We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

By the end of my teaching career, ahistorical undergraduate students were becoming disturbingly common. They did not know the hellish poverty the vast majority of humanity had endured for millennia. They didn’t believe the past could have been as brutal as writers such as Matt Ridley described in his book The Rational Optimist. Even worse, exposed to hard evidence, some students refuse to question their positions.

Camille Paglia explains that because “Everything is so easy now, [undergrads] have a sense that this is the way life has always been.” Paglia continues, “Because they’ve never been exposed to history, they have no idea that these are recent attainments that come from a very specific economic system.”

Capitalism, she continues, has “produced this cornucopia around us. But the young seem to believe in having the government run everything.”

Barry Brownstein

33 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Julie near Chicago

    And before we get to that, I just saw this in the “News” when I opened a new window:

    Pete Buttigieg Eyes 35% Corporate Tax Rate to Fund Health Plan

    Pete Buttigieg would pay for his $1.5 trillion health-care plan by rolling back President Donald Trump’s corporate tax cut to retu…

    Never mind the idiots who hawk this nonsense. Apparently said idiots think the country is loaded with numbnuts who don’t get that the “corporate income tax” comes directly out of their dividend checks or mutual funds, and in the latter case that means their regular IRAs and income-tax-free Roth IRAs.

    . . .

    Now, I think Miss Paglia is right in her thesis, but I also think there’s more to it. I think people, especially those under, say, 50, are often bored. Novelty is needed, also a good dose of dopamine for feeling good and also plenty of adrenaline to burn of pent-up nervous energy, for those who enjoy whoopin’ & hollerin’ and “getting all rowdy,” to quote Will Smith in Independence Day. I mean dammit, anger can build up a great adrenaline rush!

    But let me quote a couple of comments from Neo-neocon.

    Roy Nathanson on October 19, 2019 at 12:37 pm said:

    https://www.thenewneo.com/2019/10/18/the-impeachment-inquiry-fooling-enough-of-the-people-enough-of-the-time/#comment-2459870

    I have a personal theory that humans can never be content for very long. Our nature is to always be nostalgic for a previous Golden Age, or longing, planning, and scheming for the next Golden Age. No matter how well a current political system or organization is working by objective standards, there will always be discontent. And there will always be unscrupulous politicians or leaders willing to fan the flames and take advantage of that discontent. …

    Which was followed up by commenter huxley at

    https://www.thenewneo.com/2019/10/18/the-impeachment-inquiry-fooling-enough-of-the-people-enough-of-the-time/#comment-2459878 :

    Roy Nathanson: True. That’s not how the human brain is wired, as brain science tells us. Google dopamine and novelty-seeking. …

    And Yrs Trly has been thinking about this phenomenon for years. People spend zillions of £ and 10 years of time redecorating or remodelling. They enjoy it all with much pleasure for about a week; then they get to tweaking it, a new pillow here, a new pot there … and before you know it they’re started on another decade-long redo.

    And, you know, the grass is always greener somewhere else. In this case we may quote Mrs. Bombeck: The grass is always greener over the septic tank.

  • Nico

    @JnC: No! The Trump corporate tax cuts demonstrate that corporate taxes first hit employees. That’s why when they were cut, employees got pay raises and bonuses.

    Also, the grass is greenest over the mass graves.

    Otherwise, I don’t disagree with anything you say 🙂

  • Fraser Orr

    I think something that is perhaps missed from the OP is that part of the problem is the way history is taught. History has always been taught like Game of Thrones. The high and mighty lords and kings, wars and dynasties. Even we Americans, our history is about Presidents and wars, and if a little deeper, senators and gold rushes, maybe even constitutions and declarations. So, if that were indeed the lessons that most people get about history why would they not think that everything important that happens happens because a king or president deems it so?

    What is missing from history is the place where history is really made. In the lives of individuals, in the light of innovators, inventors, engineers and thinkers. And these people, the people who are the true movers of history, are usually little more than a footnote against the drama of blood, crowns and royal mischief.

    I love Simon Schama’s History of Britain. I’m a sucker for the kings and battles kind of history too. And don’t get me wrong, that stuff does change things. But in that whole magnificent sweep through history Newton, Turing and Adam Smith don’t get a mention.

  • Stonyground

    I’m fascinated by history now, but as a schoolkid back in the 1970s the subject bored me rigid. We did cover the industrial revolution and I found that interesting, but I don’t remember it being explained to me what the significance of it was. How life was improved for millions.

  • Dr. Caligari

    Hmm. Was a man in the middle ages poor? Maybe. Sure, he has less material things and not good food and so on, but… At least, was the usual life in this age a collection of violence, hunger and fear? Or was this the times of crisis?

    What wourld Karl Popper says?

  • BFFB

    And Yrs Trly has been thinking about this phenomenon for years. People spend zillions of £ and 10 years of time redecorating or remodelling. They enjoy it all with much pleasure for about a week; then they get to tweaking it, a new pillow here, a new pot there … and before you know it they’re started on another decade-long redo.

    I wonder if you could correlate tendency for novelty seeking with different political tendencies. E.g. the only time I’ve remodeled something is because it was broken or otherwise not fit for purpose. I hate redecorating, it’s a PITB.

  • Myno

    I had the privilege to take a 2-year course in college: Technology and Civilization. While there was the occasional mention of a King, by far the bulk was on the progress of the inventions that enabled civilization to flourish. The only King I recall was Charles the Hammer who introduced a crucial technology, the stirrup, to Europe, and incidentally expanded feudalism to support the horses on which those stirrups would be employed, to defend against the Muslim hoards… who already had the stirrup.
    But the usual history course? I think the term you folks use is bollocks?

  • Paul Marks

    It is not some sort of accident – students are not just born like this, there has been no massive genetic mutation to close the minds of people.

    Students are TAUGHT to be like this – both by the education system (from their most early days – right from Playschool or Kindergarten) and the mass “Woke” media, where most entertainment shows are filled with the doctrines of “Wokeness” (i.e. the Frankfurt School of Marxism). Leading corporations and individual billionaires also push these doctrines – even though the doctrines would lead to their own execution.

    A teacher must know the above – but the academic just implies that the students are ignorant, when they have actually been systematically brainwashed.

    As for reason and evidence – that is the key twist of modern Marxism. Reason is rejected IN PRINCIPLE – logic is presented as just the “tool of oppression and exploitation” by white-male-heterosexuals (who are responsible for all evil in the world) – even obvious things such as evidence showing the folly of Minimum Wage laws or Rent Control legislation (i.e. attempts to rig prices – for wages are a price, just as rents are a price) is rejected in PRINCIPLE – as both evidence and reason (logic) are just tools of “white, male, heterosexual, capitalist oppression and exploitation”.

    As for the “mainstream” Churches – they privately regard “God as a metaphor for the poor” and the interests of “the poor” as automatically served by more collectivism – with both evidence and reason rejected IN PRINCIPLE (so it is useless to present either empirical evidence or logical argument showing that even more collectivism HARMS rather than helps the poor). Even total failure, such as Argentina since the coming to power of the collectivist Peron during World War II, is totally disregarded.

    Academics in, for example, California are NOT stupid (not for the most part) – they can see the terrible things that the rise of statism has done – and yet they teach the young people in their charge to demand more and more collectivism – even though they (the academics) know (yes KNOW) it will do terrible harm.

    The intellectual and cultural elite teach people to demand more and more collectivism – because they believe after “capitalist society” is destroyed a wonderful new society will rise from the ashes. A society where everyone will have everything for free and be paid whether they work or not (see Andrew Wang and other billionaire lunatics – he is not the exception, he is the norm among the establishment elite – the bankers and Silicon Valley collectivists as much as the academics and Hollywood collectivists).

    None of it will work – the establishment elite will not create a wonderful new society out of the ashes of the existing society (the society they have already done so much to disfigure and corrupt) – but they carry on anyway.

    So no the students are not born this way – they are EDUCATED this way.

  • bobby b

    Paul Marks
    October 21, 2019 at 8:52 am

    “As for the “mainstream” Churches – they privately regard “God as a metaphor for the poor” . . . “

    This is so true. And, as you say, they’ve decided that equality of outcome is God’s preference, rather than equality of opportunity.

    I myself don’t believe there is a god, but if I did – if I believed in a God that was Good – I’d have to believe that that God would favor equality of opportunity.

    Because worshiping outcome leads to stagnation and lack and death, while worshiping opportunity buttresses life.

  • Stonyground

    There was a batshit crazy quote from Jeremy Corbyn that I remember being posted on facebook that I thought was appropriate to post here but I can’t find it just now. It was something to the effect that we would all still be living in abject poverty if it hadn’t been for the Labour Movement. In my attempt to locate the quote, I went to a quote file website where there were lots of Corbyn soundbytes. Talk about being wrong about everything all the time, this guy is the absolute master.

  • the students are not born this way – they are EDUCATED this way. (Paul Marks, October 21, 2019 at 8:52 am)

    True, but it would also need a certain lack of intellectual curiosity and/or reluctance to ask questions even in the privacy of the student’s own mind (this last can be taught of course) for the OP quote to be quite right. A student can hardly avoid watching Gladiator and WWII films and much between. Any student who thought life had always been this easy is one who chose to think so. PC itself presents the past as a luridly-drawn hell of prejudice and oppression – sometimes even the very recent past and even the PC of yesteryear.

    I think Stonyground (October 21, 2019 at 9:19 am) is closer with his Corbyn quote, that we would all still be living in abject poverty if it hadn’t been for the Labour Movement. They know things have got better. They just apply their zero-sum logic to it, and deduce that things got better, not because more wealth was produced but because the greedy monopolisers of all the wealth were forced to disgorge some of it by virtuous lefties – a process which it is therefore clearly desirable to continue.

    It is not the facts but their (non)understanding of causation that is the problem.

  • neonsnake

    that we would all still be living in abject poverty if it hadn’t been for the Labour Movement

    Agreed, that matches my experience.

    I was lucky enough to go to a school that had Animal Farm and 1984 on the curriculum, as well as Dickens.

    In my more sober and charitable moments, I sorta-kinda understand the tendency to look at “horrible factory conditions” and want to improve them. I’ve seen a few “horrible factories” myself in the Far East, and I’ll quietly confess to feeling some discomfort myself.

    But.

    Capitalism (or free markets, if you prefer) is SO OBVIOUSLY a force for good; and this is where I sometimes get a little frustrated.

    I think sometimes of my Nan (hear me out). She lived, on her own, with her independence, to the grand old age of 91, God bless her.

    Mainly because, in her lifetime, “we” invented the vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher, the microwave, the washing machine, the ready meal, and so on and so forth. Capitalism afforded her a hitherto unheard of dignity in her old age, via all these machines and gadgets that must have seemed like science fiction to her.

    That’s the bit where I start to lose my patience. You speak of Gladiator, and I agree. But think of our own grandparents, and the extra work they used to have to do (unpaid work) just to survive. Washing clothes, washing dishes, and so on.

    I can do my weekend chores in about an hour! Clothes in washing machine, lawn mowed, dishwasher turned on. If I didn’t enjoy cooking, then dinner in 10 minutes in microwave. What a time to be alive! I can carry more books than I ever need in my kindle. My phone can do more than most of our first computers.

    We have nearly eradicated poverty.

    But no. This isn’t enough. Some people have more than I do. So we must tear down the system, despite the objective fact that a majority (not all, and I’m not blind to that) have more than anyone in history has ever needed to lead a very good life indeed.

  • neonsnake

    I myself don’t believe there is a god, but if I did – if I believed in a God that was Good – I’d have to believe that that God would favor equality of opportunity.

    I don’t believe in God either, but I believe in Dao, which is a non-superstitious way of saying that I believe that everyone has their own path – and, importantly, everyone’s path is different and unique to them.

    In other words, every person is an end in themselves.

    So the only possible response is equality of opportunity to realise that path. Not equality of outcome, which is a flattening of opportunity and a (immense and morally unjustifiable) reduction in choices of lifestyle.

    Julie, you said somewhere recently that “rich people are therefore evil, ergo capitalism is evil”, or words to effect.

    Undoubtedly true in some, or indeed many, cases.

    So, we throw out the theory because some take advantage of it.

    But, is it a majority of cases? One rather thinks not 😉

    And, well…if we’re going to throw out a theory because some adherents are evil, then socialism doesn’t fare very well here, does it?

    *Cough* El Che murderous homophobe *cough*

    Excuse me. Something in my throat.

    Paul mentioned Argentina earlier; I’m more than passingly familiar. The Lady’s father is a Military Man, a Navy Man in fact, he lived through the Disappearances and other events (including a stint on the Belgrano)

    She’s very clear on the evils of Peronism and equivalent theories, and of the idea that such theories keep poor people poor, in order to win votes and stay in power (look at all this stuff we’re giving you! The other side won’t do that, so vote for us!).

    I was in Argentina when Macri displaced Kirchner.

    I’m glad we’re not there now, whilst also feeling very sad for her Dad.

  • Nico

    @neonsnake: I don’t have to tell you, I suppose, that Macri is due to lose the next election a scant six days away.

    Peronism is a lot like what FDRism would have been had FDR been a bit more dictatorial and lived 30 more years.

    Indeed, FDR came up with a very familiar setup — familiar to anyone who is from Latin America or has watched it much. FDR banned hard currency and devalued at the same time (obviously did not devalue enough), imposed protectionism in many ways (always for favored groups), including via price controls. What did Chavez do in Venezuela? Well, exactly the same thing. In Argentina this happens with regularity — every ten to twelve years — then is followed by going back to a more open economy, and the cycle repeats. But not just in Venezuela or Argentina — this pattern has been repeated in much of Latin America and elsewhere in the third world, over and over and over again.

    Thanks, FDR!

    And lest anyone think that the U.S. would never fall into that pattern, Americans voted Dem for 62 years, from 1932 to 1994. It took Americans six decades to recover from FDRism, and even so, we’re not really recovered — we’re on the edge of abyss, as we must be every generation. Latin America has been less lucky, with no end in sight to the FDRish mess. (That’s partly because Latin America was mostly never in good shape to begin with, with the slight exception of Argentina, which was a very rich country once.)

    As to el Che, he was a a homophobic mass murderer, yes, and also a racist mass murderer. But mostly he was a mass murderer.

  • ns

    Niall Kilmartin – Part of the problem with watching Gladiator and WWII films is that many films are inaccurate in their history, and even those that are leave out the details of day to day life. Gladiator, and other films, and books, don’t drive home the absolute poverty and the chance of famine and plague. Living conditions just look exotic in the films, the actors all still look to be in good health (and have all their teeth!) So there are clues that the past is different, but nothing explicit that would cause one to actually think about it.
    “I can carry more books than I ever need in my kindle.” That is very nearly blasphemous! More books than I will ever read in my lifetime, yes, but I still need the ones I’ll never get to. 🙂

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT the number of books that one can keep on Kindle, I am reminded of Umberto Eco’s short essay: How to Justify a Private Library.

    Eco wrote that people visiting his house were impressed by the amount of books on the shelves and inevitably asked:
    What a lot of books! Have you read them all?

    To which he used to give a sarcastic answer:
    I haven’t read any of them; otherwise, why would I keep them here?

    Later on, he turned to an ironic answer:
    No, these are the books I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office.

    But I like best the intimidating answer that Eco attributes to Roberto Leydi:
    And many more!

  • bobby b

    ““I can carry more books than I ever need in my kindle.” That is very nearly blasphemous! More books than I will ever read in my lifetime, yes, but I still need the ones I’ll never get to.”

    People groan when I mention moving, because the toughest part of helping me move is my books. Boxes and boxes and boxes . . .

    “But you’ve read them! Can’t you just get rid of them?” Argh. In life, the winner is the one who dies with the most books.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby — +25 😆

  • Stephen Michael Kellat

    Sometimes it is good to be a Christian primitivist. I appreciate how much better I have it than the Prophets and Apostles did. I’ve also had the privilege of living outside the USA for a time. We may not get it totally right stateside but I’ve certainly seen “bad luck” crop up elsewhere far too readily.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Look, the simple solution to all those history-less people is to send them on Holidays in North Korea! That’ll re-educate them! And if they don’t survive the camps, that’s another win for us!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Paglia is excellent. Pretty much everything she writes is worth a look, even if you don’t always agree with it.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Julie –

    While what you said about corporation tax is quite correct, the implications go even further than you’ve detailed.

    Economists of all stripes have known for the last century or so that corporations don’t actually pay corporation tax, that the costs are passed on to three groups: (1) shareholders, as lower returns, as you’ve mentioned, (2) employees, as lower remuneration (salary, bonuses, perks, etc), and (3) customers, as higher prices. The only argument has been what percentage of the tax burden falls on each group.

    So what you said, but even more so. 🙂

  • I was fortunate. When I was young, The Little House on the Prairie series was not only acceptable, but approved. In early grades, our teachers read it to us. Real history, by a real person, told of a day that was still close enough to us that we believed it existed. Perhaps the cowboy movies helped us believe. These days, knowing history is not politically correct.

  • neonsnake

    that Macri is due to lose the next election a scant six days away.

    Yep. Fernandez has it sewn up, potentially due to the Cult Of Cristina as his running mate.

    That’s why I’m glad we’re here – my better half, one of her sisters, and the dogs all emigrated to the UK in 2016 (they have Italian passports as well as Argentinian, so they’re here on EU FOM, which is why I’m twitching about Brexit a little. I think it will work out, though), and the other sister is Panama (which is it’s own set of problems right now, but that’s by the by). Is just her father left behind in Argentina.

    Macri had, as far as I can tell, an impossible job, which he tried hard at, but ultimately he’s trying to undo a near-century of disaster in four years. I won’t pretend to be an expert at all, but that’s my view as an outsider with an amateur understanding, largely from her father.

    I fondly remember the celebrations in her family when Macri ousted Cristina. I’m hoping her father can get over here asap, just for a visit, so he can at least commiserate with his daughters. And his gran-perras.

  • Nico

    @neonsnake: Macri didn’t try to cut the budget (and thus inflation) early on. Not that that would have won him this election. I suspect Argentina is fucked forever.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sure, PST. The shareholder point was the one that leapt into my mind demanding attention. Thanks for the additional points. :>)

  • ns

    Ellen – I think that, more than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s views, are why those books are to be memory-holed. Can’t allow accounts that may contradict the narrative! It would be difficult to find someone from the 19th century who had views that were entirely pc, thus making it easy to ban any book.

  • neonsnake

    Not that that would have won him this election. I suspect Argentina is fucked forever.

    Agreed with your first statement.

    I’ll disagree with the second, but with the caveat of “fucked in our lifetimes”, hence getting the girls (and pooches) the fuck out of Dodge, as it were.

    Several generations of people used to free stuff does not lead to a less interventionist state quickly. It does lead to a nation where a sizable percentage are entrepreneurial as all get-out, mind. The anti-Peronists can hustle like I’ve never seen.

    It’s like most South American countries I’ve visited; link up with the right people, and they’re finding ways round the system that we more privileged-types would never dream of. I’ve huge amounts of admiration for some of them.

    And then, of course, you have the others, crying their eyes out (literally, in crowds) when Cristina addresses them in her Gucci, her Rolexes, and her botoxed fucking face, while they can’t afford their electric bill without the subsidies she threw at them.

    Saddest thing is that I don’t even blame them.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Here are two passages quoted in the linked essay:

    “The small workers of the eighteenth century were effectively locked into a nutritional trap; they could not earn much because they were so physically weak, and they could not eat because, without work, they did not have the money to buy food.”

    “Two-hundred years ago some twenty percent of the inhabitants of England and France could not work at all. At most they had enough energy for a few hours of slow walking per day, which condemned most of them to a life of begging.”

    Now read about the elaborate formal dinners of the aristocracy. I remember seeing “Secrets of Chatsworth”, a documentary about the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. A typical dinner for 100 guests had at least eight courses, including turtle soup, where a whole turtle was used for each guest’s bowl.

    This may provide some insight into the roots of socialist rage. When Bernie Sanders rants that “billionaires should not exist”, that’s what he thinks he’s attacking.

  • Rich Rostrom (October 24, 2019 at 12:12 am) one wonders what manages not to go on in the minds of students hearing this stuff that passages such as you quote can be heard without a ‘But?” occurring to them. (However since they can hate the culture that abolished slavery and also condemn its ‘oppression’ of the ones that would not have abolished it yet, left to themselves, I suppose swallowing stuff like this is comparatively easy.)

    This may provide some insight into the roots of socialist rage.

    These transparent lies indeed provide insight into the roots of socialist rage – “Emotion-based appeals”, as the next SQotD says. It feels good believing it, and if you argue I’ll call it hate speech.

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – without God the universe is a cold and hopeless place. But some people have survived believing that and been as moral as they could in the circumstances of their time.

    The “Meditations” of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius shows one such good man – I doubt this short work is now taught in many universities.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Niall Kilmartin: The passages I re-quoted were originally quoted by Barry Brownstein in the essay from which the SQotD was drawn.

    The author of the first was Angus Deaton, a Nobel Laureate in economics.

    The author of the second was Johan Norberg, a Fellow of the CATO Institute, citing the work of Nobel Laureate Robert Fogel.

    Brownstein published the essay at the Foundation for Economic Education, a free-market citadel.

    If these statements are “transparent lies”, they are lies which are widely circulated by free-market and libertarian economists.

    Personally, I found these statements astonishing (and horrible), but I am not prepared to reject the researched findings of renowned scholars, cited in support of capitalism.

    I just noted certain implications of those surprising (to me) findings.

  • Rich Rostrom (October 28, 2019 at 8:51 pm), in the late 1700s, England was already literally the richest country in the world and the richest there had ever been. Its parochial system of poor relief is a godsend to modern genealogists since it means the movements of even the humble can be tracked in its records. The idea that two hundred years ago (the early 1800s), one in every five of the adult working-age population had “at most … enough energy for a few hours of slow walking per day” (let alone “20% of the [whole] population”, which would include babies, very aged and infirm widows, etc. – exempt from the test of walking fast or for more than a few hours each day on other grounds) should, as I said, raise a huge “But! …” and a huge number of buts. The same applies to the idea that this 20% were literally “unable to work … condemned … to a life of begging” – physically unable to function as domestic servants, physically unable to fill any of the roles in the still-huge agricultural sector or the blossoming industrial sector.

    Let me offer just one of these many buts. If these were the stats for England when the industrial revolution was already well-started, what would plausible stats have to be for the later Roman Empire when we know the poor could be reduced to having to sell their children? What would the stats have to be for the post-Stalin soviet union, when there were no longer mass famines but we know the modal diet had declined from late tsarist times? What would the stats have to be for those late tsarist times when the agricultural methods and efficiency of Russia’s peasant communes was mediaeval in English terms? If 20% were the figure for England post-1800, what percentage of people unable to work and subsisting by begging would have to be asserted for these societies?