Mice in a Maze

Arnade, Chris. Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America. Penguin Publishing Group, 2019.

Chris Arnade certainly seems to have been called, and may well have been chosen, to help mitigate one of the great divisions of our time. Dignity complements, among others, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart with interviews and photos from what Murray would call “Fishtown,” or rather its extreme margin, whose inhabitants are simultaneously transient and rooted, strategizing to survive in ways often incomprehensible to the more cognitively gifted and emotionally stable. Learning to extend compassion and respect rather than mere pity (in its more negative variant), glib political “solutions,” and outright contempt is a challenge far too few Americans are willing to undertake. Matthew 22:14 seems unnervingly relevant in this context, and while the church as it is depicted among the people Dignity portrays is an overwhelmingly positive influence, more “front row” believers might take a moment to consider just how much better than the vast majority of us Arnade, a secular liberal, has done at reaching out to desperate communities. My advice to them is to buy and read this book, pray over it, maybe lend it out to others for discussion, and—without reinventing the wheel—do the Tocquevillian thing and organize/volunteer, with an eye to Luke 15. Because if the parables in that chapter aren’t about “back row” people, they don’t mean a damned thing.

I inadvertently got myself partway off the hook a few years back by becoming involved with a recovery ministry, a sort of Celebrate Recovery lite, in a church located within walking distance of at least two large rescue missions on the east side of downtown Kansas City.

Weekly meetings are early Wednesday evenings and include a meal. I first showed up to meet, and afterward assist, an attendee who was working on installing a couple of new WAPs, running cable for terminals and printers, etc. I immediately decided to incorporate it into my routine, by way of running a sort of weekly emotional-sobriety checkpoint, although I do not have a background of substance abuse (I did my 12-step time in 2½ years of ACOA meetings at the end of the ’80s). Regular attendance had what usually results from enough hanging around and appearing useful, and I now buy the pizzas and deliver the message about every third week.

The audience has shifted somewhat over the years to mostly guys walking over from the missions or even just from a homeless camp somewhere. This has allowed me to hear quite a few stories of the general type recounted in Dignity, although the attendees are more transient than many of the people Arnade interviews. I’ve noticed a couple of different tripartite divisions, one by diagnosis, and another by consequences.

Diagnostically (according to me, so … rather informal), the extremely down-and-out generally are, or have been, one of three things: a large majority of garden-variety depressed, with lots of self-medication with booze and dope leading to life on the street; paranoid, complete with claiming to be victims of the Shadow Government or belief in pretty much every conspiracy theory ever, often non-compliant on medication, sometimes unwilling to sleep inside a building; or schizophrenic, which usually just means chattering away in a manner indicating, shall we say, lack of proper awareness of context (like realizing that you’re inside a building and with other people).

The consequences are usually either 1) a gazillion DUIs and loss of driving privileges 2) prison time for more or less violent criminality or 3) becoming an RSO (registered sex offender), which is effectively a life sentence. One of the ways I know how tight the labor market is, at least in KC, is how many of these people are nonetheless employed.

Obviously these are not exclusive lists, and there can be various overlaps. I wish I could report a high success rate in men who enter programs at the missions, but it’s pretty modest, and I’m afraid a certain amount of “front-row-ism” is involved. Someone’s chances are a lot better if they, for whatever reason, have better impulse control, lower time preference, and higher time-on-task, especially in a classroom setting. They’re also better if they don’t become ironically dependent on an institutional setting and aren’t afraid to live outside of one.

This is where I should say that I’m almost certainly not seeing a truly representative sample, either. Very few Latinos—and no illiterates, which there have got to be given how much learning disabilities and foregone education characterize extreme back-row-ness.

In any case, programs at the missions can appear to emphasize re-integration into the economy—clean up, get a job, find a place to live, resume at least working-class consumption patterns. I don’t doubt that the people in charge are deeply compassionate and careful to promote good priorities, but there are moments when it all seems very American, in a not-altogether-inspiring way. C.S. Lewis seems to have thought more clearly about some of these things than most of us; in the third book of his Space Trilogy there is a character who, although he has a significant role among the good guys, is very much outside the system, basically a drifter version of Tom Bombadil. Lewis makes it plain that he not only tolerated but admired, at least in some instances, a lifestyle that middle-class Christians in 21st-century America would nearly uniformly regard as something badly in need of fixing.

I may therefore be a bit less libertarian in this respect than Lewis; in my defense, the Manifold Rescue Mission would, by way of implementing James 2:16 and Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, get them outside for a while every morning even if the weather was bad, put everybody on a Mediterranean diet (minus the red wine, alas), make them do calisthenics, and maybe hand out some melatonin. Socialization is going to happen anyway, at multiple beds to a room. Reading and math; reading aimed largely at whatever most people find enjoyable (for many men, that’s biography and military history), math at practical items first, like budgeting. Affective gains precede cognitive gains. Get them hooked on good things. If they end up aiming for the front row and all that comes with it, fine, but the great thing is, as mentioned above, emotional sobriety.

(I note that to the extent that living on the street means sunlight exposure and physical activity, it may feel more therapeutic to some homeless people than living in a shelter.)

The part I’d be worst at—admittedly the grand unsolved problem—is how to reach people who’ve been “back row” their entire lives, and have been told so from childhood. Because I’m front-row material. Notwithstanding the vicissitudes of the first decade of my adult life, I ended up with a career that left me tucked comfortably inside the uppermost decile of per capita net worth and can check the boxes: couple of properties, substantial investment income, even a reasonably well-funded private pension. If I have any redeeming facet here at all, it’s that rough starting decade, which is largely responsible for my relatively high score on Murray’s notorious Bubble Quiz.

Arnade, very much by his own admission, was a front row kid too, pretty much of a 1%er, actually. The somewhat fascinating thing statistically about Dignity is that although its subjects are purportedly just generally “back row,” suggesting the bottom quintile or perhaps decile, many of those he interacts with are in fact at the very bottom, with lifestyles characteristic of (my rough estimate) ~0.1% of the population of the KC metro. There are, of course, many more such people elsewhere; in small towns and Sun Belt cities where it never freezes, the fraction is quite a bit higher. But it is as though Arnade has quantum-tunneled through to his counterparts at the exact opposite end of the socio-economic status distribution.

Overall, I think the 1-in-100 “lost sheep” is about right, counting those who live in drastically substandard and/or illegally occupied housing. Thanks to plenteous technology, vast logistical capabilities, and functional institutions generally, they’re not starving. They’re not even lacking for entertainment. They’re just really poorly adapted to fulfilling activity in the society the front row kids built, a society which is very much an emergent phenomenon of generational temperaments. The egalitarianism of the America of the Boomers’ childhood has been massively eroded, as Murray documents, and it was the work of tens of millions of Boomers and Xers that eroded it. Not a relative handful of Congressional representatives or corporate executives (who, in any case, came from the general population). Glenn Reynolds has written that he thinks Dignity will “be one of the most important books of the year,” and we should hope so—for ourselves. “And in many more words he charged them and exhorted them, saying: Be saved from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2:40, Lattimore)

In this connection, Arnade’s best moment occurs at the bottom of page 282, where he says, essentially, get out more, and (without referencing it) invokes what I think of as Habit 5. Listen first, don’t push glib solutions, and let something constructive emerge from what happens next. A country with millions of people doing that—and thereby getting some Talebian skin in the game simply by virtue of entering into uncomfortable situations—seems far more likely to make real progress in this area than a largely self-segregated one.

This in spite of some pretty stereotypical political sentiments expressed earlier in the book. I seriously doubt, for example, that President Trump is either any better or any worse about racial attitudes than the average American; indeed he seems relentlessly average to me in many ways. But vaguely ritualistic commentary on Trump, or his supporters, or complaining about offshoring, is almost certainly the price of gaining attention from many of the front row Americans who Arnade ends up, well, charging and exhorting; too-clever students who often seem to be racing American society, or at least a noticeable part of it, toward an appointment in Samarra.

Back row people, like everyone else, should be honored without being idolized. Their own glib political prescriptions aren’t an improvement on the status quo, largely because they quite understandably have (to use another Covey term) a scarcity mentality. In the past 3 years, my fellow Missourians have voted: 1) 57% for Trump; 2) 67% for Prop A (repealed right-to-work); 3) 62% for Amendment 1 (prevents redrawing of “safe” minority districts); and 4) 62% for Prop B (imposed $12/hr minimum wage). The grim details, including county-level results you can copy into a spreadsheet and run the CORREL function against if you’re sufficiently motivated, are on the Secretary of State’s results page.

People like that aren’t going to be crazy about immigration, either; it isn’t much of a reach to guess that they really don’t want other back row people moving in. Ironically, a points-based immigration system would be pure front row. In anything like the present environment, it would mean even more snobbishness and mutual disdain and cultural bifurcation. Self-satisfied liberals should perhaps support it by way of adhering to a certain internal consistency; everyone else, not so much. Similarly, any protectionist measures—for other economic inputs besides labor, I mean—would create equally nasty positive-feedback effects. But the jumbo jets and container ships aren’t going away, not in the absence of a major war. Innovation and trade will not stop disrupting existing industries. The fantasy world of a mid-20th-century America will not return. Real forward movement will mean checking our attitudes at the door, whatever row we sit in.

Oh, the title of this post? From pp 111-112: “All that the front row offers to those living shattered lives in broken buildings is sterile institutions that chew them up and spit them right back out.
“These are institutions that they have to navigate like mice working their way through a maze. Each hour waiting in the hospital, or the courthouse, or the intake center, is an hour that numbs them. An hour of forms to be filled and absurd rules to be followed.”

Make no mistake: we need better process design, and a good rubric would be “how navigable is this by someone with an IQ of 85?” But start with empathy, and willingness to expose yourself to imperfectly managed risk.

31 thoughts on “Mice in a Maze”

  1. “and a good rubric would be “how navigable is this by someone with an IQ of 85?” ”
    I don’t like this construction because the whole point of the book is that we have a society built by and for a very specific subset of people, with a very specific sort of intelligence and way of looking at the world (AND a society which has simultaneously thrown aside all vestiges of the sort of religious-based morality that tells the more fortunate that they are not any “better” than the less fortunate). So I don’t think speaking like this really makes any sense, as it just plays into the worldview that we should be fighting against.

  2. I have not read the book. As for experience with the “Homeless,” I used to take my medical students to the LA Skid Row district every year, We would go to several shelters and talk to the directors who told us that 60% of the homeless were psychotic , 60% were addicts of drugs or alcohol and half of each group was both. For most of those years we had a guide. He was a big black guy who told us he had spent years as a crack addict living on the street. He would show us his spot on the sidewalk under a big mural of Florence Griffith Joiner, the track star who lived in my city in Orange County. He said he would be high on crack and would watch her run. Eventually, and he never told us how, he got clean and had a regular job. One night we attended a session of “Cocaine Anonymous” at the Midnight Mission in downtown LA. He was the speaker and he was a spellbinding orator.

    The shelter directors told us that the homeless could eat 12 meals a day if they wished as all the shelters were close to each other. That’ of course, was before the present tsunami of homeless, mostly illegals I suspect. There were medical clinics in vans that had a schedule of sites they would stop. The vans were at each spot at the same time of the day and the homeless would keep appointments from week to week.

  3. If I have any redeeming facet here at all, it’s that rough starting decade, which is largely responsible for my relatively high score on Murray’s notorious Bubble Quiz.

    I scored 52. Just in the middle, I guess. Thanks to my parents and extended family for my working class skew because I otherwise now live in the Murray-ian bubble. Mostly of my own choosing, although I can tell you that here in Illinois the politicians are doing their best to suck the air out of all the bubbles I care to be associated with, while constructing new ones that I would rather avoid.

    Speaking of Florence Griffith Joyner, that reminds me of one time I visited East St. Louis High School, the alma mater of Flo-Joe’s sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner Kersee. World class track, magnificent football field, state of the art basketball facilities, all set next to a school building with bullet holes in the front doors. I actually thought it was a good motivator to get the kids involved in sports.

  4. 46 for me. Surprised I didn’t score lower. I cancelled my cable in 1991.

    Charles Murray & Fishtown. I owned/operated a small manufacturing business at 2nd & Cecil B. Moore Ave.
    for 16 years. In Fishtown. Formerly a big blue-collar manufacturing center. When I left Philly in
    2006, the area was gentrifying but then stalled badly when the crash came. A lot of developers got crushed.

    Cecil B. Moore Ave. runs east-west from Fishtown on the Delaware River to Brewerytown on the Schuylkill River
    (where I lived). Before the name was changed in the 1980s, the name was Columbia Ave., and was called
    Jump Street- after the African American night life. Jazz clubs, speakeasies & whatnot. The 1964
    Philadelphia riot started on Columbia Ave and caused very heavy damage from which it never recovered.

  5. I owned/operated a small manufacturing business at 2nd & Cecil B. Moore Ave. for 16 years

    I googled & yelped that location, and it looks like most recently it was a salvage store/thrift shop. It also just closed to move two blocks away. So, from making new stuff to reselling old stuff to… not sure what comes next, but, no question your location, was/is a marker of the times.

    With automation and ‘lights-out manufacturing’, the factory question in the quiz may be too obsolete. On the other hand, in some places urban renewal is making way for a return of light manufacturing as smaller scales become more economic. Pretty soon people inside the bubble will have the “factory” experience instead of the ones outside the bubble.

    With technology and culture so diffuse in some ways and fragmented in others, it gets harder to talk about classes and bubbles. Maybe that confirms the division really is between Arnaud’s front benchers and back benchers. Between the Saved and the Doomed.

  6. Grurray,

    I was insufficiently precise in my address. My property was across a small alley (Palethorpe St.) from the building on the corner.

    Here is what I owned:


    1701 2nd St., my building and 5 or so more buildings in that locale had originally been owned by Dixon Valve & Coupling.
    After years of labor problems, Dixon, in 1976, moved practically overnight to Chestertown, MD. and abandoned their Philly buildings
    to the City. 5 were bought by the fellow who was initially my landlord for $1/ea. In turn, I bought mine in ’96 very cheaply
    and sold it to a developer in 2006 who planned to convert it to 15 condominiums. I made out like a bandit, the developer got crushed.
    The picture linked above looks unchanged from when I left in 2006. By the time I left, the developer had already bought 3 buildings in the neighborhood to convert to residential use (about 100,000 SF total). They were met with resistance at every turn. They were from NYC
    and didn’t have enough political connections.

  7. I scored 54, but I suspect that the experiences that “thinned” my bubble were quite a bit shallower than Murray’s scoring system is giving me credit for.

  8. I got 50, mostly on account of military service, I presume. A curious thing about that service is that it really works to thin the bubble. My father was a professional – a scientist, both my parents were graduates and so was I, but we all lead pretty working-class lives. Elevated tastes in books, music and hobbies – but otherwise, swimming in a sea of working-class.

  9. Halfway through. I think the 21st Century question is how much of our lives are limited by our background vs. “institutional systemic racism” which is related, as it your parents are absent or poor and can’t protect you when you are accused.
    We aren’t an equal opportunity society since parent’s aren’t equally responsible.

  10. The “missing father theme” does not impress me much. The “missing fathers” are probably missing since they have a bundle of “problems” that their children will likely inherit. Having such fathers around may make things worse for the children.

    For every recovered crackhead or “growed up” gang-banger, I’d expect a swarm of adult-size idiots who are still basically children.

    Mature mothers, grandmothers, family and neighbors are more likely to be of value for a child’s outcome.

    My Mother usually had a good idea of what I was into, since the neighborhood “biddies” had her work number, and I NEVER wanted to be the cause of her missing work.

    I was always such a “good boy”……

  11. Mike-SMO: “Having such fathers around may make things worse for the children.”
    Well, we have a couple of generations now to test your thesis, and it’s pretty clear that the verdict is negative.

  12. Children growing up without one or both parents present is nothing new. Disease, poverty, strife of some sort were always a problem. This difference in the past was there were communities, extended families, and especially churches to pick up the slack.

    I commend Jay for his noble work. His storefront churches are triaging the extremely destitute in inner cities, but it’s a fact that overall fewer Americans go to church or believe in God than ever before. The traditional mainline Protestant churches and their Starbucks theology are no place for the lower classes or the ones who have fallen through the cracks. Small town evangelicals, while I have a lot of sympathy for their mission, have also dropped the ball by drifting towards the prosperity gospel that doesn’t resonate with the kinds of people we’re talking about. Institutions that used to unite people and used to provide and sustain purpose in their lives don’t do it anymore.

    What’s going to replace all that? We know socialism can’t do it. Social media? The United Church of Facebook doesn’t have a very good ring to it.

  13. I haven’t read the book, so from the post and comments:

    Stop the front row, back row social justice (static outcomes group) analysis. When all is said and done, social, economic and educational mobility is alive and well in THIS society. Are there difficulties? No kidding. Sounds like an imperfect world.

    To the extent the friction to individual advancement is more difficult than in the past, ask this: how much of this is based on the predictable consequences of political actions, laws, regulation and growth? How much by enabling dependency without a strong path to actual recovery and accountability? Sometimes, “helping” hurts.

    I’m not saying that there is no place for helping, but the common practice of treating symptoms while ignoring causes will only make these issues grow. That is what I see as the path we have been on for the past 60 years.

    I am echoing that government is not a solution, but a big part of the problem because of the inherent lack of accountability between those who pay and those who receive services. Getting it out of the way is ultimately going to have to be done or it will overwhelm the society with those unable to make it themselves while destroying our social fabric and economy. Further, private and local services tend to empower rather than enable. The point about churches failing is largely true. Throwing money at causes with no provision for accountability or remediation has taken the place of hands on humanitarianism ministries where life changes are the ultimate goal.


  14. Regarding the missing father theme, I have been working my way through this conversation with Jocko and Jim Webb. Lots of great topics, especially about combat tactics in Vietnam.

    Both being fathers, at one point they bring up the subject of deployments and children. Webb mentioned that his father, who was a bomber pilot, was often absent on missions or training, but every night the young Webb went to bed with a picture of his father in uniform. Jocko added that military parents are often separated from their children, but the parent’s moral presence and spiritual vision help support kids in their absence. It’s a powerful idea when you think about it.

  15. I think that the really toxic fathers are going to absent now. If you go back far enough, there was enough pressure from society to keep marriages that should have ended together. Now there is nothing to encourage any involvement of the sperm donor other than monetary. A lot of single mothers seem to want nothing to do with the baby daddy, probably for good reason.

    Too many mothers are absent, either in fact or in effect. Kids get handed around from grandparents to aunts to acquaintances with out much regard to any consideration beyond convenience to the adults. There are obvious exceptions. Addicts tend to run with addicts, if your father is an addict, chances are pretty good that your mother is too. You are truly screwed unless luck provides a decent relative or someone to take up the slack.

    We stopped pumping uncounted tons of lead into the atmosphere more than 30 years ago. If that was going to make a big difference, I would expect it would have shown up by now.

    I wasn’t impressed with the bubble test, just living in a rural community probably guaranties a 50ish score.

    If you add incarceration to addiction and mental health issues you’ll have pretty close to 100%. People without any of these issues probably don’t stay homeless for long and a lot of those with just one can stay off the streets.

  16. I read this and the responses to it with a certain dissatisfaction.

    I do not believe that the problem lies along the axis of “front row” vs. “back row”, but more along the lines of the issue our society has with the increasing disconnection our elites have from practical matters.

    I’m a pragmatist, through and through. Show me something that works, and I’ll use it, even if I don’t understand it. Likewise, when I see something that doesn’t work, I’m going to tell you I’m not having a thing to do with it, even if I don’t understand the why and wherefore of it not working. I’m also not going to pay a whit of attention to the idiots insisting that the Emperor is indeed wearing clothes.

    And, that’s the root of our problem: The elites have been running naked through the institutions of our society, waving their wing-whangs and hoo-hahs in our faces, and we’ve studiously been listening to them piously pronounce about how their nudity is actually clothed to the utter height of fashion.

    The majority of us haven’t called them on this BS. As of yet. That day is coming.

    Examine, if you will, the performance they’ve demonstrated so amply, with regards to the various social issues like education and the homeless.

    Education? The vast majority of the kids in this country who graduate high school today in this country would have been better served to have attended the one-room schoolhouse my grandmother taught in, circa 1916, and would have gotten a better and more thorough education from her at the eighth-grade level than they did from the elaborate educational castles we’ve built for millions of dollars. All of her students learned to read and write, could do their sums, and were able to describe the functioning of our Republican form of government. A short survey of what their achievements were at the eighth-grade level would leave most modern high school seniors feeling challenged, and most parents envious of their skills.

    So, tell me, now… Precisely what have these autistic, over-educated freaks done for us? All these fine degrees, the “peer-reviewed methodologies” that don’t work, the “new math”, and the “whole language” concepts that leave us with a majority of our students graduating these expensive schools with the skills of an imbecile?

    Homelessness? We’re spending nearly a billion dollars a year, in King County and Seattle; the “problem of homelessness” keeps increasing, the taxes keep going up, and the streets and parks we pay for are unusable because of human filth and hypodermics scattered everywhere. The laws on vagrancy are not enforced, even the laws about public defecation and littering are dead letters. Our urban areas here in the most “advanced” country in the world are primed for third-world epidemics, and some have already begun. Typhus, in Los Angeles? What is this? Soviet Russia?

    The elites have a great deal to answer for, and they will. The pragmatic middle rows are done with them, and that’s why Trump is president. If he can’t get things back onto a functional track, I suspect the shooting is going to start within a generation, and all the over-educated perverse dunderheads are going to wind up filling mass graves dug outside their sacred urban areas, while we wait for the effects of time to remove the danger of contagion from the filth.

    It is amazing to me to observe how obtuse and disconnected these people are; they flail away at the levers of power, all unaware of the effect those flailings have out in the real world; things don’t work, and they ignore the evidence, doubling down on the stupidity, and never even acknowledging the dysfunction created by their foolish ideas. It’s just like Venezuela, where the Chavistas are doubling down on their childish ideas of “Socialism”, and never recognizing that the problems they have are of their own creation.

    The root problem we have with these creatures is that they are essentially intellectually autistic. They do not understand the world around them, and persist in projecting their fantasies about how things work in that world, never pausing to even look if they are or not.

    The real dichotomy between social groups in this country does not align with “education” or “economic success” at all. The real dichotomy is between people who can objectively observe the reality of what is going on versus those who live in ideologically distorted dream-worlds. The reality is, the “intellectual elites” who’ve led this country into a twenty-two trillion dollar national debt are a bunch of functional morons, whose ability to ape the pursuit of intellectual things while simultaneously committing the stupidities that they come up with is unparalleled in the history of the race.

    Our “elites” may be able to write fetching little essays and draw lovely little portraits of things, but they have no more ability to do practical things than a partially-trained Capuchin monkey. They keep churning away at the hurdy-gurdy of life, and never stop to observe that the monkeys aren’t dancing anymore. When “middle rows” grow tired of this BS, the front and back rows are going to wake up to a unpleasant reality, as they are discarded onto the ash-heap of history.

    We’re getting tired of this, gentlemen. Either you get your acts together, and start fulfilling all these grand promises you’ve made, like that high-speed rail line in California, or you’re going to wind up hanging from the overpasses like so many ripe fruit.

  17. Kirk: For the sake of your mental equilibrium and physical safety I suggest that you move. When places like you describe collapse they first become very dangerous for those that produce but are outside the center of power, they become a target for all the takers. I see a lot of evidence that police become an danger to the law abiding long after they cease being anything more than a minor annoyance to criminals, they’re not the ones likely to shoot back. Think Chicago, California.

    I can’t remember whether it was Portland or Seattle that I read was spending $100,000 per homeless person to “address” the problem. It didn’t seem to occur to any one that $100,000 would buy, or at least rent a pretty nice home, certainly nicer than mine.

    The real shame on Oberlin is how little they valued the work over years to build a business. And how they were willing to destroy all of it in a fit of pique.

  18. Kirk: It doesn’t sound like you actually disagree with Arnade’s point at all. He argues that our current “elite” are “essentially intellectually autistic” and “may be able to write fetching little essays and draw lovely little portraits of things”, i.e., do well in school, but they’ve built a system that benefits themselves and leaves the mass of the population behind.

  19. Brian, what I’m getting at is not that this is some conflict where the “front row” kids are leaving the “back row” kids behind, but actually a situation where the school has been taken over by the Special Education kids who are autistic savants, and who have convinced everyone that because they’re so damn smart, they should be the ones making the decisions.

    Which, by and large, do not work.

    Had you gone out and asked thirty people with IQs around 100 what to do about the “homeless problem”, they’d have told you, plainly, that the proposed plan wasn’t going to work. They’d have told you that paying people to be bone-idle alcoholics and dope addicts was just going to lead to more of them congregating around Seattle and King County, and that the only way to keep the wastrels at bay was diligent enforcement of vagrancy laws, and all the rest. You’d have never reached a point where we were spending a billion dollars a year on this BS, because the “simpletons” would have had the sense not to allow the problem to develop in the first damn place. Same-same with the economy–Average blue-collar guy would have gone “Uhmm… Yeah. Free trade. Sure. And, you’re sending my job to China…? How do you propose I take advantage of all this “free trade”, when I’m unemployed and can’t buy anything…?”

    Problem we have isn’t that the “smart people” are leaving the “dumb people” behind, but that the smart people aren’t actually all that smart, and they refuse to recognize that fact. Nine-tenths of our problems in this country stem from listening to these dumbasses, and putting their ideas into policy. It’s not that “the rest of us” are stupid, it’s that the elites have self-selected for what amounts to autistic savantry, and are getting the answers wrong out in the real world. Meanwhile, they keep insisting that their ideas work, with the evidence that they don’t laying in the streets all around us, in the form of feces, hypodermic needles, and the mentally ill.

    We keep putting these autistic savants into positions of authority, and then listening to them. We need to stop, and put the majority of them right back where they belong, into the asylums and mental hospitals of the world.

    When you persist in trying to impose your view of reality on the world, that’s not genius, that’s insanity. And, the autistic left has been doing that since Marx, never noticing that their archetype hero of the proletariat never managed to organize anything at all, and left no real-world legacy behind. Engels relied on his family wealth, and if you look at the factories and everything else he ran in his life, nearly all of that was run on conventional lines. There’s no “Marx & Engels INC.” out there, carrying on the legacy of their brilliant ideas, because were there such a thing, it’d be bankrupt. Just like all the little utopian communities all the religious nutters founded here in the US, all the kibbutzim in Israel, and all the cute little hippy communes. It doesn’t work, and these “genius” theorists can’t seem to grasp that fact.

    Frankly, I really do think that the majority of them are mentally ill, and need to be rounded up for long-term residential treatment. At the rate they’re going, we’re going to have to do something, and residential treatment is only the most unlikely and humane solution that will be on offer.

  20. “what I’m getting at is not that this is some conflict where the “front row” kids are leaving the “back row” kids behind, but actually a situation where the school has been taken over by the Special Education kids who are autistic savants, and who have convinced everyone that because they’re so damn smart, they should be the ones making the decisions.”

    Again, this is 100% Arnade’s point.

  21. Brian, Arnade’s thesis is that these things are merely the result of inadvertent miscalculation, and that if only he can bring awareness of the facts of the matter to the right people, they’ll correct all of it.

    Mine is that the people we’ve put in charge are not capable of recognizing the problems, even when they’re pointed out. Why? Because they’re mentally ill, living in a reality they’ve created within their own minds.

    Arnade is touchingly certain that if only he can bring these things to the attention of our unelected elites, they will fix things. In that, he reminds me of the typical Russian peasant, invested in the system, who believes that all evil resides in those immediately above him, and that if only he could bring the wrongs perpetrated against him by those mid-level folk, the Little Father (whether Nicholas or Stalin…) in Moscow would correct the situation.

    Reality? Ain’t happening. The people we’ve made “elite”, and then kowtow towards? They’re idiot savants, the lot of them, and will not ever recognize reality until it is tying the nooses around their collective necks. The Emperor ain’t wearing a stitch, and the sooner we recognize that fact, and put these autistic freaks under proper restraint, the better off we’ll be as a nation.

    People will no doubt term me an anti-intellectual, but I ask you this: Are the “intellectuals” doing a good job of running things? We’ve kissed their asses now, for about the last 150 years. What have we to show for it? Have you seen Detroit? Baltimore? How about Los Angeles, where we have f**king typhus epidemics, thanks to their malfeasance and mismanagement.

    Arnade would excuse these idiots, and leave them in charge, relying on the fact that he’s pointed out the error of their ways. Me? I’d hold the rat bastards accountable for their non-performance, send them the bill, and then when they can’t pay up, immure their asses in forced-labor camps until we derive enough value from their labor to compensate for the damage they’ve done with all their pretty-pretty little theories about life. Precisely none of which have paid off, in all the years we’ve let them at the levers of power.

    Arnade is more of the same; I’m taking the pragmatic position, and suggesting that it’s about damn time we held the “elite” accountable for their performance, which has been staggeringly bad. These people are, collectively and individually, functional idiots. Yes, they can “fake the funk” for a bit, but the reality is, they’re mentally dysfunctional in all too many ways.

    Touchingly, Arnade thinks all this has happened by accident. It didn’t. It happened because the idiots are smart enough to plan, smart enough to put plans into effect, and yet are stupid enough to think that these things will work out, accruing benefit to all.

  22. You’re just totally wrong about Arnade’s position. I’ll post some quotes when I get home to show you.

  23. My circles, the bankers, business people, and the politicians they supported had created a world where McDonald’s was often one of the only restaurant options–and we make fun of them for going there.
    We were at the top of our class, we went to the top colleges and top graduate schools, and we landed jobs in the top law firms, banks, universities, media companies, tech companies, and so on…We had removed ourselves from the lived experiences of most of the country, including the places and people we wanted to help…It didn’t occur to us that what we valued–getting more education and owning more stuff-wasn’t what everyone else wanted…If certain communities, towns, and people, suffered in this, it was all for the greater good in the name of progress.
    For me and the others surrounding me, the job losses were accepted as the cost of progress, their numbers shrugged off because they would be offset by gains elsewhere. They were a small loss compared to the many gains that growth and our new efficiency would bring. That those gains were mostly in places we lived didn’t hurt either.
    We have lost sight of our own privilege and our own worldview, which values only what we value and have. We have done this because we have removed ourselves from those we believe we are trying to help. We have removed ourselves physically and in spirit, and when we do look back, it is through papers and books filled with data.

    It is probably true that he holds the “elites” in a bit less contempt than you do, partly because he is one of them, partly because he wants to convince them, but he really doesn’t think they are going to be saviors of the “back row” as you seem to think.

  24. Look, Brian… Here’s the thing: Arnade thinks these people are the natural masters of the universe, and it’s up to them what happens. Only them, and his book is a plea to them to pay attention and fix things.

    My point is that the “masters of the universe” are a pack of gibbering idiots whose success is a huge con. You can see the evidence for that in the world around you–Everything these creatures have espoused, argued for, and then put into effect has almost always had the diametric opposite effect to what they said it would.

    The “best and brightest” argued that we should de-institutionalize the crazy and mentally deficient, instead taking care of them “in the community”. How’d that work out?

    They argued for and implemented changes to the criminal justice system, relaxing punishment and “liberalizing” just about every aspect of the whole thing. What did we get?

    Go back even further: Prohibition. The obscenity laws. The narcotics laws. All of that whole “moral” regime was put into place by the same sort of meddling intellectuals that today are arguing that we ought to do away with all of it, and what’s funniest is that they’re still oblivious to the very real effects of their policies out in the real world. Do you see a hint of self-examination, with any of them, when it comes to observing the actual effect of marijuana legalization in Colorado? Are any of them considering changing their minds, in the light of actual results? Are any even trying to gather the data to “check their work”?

    The whole sorry edifice is a product of people putting their faith in that same set of “front-row kids”, the smartest ones in the room. Well, take a long, hard look around you at the world they created for the rest of us, and start holding them accountable for the results, I say.

    The homeless “advocates” in Kink County and Seattle are a perfect example; they’ve turned the region into a literal sinkhole of depravity and made the entire cityscape over into an open-air HAZMAT site, an open sewer. Should we continue to listen to them? Should they get even more money, be allowed to enact even more law?

    Or, should we do what we should have done two generations back, and held their feet to the fire?

    How many billions of dollars do you want to spend on high-speed trains to nowhere, or city-busting light rail programs? How many parks do you want to fund, that you’re unable to take your kids to play in, because of all the needles left by the junkies these people invited to live in them? How many nights do you want to stay at home, locked behind your doors, because of the same “street people” you don’t dare go out and walk among?

    Accountability for this crew of reprobate “luvvies and jobsworthies” as the Brits call them is far past just being “overdue”.

  25. We’re just going in circles here. I suggest you read the book, you’ll find it’s not what you think. Or just look at his twitter feed, that captures his worldview pretty quickly and succinctly, so you can see for yourself.

  26. Kipling had a word or two about the conjunction of fatherhood & socialism, which can be teased out of this poem, originally directed at a “welfare” proposal by Wilhelm II “Kaiser Bill” in late 19th century.


    An Imperial Rescript

    NOW this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
    To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need,
    He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat,
    That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set.

    And the young King said:—“I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
    “The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak;
    “With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
    “Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood—sign!”

    The paper lay on the table, the strong heads bowed thereby,
    And a wail went up from the peoples:—“Ay, sign—give rest, for we die!”
    A hand was stretched to the goose-quill, a fist was cramped to scrawl,
    When—the laugh of a blue-eyed maiden ran clear through the council-hall.

    And each one heard Her laughing as each one saw Her plain—
    Saidie, Mimi, or Olga, Gretchen, or Mary Jane.
    And the Spirit of Man that is in Him to the light of the vision woke;
    And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke:—

    They passed one resolution:—“Your sub-committee believe
    “You can lighten the curse of Adam when you’ve lightened the curse of Eve.
    “But till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen,
    “We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen.”

    Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held—
    The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled,
    The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands,
    The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.

  27. “But vaguely ritualistic commentary on Trump, or his supporters, or complaining about offshoring, is almost certainly the price of gaining attention from many of the front row Americans who Arnade ends up, well, charging and exhorting; too-clever students who often seem to be racing American society, or at least a noticeable part of it, toward an appointment in Samarra.”

    Excellent little fable.

    The situation with our arrogant elites is also reminiscent of the Delphic Oracle’s response to Croesus of Lydia when he asked advice about waging a war against the Persians.
    He was told, with some details, that he would destroy a mighty empire.
    The details, which he misinterpreted, decreed the fallen empire would be his.

  28. First of all, some grace for everybody: my Murray bubble quiz score is 66. I’ve only spoken at any length with one person whose score significantly exceeded mine, and nearly everyone else I know scored below 50; indeed, some of those who otherwise superficially resemble me most closely score in the 20s. Judging people on their score on this test is not much better than judging them on their SATs, and I learned quickly that plenty of people I really like being around just happen to be in a bubble, to the point where I helped their score go up by a few points myself.

    Good discussion above. Thank you all. I would carefully distinguish between the purely collective/political problem—which we seem to violently agree converges to the easier you make homelessness, the more of it you’re going to get—and the individual/spiritual problem of acting in a way that, whatever measurable things it accomplishes, at least indicates that you really mean it. Emergent properties can work for good as well as ill; and we may yet hope that the Millennial instinct for collective endeavor will, at least in this country, not be channeled into the kind of mass movements that Eric Hoffer warned about last time around.

Comments are closed.