Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Angina Monologue 34

January 12th, 2017 by Vader

His Majesty keeps a small trove of candy in the cabinet above the microwave.

I sometimes wonder if he is under the mistaken impression that I have to avoid microwaves, the way people with pacemakers once had to. My Class C medical devices are made of sterner stuff.

But probably not. I think His Majesty knows that I’m not going to swipe any of his candy. Besides, the cabinet is also the storage place for the medicine and vitamins, the Winnie-the-Pooh collectible plates (don’t ask, because I couldn’t explain anyway), the fine china (which has not been used in years, since we pull it out only for guests, and His Majesty dislikes having dinner guests), a box of lead bullets, a can of Halloween hair color spray, a carton of toothpicks, a stash of catnip I think he’s forgotten, a bag of Miracle-Gro fertilizer he uses on his orchids, a tube of hand lotion, some pots of acrylic craft paints, and a set of coasters.

And a stash of candy.

His Majesty is not particular about what candy he eats. He chews gum, sucks on peppermints or caramels, and eats chocolate in almost any form. Especially dark chocolate. Especially the darkest chocolate he can find.

I have never been partial to milk chocolate, though I’ll take it when it’s offered. Besides, cacao is supposed to be good for the heart, and the darker the chocolate, the more cacao.

That could explain the 90% cacao bars you have started stashing.

It could. But, in addition, I like the brutal honesty of really dark chocolate. One accepts the need for a small amount of sweetening; otherwise I would simply buy baker’s chocolate. In fact, I confess I have sometimes nibbled on a square or two of the stuff. Chocolate in its purest form is an acquired taste, which is why young children generally prefer milk chocolate. It is simply too bracing for most people.

It is a perfect metaphor for bitter truths. And 2017 will, I think, be a year full of bitter truths.

Here are a few, in no particular order.

Donald Trump is utterly unfit by temperament, character, or ability to serve as President of the United States.

If you are wrestling with any doubts about this, you may find this video helpful:

I expect to hear a lot of excuses for Trump from Republicans in the coming year. Most will boil down to “He’s better than the alternative would have been” (which is both irrelevant, because the election is over; and untrue, because we had numerous better Republican alternatives) or “He’s doing a lot better than you expected” (which reminds me of a famous quote from Samuel Johnson. And which is also untrue; so far, Trump is performing roughly the way I expected.)

On the latter point: About all that Trump has done so far is to continue making embarrassing Twitter posts; to continue to refuse most intelligence briefings; to pressure a few companies to change its business plans in a way that ought to worry any principled conservative; and to make cabinet nominations that are not obviously awful — but which are also, the more I think about them, not obviously good. And then there’s the warning rumblings.

Trump has denounced the way Obama gave Israel his middle finger, but then so did both political parties in the House. If this impresses you, your expectations are mighty low at this point. Which may be healthy realism for you, but does not bode well for the country.

The Democrats lost this election by offering an alternative that was utterly unfit by temperament, character, or ability to serve as President of the United States.

The Clintons should be irrelevant at this point. They have no political future themselves, nor do they have a viable political heir. The only possibilities are Huma Abedin and Chelsea Clinton Mezvinsky, and at best (from the Clinton’s point of view) one or the other might briefly manage to hold a heavily gerrymandered and carpetbagged House seat. Even the Democrats aren’t that stupid. Yet the Clintons remain relevent simply because the Democrats continue to remind us that she won the popular vote and she is not Trump. In the more traditional kind of monarchy, the losers in power struggles were killed to prevent them from becoming a nucleus around which treasonable opposition might form; we have no similar mechanism to prevent unrepublican opposition from congealing around the Clintons.

Come of think of it, I kind of like the idea that the losers in an election should be taken out and shot. It will cut down on the number of unserious candidates. On the other hand, it would restrict the Presidency to the wrong kind of people, those willing to risk everything to get their grubby little hands on the levers of power.

The Democrats are lucky, in a way. The failure of Hillary to get elected means they will never be compelled to face up to how awful she was. Whereas the Republicans are going to be fed roast Trump for at least the next twelve years. In the long run, this will be healthier for the Republicans than for the Democrats, but there’s going to be a lot of pain between now and then.

Really, no one is fit to exercise the awesome power we have chosen to give the President of the United States.

Except me, but I don’t actually want the job. I find puttering about in retirement far more enjoyable than I would have imagined.

(Don’t believe it for a moment. His Majesty is just indulging in some sour grapes over the fact that he could not, after all, get around the requirement that the President be a natural born citizen.)

(Plus the fact that he could never attract a significant following.)

Which is related to another unpleasant truth: The tendency of the great majority of human beings is to look for a Leader to take care of them. As a result, a democracy — any democracy — eventually devolves into a system for selecting a dictator.

I don’t actually think Trump is going to be that dictator. He’s simply not up to it. But someone in his administration may become that dictator; the myth that Darth Cheney was the one really pulling the strings under Bush will become reality under Trump. Or, if not, then Trump’s Democratic successor will become that dictator. Some folks will tell you we already live in a dictatorship, to which the best reply is “You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet.”

This also illustrates why a republic is the most precarious form of government. A republic relies on other would-be leaders to keep any one leader from seizing too much power. That is, a republic counts on the elite to keep the Caesars in check, in their own self-interest. This is precarious, because if democratic tendencies get to be too strong, the desire of the masses for a Caesar will infect the elite as well. This is partly because a strongly democratic polity is one in which the masses gradually acquire the power to choose who will be the elite, and they will choose elite who share their enthusiasm for Caesarism.

I notice you prefer the term “Caesarism” to “fascism.”

The second is too loaded a term. Nowadays “fascism” simply means “government I do not like.” Most of those who worry publicly about fascism regard it (unhistorically) as a phenomenon of the Right and are just fine with the Caesarism of the left.

But the bitter truth remains: Liberty is not the default mode of mankind, for it is not what most people really want, deep in their hearts. The “natural man” of your own religious tradition is a follower of Satan, and Satan is a tyrant, no?

Another unpleasant truth: The bureaucracy, secret police, and judiciary are already structured to support a dictatorship. If you have any doubts about that, you may be due for another viewing of this old classic. Which, in case you have forgotten, is about judges who threw their support behind a dictator, including judges who had previously been known for liberalism and dedication to rule of law. Yes, the film is a work of fiction, but the historical scenario is not.

And this: Any problem that can be truly and completely solved simply by throwing money at it was never much of a problem. There is no better illustration of this than the statistics on education funding, which show that spending has tripled over the last few decades without any commensurate increase in student performance. The explanation comes from another bitter truth: You get more of what you subsidize.

Well, yes. That’s the whole point of subsidizing things.

Yes and no. The problem is a lack of honesty in what it is you are subsidizing. Increases in educational funding are proposed by politicians who tell you they are subsidizing education. What they are actually subsidizing is educational failure. And if any problem can be solved simply by throwing money at it, it ought to be poverty, naively defined as shortage of money, right? In fact, there is no clearer example of getting more of what you subsidize. Government welfare programs subsidize poverty, and, as a result, we have a great deal of it.

The problem is with the definition. Poverty is more than just lack of cash.

Just so. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, the real problem behind poverty is lack of human capital, not mere lack of money in the checking account. The latter can indeed be solved, in the short term at least, with an infusion of cash — which only shows that it is not really that much of a problem. Lack of human capital, on the other hand, is  a nearly intractable problem.

A related bitter truth is that the manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back. One of the most intractable problems we face is that almost anything that can be done by a machine can be done more cheaply and reliably by a machine. And almost all manufacturing jobs can be done by machines.

The price of almost all manufactured goods is no longer determined by labor costs. It is determined by cost of materials (including energy). Capital costs are also significant. Labor costs are significant only when they are artificially made so — and that is unsustainable in the long term.

We are coming into a time when people can make a living only by doing things that machines cannot do. This includes almost all kinds of creative intellectual work, which is fortunate for you, Lord Vader, and for most of your friends, who are intellectuals.

I resent the insult, on behalf of myself and my friends, of being classified as an intellectual.

Tosh. It’s another bitter truth.

The loss of machine-ready jobs is less fortunate for most Americans, whose only nonrobotic skills are those relevant in the service industries. This has two unfortunate side effects. First, because unskilled workers will be driven into the service industries, the person serving you your Cobb salad at the local restaurant is going to be surlier than ever. Second, it is going to be difficult for the service sector to to absorb all the unskilled workers, and I have trouble identifying anywhere else where they can make a living. And the former will drive the latter, as service becomes so poor that even a machine can do it better.

Thus, another bitter truth is that there are nearly irresistible social forces driving unemployment, underemployment, and make-work employment.

The response of Democrats to this truth is to give greater government funding to make-work employment. The response of Republicans is to try to improve the quality of education. Curiously, the two are closely linked. Do I really need to elaborate?

But, of course, education as a jobs program for teachers and administrators is in direct tension with education as a skills development program for children. Furthermore, and this is a very bitter truth, half the population are of below average intelligence, and always will be. And the least intelligent are practically ineducable. This might not matter if it was only the lowest 5% who were incapable of absorbing significant education. The service sector might be able to absorb that many highly unskilled workers. The problem is that the percentage of people capable of absorbing an adequate education is probably much higher than 5%. Governments always exaggerate literacy rates, but even the U.S. Census Bureau concedes that 14% of the population is functionally illiterate. And basic literacy is no longer sufficient to be considered usefully educated. Charles Murray is far less optimistic; he estimates that only 20% of those attending college are actually capable of benefiting from a college education.

Here’s another bitter truth for “up-by-your-boostraps” conservatives: For the most part, stupid people are not stupid by choice, nor can they be rendered smart. What makes this truth painful is that it requires anyone pretending to be compassionate to acknowledge that there is no natural justice to the plight of a lot of our unemployed and unemployable.

In a way, we have come full circle here. Two hundred years ago, it was evident that a lot of poverty was due to crop failure, or insect plagues, or other acts of God that were not the fault of the person experiencing the poverty. The father of your Joseph Smith comes immediately to mind; the Smith family were impoverished largely because “The Year Without A Summer”, triggered by the Tambora eruption, wiped out their Vermont farm. You see this reflected in the kind of welfare system Smith set up, which was tailored to an agricultural community with this understanding of poverty.

This model would have been utterly inappropriate fifty years ago, when it was plausible that anyone willing to apply himself a little had an excellent shot at employment sufficient to sustain his family. Naturally, this was the very time when something like this model was adopted on a vast national scale, and the disastrous outcome was entirely predictable.

But now we are back to a situation in which there is a lot of poverty that cannot be solved simply by getting the poor to apply themselves harder. It’s not quite the same, though; the problem is not because there is a lot of hard luck landing on some otherwise competent folks. It is because a lot of hard luck is landing on some folks by accident of birth, because there is simply no work for the lowest quintile of intelligence, no matter how much they apply themselves. Now, it is true that government policies such as minimum wage have not helped. In fact, I might as well throw that out as another bitter truth: The effect of minimum wages is to set in concrete the already strong barriers to employment of the least capable. Unfortunately, the problem is deeper than that.

Liberals have an almost pathetic faith in the power of democratic action to change this situation, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Conservatives have an almost equally pathetic faith in the power of free markets to change this situation. In fact, the function of a properly regulated free market is to communicate economic reality, and while accurate communication of economic reality is a good thing an can improve the economy, it has its limits. A genuine free market will only highlight the truth that some people are vastly more productive than others, and some people have no skills that cannot be reproduced more cheaply by machines.

One final bitter truth: The American intellectual elite have rejected the family, and all of America will suffer for it.

That’s a rather startling observation, coming from someone who has always said that he prefers the quality control afforded by cloning.

Cloning is a mechanism for cheaply and reliably manufacturing human machines, which is highly desirable in a military empire. I wouldn’t invite any of the clones to decorate my house.

Well, I must be off. I’m already late for my book club.

They’re reading Asimov’s classic I Robot, naturally.

Not all of His Majesty’s bitter truths seem entirely truthy to me. For instance, the observation that half of us are below average intelligence (His Majesty meant median intelligence, but the two are very close) is a tautology, and so tells us a lot less than it appears to. By His Majesty’s own reasoning, if the great majority of the bottom half were nonetheless intelligent enough to be more useful than a robot, it would not really matter that they were in the bottom half. And I wonder if His Majesty really understands the limitations of robots. I’m the one who works with them all day.

I also find myself struggling against the conclusion that any great numbers of us are just too stupid to be gainfully employed. The economy has a lot of slack in it still, and the educational system is so dismal that one ought not to judge the race by the products of that system. Still, much of what he says is both true and bitter.

I get all my pyruvate through tube nowadays; the damage from that assassination attempt on Mustafar did grave and permanent damage. But I also once shared His Majesty’s fondness for very dark chocolate. I’d probably still be eating it now if I had the stomach.  But it seems to me that what makes dark chocolate so good is the contrast of the bitter chocolate with the sweetness of the added sugar.

Come to think of it, that works for truths, too. Here’s a sweet truth that is best appreciated against a backdrop of bitter truths: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think Father Lehi had some similar ideas.

Comments (6)
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January 12th, 2017 12:30:47

January 12, 2017

People who set a low bar for Trump, help him out by setting a low bar for him to exceed. I suspect he will be able to exceed that low bar, because it has been placed so low.

Which means, we can neither simply despise him, and only see faults, nor overlook his faults. We need to see both faults and strengths clearly. And yes, even a buffoon like him has both. That way we can avoid setting the bar too low for him.

At least some of his cabinet appointments have been very good.

Yes, too many people are not well equipped for a knowledge or intelligence economy. Truly, “the poor you will always have with you” Matt. 26:11

The solution has been to give them money or to try to train them. Either approach has its obvious problems. The better solution, is to drive down ruthlessly, the cost of the necessities of life. Deflation so that anyone can afford to live. This, of course, has problems as well, but they are problems for the people most able to handle them, the upper classes.

I know vast orchards back home in Idaho have been dug up because globalism destroyed those markets for Americans. But repealing those trade treaties while necessary, will not be sufficient.

And yes, both minimum wage and licensing laws are both obstacles for the lower classes. Both need to go, as much as possible. Likewise, a society that depends on credentialism is only going to benefit those with credentials, ie, the elites instead of people who are capable. It benefits Ivy Leaguers over the rest of us. The more opportunities and avenues for success, the better the mass and the underclass will succeed.

The bit about half the population being below average made the mathematician in me tense up. That would only be true if intelligence were normally distributed. But even if it is wrong, it is not far off.

The real solution is not going to be flattering or exciting to the upper classes, or the rich.

I suppose this is part of the meaning of D&C 104:15-16
“And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.”

January 13, 2017

His Majesty is not a mathematician, but he is not innumerate, either, so I make allowance.

His Majesty and I disagree with you on free trade — I think there are some bitter truths there as well — but I mean to keep it a respectful disagreement.

January 13, 2017

Very grateful for the sugar at the end.

With the mass of regulation and litigation that chokes employment in our society, I am far from convinced that we are close to large scale Zero Marginal Product workers.

Longer term solutions include working to improve the average as much as possible (points based immigration, for example, instead of random based immigration as at present; and reworking tax laws that discourage successful people from having kids). Also I believe that there is still a lot of room for educating even the simplest into useful capacities, but we lack the cultural and legal and practical avenues for making it worth someone’s while to do so.

January 13, 2017

The best Terrestrial solution may be that line about a rising tide lifts all boats.

But the Lord may have purposely put us in a situation where the only real solution is Celestial. Zion, or destruction.

January 13, 2017

His Majesty reminds me of Uncle Screwtape.

January 13, 2017

Zen, would you be happier with “Half the population is below the median” ?

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