Home // Articles posted by J.D. Tuccille

Is Your Kid Being Used as a #RedForEd Political Pawn?

You have options, you know. You don’t have to let teachers’ unions and politicians use your kids as markers in high-stakes contests for money and political dominance. You can walk away from all of those presumptuous tax-suckers who think you owe them something and make your own decisions.

The Next Midnight Ride Will Be Tweeted

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott rode to warn that British troops were coming to confiscate arms stockpiled for resistance against the government. The email/phone tree and tweet storm that will greet the next such attempt might not be so picturesque, but will reach even more people.

Free Speech Support Remains Rocky on Campus

Photo by Muns

The latest Gallup/Knight Foundation survey is being cited in certain circles as evidence that there’s no problem in terms of respect for open discussion and free speech on college campuses. That’s pretty remarkable given the actual findings of the survey. Matthew Yglesias of Vox, for instance, somehow managed the other day to reference the 2016 survey, without mentioning the deterioration in findings in the now-available 2017 survey.

What sort of deterioration? Glad you asked. According to the 2017 Knight survey, “Sixty-one percent of students, up from 54% in the prior survey, strongly agree or agree that the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”

That’s the students themselves saying that it’s becoming more difficult to voice unpopular opinions on campus.

The survey is by no means a complete horror show. For example, only a small minority (10 percent) endorse using violence against speakers whose views they dislike. So there’s that. A larger minority of 37 percent thinks shouting down opposing views is acceptable. It’s not, in case I have to make that clear.

By and large, the survey seems to reveal support for free speech as a generic ideal, but much less tolerance for views that many college students actually dislike.

The survey conclusion reads, in part:

College students generally endorse First Amendment ideals in the abstract. The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump’s candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is “always acceptable.”

Why does this matter? Because college students graduate and become adults. If they bring into the adult world an intolerance for dissenting views, that’s something with which we’ll all have to grapple.

Full survey here.

Hey Enterprise, Could You Sever Ties With Me As Well?

Hi folks,

I have a favor to ask. Since you’re ending your relationship with the National Rifle Association, could you add my name to the list of companies, organizations, and individuals with which you won’t do business? You see, any objections you could have to the NRA apply to me many times over, and it’s only fair that you put the same distance between us.

The February 22 announcement by your company’s @enterprisecares Twitter account (https://twitter.com/enterprisecares/status/966847626439086082), “Thank you for contacting us! All three of our brands have ended the discount for NRA members. This change will be effective March 26. Thank you again for reaching out. Kind regards, Michael” was followed by repeated announcement by all three of your brands on Feb. 23 (https://twitter.com/enterprisecares/status/966832314532618241, https://twitter.com/nationalcares/status/966832392655663104, https://twitter.com/alamocares/status/966832358841139206). Your decision came as a specific response to calls to boycott the NRA because of its opposition to further government interference in self-defense rights–specifically, the private ownership and use of firearms.

If you’re going to refuse to do business with the NRA because of its support of an area of individual freedom, it’s only fair that you extend me the same courtesy. I’m a political columnist who has long and loudly opposed government restrictions on any area of liberty, including self-defense rights. I long stayed independent of the NRA not because I found it too radical in this area, but because I found it too compromising on the issue, often hostile to other liberties, including free speech and freedom from unreasonable search-and-seizure, and too supportive of law enforcement. That is, your qualms about doing business with the NRA should be even stronger with regard to me, since I am a less compromising advocate of individual liberty. I offer as evidence my column recommending that people carry guns without seeking government permission: “Carry a Gun—Without a Permit”.

Also, since you are apparently cutting ties with organizations that oppose government infringement of individual rights, I suggest that you consider taking a similar public stance against other pro-liberty groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fully Informed Jury Association, and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, among others. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be inconsistent.

yours,
J.D. Tuccille

Some Thoughts on #MeToo, Sex, and Consent

Ride 'em, cowgirl!

Image: C. M.Russell, public domain

Many years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to discover that I was having sex. After a happy and sweaty evening together, the woman in question and I had fallen asleep next to one another. Some time later, she apparently had a hankering for seconds. Not wanting to waste time, she climbed on board. My body saw no reason to check with my brain and immediately got with the program. The first thing I knew, I was playing the role of bronco to an enthusiastic cowgirl–not that I minded a damned bit.

I mention this not just because I like reliving pleasant memories–although I do–but because of the current public “conversation” over sexual conduct by high-profile people in media, business, and the government. A good number of the allegations are about outright rape–forcible sexual assault without consent, or in the face of explicit protests. That’s always wrong, inherently despicable, and should be prosecuted and punished–or publicized and held against those who committed such acts but were able to escape consequences through power and intimidation.

But some accusations are more complicated, involving exchanges of sex for favors that are now regretted, or unwelcome advances that were rebuffed, or socially awkward behavior that’s cringe-inducing but not an actual violation of anybody’s rights…

Take my example above. Technically, I never gave consent. By some modern standards, I was raped. I would never raise such an accusation, because I was more than willing and would cackle hysterically at anybody who suggested such an interpretation (seriously, I’m capable of cackling). But that’s a possible way of framing that scenario. From her and my perspective, though, she had every reason to believe that her advances would be welcome and that some sort of implied consent was inherent in my naked, snoring post-coital (and ultimately pre-coital) presence in her bed.

Romantic and sexual interactions are complicated. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t draw bright lines–explicit coercion is entirely beyond the pale. It should be harshly punished. That’s because the use of force to overcome somebody’s unwillingness is clear in a good many situations. But unwelcome advances? Clumsy seduction? Social cluelessness? If you can walk away, or reduce somebody to embarrassment by saying “you did not just do that,” it’s probably not coercion. And nobody knows it’s unwelcome until they try.

Does it help to contextualize things if I explain that I ended up in that woman’s bed because I was lying drunk on her sofa, she walked by, and I reached out to put my arm around her and missed. So she walked by again. Slowly. So I couldn’t screw it up.

Complicated.

On a related note, here’s found footage of an actual date, not too far in the future…

Choose Between Competing Thugs? Never Again.

Choose sides!

Choose sides!

In recent months, violent alt-righters and their militant counterparts on the antifa left have tried to push Americans to choose a side. They pretend that their intra-familial rivalry is the only game in town, and that anybody disdaining them both is refusing to take a stance. That’s a favorite game of violent thugs, and I addressed it in my latest column: “Choose Sides? You Bet. But Antifa and Fascism Are the Same Side.”

I wrote:

We do have to pick a side. But we already have one. Despite our many differences over specific policies, most Americans have traditionally supported the side of liberty, tolerance, free speech, and peaceful political change, within broad parameters. That side is in opposition to the violent, authoritarian thugs of the right and of the left. If we regain our faith in what we already have, there’s no reason to choose between rival siblings competing to rule over the ruins of everything that’s worthwhile on behalf of their illiberal family.

My responses since then, from both alt-righters and antifa lefties, have been a flood arguments about why their violence is good and necessary. Below is a sample, along with my rebuttal.

Mr. Tuccille,

In your article about Antifa for Reason, you include a paragraph that seems somewhat out of place in the flow of your argument: “‘Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain,’ notes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic.”
I found the inclusion of this basic fact, and the lack of any analysis of it, interesting because in the rest of your piece you insist that you should not have to choose between fascists and those fighting them. It seems by that including that line, you are implying that if you were around in the 1920s and 30s you would have held the same, neutral position. Is that the case?
If it is, you should really take a close look at your moral values and take a stand to actively and forcefully oppose naziism.
To which I responded:

Mr. X,

You’re doing exactly what I pointed out in my column, which is pretending that the only two sides are those of the dysfunctional totalitarian siblings, and that everybody must choose one or the other. It’s an effort to build support by pretending that other stances don’t exist. But the militant leftist and Nazi brands of illiberal scumbaggery are both evil. There’s nothing to choose between them. That’s especially true if you have any faith in the liberal tradition of tolerance, limited government, free speech, and peaceful political discourse. Then you already have a better side and there’s no reason to abandon it. If more Europeans had stuck with the right side rather than picking one or another rival factions of the same illiberal side, the horrors of the 20th century might have been avoided.
I’m sure that anybody who has examined their moral values could see the truth of that point.
yours,
J.D. Tuccille
And then:

I guess it’s not surprising that you use the cloak of “illiberalism” to cover both naziism and those who fight against it. For all the faith I have in free speech and tolerance, I have no confidence that our government, nor fence sitters like you, will do anything effective to stop the rise of political movements that would send me to my death without hesitation.

It’s nice to say that if only people had been different, we could have avoided bad things. But in the past of the reality we live in there were many chances to stop the rise of fascism, but those chances were missed. And of course were aided and abetted by those who claimed to support conservative values. I hope that every time white supremacists come out to protest they are vastly outnumbered by forceful opposition and that they go home embarrassed, jobless, and in tears. I doubt that I’ll see you on the streets, I’m sure you’ll be safely at home, writing about horseshoe theory, knowing that no matter what happens you’ll be fine.

The rest of us choose to say never again.

To which I replied:

And again, you pretend that the only choices are between two tribes of thugs, and there’s no liberal side to oppose both. You emphasize the deadly toll taken by one of the illiberal tribes, and conveniently ignore that inflicted by the other. Your argument is simply dishonest.

Choose between Auschwitz and the Gulag? Never again.
The crimes of Nazis and communists alike have been amply documented, but what about anarchists, who antifa often claim make up the core of their participants? Let’s take a peek at a review in the The New Republic of Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, a book that attempts to document the toll of Spain’s bloody civil war.
The most violent political force in the Republican zone were the anarchists, who fought against Franco but also opposed the Republic. Beyond the reach of the government, and bountifully armed, they were all but impossible to control. They ran the most murderous of the checas, including one squad that decorated their murder van with skulls and their uniforms with death’s heads. They burned corpses to avoid investigation and identification; they burned churches and convents on principle.
To be clear, Spain’s anarchists of the period were “anarchists” for some value of the word–they were awfully state-like in their actions. And not a very nice state, at that.
By the way, my correspondent above reached me by email, which is not a public forum, so I’ll do him the courtesy of keeping his identity confidential. I will reveal, however, that he’s a PhD candidate in history at a respected university. Yet he obviously has a self-image of himself and his friends reenacting the Spanish Civil War in the role of the anarchist anti-fascists, without realizing that the people he emulates in that war were as despicable as the fascists they opposed, and the communists who they fought alongside, and against whom they often battled. The good guys in that war were the beleaguered supporters of liberty and democracy who let themselves be sidelined by rival totalitarians who bathed their country in blood.
Really, stay clear of totalitarians. They have only terror and death to offer.

 

When Higher Education Morphs Into Ideological Indoctrination, Expect Fewer Customers

A majority of Republicans and Americans leaning Republican now think that colleges and universities are a negative influence on the country. Yes, that’s a big change–no matter the decades-old sniping by conservatives toward academia and institutions of higher learning. And before anybody starts chuckling, the shift has big implication all right–but more for the relevance of colleges and universities than for the fates of right-leaners.

Reports Pew:

As recently as two years ago, most Republicans and Republican leaners held a positive view of the role of colleges and universities. In September 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country; 37% rated their impact negatively.

By 2016, Republicans’ ratings of colleges and universities were mixed (43% positive, 45% negative). Today, for the first time on a question asked since 2010, a majority (58%) of Republicans say colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, while 36% say they have a positive effect.

Writing for Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle notes that “Conservatives in the media have been complaining about liberals in academia for a very long time — just about as long, in fact, as academia has been trending liberal.” But since then, she points out, much of academia has gone from sharply leaning toward one ideology to explicitly condemning the legitimacy of opposing views. Ejection of speakers from campus, violent confrontations, and efforts to shut down dissenters and free speech advocates on college campuses have become a regular feature of coverage of campus doings in recent years–and the results have been swift.

“Over the past two years, the share of Republicans and Republican leaners who view the impact of colleges and universities positively has declined 18 percentage points (from 54% to 36%),” says Pew. That’s an important shift, and a fast one.

Now, why should anybody other than those on the right (and those concerned about actual inquiry in an intellectually diverse environment) care if conservatives choose not to avail themselves of higher education in years to come? If Republican offspring choose to confine themselves to a blue collar future, so much the better for bien pensants who will have a clearer path to management gigs, right?

First, let’s not dismiss non-college track jobs. Starting a business and entering a trade remain great paths through life that don’t require an entry charge equivalent to a mortgage. Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, points out that “You have right now about 3 million jobs in transportation, commerce, and trades that can’t be filled” and that pushing college as the only route to the good life is stupid.

That said, there’s no guarantee that the colleges and universities openly rejecting people who adhere to an assortment of mainstream political views will retain their gatekeeper role to plum jobs. Colleges gain wide respect so long as they are seen as educational institutions that open the doors to opportunity. If, instead, they’re perceived more as ideological institutions that can no longer guarantee opportunity, they’ll lose their cachet very quickly.

In the past two years, high-profile companies including Ernst & Young, Penguin Random House, and PriceWaterhouse Coopers have publicly deemphasized college degrees in their hiring processes. E&Y “found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.” The other companies made similar announcements. They won’t discriminate against degree-holders, they say. But they’ll happily hire those who haven’t bothered with the time and expense of college, and train them in-house.

How many other companies are making the same changes quietly?

Even today, some professions remain open to non-degree applicants. You can still become a lawyer in a handful of states without ever attending law school. You have to study under the guidance of a practicing attorney before sitting for the bar–basically, an apprenticeship. That practice could easily revive and spread if attending a school comes to be seen as an expensive distraction rather than a boon.

Actually, I think that developing a variety of alternative routes to jobs, careers, and adult life is a good thing of its own accord. If colleges and universities continue their transformation into monasteries of true believers, alienating half the population in the process, those alternatives will be not just good, but necessary.

Fleeing From Health Insurance Isn’t the Same Thing as Losing It

“Republican healthcare bill imperiled with 22 million seen losing insurance,” reads a Reuters headline about the CBO assessment of the Senate healthcare bill.And, indeed, the CBO did say, “The Senate bill would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law.”

But the CBO never uses the word “lose”–a word that would imply that those people will be deprived of something they want. And that’s not what the CBO is saying. Instead, it notes:

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 15 million more people would be uninsured under this legislation than under current law—primarily because the penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2026.

That is, in the absence of penalties coercing them to purchase health insurance that they don’t want, tens of millions of Americans will choose to go without. That’s a big difference for an allegedly free society whose political institutions can fairly be judged by the degree to which they leave people alone to make their own decisions. Those decisions may be wise, unwise, or a mix of the two. But the freedom to make that choice is what matters.

And if Americans choose not to purchase health coverage when they’re freed of coercion, they’re not losing coverage, they’re fleeing from it.

That’s not to say the Senate bill is a good one; it’s a dog’s breakfast that retains many of the distorting features of Obamacare without introducing the choice and free market reforms that could put health care back on an even footing.

But fleeing something you don’t want is a far cry from losing something you cherish.

Frankly, I Prefer the Snakebite

Forget about me. You folks are scary.

Forget about me. You folks are scary. Photo: Paul Venter

At the close of the 19th century, Ewart S. Grogan and Arthur H. Sharp, two Cambridge undergraduates, took advantage of a vacation from classes to successfully attempt the first walking traverse along the length of Africa, south to north, in part to impress a girl’s father. They did some shooting along the way.

That’s a succinct description that sucks all the juice from one of the more impressive real-life adventures ever, accomplished by two college students who may well have subsequently inspired every P. G. Wodehouse and Monty Python parody of simultaneously insufferable and seemingly superhuman British imperialists to come. They wrote up their journey in From the Cape to Cairo, published in 1900, a reprint of which I’m reading now.

Following is a representative excerpt. Note, even for the time Grogan and Sharp were almost comically (not so funny if you were on the receiving end) racist. The racial epithet appears in the original.

During lunch, a native rushed in, saying that he had been bitten by a night adder, one of the most deadly snakes in Africa. I promptly collared him by the arm, stopped the circulation with some string, slit his finger cross-wise with my pocket-knife, exploded some gunpowder in the cut, while Dodson administered repeated subcutaneous injections of permanganate of potash. Meanwhile, the arm, chest, and left side swelled to the most appalling proportions. Cavendish then appeared on the scene with a bottle of whisky, three parts of which we poured down his throat; then we told off three strong men to run him round the camp till he subsided like a log into a drunken stupor. The following morning he was still alive, but the swelling was enormous, and the coloring of his nails indicated incipient gangrene. Not knowing what else to do, we put a pot on the fire, and made a very strong solution of the permanganate which we kept gently simmering, while six stalwart niggers forced the unfortunate’s hand in and out. His yells were fearful, but the cure was complete; the swelling rapidly subsided, the nails resumed their normal colour, and the following morning, with the exception of the loss of the skin of his hand, he was comparatively well.

I’ll note here that night adders are dangerous, but not usually fatal to adults, and that potassium permanganate is an antiseptic not known for antivenin properties (although it was commonly used as one at the time). I’m truly impressed as much by the patient’s physical endurance as by the treatment. And I’ll bet that was an epic hangover.

Best fraternity initiation, ever!

It’s a Changing World, and It’s Probably Changing Into the 1930s

In the aftermath of a presidential election, the outcome of which some people predicted, but I’m not one of them, Dave Barry points to the ever-morphing nature of “serious” politicians’ political beliefs.

In Washington, Democrats who believed in a strong president wielding power via executive orders instantly exchange these deeply held convictions with Republicans who until Election Day at roughly 10 p.m. Eastern time believed fervently in filibusters and limited government.

That’s a point that happens to be both clever and true–politicians do seem to take to heart Groucho Marx’s maxim, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

But, as Matt Welch writes over at Reason, those “others” are sounding awfully familiar. With nationalism and populism rising across America, Europe, and beyond, the ideological center of gravity is shifting in a familiar–and frightening direction.

In the post-neoliberal era, parties of the left are going hard democrat-socialist (think Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn), while parties of the right increasingly adopt the welfare-state nationalism of Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, and France’s ever-advancing Le Pen family. The areas around the center are as dead as the political careers of, well, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Shades of the 1930s! Everything old is new again, indeed–especially withdrawing inward, and looking for a strongman to reclaim imagined past glory by force of will. And by force of arms, if need be.

Not that the lost center was much of anything to mourn, but as elitist and warlike as it was, people from America to France to the Philippines seem to be rejecting it in favor of a rawer, more grassroots authoritarianism.

There may be an opening here for people favoring liberty and autonomy. But I suspect that most libertarian relief for the near future will be achieved outside of and despite government policy, not through the political system.

In the meantime, break out your copy of The Road to Serfdom. The insights in there, put on paper in reaction to another moment when faith in individualism and freedom was waning, seem strikingly current.