solitary slave created by a fellow human being, into one of a mass of men infected by an indifferent pathogen. Richard Matheson's hordes of vampires were the direct inspiration for Mr. Romero's hordes of zombies, which have come down to us in the present day in movies and television shows such as The Walking Dead. More on that in a bit.

Even before I Am Legend, there were writers who recognized that zombies might represent certain political ideas. I don't usually provide links to videos, but here's an excerpt from the 1940 film The Ghost Breakers, starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard:


Here is a transcript of the exchange:
Lawrence [Bob Hope]: You live here?
Montgomery [Richard Carlson]: Yes.
Lawrence: Well, then maybe you know what a zombie is.
Montgomery: When a person dies and is buried, it seems there are certain voodoo priests who . . . who have the power to bring him back to life.
Carter [Paulette Goddard]: How horrible!
Montgomery: It's worse than horrible because a zombie has no will of his own. You see them sometimes walking around blindly with dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what they do, not caring.
Lawrence: You mean like Democrats?
That exchange may have been written by the screenwriter, George Marshall, but the punchline could easily have come from Bob Hope himself.

Even before that--long before that--there were suggestions of the monstrousness of the tyrant. Here is a quote from the eighteenth century:
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
Note the word swarms, more or less equivalent to hordes or masses. Note especially the purpose of sending those swarms out into the world: to harass and eat out the substance of the people. Sounds a lot like a horde of zombies (or vampires or orcs or any number of monster types). The quote by the way is from the Declaration of Independence, written by the founder of what is now the Democratic Party. History is nothing if not full of ironies.

Now back to The Walking Dead. Before I go on, I have to admit that I'm a minority of one: I'm the only person in America who has never seen The Walking Dead. I can't really say much about the show. What I can say is what I have said before, that zombies in the Matheson/Romero mode can be interpreted as representing the great masses of men, or at the very least the fallen nature of man. Those great masses may be men living in a primitive state of nature, or men as ciphers in a contemporary mass movement, or anything in between. Whatever they are, zombies are monsters. They can also be used to symbolize men, who, too often, when they assemble into masses, act as monsters.

So in Castro we had a totalitarian monster acting as a vampire. He was also the leader of masses, or what he hoped to turn into masses--great numbers of people rendered without identity or autonomy and driven by a ravening desire to devour the free people of the world. In short, zombies. It didn't work of course. Nor has the leftist-socialist-statist program worked anywhere, although it often holds on for decades, in the process laying waste to people's lives. Anyway, that leap, from zombie horde to mass man and back again, is one I have sometimes made in this blog. Is it too big of a leap? Maybe. But I'm not the only person to see zombies and the zombie story as symbolic of things in the real world.

I recently read an article by Sean T. Collins called "The Shameful Fascism of The Walking Dead." It was posted on the website The Week on December 17, 2016, here. It's not a very long article; it will take you only a few minutes to read. What you'll find soon enough is that the author of the article sees The Walking Dead as fascist and more or less representative of America under our current president-elect. That's a fair enough interpretation. After all, I have made my own interpretations here and elsewhere. To each his own. I should add that my interpretation of the zombie horde doesn't necessarily clash with that of Sean Collins. He sees the show's human characters as fascists. I see zombies as representative of mass man, a category that includes communists and socialists. Fascism was a reaction to communism. The two go together. From the 1920s into the 1940s, they were locked in mortal combat. However, I don't see the human characters in a zombie story as representing fascists for a simple reason: they are free individuals acting freely--though not always admirably--in a state of nature, thus in the absence of a controlling State.

In his article, Sean Collins writes a good deal about the characteristics of fascism. His emphasis is on "a triumph of will" and "show[s] of force." What he leaves out is that fascism is a statist political system and a form of totalitarianism. That is its essence. Or, in Mussolini's words: "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." One characteristic of a post-apocalyptic setting is that there is no controlling State. At best, people are reduced to tribal living. In addition, fascism arose from and was a variation on socialism. In other words, it was just another mass movement, equal and in opposition to communism but not very much different from it or any other totalitarian system. (All leave a trail of blood.) If the human characters in The Walking Dead are fascists, then the conflict in the show is between two mass movements--opposing movements to be sure but mass movements nonetheless. So do the human characters in The Walking Dead exhibit the qualities of a mass movement? Are they driven by an intellectual or political idea? Are they burning with a holy fire? Do they wish to be subsumed by their movement? Do they yearn to surrender their individual identities and their autonomy to their cause and to an overarching State? More to the point, are they willing to die for it? Or do they wish to live as free, autonomous, and individual human beings, or failing that, to die so that others might live?

I can't say that the human characters in The Walking Dead represent free people. Again, I have never seen the show. But I can't see zombies as representing free people in their struggles against fascist oppressors, either. That would be an absurdity. Yet here is Mr. Collins' expert, Stephen Olbrys Gencarella of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst:
"The zombie trope in the United States emerged with the zombie-as-slave phenomenon around the turn of the 20th century, when American capitalism and colonialism led to ethical conflicts about labor and human rights." 
I'm not sure how historically accurate that assertion is. As I understand it, the idea of the zombie entered American culture in the 1920s and early '30s, not at the turn of the century. (I'm not sure when the first zombie story was published, but it seems to have been contemporaneous with the rise of fascism, i.e., in the 1920s.) As for that business about "American capitalism and colonialism"--well, that's typical leftist claptrap that can be disposed of without further regard.

Dr. Gencarella goes on, citing Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead as examples of a shift in the so-called zombie trope:
"[M]any zombie flicks of the late 20th century could be seen as critiques of consumerist desires, or calls for cooperation between disparate groups."
In his view, The Walking Dead
"is part of another shift, post-9/11, in which the ghouls fill in for presumed 'outsiders' to the nation--but a nation that is limited only to a worthy few." 
I have heard that argument before, that the humans in The Walking Dead are part of "a worthy few." You could fairly say that the creators of The Walking Dead have cast the zombies as representing people you're allowed to kill without compunction. Still, that doesn't get away from the idea that zombies are a mortal threat to humanity, not only because they want to kill humans but also because to die is to become a zombie. The comparison of zombie hordes to mass man seems to me unavoidable, for men who take part in mass movements, whether it be fascism, communism, or radical Islam, seek recruits before dead bodies. The bodies pile up only when people refuse to convert. The difference here is that to die is to become one of the enemy. The only alternatives are to live or be eaten, or to destroy yourself or be destroyed before you can be converted. In any case, to see zombies as people--especially to see them somehow as victims of a fascist movement afoot among the human characters--is to identify with them, or at least to have some sympathies with them. It is, more or less, a wish to see human beings destroyed or rendered into an undifferentiated, soulless mass, because that is the zombies' goal, or more accurately, the goal of the pathogen that animates them. That is also of course the goal of the totalitarian leader in control of a mass movement. There is of course one other alternative to interpreting the zombie story: that it is a simple entertainment and that if there is any symbolism at all, that it represents the human condition in the harshest of all possible worlds.

Not long ago I asked the question: Whom do leftists root for in movies and television? For people or for monsters? I sense now as I did then that they may actually identify or sympathize with the monsters rather than with the people. The admiration leftists express for men like Fidel Castro, whom we know to have been a monster, leads me to believe that their identification or sympathy with monsters extends into the real world. What they don't seem to understand--Sean Collins seemingly among them--is that the real fight in this world is not between fascism on one side and leftism or socialism on the other. It is a neverending fight between freedom and tyranny. Fascism and leftism or socialism are essentially the same thing. Both are for the all-controlling State and against the individual and his free exercise of his unalienable rights. For as long as leftists detach themselves from that reality, their thinking will be stunted and their cause will continue to see defeat as it did so well in 2016. If it weren't for all the pain they cause in the process, I might wish them to go on in their detachment from reality. In any case, here's to further retreats by the aspiring tyrants among us and to the further expansion of the cause of freedom in 2017.

Happy New Year!

A drawing by Hungarian cartoonist Victor Vashi, a refugee or escapee from the two great socialist-statist systems of the twentieth century, nazism and communism. Vashi drew cartoons of both. This drawing, showing a Soviet officer as a kind of monster perched on a midden of skulls, is from Red Primer for Children and Diplomats (Viewpoint Books, 1967), published on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This year, 2017, will mark the centennial of that revolution, one that carried communists to power so that they might commence a century of political murder. I have no doubt that leftists in the West will celebrate that centennial and lament the passing of their creed.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

16 comments:

  1. Terence,
    Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend" may well have been an inspiration for the movie "The Night of the Living Dead," as you stated. There is another precursor to Romero's 1968 classic that I believe may have played a part as well. It was a favorite of mine when I was a kid; "Invisible Invaders" from 1959. In this film, extraterrestrial invaders nearly succeed in taking over the world by taking possession of human corpses. All of the dead in all of the cemeteries in the world rise up as an army to destroy mankind. The film's low budget kept it from truly capturing the sense of global catastrophe, but there are some very creepy sequences with hoards of walking dead ambling about. A fun little film that came at the tail-end of the 50s sci-fi craze.

    Once again I see that you've chosen to attack the political left, seeing us as a hoard of anti-human monsters with no respect for individual freedom. So be it. I started to scribe a rebuttal, but then deleted it, realizing that you are likely so entrenched in this viewpoint as to make disagreement a waste of time...a fruitless expenditure of energy that I'm just not up to.
    This is, after all, your soapbox, not mine.
    But I am saddened.

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  2. Mike,

    I have never seen or even heard of Invisible Invaders. Now I would like to see it. In reading more about The Night of the Living Dead, I read that the undead in that movie are called ghouls, not zombies. I'm not sure if that's true or not, as it has been too long since I have seen the movie. In any case, it seems to me that our contemporary conception of the zombie is the result of an evolutionary process, not of an instant of creation on the part of any person. Invisible Invaders might be part of that evolution. I wouldn't count out Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a part, either.

    I didn't intend for what I wrote to be an attack but an exploration of an idea. I'm sorry that you took it as an attack. If you can point to specific passages where you see an attack, I might be able to modify them. I didn't call names and I don't think I made anything personal except where real culpability lies. I have simply made some observations and interpretations. I would like to emphasize that zombies can be interpreted most simply as representations of the fallen nature of man. Any interpretations I have made beyond that may be stretching things, and I admit that. One of my points in writing about Mr. Collins' article is that I'm not the only one to go looking for a deeper meaning in the zombie story. The fact that others see something may mean that there is something to see. On the other hand, maybe we're all full of beans, as my mom used to say. Maybe the zombie story is just a story.

    I would like to make a distinction here, if I wasn't already clear in what I wrote. I see zombies as possibly representing mass man. I did not say--or at least I hope I didn't say--that all leftists are monsters. What I had hoped to say and what I will say now is that the totalitarian impulse in people--whether it comes in the form of communism, socialism, fascism, nazism, radical Islam, or a general leftism or statism--makes them into monsters and causes them to do monstrous things. If I didn't make that clear in what I wrote, then I apologize for one of the writer's greatest sins: not saying what he means as clearly and concisely as possible.

    Finally, I would say that I am not entrenched in a viewpoint. In fact, I see myself as standing outside of a trench. I don't feel myself under attack or embattled or fearful as a person in a trench does. I don't think of myself as hidebound or close-minded. My conviction is that we as human beings are and by rights free and that our freedom, our rights, and our lives have been granted to us by our Creator. They cannot be taken away by any earthly person or institution. My conviction is also that certain things are true, including certain historical facts. Those things are true regardless of whether I speak them or not, and they will be true long after I'm gone. In my essay, I have made observations, stated facts, extended interpretations, and refuted or attempted to refute certain ideas. I don't think I made any attacks. I'm not sure why you would be saddened by what I have written, but believe me when I say that I am saddened that you are saddened.

    Thanks for writing.

    Terence Hanley

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps "attack" was too strong a word. But you certainly express a great disdain for the political left in your writings. And you are entitled to your opinions.
      I do have a problem with blanket statements directed toward (and against) any side in a conflict of ideals; statements that generalize negatively about any demographic. When you flatly state that leftists admire men like Fidel Castro, well, that is just inflammatory and untrue. Likewise when (in the final caption) you state that you have no doubt that leftists in the West will lament the passing of the Soviet Union. No, we won't, and it is unfair to categorize those who believe in the ideals of socialism as supporters and admirers of the Soviets. Stalin was an insane dictator and tyrant. There is nothing to be admired in him or his dealings.
      Your belief that Sean Collins' "business about 'American capitalism and colonialism' " being "typical leftist claptrap that can be disposed of without further regard" shows me that you have a different view of history than I do. (Which also brings up the concept of historical "fact." There are statistics, and then there are the interpretation of what those stats mean, which is rarely cut and dried.) From what I've seen and read, capitalism and the associated colonialism have led to gross abuses and violation of human rights for centuries. I don't at all see it as claptrap to refer to these as "ethical conflicts." If anything, that's pretty mild terminology.
      The joke from the Bob Hope film was pretty funny. I've felt the same way about many conservatives who I've listened to. There are people on both sides who are convinced that they are so undeniably right in what they believe that there is no way that people who disagree are capable of rational, independent thought. Likewise, there are folks on both the left and the right who just parrot what they hear.

      After writing my earlier post, I watched "Invisible Invaders" again for the umpteenth time. Still cheesy, and I still love it!

      Best,
      Mike

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    2. Dear Mike,

      You're right, I do feel disdain for leftism, for the evidence against it--historical, philosophical, empirical, and otherwise--is overwhelming. The history of the twentieth century is replete with the crimes and abuses of leftists, in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Cuba, and elsewhere. My larger complaint, though, is with statism, of which leftism is only a variation. Fascists and Nazis weren't leftist, yet they, like the leftists who opposed them, exalted the State and murdered millions. To me, they're all cut from the same cloth. Very little separates them.

      Regarding Fidel Castro:

      From Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada:

      “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.

      “Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

      “While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante'."

      From Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for U.S. president:

      "Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!"

      From Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom:

      “Fidel Castro’s death marks the passing of a huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th century socialism.

      “From building a world class health and education system, to Cuba’s record of international solidarity abroad, Castro’s achievements were many.

      “For all his flaws, Castro’s support for Angola played a crucial role in bringing an end to Apartheid in South Africa, and he will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice.”

      Those comments sound like admiration to me, and all are from leftists. We'll wait to see what similar people have to say about the centennial of the Russian Revolution, but I can tell you that a couple of months ago, a woman I know said that she admires the aims of the revolution, although she disagrees with its methods. That's an easy enough thing to say when you're not receiving a bullet to the head. Another woman I know (who has since come to her senses) more or less told me that it was necessary for so many people to die under communism so that their countries might progress into the future.

      Part 2 below.

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    3. As for Sean Collins' expert and his comments on the origins of the zombie story in America: Dr. Glencarella places those origins at around the turn of the century when capitalists and imperialists are supposed to have been running rampant here. His aim seems clear, i.e., to link those two developments. However, if zombies didn't show up in American culture until the 1920s or '30s--which seems to be the case--then I think it fair to assume that Dr. Gencarella has distorted the historical record to fit his thesis, one that is essentially leftist in orientation. That's not so say that capitalists or imperialists haven't committed crimes or abuses, or that the zombie story can't be used as a critique of either, but in this case, the expert cited seems to be falling back on leftist canards involving a so-called class struggle and so-called social injustice, in the process forgetting about academic rigor. That's especially rich considering that Dr. Gencarella teaches at a public university, i.e., an ivory tower built and maintained directly or indirectly by the private sector.

      I think the Bob Hope quote is funny, too, and harmless. And I agree with you that there are people of all political persuasions who say and believe what they're supposed to say and believe without question. We need more independent thinking and less parroting of other people's ideas. As I have said over and over again, you have to follow your ideas to their logical conclusions. You also have to be ready to abandon anything that doesn't work.

      Finally, you mentioned "the ideals of socialism"--just what are those ideals? (An honest question.)

      TH

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    4. Fair enough. As I see it, the underlying ideal of socialism is the same as that of democracy; the concept that all individuals matter, regardless of their station in life. The idea of socialized medicine, for example, is based on the premise that an advanced, enlightened culture should provide health care as a right to its citizens, rather than a commodity that is bought and paid for and which thus favors the rich over the poor, the working over the unemployed. Equality is a beautiful concept. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be a part of Mankind's DNA -- the most well-intentioned roads to that ideal always fail due to the need of some to dominate others.

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    5. Last night I did a bit of research in an attempt to determine when zombies first came into American pop culture. Largely, though, I just reaffirmed how much misinformation is to be found on the internet.
      I came across one article which stated that the zombie became popular in America in the 19th Century after travel writer William Seabrook wrote an account of Haitian zombies. This would seem to fit with the timeline in Sean Collins' piece. But then a search of William Seabrook informed me that the writer was born in 1884, and his writings were published mostly in he twenties and thirties, which would fit with you timeline (if, in fact, he had anything at all to do with the popularizing of zombies.)
      Referring to events of the twenties as occurring around the turn of the century is a bit of a stretch, but not out of the question I suppose. Personally, I think of the zombie as entering our lexicon in the cinema of the thirties and forties. That was certainly the peak period of their popularity in this country until George Romero gave them an upgrade in 1968.

      To finish (or at least add to) my above thoughts on the ideals of socialism: The central concept is that, as human beings, we have the ability and the obligation to take care of one another. Two important socialist programs in this country are Social Security and Medicare, which allow our senior citizens at least a modicum of health care and financial security. Canada and the UK are democracies with socialized medicine. In its pure form, socialism is among the most moral of concepts.

      Regarding your opening thoughts about West Virginia; there is an observation that I would like to make. You accurately observed that the Mountain State seceded from Virginia, and thus became the only state to leave the Confederacy, and went on to say that this is something for which West Virginians can be proud. Perhaps. But as I understand it, this decision was motivated more by economics than morality.
      The West Virginian economy was largely dependent on its coal mining industry, which in turn was linked to the steel industry in neighboring Pennsylvania. Leaving the Union would have collapsed the local economy and destroyed the lives of its citizens. I point this out not in an attempt to judge or denigrate that decision, but as a reminder that there any many factors involved in any political course of action. And money is one of the most dominant.

      Best...

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    6. Mike,

      This question of when zombies entered American popular culture is starting to bother me. It's something we should know already, but as you point out, the Internet is once again woefully inadequate. I'll have to do things the old-fashioned way by looking at books. I'll let you know what I find out.

      As for your other comments:

      First, if health care is a right granted by the State, then it can just as easily be taken away by the State. It is not unalienable. Beyond that, the granting of health care as a right requires the intervention of a large and powerful State. We should all remember the warning that any government powerful enough to give you everything you want is also powerful enough to take everything you have.

      Regarding equality: we are already equal. We were made equal by our Creator. The State cannot add to or take away from that equality. I think what you're talking about is material equality, the basis of liberalism and an obvious absurdity. Again a warning (this is mine): If people are free, they will not be equal, and if they are to be made equal, they can't be permitted their freedom. Everyone should read "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Animal Farm by George Orwell on this subject. You might also watch Enemy at the Gates (2001), especially the final confrontation between the Russian and German snipers in which the commissar speaks an eternal truth.

      On morality: I see morality as an individual thing. To talk about any kind of "social" morality is again an absurdity. Only individual people are capable of taking moral or immoral action. What society does or what the State does cannot be seen as moral or immoral. Socialism is based on the use of force. That force may be gentle, but it is force nonetheless. Compulsory morality--a morality enforced by the State--is a non sequitur.

      On West Virginia and economics: Leftists are always so squeamish when it comes to wealth, money, and profits (even though they love and survive on other people's money). When West Virginia decided to leave the Confederacy, it made a political decision, one that included economic considerations. Again, the State, or in this case, a state, is not capable of making moral or immoral decisions.

      My larger question is this: How is economic freedom not freedom?

      Thanks for writing. I'll get on the zombie question.

      TH

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    7. When I refer to equality in this context, i'm referring to the equality of legal rights, something that most definitely is controlled by governments, cultures, societies and mobs. Far too often, the material equality that you mention is indeed the basis upon which people's social ranking -- and thus the rights they are granted -- is based; and as you say, that is absurd. I don't see how you could see that as the basis for liberalism; if anything, it is the basis for conservatism, and most definitely for capitalism.

      Morality may be an individual thing, but what is considered acceptable or unacceptable within a culture falls under the heading of social morality, the yardstick by which a society judges right and wrong. Compulsive morality may well be a non sequitur -- as you say -- but it is the foundation of laws...at least of our original, basic laws.

      All government, all religion, all forms of society are defined and maintained by their use of force, i.e. laws and regulations. Socialism is not unique in this. Imposing and enforcing restrictions is the purpose of all forms of government.

      Liberals are not squeamish -- as you state -- about wealth and money. But they do speak out loudly against economic inequality and situations wherein the pursuit of wealth overrides the rights of individuals. It's not money we are opposed to, it's the concept that money is more important than people, that the right of wealthy to become even wealthier is more important than the right of the poor and the working class to make a decent living. Wealth is fine. All-consuming greed is not. When I see a billionaire business owner complaining about the hardship that a raise in the minimum wage will place upon him I do get angry...and not because he is wealthy. I get angry, downright offended, by those who see others merely as commodities, as stepping stones to be used to further fatten their already overflowing personal larders.

      I never meant to imply that economic freedom wasn't freedom. Far from it. The decision to stay with the Union was probably the best one for West Virginians, a choice that may or may not have had anything to do with their moral alignment with the Confederacy. That was my point.
      This brings up an interesting question: If West Virginia had gone with the South, how would that have impacted the outcome of the Civil War? Could the Union have produced the necessary armaments to win the war without WV coal to fire the furnaces in Pittsburg? Perhaps an Union-sympathizing equivalent to John Wilkes Booth would have shot and martyred Jefferson Davis in Richmond after the Confederacy won the war, and we would now be looking at his face on pennies and Mount Rushmore...

      Thoughtfully,
      Mike

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    8. Mike,

      Here is a quote from Liberalism: Its Meaning and History by J. Salwin Schapiro (1958):

      "Equality is another fundamental liberal principle. Liberalism has proclaimed the principle of equality for all human beings everywhere. It must be borne in mind, however, that equality does not mean all have equal ability, or equal moral perception, or equal personal attraction. What it means is that all have equal rights before the law, and that all are entitled to civil liberty." (p. 10)

      Equality before the law was part of the original formulation of liberalism. It's one of the foundation stones for our form of government, which is a classically liberal government (at the same time, a constitutionally conservative government). Unfortunately, liberalism has been highjacked by various illiberal ideas, one of which is that rights are granted by society or by the State. Another is that there ought to be economic equality or equality of outcomes among the people, in other words, that equality = material equality. (That's what I meant when I wrote that "material equality [is] the basis of liberalism and an obvious absurdity." I should have been more clear that I meant contemporary "liberalism.") Socialism is a form of government designed to assure material equality by curtailing the rights of the individual to pursue his own happiness, to engage freely in economic activity, and to enjoy the fruits of his own labor. That's not my idea of liberalism. We should remember that laissez-faire economics and capitalism were also part of the original formulation of liberalism.

      As a conservative, I don't believe in "social ranking," "social morality," or "social" anything else that I can think of. Contemporary liberals, being materialists, pride themselves on their command of science and reason, yet they talk about the haziest, most numinous, immeasurable, and undetectable of concepts as if they were hard facts. I don't think I'm able to address concepts like that.

      As for what is legal vs. what is moral, I don't think the two have a lot to do with each other. The interests of the State seem to me not whether something is moral or not but whether something is expedient or not; whether it is effective or not; or, too often, whether it serves a specific constituency or not; whether it can be used as a cudgel against the opposition or not; or whether it gives lawmakers a chance to do a little moral preening or not.

      My point about socialism is that it is not simply a variation on liberal government. On the contrary, socialism requires a very large (and elitist) government with the power to reach into every part of a person's life so as to force him to do things he doesn't want to do based on what some distant and arbitrary someone believes is good for what is called "society." That's not liberal but extremely illiberal.

      I doubt that West Virginia was very well aligned with the Confederacy, as people who lived in Appalachia tended to be Union sympathizers, Andrew Johnson among them. I feel certain that economic considerations helped form those sympathies. As for "what ifs?" about the Civil War or history in general: They're fun to think about and to read, but it seems to me that the only things that can happen do happen. There might be some kind of philosophical fallacy in thinking that way, but that's what I think.

      TH

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    9. Wow. i don't quite know where to begin, or, as I stated in my original comment, if any response on my part is worth the effort. You and I clearly have very different perspectives. Your disdain for liberals seems more like hatred, which once again saddens me.
      Yes, civil liberty is exactly what I was referring to, the terminology I was searching for, when I mentioned legal rights. But how you can interpret the pursuit of civil liberty as an inflexible demand for material equality is beyond me. Civil rights does not suggest or imply that all people are of equal ability, have equal potential, or deserve equal success. All it means is that we should all be afforded equal opportunity to try. And yes, I do see this a liberal concept, since the vast majority of racists and sexists are conservatives who believe deeply in predetermined societal rankings.
      You are confusing socialism with communism when you state that it is "a form of government designed to assure material equality by curtailing the rights of the individual." It's a common mistake, one which totally misrepresents socialism. As I already pointed out, there are socialist programs in place in a variety of capitalist democracies, including our own.
      Your feeling -- that the flaw (or rather one of the flaws) with socialism is the fact that, in order to do what is right for society, it must force people to do things that they don't want to do -- is most disturbing. Maybe you are more of a capitalist than I suspected , but I find it very hard to believe that you really think that the majority of people don't want to do right by others. Only a sociopath thinks that way.

      Oh, and my bit of "What if?" speculation was just meant to be a playful interjection. Sorry if you took issue with it.

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    10. Mike,

      I didn't take issue with your "what if?" speculation at all. I saw it as the playful interjection as you intended it. In responding, I didn't intend to be taken extremely seriously, either. I was just telling you what I think in general of "what-ifs?".

      One of the problems with communicating electronically is that there is no context--no body language, vocal inflection, facial expression, or anything else to aid in the communication. Also, there isn't the immediate give and take of a conversation. That seems to be what's happening in our larger conversation here.

      I would like to be conciliatory and have tried simply to explain myself and what I believe. I don't think I have made any kind of personal attack on you or anyone else. I certainly don't feel hatred towards you or for anyone else and I don't think I have expressed anything like hatred here. You and I disagree on a lot of things. We also agree on a lot of things. But just because we disagree doesn't mean that we can't be friends or that we can't have a civil conversation. I count you as a friend and value your really vast knowledge of popular culture and history. (Airplanes, too.) I also value your great abilities when it comes to reading and analyzing stories. I don't know of anyone else with equal abilities in that way.

      Anyway, I am satisfied to leave off with this conversation. I think you have misunderstood what I have written and have taken me for something I'm not. That may be because I haven't explained myself well enough. If that's the case, I apologize. But I'm not the person you take me to be.

      Please keep up with the comments.

      TH

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    11. Terence,
      I see you as a friend, too. Even though we sometimes disagree quite passionately, I feel fortunate that we can do so respectfully. In this age when the internet is filled with faceless pseudonyms swearing at and insulting one another other with sophomoric name-calling, our exchanges are most refreshing.

      Years ago I figured out that there are four steps in communication:

      First; there is what I am thinking.
      Second; there is how I articulate those thoughts.
      Third; there is what you hear me say.
      Four; there is your interpretation of what you hear.

      Then the whole process is repeated for your response.
      In each step, there are four places where the whole thing can go off the tracks.
      Combine this with the fact that we all color our interpretations with the palate of our personal experiences and it's a wonder people can communicate at all! I
      f you and I are misinterpreting one another, there is blame to be found on both sides. Guess we're both just human after all. (Which is good. Perfection sounds like too much work.)

      Best Wishes

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    12. Thanks, Mike,

      I have started out 2017 on this blog with what I knew to be a dark subject. Maybe I should have started with something else. But the next posting I have planned will not be an especially happy one, either, though in a completely different way than this one. I think you will have very positive things about its subject, though.

      TH

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  3. Well stated, Terence. Hillary as Sasquatch -- terrific!

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    1. I have to agree; that was an inspired analogy. I do think that it was unfairly derogatory toward the poor Sasquatch, however...

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