Yesterday I had a very curious experience. The gentleman who came here to brag of being an NPR listener (Okay, I know that’s not all he came to do. He also came to exhibit his caring. But I repeat myself and I’ll explain how those are the same later) sent me a dollar and a diatribe about how we’d taught him he was an idiotic, bigoted NPR listener or words to that effect. I only read the first line, and refunded his dollar with a note that I was also now teaching him he was childish because that’s a trick only an infant would play. (And stupid, thinking I’d feel obliged to read his pettish rant for a dollar.)
I’m sure somewhere in there he said he’d been a fan and now would never again read my books – because, they all do. Let me tell you, children, if I’d lost as many readers as the ones who tell me they’ll never read me again, I’d need to have been a mega bestseller before.
I found this rather bizarre, since the NPR quip was thrown out at random, and wasn’t even particularly offensive. Also, as was shown immediately after, a lot of us listen to or used to listen to (mostly used to listen to) NPR. Heck, I even used to have PBS on all day (that or the Disney Channel when we had cable.) which led my in laws to think I was infantile. (I came from a large extended family that was in and out of the house all the time, and yelling/talking/shouting at each other all day. The silence in the house when we had no kids and Dan went to work gave me the creeps. So I turned the TV on in the Living room, medium-low while I did stuff over the house or worked in the office upstairs. Those two channels were the only ones where I wouldn’t suddenly get growling or shooting [or not often] that startled me out of my skin. Of course, my inlaws came over, saw Disney and ignored my explanations that I wasn’t even in the room. You should see the gifts they got me. And also it took me forever to convince them that I did NOT in fact, want to or have the slightest inclination to write children’s books.)
Philosophically I disapprove of the idea that the state needs to – or should – underwrite a radio station and a tv station. Philosophically I TRULY disapprove of the idea that there is an “approved” culture that should be shoved down the throats of the hoy ploy.
But frankly other than being dry as dust and twice as uppity, NPR and PBS are no worse than most of the mainstream media. The opinions ventilated are exactly the same, only now with a veneer of intellectual justification that always fails to go into debate or into the law of unintended consequences, or…
And that was where the commenter was odd. He came in, hanging his hat on that previous comment about being an NPR listener, and proclaiming it, as a way – I think – to put the rest of us in our place. See, I PRESUME he thought that the comment was a stray one, and that the rest of us would skitter away from it. This not only assumes people on this blog intimidate easy, it also assumes that anything on this blog is simple or easy. To be blunt if one of us, who is a regular, proclaimed that anyone who thinks the sky is blue is dumb, and someone came in spouting obviously stupid (other) opinions and said “and I think the sky is blue” we’d be FAR more likely to close ranks about the one of ours who had gone one step too crazy than to back up. The most he’d be likely to get was “Well, some people who think the sky is blue are only crazy.” And then two of you would get into a to-the-death dispute over the meaning of “blue.”
So he’d either not read our comment section at all, or he was laboring under some misapprehension that prevented him from seeing where that would lead. Frankly, I was very proud of ourselves, for sticking to mostly the economic argument with only a few sideswipes at NPR – except for the side track about several different NPR stations and their slants. Normally, I’d have expected puns about NPR or worse.
Since he was an authorized commenter, and since I know he’s been by (and only marginally offensive at worst, since he never got banned) before, I have to assume he’d waded through our comments in the past.
So I have to assume he thought the NPR listener thing was a shield of invincibility. See, there are these stereotypes in our culture, and he was wrapping himself in two of them. Saying he was an NPR listener would prove he was a serious and intellectual, and saying he wanted the minimum wage to prevent Burger King from paying $3 an hour showed that he cared for the downtrodden and was therefore a good person. How could you attack that?
The problem is that he was out of the place where such stereotypes are accepted. First, we’re in ATH where we’re all Odd and stereotypes, like cows, are to be tipped. Second, most of us are really into – really into – economics and numbers, and most of you guys make me look ill-read when it comes to history (I’ve bought more books from your casual mentions than I could afford to.) And third… those stereotypes no longer hold with at least half (perhaps more, depending on how bad the fraud was) of the population.
The political sides of the argument in this country have fractured deeply over the last twelve years. Before that, those of us of an intellectual bend were as likely as not to listen to NPR or to listen/watch what in the UK (and Portugal) used to be called “Second program.” You know, lectures, discussions of historical events, arguments on the meaning of the word “blue”.
The other side… were they really less offensive? I honestly don’t know and can’t tell you, because see, the boundaries of the game were different. As I’ve said before NPR is not much more loonie left than the mainstream media, and might be less. I’ll confess that I haven’t listened in a long time, but I doubt they’d say fire doesn’t melt steel, and I’m almost absolutely sure they wouldn’t say global warming causes meteorite strikes. This, by itself, makes them considerably less insane-left than what passes for talk and news in other stations. And that’s without going into the biases built into sitcoms and dramas.
But I think they’ve got more explicit in their politics. All of this is a market-driven change, and it shouldn’t surprise those of us who like economics.
Look, before 9-11, most of us were still getting our news from standard channels. I think I started reading news on the net about two years later, when the hand-wringing of “what have we done to the oppressed brown people to make them murder us” put me in a permanent state of nausea. Judging from the size of sites when I started reading them and how big they got since, I’d say I’m not alone. Those of us of an independent er… path-finding nature took to finding channels that didn’t make us want to murder bunnies just to relieve our spleen.
Those of us who tried to hold on longer, because we liked classical music or whatever, became a tiny minority of the listeners of NPR – or watchers of CNN, which I also was back then. In response, the stations felt free to radicalize further to the left, thereby sending the rest of us running from the audience, with our hands over our mouths.
This, in turn, left them free to radicalize further.
The readers/listeners/viewers who remained were of two kinds – the kind that thought that Stalin “had the right idea” and who think NPR is too right wing and reasonable by half, but will put up with it till the Let’s Kill All the Kulaks station comes on line – and people who are, I think, like my commenter.
Most people regardless of IQ want two things: to think as little as possible (a masochistic penchant for the activity is what makes the rest of us Odds) and to be thought as intelligent as possible.
So there is a vast majority of normal or above average people who flock to programs (and books. The success in marketing grey goo comes from convincing people smart people read this) that they think make other people think they’re brilliant do so for that reason alone, and avoid thinking as much as possible. They don’t even notice when the programs, while sounding learned and profound, in fact, refuse to discuss anything.
For an example of actual discussion on the minimum wage, look at Dave Freer’s comments. He is somewhat handicapped, because I KNOW how the US is reported abroad and also because, frankly, we are a confusing mess when it comes to welfare (and everything else administrative.) The flaw (small) in his argument is that he doesn’t realize that while our minimum wage is around seven dollars and change, people making that already qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (we qualified for this once, and got 10k in addition to however much we’d made, which was I THINK around 30k) and also for a slew of programs including free school lunch, etc. In fact, I THINK the “support money” you get on welfare is probably fairly equivalent to Australia’s $17 dollars and hour minimum wage, and the support you get if you ARE making minimum wage is probably higher, particularly if you throw in city subsidies for power purchases, etc. (It leaves behind people who have no clue how to navigate the system, but they’re almost always left behind anyway.)
What I mean by Dave got to the actual discussion is that ultimately it ALWAYS comes to the same question: do we lower the wage, (or eliminate it) level the playing field and allow for a greater wealth of opportunity for all; or do we intervene, set a really high minimum wage and live with the fact unemployment will always be high, leaving employers with the ability to pay as little as they legally can and treat employees like dirt, thereby forcing the state to intervene more?
Depending on culture, size of country and homogeneity of the population – and the ability to live out of the grid, which is massive in places like Australia – the answer can VALIDLY be completely different. (The size and homogeneity come in because in a large heterogeneous country studies have proven fraud is proportionally much higher, which means the US risks a lot more money PROPORTIONALLY going up the spout – and, given the mess the regulations are, we also risk NOT helping many of the people we’re supposed to be helping. Heck, even something “simple” like minimum wage pushes minimum skills workers into competition with illegals (who are entitled to welfare, but whose employers don’t have to make all the legal deductions and paperwork, so they get the best of both worlds) and/or into a grey market where they have no legal recourse.)
From there we can get to a discussion of the unique US conditions that make the president’s suggestion of raising the minimum wage not only stupid, but rock-bottom-dumb. For instance, the fraud in our system is massive and we have one of the least efficient bureaucracies in the world (and that’s saying a lot) with no supervision at all and no penalty for wrong moves. Or the fact that the US has been, for the last just about 100 years, the main CONSUMER in the world, which means the engine that keeps the world economies chugging, and which allows smaller countries that pick security over prosperity to keep enough prosperity to keep giving security… So while the US driving itself to a crash will make everyone else not only poorer but markedly poorer and force other choices on other countries. (This is expressed abroad as “when the US sneezes the rest of the world catches pneumonia.) Or we can discuss the open borders that make an open welfare system and a generous (by comparison to south of the border) welfare system the equivalent of an unguarded pool in the neighborhood in a summer day, the kind that when the children drown in it, gets called “an attractive nuisance.” Because if you can come North, live off welfare and send home the $9 (they’re not paying benefits in addition, so it’s a bargain) you make which make your family the wealthiest in the village – WHY WOULDN’T YOU? Particularly if you’re starving?
I come from a country that flood Europe with illegal immigrants in the aftermath of WWII. I know the other side of this. People don’t think of legality when their kids need shoes and an education.
The difference, of course, was that the recipients of the Portuguese wave, like France, forced people to acculturate. Kids HAD to attend all French school from kindergarten on, for instance. Given something like that, and a demand that you speak the local tongue, this “invasion” though it strains our welfare systems (talk to Basset sometime about the reduction of services to his handicapped daughter because of the strain caused by illegal immigrants) and leaves the untrained in our population out to dry would not be all detrimental. More citizens are usually good. But if you add to those drawbacks the “unassimilated and taught to consider itself aggrieved” minority, then it becomes a disaster.
Then there is the fact that almost all regulations, including increasing the minimum wage (which also increases deductions) gives big companies with lawyers to negotiate exceptions and favored status the leg up over the start ups who might challenge them, but who never GET started up. (And given our current system of crony capitalism, that’s probably a feature, not a bug for the Aristos.)
All of these are valid discussions. Coming in and saying that OF COURSE unless a benevolent government forces the minimum wage up to a “decent” level people will pay $3 an hour isn’t. First because yeah, right now – RIGHT NOW – very young kids might be desperate enough to take that (must be very young kids, because even college students can get more benefits than that, with food stamps which most of them receive.) Which wouldn’t be all bad, since it would allow those kids to get work experience, and get better jobs, which, yes, are still available, but not to those with no experience. Second because if the regulations that prevent kids from being hired were loosened, it would open the door to more legal employment and squeeze out more illegal employment (kind of like lawful use of a park drives out drug dealing.) NO ONE wants to have employees who have no concept of time, or who don’t get the culture. They only hire them because they can’t afford to hire legal workers. Lift the restrictions that make this prohibitive, and the economy will take off. And then we can afford both to have more mobility of workers and more targeted help to those who REALLY need it.
But NPR-listeners who are still listening to the opinion pieces don’t KNOW that. They are listening to commentary that ASSUMES that all private employers are larcenous b*stards, and all government officials not only like onto angels but smart and infallible.
Because it’s in NPR they also assume it’s “smart” – if they really wanted to think, they wouldn’t be looking for markers of IQ, they’d be reading and informing themselves.
And that’s why my commenter had such a weird reaction – because suddenly he found himself in the position of those people they call “Faux News Viewers” – which I very much doubt anyone here watches, or at least with any regularity – when they comment on left-leaning blogs.
See, NPR to them still has pre-9-11 status. That it’s “smart” is not supposed to be in dispute. So to hear it treated as just another peddler of bad fish left him completely confused and feeling as though we’d attacked him personally – hence the childish lashing out. Because it hit him below his adult, formed and thinking mind, with the force of a kick in the gut.
We weren’t just, you see – as we thought – discussing opinions, with the occasional snark –
NO, we were attacking him personally by going after his idea of himself.
And both sides are NOT alike in dignity. Because the left (what I call the fluffy left, which has slid considerably further left without noticing in the last twelve years) had long since captured all the channels of communication and most of the door-keeping functions of entertainment, people who wanted to think themselves smart had “fluffy left” as a default setting. (The fact this is also the side proclaimed ex-cathedra in colleges only helped it think of itself as “smart.”)
The few of those like me who escaped the reservation and looked for other forms of information had the option of “lower brow” radio shows or TV programs, OR of reading primary sources, which required a lot of work. And even we admitted – back then – that a lot of the radio shows that weren’t hard left were “lower brow” even when we enjoyed them.
The left fails to realize that there are more channels now – because they consume news and entertainment mostly as status markers, so they would NOT go to places no one knows – and therefore sneers at anyone who disagrees with them as “Faux News Viewers” which makes most of us furrow our brows and shrug. It doesn’t hurt because … because it would be like me calling you “Beaver cap wearers.” Some of you might wear one, now and then, but I bet most have not ever except as a costume of some kind. So even if you know the other side assumes “Beaver Cap Wearers” are all stupid, it doesn’t apply to you.
However, when you call someone a “NPR listener” as though it were a bad thing, you’re pulling the rug from under the feet of people who PRESUMED that by listening to NPR they were PROVING they were smart, with no more effort required.
Of course, part of me thinks that it should be done more. That if they’re not willing to concede any dignity to – even – well reasoned opposition, no dignity should be afforded them.
The other side of this, though, is that most people – MOST PEOPLE ON ANY SIDE – would rather die than think. Which means a lot of this would cause a hardening of the sides into unbreakable fortresses of thought.
On the other hand, it’s already happening, and they’re capturing a lot of people who fall into the “increasingly less fluffy” left simply because it’s the “smart” side, and unless and until we shake that assumption they’ll continue to do so.
So – with apologies to those who’ll fall on their asses and get bruised – let’s pull the rug. One, two–