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  • Remedial Reading for a ‘New Yorker’ Writer

    Posted by David Foster on September 9th, 2017 (All posts by )

    This New Yorker writer seems to feel that, had government been adequately respected, funded and supported (and the dangers of Climate Change properly recognized), the ‘Cajun Navy’ of volunteer rescuers would not have been needed.

    Glenn Reynolds suggests that the author has apparently never read Alexis de Tocqueville.  (Or, alternatively, I would suggest, may have read him but not really understood him all that well)

    Tocqueville, of course, wrote famously (in his book Democracy in America) about the tendency of Americans to come together and form voluntary associations to accomplish particular goals, without anyone having to tell them to do so.

    Tocqueville also wrote another book, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, in which he traced the constancy of certain aspects of French society across the monarchy and the Republic.  In an appendix, he argues that “the physiognomy of governments can be best detected in their colonies, and rendered more conspicuous.”  Looking at French Canada under Louis XIV and Algeria under the Republic, he wrote:

    In both places the government numbers as many heads as the people; it preponderates, acts, regulates, controls, undertakes everything, provides for everything, knows far more about the subject’s business than he did hiself–is, in short, incessantly active and sterile.

    He contrasts this system–under which “there was not a shadow of municipal or provincial institutions; and no collective or individual action was tolerated” with that in America:

    In the United States, on the contrary, the English anti-centralization system was carried to an extreme.  Parishes became independent municipalities, almost democratic republics.  The republican element, which forms, so to say, the foundation of the English constitution and English habits, shows itself and develops without hindrance. Government proper does little in England and individuals do a great deal; in America, government never interferes, so to speak, and individuals do everything.

    Rose Wilder Lane also found it useful to contrast the differing colonial strategies of European powers:  France and Spain, on the one hand, and Britain, on the other:

    The Governments gave them (in the case of the French and Spanish colonies–ed) carefully detailed instructions for clearing and fencing the land, caring for the fence and the gate, and plowing and planting, cultivating, harvesting, and dividing the crops…The English Kings were never so efficient. They gave the land to traders. A few gentlemen, who had political pull enough to get a grant, organized a trading company; their agents collected a ship-load or two of settlers and made an agreement with them which was usually broken on both sides…To the scandalized French, the people in the English colonies seemed like undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers.

    Does the New Yorker writer also see Americans as “undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers,” with the badness of the rulers lying mainly in their not having been given enough power?

    It strikes me that Leftists are mostly very institutional people….they believe that things must be done by people who are properly trained and credentialed, organized in a top-down manner.

    This attitude was very much on display when, immediately after 9/11, the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted. Media types were appalled; to them, there are people who are trained and credentialed to fly airplanes and there are people who are trained and credentialed to carry firearms on behalf of the government, and never the twain shall meet.

    (And, of course, it was action of the passengers, not coordinated by any central authority, that prevented Flight 93 from being used to conduct even greater devastation on 9/11.)

    Robert Heinlein wrote: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    Such thoughts are anathema to the Institutional Left.

    See also Lead and Gold on Elite Panic and The Hive Mind, also People are the Design Margin, by Richard Fernandez.

     

    28 Responses to “Remedial Reading for a ‘New Yorker’ Writer”

    1. Mike K Says:

      I this over here in the past.

      That Someone’s busy with transfat, transgender and alternative marriage issues. He can’t bother with protecting borders. Just leave your number and the time you called, and he’ll get back to you. The state has finally achieved both universal jurisdiction and total impotence at one and the same moment.

      The “Cajun Navy” is one example of taking care of ourselves.

    2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      I imagine there has always been both sorts of people in all the societies mentioned above. There may be a heritable quality to this, and we have both attracted and produced more of one type. We trend in the direction of self-organising, but it has never been universal. What is different now is who is in charge, and gets to bend the culture in their preferred direction

    3. David Foster Says:

      At least some of the people I referred to as having an ‘Institutional’ orientation don’t live their OWN lives that way at all…the writer, the singer, the academic, even the startup entrepreneur may view themselves as free spirits requiring an environment of high creative scope, but the *other* people as needing top-down direction and control. These individuals generally have no concept of how much initiative, creativity, dedication, etc it requires to keep a factory operating or a railroad running or to deal with serious emergencies.

    4. PenGun Says:

      I have been admiring the subtle use of American’s helping themselves. The various officials going on about how Americans respond so well we don’t need no stinkin’ leftist ‘the state should help out’ nonsense.

      I have been admiring the success of the very rich in marginalizing anything that might threaten their ability to freely take all the money. That so many, with so little, buy into this crap, is a testament to the society they have built. ;)

    5. dearieme Says:

      I thought it was rather touching that the Cajun Navy set sail at much the same time that the film Dunkirk showed another navy of little boats.

    6. David Foster Says:

      Continuing with my last comment on Institutional Thinking: for decades, a high % of university professors have demanded absolute freedom for themselves in choosing what to work on and how to do it, while simultaneously favoring a high degree of controls on other Americans…especially those who are in business…and how they do their jobs.

      It’s worse now, though…it seems an increasing number of professors don’t really attempt to act as scholars at all, but rather choose to act as marketers and enforcers of a specific ideology.
      I

    7. David Foster Says:

      Kevin WIlliamson:

      Houston, with its vast asphalt expanses and its sci-fi eastern skyline of oil refineries and flare stacks, is not Paris. I have joked from time to time that its city motto ought to be the old engineers’ creed: “It Ain’t Pretty, But It Works.” The police and emergency personnel and public authorities will do their jobs, with varying degrees of success, and will no doubt earn both praise and criticism for their efforts. But what really works about Houston — and about America — is that line of guys saying, “I have a bass boat, a raincoat, and some rope — what can I do to help?” There’s no army in the world that can replace that, and no amount of treasure that can buy it.

      But some people are more than eager to throw this spirit away.

      http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451056/hurricane-harvey-houston-resilient-will-recover

    8. Roy Says:

      I have personally provided sweat equity after three tornadoes, directly provided cash and capital assets after one tornado, indirectly provided via charities I knew I could trust cash after Katrina and will do so soon for Harvey, have close friends who provided many days of sweat equity after Katrina, and several groups of very close friends who have provided many days of sweat equity after Harvey and are committed to providing probably weeks more, and know others already working in anticipation of Irma. In addition to the common thread of charitable volunteerism of the originating essay to these comments, one other common thread stood out. Every one of those cases demonstrated three features: 1) the volunteers got there before the government aide; 2)the volunteers were not as expert as the experienced government aide, made mistakes (eg, donated badly-used clothes), but learned and continued giving in ways that directly and personally ministered to identifiable needs; 3)long after the politicians had finished virtue-signaling/vote-buying with other peoples’ money (as in seasons to years later), the volunteers, specifically those from churches, were still helping.

    9. Mike K Says:

      I thought it was rather touching that the Cajun Navy set sail at much the same time that the film Dunkirk showed another navy of little boats.

      Me too but I wonder if Islamic England will have the pluck the next time.

      Meanwhile HuffPo is scandalized at the thought that schoolchildren could be taught the Muslim prayer ritual

    10. Bill Brandt Says:

      I have always felt that among leftists (as opposed to modern liberals) there is a trace of condescension to their fellow man. They seem to go by a “do as I say not as I am” view towards rule.

      I should reread Democracy in America, along with the Federalist Papers.

    11. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      @PenGun – what country is it you are referring to where the rich have all the money? I’m not familiar with it. I recall there was an African nation where the king’s family owned 50% of the GDP, but I don’t recall which and can’t verify it is true.

    12. PenGun Says:

      America my friend. It is your society that has made it a sin to be poor and a great virtue to have money. Because the rich/virtuous really do think they are better than the poor they have no trouble believing that the poor deserve to be poor and should just be ignored, except perhaps for their votes.

      An ugly place, that’s most of the problem the world faces.

    13. Mike K Says:

      I don’t think you have any friends here, PenGun.

    14. pst314 Says:

      “I don’t think you have any friends here, PenGun.”

      Agreed. PenGun’s malicious commie cartoon view of America is respected only by fools and knaves.

    15. Brian Says:

      “Because the rich/virtuous really do think they are better than the poor they have no trouble believing that the poor deserve to be poor and should just be ignored, except perhaps for their votes.”

      You’ve just described California perfectly.

    16. Rumaggi Says:

      If “If’s and But’s were candy and nuts,” my what a wonderful workers’ paradise this would be.

    17. Gringo Says:

      PenGun:
      America my friend. It is your society that has made it a sin to be poor and a great virtue to have money.

      The above statement doesn’t do a good job of explaining why so many poor people across the world want to live in America.

    18. Brian Says:

      Gringo: False consciousness. Duh.

    19. PenGun Says:

      It’s no secret I am disappointed with America. I had hoped it would be a force for good and bring the world together.

      That won’t be happening. American preeminence is what matter to America and your 800+ military bases around the world are a testament to that.

      As you won’t go gently, you will have to be waited out. With Trump as your elected president that may happen faster than anyone had thought possible.

      One of the greatest threats you face is not China as a country, but China as as entrepreneur. In China patents and copy-write mean nothing. Well very little, and the form of competition revolves around who can implement best. So they all steal each others ideas and compete on who can do the best job. This will out-compete any closed system. Like the one you have in your country.

    20. Roy Says:

      PenGun writes, “So they all steal” as if that had no counterproductive economic impact.

      Contemplate the economic implications of a a key case or key ring. What sorts of costs do these keys impose? How great are those costs? Who pays them? Where and how, beyond transaction costs (the price of some purchase), do those costs show up?

      Contemplate what my home city newspaper (as do probably many others)calls a ‘food desert’, an area of the city where one cannot easily walk to a grocery store, an area where one has problems finding even the small convenience stores with higher-priced food items. “Racism”, say some. “Greed”, say others. But how about “we tried, but could not make it work because people stole our margins”?

      I rejoiced to find Home Depot in various cities in Mexico where I did field service engineering. Meant I could obtain parts such as not merely bolts and nuts, but metric bolts and nuts of the right size and length. Meant I not only did not have to scour a city to find anyone at all with stuff I needed, but that I could ‘one stop shop’. Made my time far more productive, allowing keeping my charges lower. Also meant that the locals had a way to accomplish the “home improvement projects” I do at my own home, where they could via their own vision and sweat significantly improve their standard of living. Made me very happy for the locals I worked with, guys who worked hard and cared for their wives and kids, and hence for their homes. But I found it very interesting to observe all the added costs these Home Depots (and similar) had to face from security measures to limit theft.

      What sort of not-closed system do you propose, PenGun?

    21. PenGun Says:

      You completely miss the point. The Chinese economy is wildly competitive. That’s the point.

    22. Brian Says:

      Roy: You’re trying to argue economics with a canadian commie.

    23. PenGun Says:

      Talked to an American in the post office yesterday. He’s in the process of immigrating and told me he had to go back to Baltimore, his home town, to clean up a few lose ends.

      He was slightly horrified at what Baltimore has become. Told me he had to toss a couple of friends for batshit crazy ideas. The place is far worse than the news portrays, according to him, and he’s very glad to be here.

      I welcomed him to our experiment. ;)

    24. pst314 Says:

      I have read the comments of a number of Canadians who are fed up with Canadian encroachments on their freedom.

      PenGun, of course, does nto really care about freedom–political or economic–and merely uses whatever rhetorical ploys seem useful to attack the world’s biggest obstacle to communism.

    25. Brian Says:

      “He was slightly horrified at what Baltimore has become.”
      The last Republican to be mayor of Baltimore died 43 years ago. He was last elected 55 years ago.

      Nancy Pelosi’s father and brother were both mayors.

      Your friend wanting to flee that place should try moving to America.

    26. Gringo Says:

      “He was slightly horrified at what Baltimore has become…The place is far worse than the news portrays, according to him, and he’s very glad to be here. ”

      According to the Progressive narrative, he is a “racist” fleeing “diversity.” Perhaps he gets diversity points for moving to British Columbia instead of Towson.

      From an earlier time: Streets of Baltimore.

      Baltimore Mayor Gave Permission to Riot.

      Before condemning the thugs who are looting and burning the city, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake talked about giving ‘space’ to people intent on destruction, showing a startling lack of common sense. Yes, she said it.

      Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stood before the news cameras over the weekend and really did say, “We also gave those who wish to destroy space to do that as well.”

      A hometown peer bought a house in Baltimore. He sold the house for half of what he paid for it. Good thing he sold his house several years before the riots in reaction to the Freddie Gray verdict, or he might have had to settle for selling his house for a quarter or less for what he paid for it.If the house had been in NYC, it would have gone for 5-10? times what he sold it for.

    27. Gringo Says:

      PenGun
      “He was slightly horrified at what Baltimore has become…The place is far worse than the news portrays, according to him, and he’s very glad to be here. ”

      Given the more stringent speech laws in Canada, he might be liable for prosecution in Canada for speaking out frankly. Ask Ezra Klein.

    28. Philip Says:

      Wow, that New Yorker article was really kind of disgusting on many levels. All the little snide twists and barking in response to the usual dog-whistles – impressive and sad at the same time. Even the author’s cartoon at the bottom next to his C. V. summary has the classically grumpy look. How fitting.

      Even, maybe especially, the final sentence is the worst part of the whole thing – it seems positively filled with foreboding at the thought that people might want to be free.

      “Why are they so needed in the first place?” reminds me of the attitude that pervaded His Majesty’s public comments on voluntarism or anything related to it – for him, the guiding rule usually seemed to be that either the government did it, or it was every-man-for-himself Wild West. Concepts of voluntary civic association without reference to the State appeared foreign to him – a rather ironic attitude for a ‘community organizer’ to have. Oh, lip service, sure, but rarely more than that. It was one of the things about him that I came to hate particularly. This writer at the magazine is another of His Majesty’s disciples, I see, but at least he isn’t in a position of power, so while I’m disappointed with his attitude on the subject, I can bear it well enough.