Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Toleration Conquered the West

Have you ever considered why separation of church and state evolved, why we are more religiously tolerant today than in the past?

At one time, church and state intertwined and tolerance was a minority opinion. Even prior to establishment of a Constitutional Republic in the United States, there was quite a bit of church-state entanglement. The results were often bloody and always nasty. Even when only Protestant Christians had their rights respected, they frequently and repeatedly turned on one another even to the point of killing people for being the wrong kind of Protestant Christian. There was never a Judeo-Christian heritage, because the colonies routinely excluded Jews and Catholics from having legal rights and some colonies refused to allow either to settle there.

 Bloody persecution of Christians, by Christians, in the colonies, was mild in comparison to the centuries of bloodshed in Europe over which form of Christianity should be imposed on everyone. Martin Luther explained: “In a country there must be one preaching only allowed.” Other forms of preaching were considered rebellion and Luther spoke of how to deal with such matters: “Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly and openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel.” While the bloody history of Catholicism is well known, mainly due to publishing efforts of Protestants, the genocidal impulse in Protestantism has not been so duly noted.

Luther is a good example of Protestant intolerance. In 1525 he said Catholic mass should be forcibly suppressed as blasphemy. In 1530, he said Anabaptists should be put to death. In 1536, he said Jews should be forced out of the country. His view was that the State should enforce Christian teaching, more particularly Luther’s teachings, by force. “The public authority is bound to repress blasphemy, false doctrine and heresy, and to inflict corporal punishment on those that support such things.”

Many people today have no idea that Europe was plunged into a series of wars, over a period of about 150 years, all between competing sects of Christians intent on wiping out other forms of Christianity. The last such major war was the Thirty Years’ War, from 1618-1648. Direct and indirect casualties in the war amounted to between 15% and 30% of all Germans. In Czech areas, population declined by about one-third as a result of the war and as a result of diseases spread because of the conflict. It is thought that Swedish armies destroyed as many as one-third of all towns in Germany. Estimates are that this period of Christian conflict resulted in the deaths of 7 million people. R.J. Rummel estimates the death toll higher, at 11.5 million. An objective look at the history of Christian conflicts caused Prof. Perez Zagorin to conclude: “Of all the great world religions past and present, Christianity has been by far the most intolerant.” Even Aquinas, held up as an advocate of reason, said that if the state executed forgers it could “with much more justice” take heretics and “immediately upon conviction, be not only excommunicate but also put to death.” Zagorin says: “None of the Protestant churches—neither the Lutheran Evangelical, The Zwinglian, the Calvinist Reformed nor the Anglican—were tolerant or acknowledged any freedom to dissent.” [How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West, Princeton University Press, 2003.]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Evangelicalism and Slavery: Historic Allies Not Enemies

The Christian Right film Amazing Grace was being promoted to libertarians, no doubt with funds from some Christian source. The promotion says the film is about about William Wilberforce and his effort to get England to abolish slavery, as well as his relationships with evangelist George Whitfield and John Newton. The film is named after the words of the hymn Amazing Grace, which Newton wrote.

Now, for some inconvenient facts. Wilberforce was not the first to call for abolition of slavery. Deists like Jefferson and the Quakers, who are not orthodox Christians by any means, were there first. Nor was England the first country to abolish slavery. Revolutionary France, considered godless by the orthodox Christians, had abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon, an orthodox Christian and opponent of deism, restored it when he took power. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Math Without Numbers: Why Socialism Fails

Every economy is faced with the same fundamental questions? How those questions are answered makes all the difference in the world.

There are certain inescapable facts, which are imposed on us by reality. Human nature requires we interact with the world around us if we are to survive. We need to harvest food and to produce shelter. We need medical care to avoid disease and death. The fundamental realities of life require economic production; without it we perish.

Economics is the study of how humans act upon resources to produce goods and services, which are wanted and/or needed. But once an economy is in place certain questions inevitably arise.

Most of us instinctively know these fundamental questions. What should be produced? For whom should it be produced? How should it be produced?

If someone wishes to build a swimming pool he has already answered the first and second question for himself, but that final question is the tough one. It is not simply a question of engineering. This question implies some very fundamental dilemmas.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Regulatory State: An Engine of Minority Repression

Swarms of armed police invaded nine barbershops in Orange County, Florida, with as many as 14 armed agents involved. The shops had one thing in common—they catered to black or Hispanic patrons. Of course, it could be a coincidence.

The police entered without warrants. This was allowed because they accompanied agents of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, who are allowed to enter any barbershop at will.

This is one example of how regulatory powers can be used to target minorities on behalf of the police, in ways that would not be legal otherwise. Thirty-seven people were arrested; the majority accused of “barbering without a license.”

Florida police claimed the raids were a general campaign singling out criminal “hot spots.” None of those arrested appear to be guilty of a real crime—one with a victim. Thirty-four of the 37 arrested were ONLY charged with the “crime” of barbering without state permission. The remaining three were charged with victimless crimes; such as owning a gun without permission, or possession of illegal substances—small amounts of marijuana in these cases.

Capt. Dave Ogden, who commands the area where these raids were conducted, justified arresting people for barbering because: “It was a misdemeanor crime being conducted in our presence. We decided to make arrests.”

Barbershops play a special role in the black community. Books have even been written about how they were seen ad community centers and places where individuals would gather to discuss the community and matters of politics. On black publication, writing about a similar raid, said police raids like this “attacked one of the Black communities most sacred institutions: the barbershop.”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Walter Williams says he doesn't understand.... and then proves it.

Walter Williams shows his conservative side—being good on economics does not make one a libertarian—in statements he made about the gay community. Williams claims gay men should pay higher premiums for life insurance because "life expectancy at age 20 for homosexual and bisexual men is eight to 20 years less than for all men."

He claims the reason they don't is because gays have intimidated the insurance companies with accusations of discrimination, but Williams would be okay with anti-gay discrimination because "it is acceptable for insurance companies to discriminate against smokers and the obese but not homosexuals."

The only basis for Williams's accusation is an outdated study done with old data from the height of the AIDS crisis and limited data to one large Canadian city—hardly a representative sample. Even the authors of the study admit current evidence does not warrant such a. It should be noted that Williams entirely neglects to mention the AIDS issue in that study—surely he knows how dramatically wrong projections about AIDS turned out to be, so why leave out that important detail?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Swing, Camelbacks and Daylight Robbery

     Jazz musician Eric Felten has a piece in the Wall Street Journal on how taxes but an end to the era of Swing music. In 1944 the federal government created a “cabaret tax” that added a 30% tax to the tab of anyone in an establishment with either dancing or singing. Felten says it “is no coincidence that in the back half of the 1940s a new and undanceable jazz performed primarily by small instrumental groups—bebop—emerged as the music of the moment.”
      He asks: “How differently might the aesthetic impulse behind bebop have been expressed if it had been allowed to develop organically instead of in an atmosphere where dancing was discouraged by the taxman? Jazz might have remained a highly sophisticated popular music instead of becoming an artsy niche.”
      Consider how taxes have change architecture.
      New Orleans has two oddities in the housing market, the Camelback house and the Shotgun house.

     The Shotgun house is said to have earned that label because one could fire a shotgun through the front door and have the pellets exit the house through the back door. It was narrow but long, one room wide at most. You would enter into the living room and find a door from that room into the bedroom behind it and there was another door into the kitchen behind it. The rooms would be in a long row with no hallway at all.

     Similar was the Camelback house. This was basically a Shotgun house with a second floor but not as you might expect. At the rear of the house would be stairs going to the second floor. But the second floor never extended to the front of the house. People said this truncated second floor looked like the hump of a camel, hence the name.

     Both of these oddities are the creation of local government policy.

     Some have argued that the Shotgun house exists because land in New Orleans, where they are mostly found, is scarce. But the extended length of these homes would not justify that argument. After all a house that is half as wide but twice as long still covers the same amount of land. Lots could have been wider but less deep and still have used the same amount of land.

     The alternative theory, and a popular one, is that the houses were narrowly built because land width was a factor in taxation. The wider the house the more highly taxed it was. It was noted that such narrow houses were frequently built in poor areas. Exactly what we would expect. Taxes drive up the cost of housing and the people least likely to afford housing are the poor, so they would need creative means to avoid the taxes.

     The Camelback house was routinely taxed as a single-story house because the second floor was only partial, which is why they were designed that way.

     This would not be the first time architecture was distorted by taxation.

     Amsterdam is famous for it’s very narrow, tall, long buildings with narrow, steep stairways. This was done because property taxes depended on the frontage of the residence.

     Anyone who has gone up or down those stairs will tell you that it impossible to bring in furniture. So, many Amsterdam houses were built with hooks at the top front with windows that were almost as wide as the house. Furniture would be lifted by a hoist to the window and then pulled inside

     The length or height of the house didn’t matter, only the width so, of course, homes were very narrow. The narrowest in Amsterdam is found at 7 Singel where the front of the house is barely wider than a front door. The entire frontage is just one meter wide.

     In England taxes made housing worse for people for a very long time. Politicians wanted to tax income but they weren’t sure how to do it back in the late 1600s. People felt that government knowledge of one’s income was an intrusive violation of their privacy. So the politicians decided to tax windows instead.

     The assumption was that wealthy people had bigger houses with more windows. And, since glass at the time was not cheap they also assumed this indicated wealth. This tax was introduced by King William III on New Year’s Eve in 1696 until 1851. One result was that even as glass dropped in price English housing often remained dark, dingy, and lacked fresh air. In some of the older buildings you can see where windows that once existed were bricked up in order to lower the taxes.

     The phrase “daylight robbery” did not originally mean a robbery conducted in the light of day, it meant the robbery of daylight from homes through the window tax.
     The repeal of the widow tax in 1851 was largely influenced by the great classical liberals of the day, Richard Cobden and John Bright, the leaders of the Anti Corn Law League and proponents of free markets. A letter from Cobden to Robertson Gladstone lays out Cobden’s idea for the budget. Francis Hirst, in 1903, wrote “Within a little more than a generation the whole of Cobden’s ‘National Budget’ was adopted.” Cobden told Gladstone: “There is the window tax, which, although it does not, like the Excise duties, operate as a direct impediment to productive industry, is open to the fearful objection, that it 'obstructs the light of heaven;' and, in these brief words, we may read its inevitable doom. London, Bath, and other large cities are pressing the abolition of this tax annually upon the House, through Lord Duncan, and you must not think of excluding it from your 'National Budget.'”
     Taxes distort any market and music and architecture are just two examples.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Out of the Cuban Closet

   This review of Gays Under the Cuban Revolution, by Jim Peron, originally appeared in the October, 1982 issue of Inquiry magazine. 

   The Cuban Freedom Flotilla of 1980 stunned the American people. Day after day, thousands upon thousands of Cubans abandoned their families, friends, and material possessions to start life anew in the United States. While history is replete with instances of masses fleeing war, economic misery, and political repression, such flights have always been conducted by the general population, or by religious, racial, or political minorities. The Cuban Freedom Flotilla, however, involved a little secret that very soon came out. Socialist Cuba had—and has—the distinction of being the world’s only nation to experience a mass emigration based on sexual preference. Huddled in the crowded boats fleeing Castro’s Cuba were an estimated 10,000 homosexuals.

  This most irregular flotilla evoked a great response in the American gay community. Homosexual organizations and churches banded together to sponsor gay refugees. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were privately spent to buy clothes, find homes, and secure jobs for these desperate men and women.
Andre Gide
   Amidst this flurry of charitable activity, the deep questions presented by the exodus remained unanswered. On the whole, the “gay intelligentsia” in the United States, and especially in Europe and Canada, is and has been, left of center, often socialist and even Marxist. Suddenly these intellectuals were facing the living proof of the oppression of their own under the rule of socialism. By and large, the gay left was silent. Horror stories told by refugees were ignored. Political implications were evaded.
  Several decades ago, French writer Andre Gide, himself a homosexual, confronted similar questions. In the early 1930s he had proclaimed his profound sympathy for the Soviet Union, the bright hope of the world’s oppressed. With great anticipation, he voyaged to Russia, “a convinced and enthusiastic follower, in order to admire a new world.” At first, he traveled with the government tour guides and saw the model communes, mixed with the Soviet elite and sat at their lavish tables. But, Gide confessed, “I only began to see clearly when, abandoning the government transport, I traveled alone through the country in order to be able to get into direct contact with the people.” There he found shocking poverty and oppression, in contrast to the luxury enjoyed by the communist new class.
  Above all, Gide was appalled by the sacrifice of human individuality to Marxist conformity. Years later, in his contribution to The God That Failed, this pioneer of homosexual liberation wrote:

I doubt whether in any country in the world, not even in Hitler’s Germany, have the mind and spirit been less free, more bent, more terrorized over, and indeed vassalized—than in the Soviet Union... Humanity is complex and not all of a piece—that must be accepted—and every attempt at simplification and regimentation, every effort from the outside to reduce everything and everyone to the same common denominator, will always be reprehensible, pernicious, and dangerous.

    Not since Gide has any author exposed the consequences of socialist conformism for the homosexual minority as has Allen Young. Young previously co-authored or edited (with Karla Jay) Out of the Closets, After You’re Out, Lavender Culture, and The Gay Report. Like Gide, he was an ardent advocate of Marxism, and as Gide was devoted to the Soviet revolution, so was Young to the Cuban revolution. He also experienced results of socialism first hand; in the tradition of The God That Failed, he published his findings in Gays Under the Cuban Revolution.
   Young describes himself as a “red-diaper baby”—both parents were active members of the Communist Party. He grew up accepting their political beliefs as most children reared in the church accept Christianity. Like many children of religious parents, Young’s zeal eventually surpassed that of his parents.

   During his college years at Columbia, which coincided with Castro’s coming to power, Young began to take an interest in Cuba. Later he studied at the Institute of Hispanic-American and Luso-Brazilian Studies at Stanford, where he worked for the Hispanic American Report. The writers for this journal assigned to cover Cuba “were all partisans of the Castro regime;" Young concedes that “one-sided reporting on Cuba by Cuba’s friends was seen as a legitimate response to the establishment’s one-sided approach; we had no qualms about our involvement in such bias—indeed we accepted our mission.” Young continued his studies, went to Brazil, worked for the Peace Corps in Colombia, and contributed articles to journals like New Left Review. In 1967 he returned to the United States to work at the Washington Post, only to leave it eventually for publications further to the left. All this time he had been a confirmed believer in the Cuban experiment without having witnessed it himself, but in 1969 the Cuban government gave Young and another activist an all-expenses-paid trip to the country. Finally he would see for himself the new society on whose behalf he had been propagandizing for a decade.

   Young was supposed to write glowing articles on the people’s revolution, but he found this difficult. As he traveled with his host and guide, doubts started to hatch in his mind. “Watching his behavior, and that of other officials, I began to develop a notion of privilege under Cuban communism. They had access to cars, air travel, imported wines, and fancy restaurants, for example.” Meanwhile, Young noted the deprivation of the people, the strict control of the press, and the militarization of society. He also learned how socialism oppressed his gay friends. Before Castro’s revolution, persecution of homosexuals existed, of course, but it was sporadic; gay bars, for instance, thrived in Havana. The revolution closed the bars, because of their “decadence.” Sexual preference became a highly political issue in society that was totally politicized.
Allen Young

   Young’s own homosexual con-sciousness had been raised, following the Stonewall Rebellion when the patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar, instead of meekly acquiescing as the police staged one of their habitual raids, fought back. And his second visit to Cuba, in 1971, intensified his disenchantment. On his return to the United States, he went public with his criticisms, and broke with many of his former allies: “I felt I could not be faithful to myself and continue in the dual role of Cubaphile and gay liberationist.” Since then he has continued to follow the vicissitudes of Cuba’s persecution of homosexuals and the left’s response to it.

   The attack on homosexuality began within a few Years of Castro’s taking power. Long before the crusades of Anita Bryant or Jerry Falwell, Castro stated that “those positions in which one might have a direct influence upon children and young people should not be in the hands of homosexuals, above all the educational centers.” A homosexual was a “deviate” who could never rise to the level of conduct required of “a true Revolutionary.”

   Gays suffered greatly at the hands of the two new socialist bureaucracies. Thousands of them were placed, without benefit of trial, in camps run by the Military Units for Aid to Production. Basically these were forced labor camps, where gay people were mistreated and often assaulted and where it was not unusual for them to be executed or driven to suicide. After a while, international protests compelled the closing of these camps, but the persecution has continued in other forms.

   The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) are neighborhood block committees throughout Cuba consisting of tens of thousands of volunteer police spies. They are “dominated by busybodies, snoops, and moralistic prudes,” who consider it one of their prime duties to harass homosexuals and, frequently, to funnel them into the prison system. (In all the articles in American leftist periodicals praising these institutions of “popular justice,” Young reports, he has never found hint of “the suffering of gay people and dissidents” caused by the CDRs.  Homosexuals are the chief target of the ley de peligrosidad (“law of dangerousness”), which provides for from four to six years for “antisocial behavior.” At the University of Havana, it is the policy to expel gay students “after a public humiliation.” The merciless crusade extends even to Cuban writers of international repute, who might be thought to furnish the regime with a certain cultural respectability:  “Cuba’s greatest playwright [Virgilio Pierna] and greatest novelist José Lezama Lima] were persecuted, humiliated, and forced to live the last years of their lives in ignominy—all because of their homosexuality.”

   As for the response of American leftists to this institutionalized vendetta, Young accuses them—those who have even acknowledged the issue of “grasping at anything to avoid forthright, angry condemnation . . . and, more generally, to avoid coming to grips with the left’s historic role in reinforcing and creating antigay prejudice.” When gay liberation arose in the late 1960, the left opportunistically seized on it, “primarily to illustrate dissatisfaction with the status quo of American society.” The aversion of leftists to dealing with the facts of Castro’s antihomosexual campaign, and their continued presentation of Cuba as “a promise of what the future has to offer,” even in the teeth of those facts, demonstrate the shallowness, if not the hypocrisy, of their “pro-gay” stand.

   Why so many gay liberationists themselves should attempt to hide the facts concerning Cuba and other communist societies is more of a mystery. The eminent scholar Simon Karlinsky concluded, in a communication to Christopher Street, that the most brutal oppressors of homosexuals in this century—even worse than the Nazis have been “the totalitarians of the left—the Marxist-Leninists, to be precise." left-the Marxist-Leninists, to be precise.”
   And yet he confessed that in stating this conclusion, he felt he was “breaking an aspect of the unwritten, but rigidly enforced gay liberationist etiquette, one that says that gay oppression today exists only in pluralistic societies such as the United States and West Germany.” This “etiquette,” Karlinsky observed, has resulted in a “self-imposed brainwashing” in the gay movement.

   His knowledge of what has been going on in Cuba has caused Young, with great courage, to rethink his whole political position. While he remains in some sense a socialist, he has been led, in his words, “inevitably to a questioning of Marxist doctrine itself, especially the idea that central planning by a state apparatus could erase inequities.” Indeed, a new appreciation of the value of capitalist society, especially to those concerned with freedom of personal lifestyles appears to be surfacing among gays. It can scarcely have escaped the notice even of the most doctrinaire leftists that the Gay Pride parades that are now held annually in London and Stockholm, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Toronto, Sydney, and elsewhere, commemorate an event that took place in June 1969 in New York City -- the Stonewall Rebellion. This is a symbol of the central place that the pluralistic, capitalist society of the United States has today in the international gay liberation movement. As another socialist, Dennis Altman, states in his recent The Homosexualization of America, The Americanization of the Homosexual (St. Martin’s Press), the advances experienced by gay women and men over the past decade were “only possible under modern consumer capitalism, which for all its injustices has created the conditions for greater freedom and diversity than are present in any other society yet known.” As the saying goes, “Only in America...”

   As for the gay flotilla of 1980, it may yet become a symbol to set alongside Stonewall. The only ones who came out looking good were the American gays and their own self-help organizations, who sacrificed and worked to welcome the refugees. They gave the back of their hands to the antigay laws of the U.S. government, which exclude homosexual foreigners from this country, and they rescued thousands of the victims of Cuban socialism. The massive relief effort they conducted epitomizes the spirit of voluntarism and liberty.