See You in Boise

I decided not to go to the MLA next year. Even though it’s in Toronto, and I love Toronto. But I’ve been very discouraged by the last two sessions of my association at the MLA. I left in low spirits, and what’s the point of a conference if not to fill you with working energy?

And even though everything else went beautifully (poke bowls! hanging out with a close friend! discovering scholarly admirers! more poke bowls! hanging out with a professor from grad school! the pechacucha that was so good I’m still teaching on its material! moon cheese!), that disappointing session rankled.

So instead of the MLA in January, I’m going to Boise, Idaho in August. I’ve never been, and the photos look amazing. There will be a Basque Studies seminar. Of course, Basques are cranky, and there’s no guarantee they will accept me with my egregious non-Basqueness.

Contempt for Manufacturing

Somebody said this on Rod Dreher’s blog:

Shipping all your critical drug manufacturing to another very unreliable country is so dumb that only the elites could have thought of it. And all you snowflakes thinking that we can just magically build factories here immediately — well you are oh so wrong. First of all — manufacturing drugs on a large scale takes immense engineering, and will not be done on a whim. Secondly, when we exported all our manufacturing away, all the jobs went away as well. There is a human know-how that is critical to this kind of enterprise, and that went away when the factories went to China. And it takes years — maybe decades — to get that back.

Oh yeah. All of the rich clueless types share Bloomberg’s contempt for manual labor. Everybody in farming or manufacturing is a dumb rube who’s only doing this kind of work because of being too stupid to learn something more complex.

I’m from a country that destroyed its farming and its consumer-good manufacturing. You don’t get that back. It’s been decades since the USSR collapsed, yet nobody can figure out how to manufacture anything or make anything grow. Labor is a way of life, it’s a way of being. And the dumb fucks who think they can shuffle around workers like widgets are completely clueless.

What Is a Right?

I’m new to conservative thought, so I keep discovering stuff that everybody has probably known for a lifetime.

For instance, I found out today that the issue of the how elastic the concept of “a human right” has become wasn’t first brought up by Caldwell (the author of The Age of Entitlement). Scruton – and I’m guessing others – have been talking about this for years.

How far should we stretch our understanding of what’s a right? Who will guarantee and enforce this right and by what means? Do you have the right not to be called “a horsefaced piece of utter ridiculousness”? Do you have the right to respect? The right to be addressed the way you choose to? The right not to be displeased? The right to live anywhere you want? The right not to be exposed to anything that upsets you?

Who gets to compile these lists of rights? Who gets to create new rights? Scruton gives some really shocking statistics on how clogged up the British judiciary is with cases that arise from this dramatically expanding list of rights.

It’s a really important question. And I’m guessing that Scruton’s writing – which preceded Caldwell’s – signals a big flaw in Caldwell’s argument. If Caldwell were correct about the very American origins of this phenomenon, it wouldn’t be as – or even more – present in Canada and the UK. Caldwell’s book is still great but his fault is his American exceptionalism that blinds him to the rest of the world.

Reading Scruton

I’m listening and Roger Scruton’s How to Be a Conservative on my Audible. He’s brilliant, of course, that goes without saying. But once he gets to talking about the economy, his argument fails.

The way capitalism works right now, says Scruton, is that it allows some people to enrich themselves by robbing us all, our children and grandchildren of their future. This leads to an ecological catastrophe. (Shoshana Zuboff, by the way, makes a similar point about surveillance capitalism robbing us of our future by depriving us of the capacity to make decisions). This is obviously a bad thing. But what can be done?

That’s where it all goes downhill. Property owners should be responsible to those affected by the way they get and administer their property. OK, but who will enforce this responsibility? Scruton has no idea because nobody does. Small communities, traditions, and the basic goodness of the human being might help, he says. But what does that even mean? How will traditions and communities prevent Facebook from stealing our data and manipulating us like little stupid widgets? There’s no answer.

This problem exists on the other side, too. Liberalism relies on the state to do something about predatory capitalism. Globalization, though, robbed the state of that capacity. What can any state do to Google? Google, on the other hand, can do a lot to the state.

I’m not seeing anything remotely resembling an answer on either side. What can limit the reach of predatory capitalism in the age of globalization?

A completely new way of thinking is needed, one that will depart from the outdated platitudes about the hand of the market or “the wealth tax.” People talk a lot about freedom, yet liberating themselves from the terminology and the ways of thinking that haven’t made any sense in 60 years proves impossible.