Morons of the World Unite!

In 1848, before he really had really learned to think, Karl Marx emitted the famous call, “Workers of the World Unite!” That was in the “Communist Manifesto,” communism lite for those who move their lips when they read. The workers of the world never united. They continued enthusiastically to eviscerate one another in war as before. The few times the workers actually came together, mostly but not exclusively on a national basis, they brought tyrants to power. The Communist tyrants proceeded to impoverish them like never before. They also killed many of them, both on purpose and through gross negligence. The remaining Communist countries: China (not communist at all, an amazingly successful Mafia state), North Korea, a deadly operetta permanently set in the fifties, Cuba, barely kept afloat by generous remittances from Cuban emigrants. Incidentally, the open-handed cousins from America mostly reached Florida with the shirts on their backs. They became rich as waiters and parking attendants in Miami while their doctor relatives back in Cuba seldom had enough to eat. You can’t have everything, a socialist paradise and fried chicken on demand.

Since 1848, in the midst of one socialist/communist debacle after another, and unrelated to them, something appalling has happened: Mr Marx’s “workers” evaporated. I mean that it’s completely clear that Marx referred to industrial workers specifically, what we would call today “blue collar” workers. He explicitly did not mean the poor in a general way. On the contrary, he wrote scathing words about the lack of social discipline of the lumpenproletariat, the “poor in rags.” As for the peasantry, still quite numerous in Marx’s day, his followers had to perform intellectual acrobatics to present them as other than natural enemies of the Revolution. Stalin himself spoke eloquently of the “non-antagonistic contradictions” between the working class and the peasantry. That was after he had starved to death millions of the latter to feed the former. He said he had good reasons to do so. (Allegedly “scientific” socialism brought to the world deadly pedantry, a trait seldom before encountered but all around us again as I write. See below.) Anyway, what I wanted to say before I got waylaid is that in the century and half after Marx, the “workers” mostly vanished from advanced countries. In small part, it was because primitive manufacturing moved to poor countries such as China. To an overwhelming extent, it was because of technological progress.: One semi-literate guy half conked out on grass sitting at a machine makes more nails in one day than ten master iron workers made in one month when Marx was writing the Communist Manifesto. (I am sure of this because I watch “How Things Are Made” on TV).

Now, as I have said, I am spending a lot of time at the beach these days, near downtown Santa Cruz. I have almost become one of the Moms there. Speaking of which, a Mom with two little kids addresses me the other day. I am pretty sure she is not hitting on my although there is a dearth of functional males around. I think she is just bored or worried. She is old enough – in her mid thirties- to be used to defer to male authority on how things work. She comments on the fact that the beach where her children and my own granddaughter wade in the water is posted for high E-coli content.* This happens every summer on that beach. (See my moving essay on the topic.) To make a long story short, there are fish in the water and these attract seabirds that do what they must do after they eat. And then, there are the hundred or so resident sea lions. I re-assure the Mom that probably none of these E-coli are of human origin. After two years of drought, there is no running surface water anywhere near the beach. There is no conceivable way for human feces to reach that particular beach, with two exceptions. First, it’s possible to imagine that some homeless, caught short would deposit somewhere on that beach. (Large number of homeless in Santa Cruz, many not quite all there.) In fifteen years frequenting the beaches of Santa Cruz, I have never seen any evidence of such, not once. Toddler with imperfect diapers are another story. But whatever E-coli they leave behind cannot be nearly as bad as, say, your average grocery store shopping cart: I have seen a study (I can’t find it) that said that 75% showed traces of human feces. (I would guess, from adorable toddlers). I point out to the Mom that seagull E-coli would feel uncomfortable in the gut of a child who eats fish once a week at most. She seems unconvinced. Besides, the beach stinks a little at the moment. Offshore winds have brought in a pile of kelp that is allowed to rot slowly nearby. (Myself, I like the smell of marine decomposition, enthusiastic abstract “environmentalists” often less so because they tend to be sissies.)

In spite of of her mistrust of my explanations, the woman wants to talk. It happens all the time, either because of my still-advantageous physique or because I have a French accent. (Do I sound snarky? Sure thing.) Soon, the conversation drifts, as often happens in conversations between strangers reveling in their idleness; (as happens all the time between women at the beach, I must testify). Somehow, we end up talking about cheese made from milk that has not been pasteurized. I let her know that such cheese is freely available in France though clearly labeled. I also tell her – twice – that several people die in France each year from consuming such cheese. The woman replies by deploring that non-pasteurized dairy products are generally not allowed in the US. She tells me sadly that it’s difficult to eat only “organic” in this country. I begin telling her that the two things are unrelated. Artisan cheese makers of unpasteurized cheese are free to feed their animals irradiated, pesticide laced, genetically modified feed all they want. The products they offer for consumption must simply have been made from raw milk, milk that has not been brought briefly to a high temperature to kill bacteria.

Get it: An adult woman who is nervous about highly diluted bird bacteria in the ocean is craving the guaranteed concentrated bacteria content of a cheese that is medically proven to kill at least some people.

At last I am curious and I want to find out what deep well of ignorance this woman was pulled out of. The answer feels like a big slap in the face: She works in the radiology department at Stanford University Medical Center, a teaching hospital!

Now, my general expectations are low because I was a teacher for thirty years. It’s an occupation that induces a sort of reflexive humility: Listen to your students and measure the immensity of your failure. But what I am facing here is not simple ignorance. It’s a deeply consistent commitment to inconsistency; it’s the aggressive pursuit of disinformation. It’s militant moronism. As I often say – sagely – what makes a moron is not simple ignorance, which can be innocent, or the result of mere laziness – it’s a fierce attachment to one’s ignorance. To be a moron requires demonstrations of spirited ignorance, you might say. And with numbers comes courage, including the courage to believe stupid things openly. But the numbers of the militantly ill-informed are growing thanks to the Internet because, as everybody knows, “If it weren’t true, they wouldn’t put it on the Internet.” (OK here, I am plagiarizing an old TV ad.) And those who lay in fear of everything except cheese and have no basic understanding of how the world works, those who rely blindly on experts, are bound to live like little children who fear monsters under their beds. They want to believe that there is someone looking out for them, if not God then, the Government. So, after its ignominious defeat under the name of Communism, collectivism has not said its last word. It has returned under the guise of ignorant naturalism, the specifically, urban, unlettered belief that nature is benevolent and that it has a Grand Design just for us. The followers want government to force us to live according to the imagined design. Why not try injections of cobra venom, I asked the cheese-loving woman on the beach, it’s completely organic? The black humor went right above her head. Now, I have a vague fear she might propose it to others. Fortunately, cobra venom is hard to come by.

Militant morons are incomparably better interconnected than the working class was in Karl’s time. They are very good at enforcing conformity to their dogma. More importantly, – stay with me here – they stand in as clear relation to the means of communications as the working class stood to the means of production when Marx was freezing his buns in the British Library. Nothing is lost yet. There can be another try. So, one more time, “Morons of the World Unite!”

*I do not deny that bird E-coli can make people sick. I just don’t know. What I know for sure is that any such case of illness would be on the front page of the local, paper, a liberal rag that adores all bad news. There is also the possibility that bird E-coli cause mysterious illnesses that go underground for a long time so that any causal link between them and symptoms is lost to the view. Do you believe this? If you do I have something to sell you.

Around the Web

  1. Olivier Roy on Laicite as Ideology, the Myth of ‘National Identity’ and Racism in the French Republic
  2. Prague ’68 and the End of Time
  3. How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies
  4. The Swamping that Wasn’t: The Diaspora Dynamics of the Puerto Rican Open Borders Experiment
  5. A Voice Still Heard: Irving Howe
  6. Borders and Bobbing Heads: Postcoloniality and Algeria’s Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence (so close, and yet so far…)
  7. The New Yorker on the recent scientific fraud, with its epicenter at my alma mater. (Delacroix remains startlingly relevant because of it.)

From the Comments: What do progressives think of Hillary Clinton?

This comes from Professor Terry:

I suspect I’m the only one around here that spends significant time on progressive blogs etc so let me tell you what it’s like over there….Progressives seem depressed but resigned. HRC will be the nominee. There are no other viable candidates. Sanders will be entertaining, O’Malley not so much….there’s no one on the sidelines. Prof. P’s [‘P’ is for ‘Pinocchio’ – bc] lust driven fantasy about Sen. Warren aside, no last minute candidacy from her.

Progressives take some solace in not having someone from the Republikan Klown Kar selecting Supreme Court nominees but that’s about it. Progressives take it for granted that the Democratic nominee will win the general election [they can read the electoral map and count]. They aspire to take back the senate but have no illusions about the House of Representatives so no significant new legislation will happen.

In my opinion scenario 3 is inevitable, I will dearly miss the Obama administration and it will happen sooner than I’ll like…

Thanks Dr A. This is excellent insight, and I am curious about the names of these progressive blogs. Who knows: some of them might even end up on NOL‘s vaunted blogroll. Professor Terry, by the way, teaches and researches up at a fancy business school in Toronto.

I still don’t have a solid definition of what ‘progressive’ means, though. It’s Left-wing. It’s anti-racist (or purportedly, anyway, as it can be argued that identity politics is itself racist, but I digress). Aside from those qualities, I don’t see much about it that is progressive. They are protectionists. They love big government except when they don’t. They are Democrats, or at least anti-GOP, but doesn’t necessarily approve of the Democratic leadership (especially when it works with Republicans). This leads me to suspect that progressivism is a political movement rather than ideological or intellectual one. This deduction, in turn, suggests to me that progressives are the US’s reactionaries (conservatives). I would be happy to change my tune about progressives once I get a solid definition of what they actually believe in, but again I don’t have one and reactionaries are usually defined by what they oppose (in this case Republicans) rather than what they stand for.

Anyway, NOL‘s blogroll – one of the best, if not the best blogroll out there in my humble opinion – has a bunch of Leftist group blogs on it, including: Angry Bear, Crooked Timber, Disorder of Things, Duck of Minerva, JHIBlog, Lawyers, Guns & Money, the RBC, Monkey Cage, and Mischiefs of Faction. None have coughed up a definition of ‘progressive’ yet, but Professor Terry has an open invitation to do just that here at NOL.

Every society needs its reactionaries, of course. It would just be nice of progressives to actually, honestly identify themselves as the reactionary party here (and as the Tories do in the UK), rather than deceive themselves by referring to their reactions as “progressive.” The Progressives of the 19th century (different bag of reactionaries than today’s progressives) did the exact same thing when they started calling themselves “liberals” in order to make their policies more palpable to the general voting public, and look how that turned out.

Liberty is what creates progress, not legislation. Just ask all of those progressives currently resigned to voting for HRC because she’s “better than the alternative.”

We Must Have Order!

I sometimes think that the small daily vexations of government do more to wake up regular people than the really big abuses of government. Below is a relevant anecdote.

Seven or eight years ago, the City of Santa Cruz forbade me from cutting the tree figuring in the picture below. It’s a redwood tree. It’s in my tiny front yard. Its invasion of a sewer line cost me $10,000 before I asked humbly for permission to remove the tree. Now, the tree roots are destroying the foundations of my house as well as the sidewalk in front of it. The city says that I am responsible for fixing the sidewalk, indefinitely, apparently because redwood tress grow at least for several hundred years.

redwood in santa cruz

Now, to be fair, the City arborist told me a few months ago privately that if I asked for permission to cut the tree again now, it would probably be approved. It does not do me much good now. She said no when I could afford to cut it now, I can’t afford it. Besides, the city insists that I have to pay for a permit to remove the tree I did not want in the first place. This is more offensive than the much higher cost of taking the tree down which involves real work, at least. (It’s true that I bought the property with the tree on it. I had no idea then that I could even be denied the permission to cut a forest tree.) I am quite insensitive to the need of my city to have redwood trees, specifically, within its boundaries.

First, everyone knows that redwoods are destructive. Moreover, they sterilize the area where they grow. Second, it’s not as if our citizens were deprived of trees, as people might be, say, in Arizona. In fact, there is a large forest a four minute drive from my house, seven minutes by bicycle, tops. It’s a 90% redwood forest. It’s not clear to me that I must recognize a duty to subsidize the redwood viewing of residents and visitors who are too lazy to drive or bike there.

Note my delicateness of mind: I admit that many of my fellow Santa Cruzans would be morally torn between the desire to commune with redwood trees, on the one hand and their fervent wish to not contribute to global warming by driving four minutes, on the other hand. But I think they can just bike there, or walk. I also admit that there are people in Santa Cruz who don’t own a car and who are physically unable to bike or walk to the forest. I would be in favor of a city-sponsored collection to bus them to the redwood forest four times each year. I would gladly contribute, voluntarily, that is.

Two deeply different views of the world are at odds here. Now, let me assure you that although I am a conservative, I like trees. I like cherry trees and apple trees mostly, for obvious reasons, but redwoods are OK because they give high grade lumber. And, yes, they look wonderful. That is, they look wonderful where they belong, in a forest, with their brothers and sisters and all the cousins around. My own redwood tree (the tree that my family and the City apparently jointly own) is a object of shame. It’s so bad, that I never use it to give directions to my house although it stands right out. It’s an object of shame because PG&E, the publicly regulated monopoly, has the right to shape it in any way it chooses. I am sure there are technicalities that escape me here but the shape it prefers makes my redwood tree look like an old, overused toilet brush. Sorry for the vision, I call them as I see them!

Well, I planted a yellow rose bush nearby and the bush found the spot attractive. It grew and grew under my firm benign neglect. Eventually, it had to discover that the nearby redwood tree makes a good ladder to the sun. The result is in the photo above. Well, I think you are not going to believe this but a member of the leftist and left-liberal city council complained about the rose bush on the tree. She says it looks unkempt. Here you have it – not left-wing thought, there is no thinking involved here – but the leftist temperament in a nutshell: Things have to be neat; personal preferences do not matter; bureaucracies give you predictability even if at stupendous cost, the market is inherently messy. We must have order even if it impoverishes our lives.

Robert Tracinski on the Left’s Anger Issues

Ooo-weee. I apologize for not being around very much this week. I’ve been bumming around and just got back into civilization in order to enjoy the second weekend of March Madness.

I have viewed Leftists as cowards for a long time now. Now, whether or not being a coward is a good thing is another question, but I nevertheless view them as cowards. Angry cowards are the worst kind of cowards, of course. Here’s Tracinski trying to figure out why Leftists are so angry:

There’s the fact that those of us on the right are accustomed to encountering a lot of ideological opposition. For most of our lives, the left has controlled the high ground of the culture, such as it is: the mainstream media, Hollywood, the universities, the arts. So we’re not used to crawling into a “safe space” and hiding from ideas we disagree with, which makes it easier for us to regard ideological opposition with a degree of equanimity.

The rest of the essay is pretty good, too. What’s that old school term for a coward? The dog who is all bark and no bite? I remember these type of people well, from when I marched in San Francisco against the Iraq War. If tomorrow’s best and brightest Leftists are refusing to even consider the opposition’s arguments, what does that say for the future of the West?

But really, though: How on earth did the government come to be in charge of the roads?

How the Left Failed France’s Muslims: A Libertarian Response

Walden Bello, a sociologist in the Philippines, has a piece up over at the far-Left Nation titled “How the Left Failed France’s Muslims.” As with everything Leftist, it was packed with mostly nonsense coupled with a couple of really good nuggets of insight. The nonsense can be explained by the Leftist urge to attribute grand theories that don’t involve an understanding of supply-and-demand to problems dealing with oppression. Below is a good example of another weakness of the present-day Left:

Failure of the French Model of Assimilation

In the “French model,” according to analyst Francois Dubet, “the process of migration was supposed to follow three distinct phases leading to the making of ‘excellent French people.’ First, a phase of economic integration into sectors of activities reserved for migrants and characterized by brutal exploitation. Second, a phase of political participation through trade unions and political parties. Third, a phase of cultural assimilation and fusion into the national French entity, with the culture of origin being, over time, maintained solely in the private sphere.”

What the technocrats didn’t face up to was that by the 1990s the mechanism sustaining the model had broken down. In the grip of neoliberal policies, the capitalist economic system had lost the ability to generate the semi-skilled and unskilled jobs for youth that had served as the means of integration into the working class for earlier generations of migrants. Youth unemployment in many of the banlieues reached 40 percent, nearly twice the national average. And with the absence of stable employment, migrant youth lacked the base from which they could be incorporated into trade unions, political parties and cultural institutions.

Impeded by ideological blindness to inequality, political mishandling of the Muslim dress issue and technocratic failure to realize that neoliberalism had disrupted the economic ladder to integration, authorities increasingly used repressive measures to deal with the “migrant problem.” They policed the banlieues even more tightly, with an emphasis on controlling young males—and, most notably, they escalated deportations.

Notice how Bello doesn’t challenge the fact that the French government has a model for integrating human beings into a system it assumes is already in place? That’s the problem in Europe (and Japan/South Korea), but instead of acknowledging this – or even recognizing it as an issue – Leftists throw in terms like “capitalist economic system” and “neoliberalism” to explain away the failures of the French state’s central planning efforts. Naturally the real threat according to Bello is a Right-wing populism rather than the widespread, unchallenged belief (including by Bello) that government can assimilate one group of people with another in stages.

Just keep government off the backs of people, and they’ll associate in peace (peace is not the absence of conflict, of course, but only the ability to handle conflict through peaceful means, such as through elections or boycotts or marches or consumption). Does this make sense? Am I being naive here?

Ceding power to a central government in order to integrate immigrants into a society in a manner that is deemed acceptable to the planners is going to cause conflict rather than temper it. Planners are beholden to special interests (this is not a bug of democracy but a feature; ask me!), and they cannot possibly know how their plans are affecting the individuals being planned for. Immigrants, left largely to their own devices (which include things like communities, religion, and creativity), are beholden to their own interests (again, which include things like communities, religion, and creativity). Which way sounds less likely to cause resentment all around? Again, am I being naive here? Am I knocking down a straw man? Is this really how European governments approach immigration and assimilation? Is this really how the US approaches immigration and assimilation? These are genuine questions.

An even bigger question remains, of course: how can Europe better assimilate immigrants? Open borders, discussed here at NOL in some detail (perhaps better than most places on the web), is one option, but in order for open borders to work you need political cooperation, and political cooperation means more than just cooperation on matters that interest libertarian economists. Thus, I argue for federation instead of plain ol’ open borders. Another option would be to have governments in Europe cease planning the lives of immigrants for them. This option is a very viable short-term policy that probably does not get the attention it deserves because Leftists are currently unable to see the forest for the trees. Exposing neoliberalism and capitalism is, arguably, more important than petty day-to-day politics after all.

Irrationality, Self-indulgence, Childishness, Bizarre Beliefs, and Innovation: From the Belly of the Beast

I have lived for many years the People’s Socialist Green Republic of Santa Cruz in California, right in the Belly of the Beast. That’s not its real name actually, just the name it deserves. It’s a university town of about 50,000. A large campus of the University of California sits on the hills overlooking the town. The campus has several distinguished university departments, including Marine Biology and Astronomy. However, many more of it undergraduates believe in Astrology than know anything at all about Astronomy.

It’s a Bobo-land where LUGs prosper and the boys are quiet, timid, retiring, sweet, and too frightened to do the job that Mother Nature commanded for them. (LUG= Lesbian Until Graduation. I swear I have known several, young apparent lesbians who showed up a couple of years after school with a husband, a male husband, I mean. There is a logic to it: Lesbianism is the highest degree of feminism. It brings you a great deal of political prestige on campus. But then, soon, nature and convention re-assert themselves and everything returns pretty much to what the young woman’s parents always wished for, a dual income family, children, etc. Note that I have said nothing about or against lesbians by natural inclination.) The University of California at Santa Cruz has a healthy “Department of Feminist Studies,” not “Women’s Studies,” not “Feminine Studies, ” “Feminist,” with an “ist” indicating perhaps a certain lack of scholarly detachment!

Savvy faculty members of 70s vintage (like me) with more or less phony doctorates they invented have used this mass of ignorant, semi-literate, easily revolted, sometimes revolting, overwhelmingly middle-class young people to take over the running of the city. (Note for overseas readers: In California, you can pretty much register to vote anywhere where you have lived for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t even find it on the Internet. No identification is required or even permitted to actually vote. )

Picture it: a mass of voters who have no permanent stake in the city, whose parents in many cases pay their very indirect property taxes (via rent) determine who shall rule the city. When these voters graduate or go on Spring Break, permanent residents like me are left to live with their preferences. I hasten to say that their preferences are not always objectionable even when they are debatable. One example of the latter is covering the city hall parking lot with solar panels, an operation unlikely to be ever audited. I mean that I am not dead-set against such an experiment. I would just like to know how much it cost and how much power it actually produces. If it cost $500 per permanent resident of the city and it generates just enough power to light the city hall for three months, I am against it, dead-set against it. If it cost $50 per resident, anything goes, I think. Well, I will probably never know.

I will never really get old in Santa Cruz because I live here in a time warp. It’s still the sixties here and maybe the seventies. The radical professors go back to my time in graduate school. Some are young enough to have been “trained” by my graduate school colleagues when the latter became professors. They rule, often with the help of wealthy downtown businessmen who used to be hippies or Trostkysts, or both. The climate is a retro-mixture of the simplistic vulgar Marxism of those who have not read a single page of Marx, and of old New Age unexamined beliefs. There was a small demonstration downtown, just yesterday with signs reading: “Capitalism must die so we may live,” and also, “Four days work for five days pay.” (Why as many as four days, I wonder, why not three, or two?) What percentage of the young demonstrators could give definition of capitalism that’s not a mere slogan, I ask myself? (The answer is in Jacques Delacroix’s “Capitalism.” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Blackwell Publishing. Vol. 2, Malden, Mass. 2006.) I would bet the answer is close to 0%, or even less!

In Santa Cruz, there is a brisk local trade in chunks of quartz, loved for their esoteric properties. Their properties are so esoteric, no one is able to explain to me what they are. Earth Day is celebrate here in a lively way. If anyone ventured to declare that one of the two original Earth Day founders, Ira Einhorn, beat his girlfriend to death and left her to dry in a trunk in a closet, he would be accused of slander so absurd as to prove madness, my madness. Incidentally, Einhorn, who had fled to France for fifteen-plus years, was defended to the end against extradition by the French Green Party. Does it show that greenies have a criminal bent? No, it indicates that they lack ordinary criticality. By the way, I knew the other founder, Dennis Hayes, when we were both undergraduates. I am sure he did not murder his girlfriend. That’s half of the founding team. We can’t all be perfect.

Here, in Santa Cruz, I am surrounded by irrationalisms of several categories. They range from otherwise dead varieties of communism, varieties dead everywhere else on earth, including North Korea, to environmentalist cults, through a large number of diet fads the least of which is veganism. Often, I think that my wife, my daughter, my toddler granddaughter, myself, and a handful of friends are the only rational and fact-bound people around.

Why do you live there, JD if you are so critical, if it’s so painful, they ask? Several answers. First, Santa Cruz maybe the only place on earth with beautiful, uncrowded beaches within a forty-five minute drive of Silicon Valley, a strong engine of economic development, of jobs, of technical innovation (perhaps, the strongest engine anywhere in the world). Second, it’s a very beautiful location (Big Sur is next door). Third, there are fish in the ocean only one mile from my house.

Fourth, the stranglehold of the university on the town is not all bad for me personally. It creates a kind of modern serfdom all to my advantage as a mature consumer. There is an inexhaustible local supply of young people who need a job but who are not about to go pick strawberries two miles away, as everyone knows. As a result, hardly anybody here earns more than ten dollars an hour. This basic economic fact makes for well-staffed bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants. Santa Cruz is better endowed with those attractions than any town of its size that would rely on seasonal tourism of non-elite variety. (My town’s main tourist attraction is the Boardwalk, a permanent carnival -a “Luna Park”- attracting blue-collar families and recent immigrants from poor countries who live in and near Silicon Valley.) There is presence of a permanent middle class of professors determined to live la vida loca even and especially if they are ardent Marxist. This fact helps  Santa Cruz  support restaurants that would probably not be found here without them. The movie theaters are better than average for the same reason. We actually also have three brick-and-mortar bookstores, one of which, Bookshop Santa Cruz, is downright lavish. I am often annoyed in this town; I am seldom in excruciating mental pain.

Fifth, with a median age that must hover next to 25 (I did not bother to check,) there is a fantastic music scene around me. I am of an age where I am wont to doddle to sleep in front of the TV fairly early but I like to know that there is good music to be had should it strike my fancy to remain awake. In fact, the rich night musical scene often bleeds into the day time, within my reach.

In general, if you have an open mind however, it’s not always easy to dismiss the other airheads, I find.

On the rare occasions when I go to one of the several “natural” stores in town, I wonder at the sight of paper-thin, shabbily dressed young women clutching three dollars to pay for what looks like an equal number of organic, sustainably and locally grown salad leaves. I snicker secretly of course. Yet, yet, there is good scientific evidence that rats fed a starvation diet live longer than their brethren fed a normal diet. The young women may just be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

It’s unavoidable that I have friends who partake more or less fully of the local culture, of course. For one thing, I spend time in coffee shops. They don’t have coffee shops for old conservative curmudgeons, it turns out. If there were, I would probably not patronize them. There is a difference between being one and liking others of the same kind. Besides, old men in public places often try shamelessly to recruit you into their mutual misery clubs: Let me tell you about my arthritis, I will listen about your shingles. Second, I am a writer of sorts. That fact entails a need for services not always provided by narrow rationalists like me. (By God, even my car mechanic is a spiritualist!) So, for example, the person who will adeptly lay out my stories for printing is a friend who will also try to persuade me of the merits of various herbal medicines. (I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography is live in the Kindle Store)

Leave me alone, I protest, I go by science alone. I don’t think I have any choice on this. It’s science or it’s superstition from the days when life expectancy was about fifty. Of course, tea made from a flower in Asia the name of which I cannot pronounce is “natural,” but so is cobra venom; why don’t you try an injection of it, I ask my friend venomously? It’s sovereign against almost all ills and pains.

And then, I read an article in a trusted newspaper (the Wall Street Journal 5/3/5/14). The author, Nina Teichloz, argues rather persuasively that the health-based rejection of animal fats, going back to the fifties, is founded on pseudo-science, on almost-science, on exaggerated amplification of sparse research result, and on monstrous career ambitions. It may well turn out that bacon fat is good for you, and canola oil bad, she argues. It’s turning out, as I speak, that foods that tend to replace the banned animal fats in enlightened Americans’ diets, all based on carbohydrates, have recognizable, well- demonstrated noxious effects on health.

Wait a minute, I think, I am one of those enlightened Americans though reared in France! All my adult life, I have been what doctors call a compliant patient. They don’t have to tell me the dos and don’ts twice. Also most of my adult life, I have deprived myself of pâté, rillettes, terrine of this and terrine of that, cheese, marbled steak, etc. For a long time, I was even on a fairly stern macrobiotic diet involving a great deal of grain, several kinds of grain, three times a day. I have Type II diabetes although I am only moderately overweight. My four unenlightened French siblings – who share 50% of my genes – have no trace of diabetes. One is enormous. All ate everything they wanted on the extravagantly fat French menu all their lives. (But three out of four don’t eat much at all.) Did I get severely punished for my well-informed science-based rationalism, I wonder? (But to be fair, I have to remember that beer too is rich in carbohydrates, not just whole bulgur wheat.)*

I had smelled a rat for a long time anyway because French men, who do all the wrong things but one, persisted in not dying.

Anger wells up in me when I see a young father bicycling blithely in traffic with a his toddler in handlebar seat as if the kid were a bumper against oncoming cars. He is obviously trying to save the planet from “climate change” (formerly “global warming”). Yet, the child will most likely survive. Seeing the world from Dad’ bike at an early age may cause him to become a natural cyclist when he grows up. This may be enough to compensate for his relentless, ceaseless small screen habits, for his sedentariness, health-wise and with respect to the development of his imagination.

In the end, it may well be that my annoying town is a boon to the wider society, in the manner of a natural laboratory. If it’ turns out, for example, that a diet based largely on raw carrots causes cancer, the local vegans will be the last ones to know. Yet, they will constitute a valuable sample on which to run a serious epidemiological study, a real one. If it’s a fact that ten joints of cannabis a day is an effective remedy against aging, there is an excellent chance the discovery will be made in Santa Cruz. Also, this town fairly drips with bad artists. Many are mere artistry pimps, living at public expense for little in return. Some try but don’t succeed. But art may be like the Olympics: You need a broad base of practitioners of varying merits for a chance of a handful of medals.

Silliness and sometimes downright madness may just be the price we pay for a reasonably inventive society. In the other society I know best, France, there is far less mediocrity on all kinds on display than I see in the US and in Santa Cruz. In France, in the past thirty years, there is also little new to hear or to see, I believe. The main recent French artistic achievement is an original and pleasant way to light up he Eiffel Tower. (I am not contemptuous, I like it.) The French industrial achievements likewise have been modest and largely the result of precise engineering rather than of innovation.

In America, they say, “Far out; by all means try it!” even if it has only one wing to one side, and a motor made of twisted rubber bands. Our nonjudgmentalism is often exasperating. In France, they will tell you, “It will never fly” even if the article in question is a complete WWII jet. Accordingly, the first men to fly in a controlled flight were Americans and former bicycles repairmen, failed businessmen, as well as high school dropouts. Unlikely it would have ever happened in France. There, the Wright brothers would have been admonished to stay in school until age 23 or 24, earn a couple of proper engineering degrees first and then, ridiculed until they returned to serious business of building bikes.

Every time I grate my teeth at the irrationality, the childishness, the self-indulgence around me in Santa Cruz, California, I make myself repeat the obvious to myself: America invented live radio broadcasting, the Internet, the Windsurfer, country music as well as jazz, and the giant double roll of toilet paper in public accommodations. Irritation is a small price to pay, perhaps.

Still rock-solid among my beliefs: 1 Children should be vaccinated; 2 Almost every service the government provides could be better supplied by the market, private contracts, and insurance schemes. (It’s “Almost” because I have not seen my way yet to defense being outsourced to mercenary outfits. Libertarians hardly ever discuss this central issue.)

* full disclosure: I have been on the Paleolithic Diet – with some systematic cheating – for over a year. My diabetes number have never been so good in fifteen years. My doctor is speechless because he does not want inadvertently to promote another diet fad. I am not making any other claim except that I am rarely hungry. The cheating is this: I drink coffee and wine or beer every day. None is really part of that diet. It’s just good for my soul.