Streetwise Professor

May 16, 2019

The Science Is Never Settled

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 6:21 pm

Anyone who says that “the science is settled” is a fool or a charlatan. Case in point: Darwinism and its more rigorous heir Neo-Darwinism. These have been “settled science” (in the case of the former) since no later than the Scopes Trial in 1925. But as this fascinating review article by the estimable David Gelertner demonstrates, these theories cannot do what they purport to do: explain “macro-evolution,” or to quote the title of Darwin’s famous work, explain the “origins of the species.”

The eminent statistician George Box once quipped, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism have proved incredibly useful. They have provided the models that have resulted in the incredible strides in understanding, and manipulating, genetics and the genome. That is, they have proved enormously useful at a micro level–that is, within a species

But that’s not what Darwin set out to do, nor what neo-Darwinists claim to be able to do–explain how life forms evolved from one celled organisms to incredibly complex ones like humans. And Gelertner (or more exactly the author of the book Gelertner reviews, Stephen Meyer) explains why. It’s a matter of probability. Ironically, the discoveries in genetics derived from working in the Darwinian model/paradigm undermine its macro claims.

Evolution in the Neo-Darwinian framework is driven by mutation: “pure chance and lots of time” as Gelertner phrases it. But the odds against a useful mutation are so immense, that there is never enough time. Genes make proteins, and proteins are chains of 150+ amino acids:

The total count of possible 150-link chains, where each link is chosen separately from 20 amino acids, is 20150. In other words, many. 20150 roughly equals 10195, and there are only 1080 atoms in the universe.


What proportion of these many polypeptides are useful proteins? Douglas Axe did a series of experiments to estimate how many 150-long chains are capable of stable folds—of reaching the final step in the protein-creation process (the folding) and of holding their shapes long enough to be useful. (Axe is a distinguished biologist with five-star breeding: he was a graduate student at Caltech, then joined the Centre for Protein Engineering at Cambridge. The biologists whose work Meyer discusses are mainly first-rate Establishment scientists.) He estimated that, of all 150-link amino acid sequences, 1 in 1074 will be capable of folding into a stable protein. To say that your chances are 1 in 1074 is no different, in practice, from saying that they are zero. It’s not surprising that your chances of hitting a stable protein that performs some useful function, and might therefore play a part in evolution, are even smaller. Axe puts them at 1 in 1077.


In other words: immense is so big, and tiny is so small, that neo-Darwinian evolution is—so far—a dead loss. Try to mutate your way from 150 links of gibberish to a working, useful protein and you are guaranteed to fail. Try it with ten mutations, a thousand, a million—you fail. The odds bury you. It can’t be done.

There is also the problem of creating whole new life forms:

To help create a brand new form of organism, a mutation must affect a gene that does its job early and controls the expression of other genes that come into play later on as the organism grows. But mutations to these early-acting “strategic” genes, which create the big body-plan changes required by macro-evolution, seem to be invariably fatal. They kill off the organism long before it can reproduce. This is common sense. Severely deformed creatures don’t ever seem fated to lead the way to glorious new forms of life. Instead, they die young.


Evidently there are a total of no examples in the literature of mutations that affect early development and the body plan as a whole and are not fatal. The German geneticists Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus won the Nobel Prize in 1995 for the “Heidelberg screen,” an exhaustive investigation of every observable or inducible mutation of Drosophila melanogaster (the same patient, long-suffering fruit fly I meddled with relentlessly in an undergraduate genetics lab in the 1970s). “[W]e think we’ve hit all the genes required to specify the body plan of Drosophila,” said Wieschaus in answering a question after a talk. Not one, he continued, is “promising as raw materials for macroevolution”—because mutations in them all killed off the fly long before it could mate. If an exhaustive search rules out every last plausible gene as a candidate for large-scale Drosophila evolution, where does that leave Darwin? Wieschaus continues: “What are—or what would be—the right mutations for major evolutionary change? And we don’t know the answer to that.”

. . . .

Darwin would easily have understood that minor mutations are common but can’t create significant evolutionary change; major mutations are rare and fatal.

So where does that leave us? With very unsettled science. And this in the area in which scientists are justly proud of the enormous progress they have made working within the established paradigm. Progress that has changed lives in almost unfathomably ways, and which will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

But that is what Kuhn called “normal science”: incremental progress within an established paradigm. This is fertile ground for a Kuhnian paradigm shift. An accepted paradigm cannot explain vital facts–macroevolution, in this instance. Indeed, here it cannot explain the very phenomenon it purports to be able to explain and was in fact developed to explain. That failure will trigger the hunt for a new paradigm. And likely sometime someone will develop it.

Keep this in mind whenever you hear that the science is settled, especially in fields–like climate science–where the underlying problem (the behavior of a dynamic, non-linear system) is as complicated or perhaps more complicated than biological evolution, and where the normal science in the existing paradigm has been far less successful than Darwinism/Neo-Darwinism.

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January 8, 2019

Psychologists Should Be Humble: They Have a Lot to Be Humble About

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 7:49 pm

The American Psychological Association has determined that masculinity is indeed toxic:

Thirteen years in the making, [the APA’s new Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men] draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.

. . . .

The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors. For example, a 2011 study led by Kristen Springer, PhD, of Rutgers University, found that men with the strongest beliefs about masculinity were only half as likely as men with more moderate masculine beliefs to get preventive health care (Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 52, No. 2). And in 2007, researchers led by James Mahalik, PhD, of Boston College, found that the more men conformed to masculine norms, the more likely they were to consider as normal risky health behaviors such as heavy drinking, using tobacco and avoiding vegetables, and to engage in these risky behaviors themselves (Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 64, No. 11).

When evaluating documents like this, I find it useful to refer to Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions. He argues that a particular dichotomy, between what he calls the constrained and unconstrained visions, can explain a large amount of the variation in opinions on seemingly disparate and unrelated subjects. Sowell does not oversell the idea, but to paraphrase George Box’s statement about theories, all dichotomies are wrong, but some are useful. Sowell’s is definitely useful.

The APA’s new Guidelines are firmly in the unconstrained vision. They consider most human behavior to be the product of social constructs, which are somewhat arbitrary and malleable. They can be deconstructed, and then reconstructed, by a gnostic elite–in this case, psychology researchers and therapists. The enlightened reconstruction results in better social outcomes.

In contrast, the constrained vision views most human traits as stubborn facts that are resistant to change, and believes that attempts to change them are likely disastrous. These traits are at root the result of millions of years of biological evolution, augmented in the more recent past by social and cultural developments that accommodate the evolved species to social life, including social life in modern “extended orders” (to use Hayek’s term, in contrast to more limited, tribal groupings). In the case of masculinity, biological imperatives relating to reproduction predispose men (and the males of many other species) physically and mentally towards competition and sometimes strife. Cultural and social conventions and norms constrain these impulses, and channel them into more social and socially productive directions.

Including, I might add, competition for status and prestige that results in extraordinary accomplishment. Men are high variance, with a greater frequency of outcomes at extremes than women, in almost any variable that you want to measure.

These phenomena are complex, and interact in deep and poorly understood ways. The constrained vision always keeps Chesterton’s Fence in mind. Men socialized into “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression” are “unhealthy”? Well, why did socialization take such a perverse turn? And why did it take such a perverse turn virtually universally, across cultures and across time? Could it be that perhaps these traits perform some deeper function, related to biologically selected male traits, and that undoing these cultural norms may lead to horrible outcomes?

In other words: how do you reconstruct testosterone? And, since you can’t, how can you be sure that the allegedly toxic traits that you presume that you can manipulate via therapy are not the very things that keep the testosterone in check? How do you know that you are not playing Sorcerer’s Apprentice when you meddle with these things?

The hubris in the unconstrained vision is particularly stunning in this case, as the APA itself criticizes heavily the previous “androcentric bias” of the psychology profession. So in other words, previous psychologists were deeply flawed. But you can totally rely on the current generation. Because research.

Well, the previous (now apparently discredited) psychologists based their claims on research too. But even more telling: the reproducibility crisis in psychological research is more acute than in any other subject (with over 50 percent of psychological studies being non-replicable). (If you Google “reproducibility crisis” top Google suggested fill-in is “reproducibility crisis psychology.”)

What’s more, many of the unreplicable studies involve relatively simple experiments, rather than those that purport to identify causal relationships in complicated social and behavioral phenomena.

In other words, perhaps the worst way to convince me of the correctness of a claim about psychology is to cite modern research.

Some blind spots are evident in some of the research cited in the link. It spends some time discussing the interactions between masculinity and race:

These dynamics play out in the prison system as well. As of 2014, black men made up 37 percent of the male state and federal prison population and were more than 10 times as likely to be incarcerated in state or federal prison as white men. Hispanic men were also overrepresented, making up 22 percent of the prison population despite making up only about 8 percent of the general U.S. population (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015).

Well, if you want to examine a society dominated by females and notably lacking in traditional male figures, just look at the minority inner city communities that supply the prison population discussed in this quote. These dots are, of course, not connected by the APA.

Relatedly, variations in things emphasized by the APA, such as murder and suicide, across countries, races, ethnicities, and time are huge, which suggests that many other factors are at work, and that a reductionist focus on the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is woefully inadequate.

The presumptuousness of this endeavor is breathtaking, and is therefore a particularly pronounced example of the unconstrained vision in action. As someone firmly rooted in the constrained vision, I say: don’t mess with what you don’t understand, and don’t pretend to understand when recent experience–which you recognize–demonstrates the fallibility of your discipline. Psychologists should be humble: they have a lot to be humble about.

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November 25, 2018

Thank You, Verified Humans

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 7:06 pm
Thanks to those who proved their humanity by responding to my post from last night.  Yes, there is obviously a problem with the Site Sphinx, who asks you to prove you are human, but provides no way to do so.

I’ve provided the screen shots of the impossible-to-interact-with “You must prove you are human” riddle to my hosting service.  Hopefully this will be rectified quickly.  I’ll post when it is.

Update: Boy, that was fast.  Apparently my hosting service corrected the problem shortly prior to my posting.  Thanks for those who left comments.  Cheers.

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November 24, 2018

Where Did Everybody Go?

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 8:15 pm
No comments in the last couple of weeks.  I can think of two explanations: I’ve finally succeeded in my life’s ambition of offending everyone, or, there is some technical issue. Or maybe I’ve shadowbanned myself on my own blog!

I have received a couple of communications from people who said they have not been able to get past the Site Sphinx, AKA Captcha.  I have this vision of the bones of commenters lying in front of the voracious beast, having failed to solve her riddle: “Prove you are not a robot.”

I have an inquiry into my hosting service, but in dealing with them it would be helpful to document the problem.  So if you’ve had a problem, please let me know via Twitter @streetwiseprof or LinkedIn.

Thanks and apologies, and apologies and thanks.

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April 30, 2018

This Sh*t is Getting Old

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 3:19 pm
But hopefully it’s over.  Fingers crossed.

The latest outage was due to a a serious attack on the site.  According to my hosting service, “someone has implemented ‘Black Hat’ strategies on your site. ”  This resulted in the creation of 49K duplicate pages without canonical tags and 70K excluded pages, which pinged the site repeatedly bringing it to its knees.  This took more than 2 weeks to repair.

But–again, fingers crossed–I’ve installed several additional security features that should prevent a recurrence of these outages.  But since I’ve clearly been targeted, no doubt these measures will be tested.

Thanks for sticking with me.

 

 

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April 17, 2018

I’m Back. Again.

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 6:25 pm
Yeah.  This is getting old.  Third attack I’ve suffered since January.  My hosting service swears it’s not malicious, but as Ian Fleming wrote: once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.

Especially given the sh*t that’s allegedly going down with US and UK warnings of increase in hacking activity originating in Russia (though I am always skeptical of attribution in this context, given the Moriarty on the train problem).

Anyways, thanks for hanging in there with me.  And enjoy it while it lasts!

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March 10, 2018

Back in the Saddle

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 11:39 am
I’m back.  Unfortunately, the SWP database became corrupted somehow. Probably not intentionally malicious, but who knows? Regardless, it is what it is.

Alas, it looks like everything post-10 January, 2018 is gone from the database, although it is on the Wayback Machine. I’ll try to restore the content from there via copy & paste when time permits.  Fortunately, the 12 years(!) of material that preceded the Lost Posts was recovered and recovered.

Apologies, and thanks for checking back in.

 

 

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January 15, 2018

Holegate

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 8:30 pm
A few comments on ShitholeGate.

First, I dunno if Trump said it. It sounds in character, but the sources for it (being anonymous and/or Dick Durbin) are hardly unimpeachable.

Second, there must be a shortage of fainting couches, smelling salts, and pearls for clutching in DC and media land, given the collective swooning and shock at the thought that a president used a four letter word.

Uhm, LBJ anybody? Nixon?

Third, there are logically coherent and logically incoherent objections to what Trump allegedly said about questioning the wisdom of admitting more people from shitholes than non-shitholes (e.g., Norway–though at one time, my ancestors apparently disagreed!)

The logically coherent objection is: “Yes, these are horrible, abjectly miserable places, which is why we should take in people from them, on humanitarian grounds.”

The logically incoherent objection is: “How dare you call them shitholes! They are wonderful places full of wonderful people! But we are rescuing people from lives of misery by taking in the poor and huddled masses from these places.” If they’re so great, why the intense desire to leave?

Suffice it to say, the logically incoherent objection has been the dominant narrative on the left.

The logically coherent objection creates its own issues: logical coherence is necessary for it to be a reasonable policy position, but by no means sufficient.

One of the issues is: what is the limiting principle? Or is there none?: do you favor no restrictions on immigration whatsoever? If that’s your position–be open about your support for open borders. Don’t try to have it all ways.

If you do favor restrictions, what criteria will you apply for determining who can immigrate to the US? What are the benefits? The costs? What is the incidence of those costs and benefits? Again, be open about it–speaking in gauzy generalities is dishonest, and makes it impossible to evaluate your position.

A related issue is that those who object to, or even have reservations about, open borders or even relatively liberal immigration policy are routinely excoriated as racists and bigots. Yes, some are. But many are not, even though they have a strong preference for traditional American culture which is deeply rooted in European cultures and ethnicity. Do you believe that is a legitimate preference?  If not, do you advocate the rejection of democratic means to decide immigration matters because those with illegitimate views might prevail? Further, African Americans are to a large extent more opposed to immigration than white Americans. Is that due to racism? Or is it a telling indication that the views on immigration also (and arguably primarily) fall along economic/class lines?

This touches upon another element of incoherence in the immigration debate: assimilation. Many (and arguably most, now) advocates of liberal immigration policies are hostile to the notion of assimilation, again imputing racist motives and cultural bigotry to those who believe that current immigrants should assimilate the way that their grandparents and great-grandparents and generations before them did. But hostility to assimilation and hostility to those who favor assimilation means that it’s OK for some (immigrants) to prefer their own culture, ethnicity or race, but it’s not OK for others (the native born) to do so.

This is another variation on the incoherence of identity politics. The most ardent advocates of identity politics scorn intensely those who feel that their identity is threatened by mass immigration, especially mass immigration without assimilation. In the identity politics animal farm, all identities are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Along these lines, it is pretty apparent that the political elites who are most ardent in support of very liberal immigration policies are those who are least likely to be disclocated by large flows of immigrants, and may indeed benefit from it. Those they scorn–many of whom voted for Trump–are the ones most likely to be adversely impacted, either economically or socially/culturally.  Ironic coming from people who are also likely to claim that they favor redistribution in order to reduce economic inequality.

Personally, I confess to some ambivalence on these matters. The libertarian in me favors free movement of people. At the same time, I recognize the Friedman/Richard Epstein point that the welfare state means that immigration is not the result of mutually beneficial bargains entered into without coercion: immigration attracted by the potential to obtain benefits funded by coercive taxation is problematic indeed. (Friedman and Epstein object to the welfare state in large part because it makes unrestricted immigration infeasible.) Furthermore, I understand the importance of social trust and communication and coordination due to shared assumptions and beliefs, and how those can be facilitated by some homogeneity in ideals and culture and background. Relatedly, a democratic polity operating on a principle of consent has to give preference to current citizens.

Immigration has always been a fraught issue in the US, although the intensity of views about it has waxed and waned over time. Our handling of the issue has never been perfect, but I think that (a) the US historically did a better job of it than any country in history (certainly modern history), and (b) we handled immigration best prior to the rise of the welfare state, and when assimilation was a widely shared ideal. Those conditions do not prevail now, which makes me much more cautious, and indeed skeptical, about relatively untrammeled immigration. As a result, I think it’s fair to ask: how many should we accept from where?, and shouldn’t we be more skeptical about mass immigration from countries that are vastly different economically, culturally, and socially?

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December 3, 2017

Please Reconcile This: The Kremlin Is Hermetically Sealed to Outsiders, But They Told All to Christopher Steele

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 7:45 pm
This article caught my eye last week: “At the epicenter of the Russian election manipulation story, reporters can’t report.”

As tensions rise, Ferris-Rotman finds reaching sources inside the government all but impossible. She says foreign correspondents based in Moscow can’t just pick up their phone and text or call an official.

“Russia is a very closed place,” she says. “It’s not like the U.S. where, you know, over years or over some time you can develop a source in the White House — someone who you can trust and that you trade information with. Basically (the Kremlin) is a sealed up institution and there’s no way for us to get into it. “

The Kremlin is a “sealed up institution,” but we are supposed to believe that Christopher Steele was able to get multiple sources within the Kremlin to repeat highly sensitive conversations involving the highest personages in the Kremlin, including Putin himself.

The dossier itself is bad enough, but its handling in the US–specifically by the FBI and the intelligence community–is downright sinister. This is even more evident after it was revealed that the FBI agent who was responsible for handling the dossier was a pro-Hillary/anti-Trump partisan who was fired by Mueller for exchanging anti-Trump texts with his lover, also an FBI agent. (Not that Mueller told us that this was why he was fired when it happened months ago. I guess he didn’t have time because he was so busy leaking.) Moreover, this same individual allegedly has been interfering with the House Intelligence Committee’s attempts to get to the bottom of the story of the dossier.

But there’s more: the same FBI official led the investigation of Hillary’s emails.

As the expression goes: the fix is in! Although here, it is necessary to use the plural: the fixes are in!

Boy, if only there was a Republican attorney general who could get control of a rogue FBI and get some answers about the dossier–how it was obtained, and how it was used by the FBI.

 

 

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October 31, 2017

Kelly Causes Mass Apoplexy, Again

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 7:56 pm
John Kelly shares his boss’ ability to cause mass apoplexy on the left. And I think he knows it, and does it deliberately.

Kelly caused today’s mass freakout by making remarks about Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. He committed three grave sins.

First, he criticized presentism, which is an -ism that the left wholeheartedly endorses:

“There are certain things in history that were not so good, and other things that were very, very good,” Kelly said. “I think we make a mistake as a society, and certainly as individuals, when we take what is accepted as right and wrong, and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say, ‘What Christopher Columbus did was wrong.'”

“Five hundred years later, it’s inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then. I just think it’s very very dangerous. It shows you how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is,” said Kelly, a retired Marine Corps General.

Just so. Exactly.

Then, he defended Robert E. Lee as an honorable man:

“Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state,” Kelly said. “One hundred and fifty years ago, that was more important than country — it was always loyalty to state back in those days.”

As a matter of historical truth, this is also spot on. Who disputes that Lee chose his state over the United States?–but only after secession, and when his state was threatened with invasion.

Whether this conduct is honorable or not is fundamentally subjective. Honor–as Lee understood it, and as people like Kelly understand it–means living up to a certain code of conduct, adhering to one’s beliefs, even at great personal cost. The underlying beliefs are not objectively verifiable: they inhere in the subject. Honor involves adhering to them.

Now, you may object to Lee’s code, and what his beliefs were. But it is nigh on to impossible to dispute that he made his choice in good conscience, fully recognizing the personal risks he was taking.

Insofar as that code is concerned, Lee was acting on the basis of a theory of the United States, and the Constitution thereof, that was widely held in the South. Namely, that the Union was a compact of sovereign states, and that states had the right to depart from the Union of the federal government infringed on the rights of the states. In this view, the purpose of Union was to defend the rights of the states, and an infringement by the federal government on those rights justified the dissolution of the Union.

The Civil War basically ended that theory as a practical force in American politics, but it was a viable, and widely held, theory in 1861. And under that theory, one was a citizen of the US via one’s citizenship in a state. The state was more basic, more fundamental, than the union of the states.

Many object that Lee swore an oath to the US. A couple of things here. First, hard cases–situations where basic principles are in conflict–make bad law. Lee indeed agonized over his oath and his divided loyalties. Second, under the theory that Lee (and others) operated, obligations went both ways: the federal government had obligations to the states, and their citizens. In the minds of many Southerners, the government’s violation of its obligations relieved them of theirs. And rightly or wrongly, many Southerners viewed those rights to be at risk as the result of Lincoln’s election in 1860.

This theory was taken very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it greatly–and some would argue fatally–impaired the Confederate war effort. Southern governors, most notably Joseph Brown of Georgia, drove Jefferson Davis to distraction with their strict insistence that the Confederate government in Richmond respect the rights of their states. Jefferson Davis was one of those who claimed that this was indeed fatal to the South because it undermined a unified war effort necessary to achieve victory. When he said the epitaph of the Confederacy was “Died of a Theory,” the theory he was referring to was that of states’ rights.

It is true that many have dishonestly claimed that the insistence on states’ rights shows that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. In fact, these are not alternative theories of secession, or the war, but complementary ones. The right that Southern states were insistent upon, to the point of dissolving the Union, was that of a state to choose its “domestic institutions.” And the domestic institution the Southerners were willing to fight over was that of slavery.

You may argue against the theory, but you can’t credibly argue that Lee was dishonorable in adhering to the principles thereof. One may be an honorable and faithful servant of a false god.

Among his contemporaries–including many Northerners–Lee was considered an honorable man, and indeed perhaps, the archetypal honorable man. Recall that Grant saluted Lee on the steps of the McClean House at Appomattox, after accepting the surrender.

Lee was also from an honor culture, or cultures, actually–the South, and the military (and the antebellum military was deeply infused with Southern cultural values). Lee’s idea of honor no doubts resonates with Kelly, the product of another honor culture, the US Marine Corps.

Again, you may dislike or even ridicule this culture (as Twain did in Huckleberry Finn) but you cannot deny its existence or fundamental features, or claim that Lee did not strive to adhere to its values and strictures.

But Kelly’s biggest sin was this:

Now it’s different. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.

This is what really got heads exploding. Deep thinkers like Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jake Tapper (you know, the ex-VH1 reporter who made his bones by doing snarky, superficial, and rather sleazy programs on, say, the legal battles over the Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy), and Ta-Nehiesi Coates inveighed against Kelly for daring even to suggest this.

In fact, Kelly’s remark is correct, as a matter of logic and of history.

Insofar as logic is concerned, a necessary condition for conflict is the failure to reach agreement–compromise. Those who make a deal aren’t fighting.

Insofar as history is concerned, sectional conflict was avoided throughout the 19th century through arduously negotiated compromises. The Missouri Compromise (1820), the Compromise Tariff (1833), the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sectional compromise was the leitmotif of mid-19th century American political history: the Civil War was the exception to that rule, the time when compromise failed.

Abraham Lincoln’s political idol–Henry Clay–was known as “the Great Compromiser” for his work in negotiating the first three of these. But Clay was dead in 1860, as was another major figure in negotiating deals, Daniel Webster. Moreover, the political balance had changed, and the pernicious effects of Kansas-Nebraska made compromise even more difficult.

But nonetheless compromises were attempted. The Crittenden Compromise, introduced to Congress in December, 1860, was the most notable of these. It was satisfactory to southerners, but not to northerners, so it died aborning. (One of Crittenden’s sons became a Union general, another a Confederate general. The latter died in battle in 1861.)

Yet even in March 1861, Lincoln was making conciliatory gestures to the South in an attempt to achieve compromise. Lincoln ran explicitly denying any intent to interfere with slavery where it existed (a position he also took during the debates with Douglas), and conceded fundamental states rights principles to the South in his inaugural address:

have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

Note well this sentence: “we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.” Lee would have agreed: he viewed the prospect of an invasion of Virginia by the government of the US to be a lawless act, and it is on that issue of lawlessness which he and Lincoln disagreed.

Lincoln went so far as to accept what was an anathema to abolitionists–the Fugitive Slave Act–arguing that the controversy was a matter of details (“a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it should be kept”), not Constitutional principle:

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution–to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause “shall be delivered up” their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by State authority, but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him or to others by which authority it is done. And should anyone in any case be content that his oath shall go unkept on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?

In other words, even Lincoln was perfectly willing to reach a compromise that preserved slavery where it existed, and which allowed Southerners to retrieve escaped slaves from anywhere in the US.

The basis for compromise on the lines of those thrashed out 1820-1854 existed, and many on both sides strove to realize it. But the Fire Eaters in the South in particular rejected it. So it is historical fact that the war came because the politicians of 1860-1861 failed to reach compromises like those their predecessors had accomplished a few decades before, despite attempts to do so.  There is a very solid historical basis for what Kelly said.

Now of course any such compromise would have perpetuated slavery. But this is something that Northerners were overwhelmingly willing to accept. And here is the irony. By rejecting the compromises that the North (and the Republicans specifically) would have been willing to offer that would have extended slavery, the Southern radicals embarked on a course that resulted in its destruction within a handful of years. They turned the would-be successor to the Great Compromiser into the Great Emancipator.

The morals of sectional compromise are also not nearly as clearcut as the Ta-Nahiesi Coateses of the world would have it. Yes, Lincoln would have willingly been complicit in the perpetuation of a great evil–something that he recognized as a great evil. But by rejecting Southern terms, and insisting on Union, Lincoln unleashed a war that resulted in the deaths of ~2.5 percent of the US population–and about 20 percent of the military age male population in the South. As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural, “every drop of blood drawn by the lash was paid by another drawn by the sword.” War is a great evil too. You may prefer one evil to another, but you have to acknowledge that it is indeed a choice between great evils.

This raises another issue that I will write about in the future. It is relatively straightforward to understand why the South seceded, and to recognize that at root it left over slavery. It is harder to understand why the North fought to keep them in the Union. It most certainly was NOT to eradicate slavery: even by 1863, emancipation did not have majority support in the North, and the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865 only by the slimmest of margins, and with the help of some very swampy political dealings.

So why? I have some conjectures–largely unsatisfying–that I’ll share in the future. Suffice it to say it is far too neglected a subject, especially in contrast to the  vast amount of ink spilled over explaining secession.

In sum, for all of the freaking out that Kelly’s remarks induced, he has a far firmer grasp on historical truths than those freaking out do.

But he had to know that what he said would spark a backlash. Yet he went ahead. This is actually quite fascinating, and revealing. He did so after the left attempted to shut him up and shout him down for going after the execrable Florida representative over the Trump phone call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger. By speaking up on such a controversial topic so soon afterwards Kelly is making it very clear that he will NOT be intimidated.

Further, it demonstrates on matters of substance that Kelly’s beliefs track Trump’s very closely–or should I say that Kelly’s sincere beliefs track positions that Trump has staked out? Further proof that anyone thinking that the temperamental difference between Trump and his chief of staff reflects differences in political positions is sadly deluded. Indeed, Kelly’s gravitas (isn’t it funny that word is usually reserved for Democrats, even those who don’t really have it?)  will make Trump far more effective. Kelly is an effective spokesman, and an unapologetic one.

Semper Fi. That makes him a very formidable foe for the left.He is not afraid of a fight, and knows how to win one.

 

 

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