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David Mamet - Ex-Liberal:

Famed playwright (Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna) and screenwriter (The Verdict, House of Games, The Verdict) David Mamet writes in the Village Voice that he is now an "ex-Liberal."

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. . . .

I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it. . . .

I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

David Mamet, long one of my favorite living playwrights, thinks Thomas Sowell is "out greatest contemporary philosopher. Go figure.

Ai:
"So you're views make you a conservative!"

"No, not really, I'm a liberal with forty years experience..."
3.17.2008 11:50pm
hawkins:
Good for him. With the notable exception of being a conservative, I cant think of many things worse than being a liberal.
3.18.2008 12:00am
General Disarray:
"[I]n the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms."

I realize editorial decisions had to be made, but how could you cut that?
3.18.2008 12:05am
UWV (mail):
I read the article a few days ago. From what I read it appeared that Mamet basically changed his mind on the role of government and the market. He expresses contempt for the Bush regime and doesn't indicate that he became a social conservative. And he mentions Sowell as a philosopher not a columnist. Sowell is very libertarian as a philosopher and only expresses his social conservative, prowar values in his columns. I suggest that Mr. Mamet did not become a conservative, as he seems to think, but is more libertarian.
3.18.2008 12:15am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
A man grows up.

:)
3.18.2008 12:18am
KS Augustin (mail) (www):
Oh good grief! Trust me, he'll find religion next. The concept of encroaching mortality hit some harder than others, and I see some philosophical meta-ego CYA* in his pronouncements.

* Cover Your Ass
3.18.2008 12:27am
Jim at FSU (mail):
I do think that Thomas Sowell gets way less attention than he deserves. His books are incredibly well written.
3.18.2008 12:38am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Sowell's books are, I think, much better than his columns.
3.18.2008 12:44am
CrazyTrain (mail):
Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher)

Wow. His clownhall columns that I have read make his seem like a 2nd rate Ann Coulter.
3.18.2008 12:54am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I agree that David Mamet is one of the greatest living playwrights. And, to illustrate, here's a rewrite of the final Dave/Hal scene of 2001 in the style of David Mamet. The piece is called "Dammit, Dave," on the theory that it would be cute if authors wrote pieces whose titles were anagrams of their names.
3.18.2008 12:56am
CrazyTrain (mail):
And to provide just a quick example, here he is on clownhall quite clearly comparing John McCain to Benedict Arnold. (I can't wait to read his columns endorsing him over Obama later this year.) It never ceases to suprise me the extent to which modern conservatives hate those who actually served in Vietnam (you know, those guys, who unlike conservative-hero Dick Cheney didn't have "better things to do").
3.18.2008 12:58am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
CrazyTrain,

As I noted. See above. Some folks good in one medium don't translate well into another. Sowell is a superb public intellectual, especially on economics, race and culture. But when it comes to writing op-ed columns, he often sounds like a crank with scores to settle.
3.18.2008 1:06am
BruceM (mail) (www):
Since when is "government is corrupt" a liberal position? That's news to me. I thought "government is great, the bigger and more intrusive the better we all are" was the standard liberal position.
3.18.2008 1:14am
whit:
wow.

i have always admired mamet's talent, and it's nice to see he's a fellow sowell admirer.

i agree that sowell's columns are weak. his books are fantastic. "a conflict of vision" is imo the greatest book i've ever read on understanding political philosophy.

on the left you have chomsky, derrida, foucault, and none of these guys can compare to sowell imo. his ethnic america is also a fantastic history.

as much as a i respect sowell as an economist, his political philosophy (and i realize the two intercept) is simply outstanding.

sowell is to other political philosophers as pj orourke is to other political humourists. iow, superlative.
3.18.2008 1:15am
Richard A. (mail):
"I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt."
So do I and I've been a conservative since Barry Goldwater was making that point.
3.18.2008 1:18am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

And to provide just a quick example, here he is on clownhall



we got the "clownhall" thing the first time.
3.18.2008 1:32am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
It is incredible how A-B-C-D test taker thinkers think, and the things they find praiseworthy, e.g.:

"wow.

i have always admired mamet's talent, and it's nice to see he's a fellow sowell admirer"

Sowell's "political philosophy (and i realize the two intercept) is simply outstanding"

Yet, the discussion of political philosophy only addresses people considered *normal.*

" ... but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution ..."

Obviously persons with autism are left out of the equation. Sowell admirerer or not, ex-liberal or not, Mamet clearly dose not represent the point of view of persons with autism, who, it may come as a surprise to some, also live under the same Constitution as *normal* people.

And that is also all that's wrong with the history of Sowell's "ethnic America" -- devoid of diversity. Autist diversity.
3.18.2008 1:35am
karrde (mail) (www):
I didn't find Sowell really thoughtful until I somehow came across texts of his speeches on his website.

I quickly came to the conclusion that the format of the editorial is too compressed for Sowell to say what he wants to say (or use his intellect to its fullest).

Then I picked up one of his books, and concluded that a speech is far too short a medium for Sowell to fully express himself.

It is not that Sowell is a philosopher (though he clearly has a distinct philosophy that is well-thought-out). He correlates reams of information into coherent arguments about race, economics, and their intersection with politics and public life.
3.18.2008 1:35am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

I quickly came to the conclusion that the format of the editorial is too compressed for Sowell to say what he wants to say (or use his intellect to its fullest).


his editorials are also quite brief- sensible, but brief.

I enjoy his books much more.
3.18.2008 1:46am
Kazinski:
I don't think Government is corrupt, its just soft like a pillow. There are a lot of excellent people in government, but it also attracts people that see it as a jobs program and a haven from the real world. It is the most unionized sector of the workforce, operating without competition, and it's "bosses", the elected politicians, are to a degree dependent on public employees and their unions for volunteers and contributions for their campaigns. And it is not just on the public employee side, there are lots of private companies with liberal and conservative political dependents that are just as firmly attached to the public teat. And the public seems to like it that way. If they had any idea of how much more efficiently things could be run if 90% of government were privatized they would be appalled.

And yes, I am a public sector employee, I've spent most of my working life in the private sector, but have worked in government the last 5 years, so I know whereof what I speak.

There are exceptions, the military is one, and that's because of two reasons a) nobody (or very few) joins the military looking to find a soft place to land and b) the military constantly self prunes.


Thomas Sowell is a national treasure, if he was 20 years younger he should be on top of the Republican ticket.
3.18.2008 1:48am
Kazinski:
Crazy Train,
I think Paul Krugman is just as deranged, judging him by his columns, but I am willing to concede that he has a lot more depth (or once did) in his academic work than he shows in his popular work. It may well be that both Krugman and Sowell tend to underestimate their audiences and make arguments intended to reach our level and undershoot the mark.

That said Krugman seems to have a lot of admirers on the left that overlook the flaws in his columns, the same as Sowell has a lot of admirers on the right. I'm pretty sure that if Sowell and Krugman had a public debate they would end up speaking to each other, oblivious of the audience, at a technical level of discourse that would leave most of the listeners completely unable to follow.
3.18.2008 2:03am
Robert Ayers:
"David Mamet, long one of my favorite living playwrights, thinks Thomas Sowell is 'out greatest contemporary philosopher.' Go figure."

Yes.

Don't go by his columns. Read a couple of books.

Start with "A Conflict of Visions" 2002
3.18.2008 2:22am
Randy R. (mail):
Mamet: " I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow."

How about social security? Drug testing? environmental regulation? SCHIP?

Mamet seems like a rather shallow thinker when it comes to politics. He practically admits that he was very shallow when he was a liberal. Now that he's an ex-liberal, he appears just as shallow. The difference is that his shallowness changed.

It's strange that he is very careful to not say that he is conservative, so that doesn't appear to appeal to him either. But as an 'ex-liberal' does that mean he is turning his back on all that liberalism stands for, which includes civil rights for blacks, gays, women and others? Having a clean environment? Safe products and drugs for consumers?

We are now experiencing a meltdown in several sectors in our economy because of the failure of the gov't to properly regulate them, and he doesn't understand the basics of this?

Okay, so he's a great playwright. So why should anyone listen to him yammer on about his politics? What next -- a discourse from him about health care?

It really bugs me when celebrities think that average Americans care what they think about every aspect of American life. If I want their opinion on partical physics, I'll ask for it. Until then, STFU.
3.18.2008 2:24am
K Parker (mail):
Thomas Sowell is a national treasure, if he was 20 years younger he should be on top of the Republican ticket.
I'm not so sure about that. I too am a Sowell admirer (and I, too, think his books are much, much better than his columns) but not that certain he has the right sort of temperament to be a political leader, as opposed to an advisor, nor would he necessarily want to take it on.
3.18.2008 2:47am
Cornellian (mail):
Sowell has written stuff about the Supreme Court that succeeds in demonstrating only that he has no clue whatsoever of the sorts of cases that come before it, or how they are, or should be, adjudicated.

As a policy matter he makes some legitimate points about affirmative action.
3.18.2008 3:15am
Cornellian (mail):
I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

Sowell is no Friedman.

I'm not sure why thinking people are "basically good at heart" necessarily leads to any particular political viewpoint.

Don't bet on Mamet turning into a social conservative any time soon. That's a whole different ball game and Friedman doesn't get you there.
3.18.2008 3:18am
Russ (mail):
How about social security? Drug testing? environmental regulation? SCHIP?

Yeah, truly great things - taking more and more of our paycheck into a system that'll be bankrupt before I retire, invasions of privacy, and gas prices around $3.50 a gallon, to say nothing of continued reliance on oil and coal b/c we can't do nuclear.

Yeah, truly great things...
3.18.2008 3:39am
Thoughtful (mail):
Thanks, Russ. And don't forget to say anything about SCHIP, a wonderful government program that encourages families with incomes of $60,000 to forego paying for health insurance for their children, because the government has offered to pay it if they don't.
3.18.2008 4:22am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Mamet: " I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow."

How about social security?


Social Security was a great deal for that 1937 cohort that got to collect benefits without having contributed to the fund. But everyone who has had to contribute over his entire working career gets shortchanged. The return on your contributions, which must include what your employer pays, is miserable. You would be much better off having taken that money and purchased an S&P 500 index fund. Go calculate the present value of all the past and future cash flows. Just assume you made the median income for each year of your career. It's true that SS provides disability insurance, but you can buy that. That benefit comes nowhere near making up for the miserable return.

I know a guy at the University of California who elected to "coordinate" with SS in 1976 (he didn't have to). When time came to collect his UC pension, he realized that he got screwed. He told me it was the worst decision he ever made. If SS were a voluntary program, people would desert it droves.

In essence SS is a Ponzi scheme. That's what Nathan Keyfitz called it. Keyfitz is a mathematical demographer who consulted for the SS administration. Why Social Security is in Trouble in The Public Interest, No. 58, Winter 1980. His book Applied Mathematical Demography, is one of the canonical works in the field.
3.18.2008 5:23am
PersonFromPorlock:
Cornellian:

I'm not sure why thinking people are "basically good at heart" necessarily leads to any particular political viewpoint.

Believing the contrary - that people are basically vile - leads directly to Puritanism, where the state imposes virtuous behavior by force, and its modern successor, Liberalism.
3.18.2008 8:54am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

It is the most unionized sector of the workforce


and the only sector where unions have any clout, really- in this case, it is considerable clout, due to the mass dependence on government and public services; and you get to vote your job.
3.18.2008 9:08am
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Why one person likes a particular author, and another doesn't, seems like a fairly petty topic of debate. I've always liked Sowell's ideas, but found his prose hard to wade through.

If this new found perspective of Mamet ever gets revealed to his normal constituency, he'll be unemployed soon. The arts &literature crowd usually seem pretty hostile to free market/libertarian views.

And I'm not sure that I agree that believing that people are not basically "good at heart" leads to Puritanism. Only, I suppose, if you presume that "something" has to force people to behave in some "acceptable" manner; and then that something can be society (through shame) or government/state (through puritanical statutes). Not "good at heart" doesn't mean criminal or psychopathic.

A more libertarian view would say, I think, that one shouldn't force that behavior ... less than good at heart just means caveat emptor. People need to realize that there is self-interest at work in every deal or transaction, and work around it. Often by only doing business with local entities that you can trust. Kind of like the business world before the UCC.
3.18.2008 9:22am
Register This:
I don't know anything about Sowell. Which book (it seems the books have it, as opposed to the columns, speeches, etc.) would you recommend I start with?
3.18.2008 9:40am
occidental tourist (mail):
Try Sowell's Affirmative Action Around the World. If Krugman wrote books this I'd try to read them, but the last one he sent to our radio station was just a collection of warmed over columns - come to think of it they weren't warmed over. I must concede that Krugman gave a decent account of himself when I interviewed him, not necessarily a winning defense of his philosophy but cogent responsive discussion that didn't over or undershoot the audience. I might indeed like to see a colloquy between Sowell and he.

Thanks Russ and others for saying the same things about Randy R.'s defense of government interventions that I would have.

As to the purported shallowness of this conversion, I think the essay simple but 'transactional' in illustrating the experience that lead to Mamet's willingness to surrender his label. He outlines how his conservative or libertarian tendencies are the result of empirical enquery -- compared to liberal tendencies that were theoretically impelled. That is a simplistic, but not necessarily shallow, distinction.

Certainly it would be beneficial to public discourse to find opportunities to challenge and extend that kind of dialogue. But just publishing this essay in such a forum seems a serious step for which the Voice should be commended. The alternative paper in our town wouldn't touch that kind of material with a ten foot pole. In their world libertarians and conservatives can't be right even when they are.

Brian

PS - the much cited line about the pernicious bullshit at your average zoning meeting is not only a very pleasing truism that offers unassailable defense of Mamet's basic postion, it is the real world incident that changed me from -al to -tarian.

The conservative stuff came later.
3.18.2008 9:45am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
I have read/recommend these:

Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy

Black Rednecks and White Liberals

A Man of Letters

@amazon
3.18.2008 9:50am
Dan Weber (www):
Some of Sowell's columns are horrible. I assume it's because he needs to produce 2 or so columns a week, regardless of whether or not he has something to say, so he often just tosses some red meat out there.

He writes 2 or 3 really compelling columns a year, but I don't need to read him regularly to notice them, since I'll find them referenced in the economics blogs I read.
3.18.2008 10:01am
ithaqua (mail):
Mamet: " I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow."

How about social security? Drug testing? environmental regulation? SCHIP?


Social Security: beyond all the financial criticisms (which are legion, and others have mentioned above), Social Security has contributed massively to the breakdown of the traditional family and traditional work ethic. In the old days, people had a responsibility to members of their family who couldn't support themselves, eg, the elderly, the disabled. Now we just push that responsibility onto the government; moreover, those elderly and disabled who can support themselves are much more likely to malinger and refuse work since the government provides unconditional support; if they were provided for by their families or private institutions, who have more reasons to limit their charity, they would be more likely to support themselves.

Drug testing? (I assume you're talking about the FDA, etc, here.) Forces drug companies to spend massive amounts of time and money to push any new drug through the government bureaucracy. This not only reduces drug company profits and keeps promising treatments off the market, but interferes with the right of individuals to make decisions (even bad ones) about their own health and body. Yes, herbal supplements are useless when it comes to curing cancer, for example; but it should be every individual's responsibility to decide that for themselves. The FDA shouldn't protect individuals from the consequences of their own folly.

Environmental regulation? Yeah, we're all better off now that hundreds of lumberjacks are unemployed for the sake of a few worthless owls, or when a new factory that could provide hundreds of jobs to a rural community is blocked because the land on which it would sit has water running through it a few days out of the year, not to mention the 'shoot, shovel and shut up' ethic with regard to endangered species that probably contributes more to their endangered status than DDT (the banning of which, by the way, has killed literally millions of people in places like Africa)... need I go on?

SCHIP? Just more proof that liberals can get anything, no matter how bad for America, by screaming 'It's for the CHILDREN!!' Health care is not a right. It's a personal responsibility. For children, it's a parental responsibility. If children are going without health care, that's sad, but it's not government's role to step in and permit parents to abrogate their personal responsibilities - and really, if parents were willing to sacrifice enough, the vast majority could provide whatever health care was necessary for their children. I remember the SCHIP poster child from a while back; his family, conservative investigators learned, could easily have paid for his treatment if they'd mortgaged their house, but it was so much easier to just let taxpayers take over their responsibility...

To go back to David Mamet: when he "accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt", he was talking, as the rest of his article makes clear, about the United States government specifically; the hippie/pacifist/Communofascist zeitgeist of the 60s was that government was the salvation of the world if the right people ran it, but that the United States, and especially its military, was fundamentally evil and a blight on the world. Now, it seems, he's come to the conclusion that the United States government, when run by conservatives, is a noble defender against foreign threats (for example, the Islamofascism that the liberal Communofascists support), that our military is just, competent and righteous and its use should be supported when targeting genuine enemies of America, but that government in general has certain limits and when it tries to 'help' people domestically it does more harm than good (as see the four examples above). All of the above are good conservative principles, and always have been.
3.18.2008 10:08am
Crimso:

But as an 'ex-liberal' does that mean he is turning his back on all that liberalism stands for, which includes civil rights for blacks, gays, women and others?

Are you seriously suggesting that one can't stand for those things without being a liberal?
3.18.2008 10:12am
Passing By:
So basically Mamet is a subject matter expert writing outside of his area of actual expertise, a Zionist, contemptuous of Palestinians, with a shallow understanding of politics that pushes him in a conservative-libertarian direction. So is the surprise that this was posted by Prof. Adler, or that it wasn't posted by Prof. Bernstein?
3.18.2008 10:24am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I wanted to be That Guy, the one who Gets Theatre. (I also wanted to be Hugh Hefner, but that's another story.) Movies written by Mamet based on his plays bug me, and get in the way of that dream.
3.18.2008 10:31am
Kevin P. (mail):

"[I]n the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms."


It is funny to read this since I just returned from a meeting of the City of Austin's Board of Adjustment, where my wife and I stood up and begged for the right to keep a storage shed and greenhouse on our own property in a place where they weren't hurting anyone.

Fortunately, enough members of the construction industry sit on this board and were sympathetic enough to overcome the wise Olympian neighborhood activist who voted against us because we exceeded the impermeable coverage limit by 3%.
3.18.2008 10:41am
ithaqua (mail):
"So basically Mamet is a subject matter expert writing outside of his area of actual expertise, a Zionist, contemptuous of Palestinians, with a shallow understanding of politics that pushes him in a conservative-libertarian direction."

So basically, Passing By is an anti-Semitic liberal. (But I repeat myself.) Seriously, though, how is Mamet's opinion of Israel, pro- OR anti-, relevant to his political conversion?
3.18.2008 10:47am
Cornellian (mail):

Believing the contrary - that people are basically vile - leads directly to Puritanism, where the state imposes virtuous behavior by force, and its modern successor, Liberalism.


Just say the word "sex" and you'll be amazed how quickly the social conservative segment of the Republican party is out there loudly demanding we need more laws on the subject, or more vigorous enforcement of existing laws. I guess that makes them liberals.
3.18.2008 10:49am
Bama 1L:
I'm not convinced that Mamet was ever a liberal. As he seems to have realized, his "government bad, corporations bad, people good" views contained an inherent dissonance. But if you talk to ordinary people across the country, in diners, checkout lines, and pediatricians' offices, you'll probably get something similar: "Taxes are too high. Politicians are crooks. The big companies run everything and are ripping off the little guy. I wish I got to keep more of my money because I'd spend it better." Indeed, if you take out Mamet's confessed anti-military stance, he could have been a conservative.
3.18.2008 11:21am
talleyrand (mail):
Since when is the view that man is perfectable a liberal viewpoint? I've never quite understood that claim. Liberalism, as I see it, is much more pessimistic than that, recognizing that people pursue their own self intersts and that regulation is sometimes necessary to prevent the powerful from unfairly harming the weak. That's not naivete, but realism. Maybe he's talking about 1960s campus liberalism that he absorbed in college, but I think mainstream liberal viewpoints have evolved since the 60s.
3.18.2008 11:23am
Aultimer:

PersonFromPorlock:

Believing the contrary - that people are basically vile - leads directly to Puritanism, where the state imposes virtuous behavior by force, and its modern successor, Liberalism statism.


Fixed that for you. The present Republican party is described as well as (if not better than) the Dems in that (overblown) characterization.

My conclusion - Mamet is a better entertainer than thinker.
3.18.2008 11:31am
sbron:
As pointed out at NRO, Mamet really left the left when he wrote Oleanna (made into a good movie also with William Macy as the Professor.) I don't think the Liberal/Conservative labels work anymore. The pivotal scene in Oleanna revolves around a Stalinist demand for censorship. Mamet is really revolting against the hard left which has its roots in Marxism/Stalinism.

An even earlier play by Mamet, The Water Engine, is rather bleak, but contains the fundamental realization that individual ingenuity drives progress. Corporatism and statism are one and the same. Curiously, William Macy also starred in a TV version of the same play.

I would consider Mamet a true liberal.
3.18.2008 11:41am
Kent G. Budge (mail) (www):

David Mamet, long one of my favorite living playwrights, thinks Thomas Sowell is "out greatest contemporary philosopher. Go figure.


I have to agree. With the understanding, already expressed by a number of commenters, that his columns are much inferior to his books. My personal favorite is Knowledge and Decisions but the other books mentioned are also good.

"Shoot, shovel, and forget:" We had a case here in New Mexico where an excited hunter failed to correctly identify his target, and shot a whooping crane dead. He did what he thought was the right and honorable thing: He promptly called Game and Fish and reported his mistake.

He had his firearms and vehicle confiscated and served nearly two years in prison.

Who the H*** is stupid enough to think any hunter in New Mexico is going to do "the right an honorable thing" from now on? I mean, besides politicians, lawyers, and game wardens?
3.18.2008 12:15pm
Passing By:
ithaqua, ad hominem abusive, in the form of a scurrilous attack in no way supported by my comment? Par for the course, here, but really.
3.18.2008 12:18pm
KevinM:
Sorry, but this sounds like one of those convenient "conversion narratives" based on naive ideas held in youth. It's a sturdy trope that has served many autobiographers well, but it's often deeply false. Lincoln Steffens' autobiography, a classic but really phony, springs to mind.
David Mamet used to think people were "good at heart?" Has he ever seen a David Mamet play?
3.18.2008 12:18pm
ithaqua (mail):
Passing By: You're right, my snark got the better of me. I spologize for the unwarranted (though amusing) attack on liberals in general.

I do not, however, apologize for calling you specifically an anti-Semite; your eagerness to make Mamet's conversion story all about Teh Joooos, and your swing at Prof. Bernstein, speak volumes.

And, speaking of ad hominem; again, please explain how your claim that Mamet is "a Zionist [...] contemptuous of Palestinians" is (1) supported by the article, and (2) sufficient to demonstrate his "shallow understanding of politics". (I'll ignore the 'writing outside his field' crack; as a citizen of a democratic nation, politics is indeed Mamet's field, as it is all of ours.)

Good luck :)
3.18.2008 12:31pm
gab:
This is a classic post in the wake of the fact that all the conservatives on Wall Street have just become liberals. Mamet is going in the other direction!


Mamet: " I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow."


Ask Goldman, Lehman, Citibank, Merrill and all the other banks and brokers if gov't intervention over the weekend led to "much beyond sorrow." What exactly do all the so-called conservatives think would have happened to our vaunted financial system without the Fed stepping in this weekend and bailing out Bear Stearns? Everybody's a conservative until their own money is on the line, and then they go hat in hand to the government, begging for its help. Pathetic.
3.18.2008 12:49pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Aultimer:

...and its modern successor, Liberalism statism.

Capital-L Liberalism is statism; small-l liberalism is entirely different, I'm one of those myself.

Cornellian:

Just say the word "sex" and you'll be amazed how quickly the social conservative segment of the Republican party is out there loudly demanding we need more laws on the subject, or more vigorous enforcement of existing laws. I guess that makes them liberals.

No, it makes them Puritans.
3.18.2008 12:55pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Social Security: beyond all the financial criticisms (which are legion, and others have mentioned above), Social Security has contributed massively to the breakdown of the traditional family and traditional work ethic."

Yeah, that's why it's consistently one of the most popular federal programs every constructed. Ever hear of the 'third rail."? I'm not defending how it's administered today, but the vast majority of Americans actually like gov't intervention, especially when it comes to financial, health, environmental and consumer issues.

Back to Mamet: I am getting so sick and tired of these baby-boomers getting their epiphany, as though they are the very first people ever to discover that the world is complex. Ever since the 80s, we have been treated to articles, books, plays and essays that always follow the same formula:

"Back when I was young, I thought (parent, social institution, authority figure, laws) was stupid, blatantly wrong, and corrupt. I was sure I knew everything, and everyone else, and the whole history of the human race, was worthless and not worth learning from. So I rebelled. Now I've grown up and I have a mortgage, respectability and children.
So now I realize that (father, Christmas, my religion, morality laws) really do have a purpose, and aren't so stupid or corrupt as I thought.
So I'm writing this article to alert all the other baby-boomers who are still so dim as to think like I did until last year, and show them the new promised land. I've hit upon an original idea! Maybe, just maybe, people in the past have had the same experiences as I did, and already figured out a way to deal with them other than by just rebelling. People! We can learn from the past!"

Expect within the next few decades similar articles from baby boomers who realize that growing old is painful! And you need nursing care! You can't live like you did when you were thirty! And they will say this with the same degree of wonderment, as though they were the very first people in the history of the world to discover what's it's like to be old, and that might change their worldview.

If Mamet actually thought there was a single original idea in his entire article, then he's a pretty dim bulb.
3.18.2008 1:36pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I would suggest that he has made the first step towards libertarian conservatism. In my view, the basic distinction between liberalism and conservatism is the view of human nature. Is man good or bad? Or possibly, perfectible or not.

Liberalism is essentially based on a utopian view of human nature, that man is good, or at least perfectible with a lot of state coercion. Socialism and the rest of the liberal solutions descend from this.

It is the acceptance that man is fallible, and maybe even banal, that brings one to conservatism. Distrust of government come straight from the realization that governments are creations of men and are run by men. So, no surprise that though they are filled with decent hard working men and women, they inevitably end up being run by those who see the power inherent in a government, and are willing to do what it takes to take control of that power. So, as a natural result of man's imperfection, those who tend to rise to the top are often among the less good.

But somehow, it is assumed that in the face of the power inherent in running a government, we will somehow have philosopher kings. Worse maybe - even if we started with philosopher kinds, their progeny wound not be. Indeed, we have seen, time and time again, the results of capture. The regulated gaining control of the mechanisms designed to regulate them.

Another part of the conceit is that if only the right people were left in charge of designing a government system, program, etc., it could be done perfectly. What that always ignores is that there are more people trying to get around regulations, etc., and they are often smarter. Even if not, there are typically enough of them that in the aggregate, they are far more intelligent than those trying to design the unbeatable system. So, we had HillaryCare, designed by the smartest woman in the world, that was based in part by throwing people in jail for trying to game the system.

Socialism doesn't work because it assumes that man is perfect, or at least very good, willing to put the common good above personal good. Capitalism works because it is based on the reality that man is venal and willing to work for his own economic benefit.
3.18.2008 1:41pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
the extent to which modern conservatives hate those who actually served in Vietnam


Oh we liked Ollie North and the Swift Boaters (including the 2 MOH winners) OK. They all served in Vietnam.
3.18.2008 1:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
"Shoot, shovel, and forget:" We had a case here in New Mexico where an excited hunter failed to correctly identify his target, and shot a whooping crane dead.

And with just a couple hundred whooping cranes in existence, I am supposed to feel sorry for him? He deserved every minute of his jail time--I hope he got a couple hundred thousand dollar fine too. What about the personal responsibility you conservatives are supposed to be so enamored of.

You don't indiscriminately shoot things.

I doubt he had much choice about whether or not to do the right thing. I think that pretty much every whooping crane is tagged and tracked electronically. He probably was screwed anyway.
3.18.2008 1:47pm
A Law Unto Himself:
Cornellian says:

I'm not sure why thinking people are "basically good at heart" necessarily leads to any particular political viewpoint.


I think that Thomas Sowell provides a very direct answer to your question in his book: "A Conflict of Visions". Assuming people are intrinsically good at heart is a symtom of (to use Sowell's words) an "unconstrained vision".
3.18.2008 1:51pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Drug testing? (I assume you're talking about the FDA, etc, here.) Forces drug companies to spend massive amounts of time and money to push any new drug through the government bureaucracy. This not only reduces drug company profits and keeps promising treatments off the market

Yeah, I hear thalidamide is a great drug for morning sickness in pregnant women.
3.18.2008 1:52pm
Bretzky (mail):
Cornellian:


I'm not sure why thinking people are "basically good at heart" necessarily leads to any particular political viewpoint.

I would say that if you believe that people are "basically good at heart" then you are inclined not to worry so much about the abuse of power. If you believe that people are basically greedy, power-hungry, and given to fits of megalomania, then you would be very concerned about it.

Believing that people are basically good can lead you down two, very different paths: 1) very little government power because people will take care of themselves or 2) a lot of government power because we needn't worry about the abuse of power by those who have it.

Believing that people are basically bad leads also down two different paths: 1) placing all government power in one virtuous man (or woman's) hands or 2) tying governmental power up in knots through the use of checks and balances, both horizontally and vertically. Path #2 is, of course, the one the Constitutional Framers chose. I think this is why Mamet ties his belief in the inherent fallibility of man to his respect for the Constitution.

As far as his conversion to free market economics goes, Mamet may be going down the road blazed by Adam Smith himself. The combined economic decisions made by the individuals of a society for each person's own greedy purposes results in an efficient distribution of economic resources throughout society which provides the greatest benefit across the whole society.
3.18.2008 1:54pm
ithaqua (mail):
I'd just like to second Bretzky's comment above; believing that human nature is inherently good doesn't require one to support either big government or small government; likewise for those who believe human nature is inherently bad.

But there's something of the fallacy of the excluded middle involved in this discussion. I think, myself, that human nature is, well, human; it doesn't map nicely onto 'good' and 'bad'; there are a lot of people who, left to their own devices, benefit the people around them ('good') and a lot who do the opposite ('bad'). The former, of course, tend to be conservatives (accepting personal responsibility and believing that other people are trustworthy, like them), and the latter tend to be liberals (abrogating personal responsibility and believing that other people need to be under state control, like them). But still, arguing for some form of government based on a generic stereotype of human behavior is probably not too useful.
3.18.2008 2:08pm
Piano_JAM (mail):
JF - have you ever had a happy day in your life?
3.18.2008 2:27pm
Brendon:
This is simply Mamet getting older.

And Sasha: Dammit, Dave is such a classic. Except for a couple lines, you'd think Mamet wrote it. The A.C.T. here in San Francisco just had a writing contest requiring contestants to re-write a famous movie scene in the Mamet style. Many contestants, no doubt inspired by Dammit, Dave, submitted parodies of 2001. I chose the Wizard of Oz: "Hit the yellow bricks!"
3.18.2008 2:39pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
reading the article I get the feeling that word doesn't mean what he thinks it means, or at least, what I think it means...

Does explain how confusing it is when some use 'liberal' as a expletive - I bet we aren't even close to thinking it means the same thing.
3.18.2008 2:53pm
Randy R. (mail):
ithaqua: "I think, myself, that human nature is, well, human; it doesn't map nicely onto 'good' and 'bad'; there are a lot of people who, left to their own devices, benefit the people around them ('good') and a lot who do the opposite ('bad'). "

Exactly. And there are good people who do things that they think are good, but have bad consequences. Does that make them bad people? And most people think that they are good. Hitler certainly did. So what's the yardstick?

There are, however, some religions that believe that man is basically evil, and so he needs all sorts of laws to rein him in. (Tom DeLay is famous for this belief) I think those religions are weird, but that's another post.

So saying that people are basically are good or bad isn't helpful at all, and is a rather infantile way of looking at the world. That a renowned playright would fall into such a trap is even more surprising. I loved Chicago, and one of the reasons I loved it is that it showed that the line between good and bad is a very blurred one, depending upon one's viewpoint.
3.18.2008 3:28pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):

Shoot, shovel, and forget:" We had a case here in New Mexico where an excited hunter failed to correctly identify his target, and shot a whooping crane dead.


J.F.Thomas writes:
And with just a couple hundred whooping cranes in existence, I am supposed to feel sorry for him? He deserved every minute of his jail time--I hope he got a couple hundred thousand dollar fine too. What about the personal responsibility you conservatives are supposed to be so enamored of.

No one cares whether you feel sorry for him. Your previous posts telegraph your views well enough. It's an issue of fairness: criminal liability for a administrative offense? I personally find most criminal statutes that don't require some level of mens rea to be pretty repugnant. I don't think he deserved anything except a fine and a court order to attend a hunter safety course before he could get a hunting license again. Max.

You don't indiscriminately shoot things.
No, you shouldn't. But it didn't say indiscriminantly, it said mistaken identity. I know the difference, why don't you? Mistakes happen, especially in the field. Are you claiming infallibility? Do you hunt? (Don't bother ... I can guess the answer.)

I doubt he had much choice about whether or not to do the right thing. I think that pretty much every whooping crane is tagged and tracked electronically. He probably was screwed anyway.

Maybe. Maybe not. Though I recall a few years ago either a sandhill or whooping crane showed up hundreds of miles off course, and surprised everyone. Some tracking. But you're just trying to rationalize your lack of sympathy or empathy. The facts as presented were pretty nuetral.

I guess you're a big fan of the utilitarian approach to criminal punishment ... doesn't matter if you are punishing someone deserving of the punishment or not, so long as the general populace gets the lesson and toes the line, there's a "net benefit" to society? So you support the death penalty, with all of its faults? Doesn't matter if they were really guilty?

IMHO, there isn't a bird on this planet worth two years of a man's life (though in the case of J.F. Thomas, I might be willing to make an exception), and I don't care if he bit its head off in front of the Sierra Club and PETA board of directors. I don't care if it's the last one of its kind on the planet.

With events like this (presuming it is more than anecdotal), anyone who might remotely come across an endangered species had best kill the damn thing and destroy the evidence as fast as possible. It's the only rational thing to do. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

Nice to know the environmentalist among us are helping set up an incentive system to wipe out endangered species! That's one way to get them off the list!
3.18.2008 3:57pm
occidental tourist (mail):
Ask Goldman, Lehman, Citibank, Merrill and all the other banks and brokers if gov't intervention over the weekend led to "much beyond sorrow."

I don't think Mamet said anything inconsistent with the notion that the government involvement in the Bear Stearns buyout is regrettable.

If not for the government's Spitzer style 'trust busting' it would have been far better for those who stood at some risk from a Bear Stearns failure to engineer this buyout privately. (those at the most risk from it probably weren't in the position to pull it off. I don't know if that applies directly to JP Morgan Chase but whether they had the ammo to pull this off partnering with others in the private sector or not, instead they flexed the public choice 'partnership with government' card. Forgetting that there is probably something in it for them -- including possibly pressure on Bear Stearns -- if they had set this up with other investment banks I'm sure some Spitzer wanna-bee would have accused them of colluding against the stockholders of Bear Stearns.

Randy R.

If Mamet actually thought there was a single original idea in his entire article, then he's a pretty dim bulb.


I don't believe he said it was original, but it bespeaks personal experience - however cynical you want to be about his sincerity. When I read Hayek, it was as if I had written The Road to Serfdom which isn't to build myself up but rather to take him off the platform and say that his predominate accomplishment was being willing to say what many people come to believe from experience but was not fashionable -- think (or thank) Edmund Burke on that account as well.

I'm not a regular reader but I have to bet it was fairly original for the forum in which it appeared.

Brian
3.18.2008 4:02pm
talleyrand (mail):
Bruce Hayden said:

"Liberalism is essentially based on a utopian view of human nature, that man is good, or at least perfectible with a lot of state coercion. Socialism and the rest of the liberal solutions descend from this."

I strongly disagree with you. You confuse Liberalism and Communism. Liberalism inherently recognizes that humans are self-interested and that the powerful will exploit the weak or ignore the negative externalities of market activity if it is profitable and they can get away with it. Broadly speaking, the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives say the market result is the best possible outcome and will correct itself in time, so never mind the public consequences of private economic activity. Liberals, on the other hand, say the market result is not necessarily just, it may not correct itself in any reasonable time frame and it may harm third parties who are not party to the contract, and therefore, in a democracy, government action is justified (investment banks seem to agree). This has nothing to do with attempting to "perfect" mankind. (and by the way, it has been said before but bears repeating, modern Conservatives/Republicans have no problem with social engineering when it serves a Christianist agenda)
3.18.2008 4:17pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
No, you shouldn't. But it didn't say indiscriminantly, it said mistaken identity.

No, I don't hunt. But if the idiot can't tell the difference between a sandhill and whooping crane (and I hope he thought it was a sandhill--it's the only North American bird that is close), he deserves what he gets.

I don't know what you would consider a sufficient disincentive to shooting endangered species (and shooting any migratory species without a permit is prohibited). When there are trophy hunters out there, getting one of the last two hundred is tempting unless the disincentives are severe. And many crimes don't require mens rea.
3.18.2008 4:23pm
hattio1:
Wow,
What a wide-ranging discussion. Randy R. Don't you know that you're only supposed to use the "you're a celebrity, shut up about politics" line when the celbrity in question is on the left? That's fine for Sean Penn, not okay for Ah-nold. Fine for Tim Robbins, not okay for David Mamet (circa 2008, okay if before then).

ruralcounsel,
You say it was a case of mistaken identity. Isn't recognizing your targets a part of basic hunter training? And what the hell looks sufficiently like a whooping crane that IS legal to hunt? I can only think of a few birds that big. They're all protected, and most, think California Condor or Bald Eagle, look nothing like a whooping crane.
But where I really have a problem is you saying that the smart hunter should shoot any endangered species???? How does that follow? Maybe knowing what you are shooting at would be a better plan? Even assuming the "mistaken identity" was reasonable (which I disagree with in the case of the whooping crane) why would you intentionally commit a crime to prevent yourself from accidentally committing a crime.
Which brings us to the last ridiculous point of your post. The assumption that there was no mens rea in the crime. Without doing the research I can almost guarantee there was a mens rea and it was reckless. Which, unless you can find a bird that looks similar to a whooping cran and lives in the area, and is legal to hunt, I think there would be no problem in showing.
3.18.2008 5:01pm
markm (mail):
Talleyrand: Libertarianism doesn't believe that the market is always good, but merely that in most cases government action will bring even worse results. I think the record amply supports that, and it should be no surprise why:

(1) Dealings with government are largely involuntary. Dealings with businesses (except for monopolies, which nearly always exist with the help of the government) are voluntary, so bad actions by businesses are self-limiting as their customers or suppliers go away. If you don't like Walmart, you can shop somewhere else; you've either got to go to the DMV or walk.

(2) Among the workers with a reasonable chance of rising to the top, government service attracts those who very much want to boss others around. Business attracts the greedy. In the long run, greedy businessmen are far more likely to reach their objectives by serving their customers well so their business expands. Nosy parkers in government get what they want by increasing the size and regulatory reach of their departments, with enforcing arbitrary and illogical regulations giving them the most "kick".
3.18.2008 5:05pm
hattio1:
BTW,
More central to the discussion, I am a liberal and do not believe that people are good...or evil. Most are a mix.
3.18.2008 5:06pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):

And many crimes don't require mens rea.


More's the pity. Because the ones that are strict liability (lots of statutes don't have a mens rea expressly, but it is Constitutionally required to read one in to them by the courts, unless clearly written to be strict liability) tend to be unjust over-reaching by the state, intended to prohibit a behavior not inherently criminal.

My point is he doesn't deserve what he got. Thank goodness we disagree again, JFT! It's my way of making sure I'm on the right side of the argument, if not the winning side.

I frankly don't think an endangered species is helped by strict liability type statutes ... probably put more at risk, actually. Which was the whole point of the "shoot, shovel, and forget". It's pretty hard to disincentivise an act the person doesn't know they are committing until its over and done with. If you can prove he knew, that's a horse of a different color.
3.18.2008 5:12pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
hattio1 says:

You say it was a case of mistaken identity.


No, I didn't say that, the original poster did. Don't fight the hypo. And whether you think something is a reasonable mistake or not wasn't the issue. The point being that "mistake of fact" usually won't help much in many criminal prosecutions.

Go back and start reading the posts. You clearly missed the issue. The point is that no rational person will ever report mistakes of judgment (e.g. shooting the endangered bird) if it results in criminal prosecution. And mistakes of judgment are notoriously difficult to prevent without getting rid of the subject matter. Subsequently, make sure there aren't any endangered species around ... if you see one, get rid of it now. Destroy the habitat; make it someone elses problem. Don't let it hang around and attract attention. The thing's a walking/flying/swimming IED. Risk management.

The question wasn't whether he'd commited a crime; strict liability likely guaranteed that. It was whether this kind of legal response was an incentive or disincentive for people to respect endangered species. I think the existance of the phrase "shoot, shovel,and forget" pretty well answers that.
3.18.2008 5:31pm
Mac (mail):

J. F. Thomas (mail):
Drug testing? (I assume you're talking about the FDA, etc, here.) Forces drug companies to spend massive amounts of time and money to push any new drug through the government bureaucracy. This not only reduces drug company profits and keeps promising treatments off the market

Yeah, I hear thalidamide is a great drug for morning sickness in pregnant women.


The FDA did not keep thalidamide off the market because they were so smart. They took so long with the approval process that the problems came out before they got around to approving it. As I recall, they were going to approve it. Government bureaucracy winning one due to inefficiency.

Care to contemplate how many people die while life saving drugs are held up for years by the FDA?
3.18.2008 6:06pm
K Parker (mail):
markm,

Your #2 is of special interest here. I think this quote from C.S. Lewis is appropriate:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
(from the essay "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment")
3.18.2008 6:18pm
Mac (mail):
Talleyrand


You confuse Liberalism and Communism. Liberalism inherently recognizes that humans are self-interested and that the powerful will exploit the weak or ignore the negative externalities of market activity if it is profitable and they can get away with it


Exactly!! And, who is the most powerful of all? The Government, of course. Which is exactly why it should be small and watched like a hawk. It is also why one should never believe that the Government is here to help you. Or, do you think politicians don't act in self interest when they are trolling for votes?

I would also caution Liberals to be careful about crowing over the government bailout of Bear Sterns. My bet is that Government policy had a lot to do with creating the whole mess to start with. This will include Congress, the Federal Reserve et al. The 1987 "crisis" was caused directly by the Congress passing laws that encouraged people to behave in certain ways and then, when Congress changed the tax laws, they effectively pulled the rug from under everyone who had abided by their first set of laws.

Of course, you never heard Congress take any responsibility. It was those greedy tax payers.
3.18.2008 6:22pm
GD (mail):
Dammit, Dave!

Clarke
3.18.2008 7:09pm
talleyrand (mail):
markm says:

"Libertarianism doesn't believe that the market is always good, but merely that in most cases government action will bring even worse results."

I generally and broadly agree with you, but that's not always the case, and it depends on what you mean by "worse." If you mean "more costly" and "less efficient," that's (generally, but not always) true. (think about securities regulation, for example--capital is more efficiently distributed with the existence of laws requiring regular, periodic disclosures than without them)

"Dealings with businesses (except for monopolies, which nearly always exist with the help of the government) are voluntary, so bad actions by businesses are self-limiting as their customers or suppliers go away."

True insofar as you're talking about consumer choices, but what I'm talking about are negative externalities. Surely you recognize that certain private activities cause harm to society at large or others who are not parties to the transaction.

"Among the workers with a reasonable chance of rising to the top, government service attracts those who very much want to boss others around. Business attracts the greedy."

Have you ever worked in the private sector? Let me introduce you to my boss, who is both greedy and, well, bossy...(not to mention that plenty of people (like Dick Cheney or Robert Rubin) move rather easily from govt to business and back again)

Mac says: "which is why the govt should be watched like a hawk"

100% with you, Mac. If there's anything the past 8 years have taught us, it's that excessive govt secrecy and a lazy press invites abuse of power.

"My bet is that Government policy had a lot to do with creating the whole mess to start with"

Not so sure I'm with you there. There are certainly a lot more plausible explanations out there than your general and inchoate belief that something went wrong, therefore the govt must have caused it.
3.18.2008 7:11pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
I don't suppose there's much incongruity in a "brain dead" liberal's converting to free-market conservatism; in any case, I hope and expect M. Mamet will forgive those liberals who, enjoying measurable brain function, opt not to follow his lead!
3.18.2008 7:29pm
Mac (mail):
Talleyrand wrote,

1

00% with you, Mac. If there's anything the past 8 years have taught us, it's that excessive govt secrecy and a lazy press invites abuse of power.



Right, Talleyrand. We never, never have to worry about abuse of power and a lazy press when the Democrats are in power. Right. When the Democrats are in power, I would say lazy and complicit press.

Mac wrote,
"My bet is that Government policy had a lot to do with creating the whole mess to start with"

Talleyrand wrote,

Not so sure I'm with you there. There are certainly a lot more plausible explanations out there than your general and inchoate belief that something went wrong, therefore the govt must have caused it.


Talleyrand,
Probably because that is usually the case. If you round up the usual suspects, the Government is usually behind it. Look at who gave money to what political figures who wrote what laws. If you think it is only Republicans, I have a bridge to sell you.

Also, these are not necessarily the smartest people in the world, our politicians. Most of them are lawyers. What do they know about investment banking etc.? I rest my case.
3.18.2008 7:37pm
hattio1:
rural counsel says;


Don't fight the hypo. And whether you think something is a reasonable mistake or not wasn't the issue. The point being that "mistake of fact" usually won't help much in many criminal prosecutions.


Don't fight the hypo. It wasn't a hypo, it purported to be a real life situation. And yes, you're right, if I accept that the original poster is correct about everything then...well, they're correct about everything. But, you say that the point isn't whether or not it was a reasonable mistake, but whether "mistake of fact" can ever be helpful in many criminal prosecutions. Of course it can't. For the simple reason that "mistake of fact" is not a defense in any jurisdiction I know of. Reasonable mistake of fact though is often a defense. Which brings us back to the central question; was it a reasonable mistake of fact.

ruralcounsel also says;

The point is that no rational person will ever report mistakes of judgment (e.g. shooting the endangered bird) if it results in criminal prosecution.



Well, that might have been the original posters intent, but since the point is that it must be a "reasonable mistake of fact" and this person hasn't established that the mistake of fact was reasonable, I wonder why we assume that has any bearing whatsoever on what a RATIONAL person will do. Reasonable and rational usually go hand in hand.
3.18.2008 7:41pm
talleyrand (mail):
Mac,

I never said the press should be any less vigilent when a Democrat is in the White House.

"Probably because that is usually the case. If you round up the usual suspects, the Government is usually behind it."

It certainly makes it easy to understand a complex issue with myriad causes if you can reflexively reduce the problem to "it's the government," without really being able to explain why or how. But I guess that's somewhat better than saying "it's the corporations"...
3.18.2008 8:10pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
"Liberalism is essentially based on a utopian view of human nature, that man is good, or at least perfectible with a lot of state coercion. Socialism and the rest of the liberal solutions descend from this."

I strongly disagree with you. You confuse Liberalism and Communism. Liberalism inherently recognizes that humans are self-interested and that the powerful will exploit the weak or ignore the negative externalities of market activity if it is profitable and they can get away with it. Broadly speaking, the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives say the market result is the best possible outcome and will correct itself in time, so never mind the public consequences of private economic activity. Liberals, on the other hand, say the market result is not necessarily just, it may not correct itself in any reasonable time frame and it may harm third parties who are not party to the contract, and therefore, in a democracy, government action is justified (investment banks seem to agree). This has nothing to do with attempting to "perfect" mankind. (and by the way, it has been said before but bears repeating, modern Conservatives/Republicans have no problem with social engineering when it serves a Christianist agenda)
Let me suggest first that your admission that man is fallible, and maybe even bad, only applies to businesses in your definition above, and is not applied where it should be most applied, and that is to government. Somehow, there is implicit in your position above that government can solve many, if not most, of society's problems. But that solution does not take into account first that those in government are likely to be as venal as those outside government, and secondly, that modern governments wield significantly more power these days than do businesses. At least in our country right now, businesses don't have the right or really the ability to enforce their desires at the point of a gun and to lock up their opponents. Governments do.

So, I would suggest that one weakness in your argument is the assumption that governments are good, and the corollary that those in government are good, and, indeed, more capable than those outside government. And, indeed, even if they were more good than those outside government, on average, that still wouldn't affect the results, since you need to essentially multiply the power of an actor by his lack of goodness (and competence) in order to determine his ability and likelihood and ability to do bad.

Your attempt to characterize my view on liberalism to communism, and then distinguish liberalism from that is also not persuasive. Obviously, both agree with the theory that business is evil. But both also agree with the theory that government is good and that those put in charge of governments are good. I will agree that liberalism, per se, is not as utopian as socialism, and its progeny, Communism, Fascism, Naziism, etc. But the dividing line between most of the liberalism we see today and socialism seems thinner every year. You find a societal problem, and the liberal answer is invariably more government control and intervention. It is a view that governments can and should solve most of society's problems, ignoring the weaknesses, fragilities, and venalities of those in government attempting those solutions. Sure, you may believe that man is fallible, but you fail to go the next step in realizing that governments are run by those same fallible people. And that is where your utopianism shows itself.

Finally, your "Christianist" comment was counterproductive for making your point. It painted you as a knee jerk liberal who fails to think through his arguments, but rather substitutes sound bites and code words instead (esp. since the remainder of your argument was well thought out). Note that my original post started by characterizing my position as libertarian conservative. Arguing as you did at the end attempts to put me in the same category as religious conservatives, just because we might some times vote for the same candidates. That is about as persuasive as claiming that you are a racist because you and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright likely voted for the same candidates.
3.18.2008 8:33pm
Randy R. (mail):
"IMHO, there isn't a bird on this planet worth two years of a man's life.

And there isn't a mushroom on this planet that is worth the death penalty. However, nature provides it own way of protecting itself, and any mushroom hunter who makes a mistake in identifyint it's prey, as your friend did, would simply die a short, painful death.

Given those circumstances, most mushroom hunters make damn sure of what they are picking before they pick it. If they can do that, why can't your friend make sure that he is shooting a bird that isn't endangered?
3.18.2008 9:08pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
What if you think people are generally good, but also that people will generally look out for their own interests, and some people are not good at all. Can you believe in a middle-sized government?
3.18.2008 9:28pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
What if you think people are generally good, but also that people will generally look out for their own interests, and some people are not good at all. Can you believe in a middle-sized government?
We are stuck with a government of a certain size, likely a bit bigger than a number of us here would prefer.

But your assumptions and mine are not all that different. I don't believe that most people are bad, but rather, that most people are not saints and that they mostly look out for their own interests first. But a large, or, here a medium sized government still presupposes that those in the government or setting the government's priorities, etc. are smarter than those outside trying to game it and are there looking after the good of society before they look after their own good. And that isn't realistic.

One big quasi-scandal right now concerns ear marks, which are essentially politicians buying votes through bribing their constituents via the ear marks with their own money. In other words, Congress is looking after their own interests before they look after the interests of the American people. While such pork would seem to naturally fall more naturally with the Democrats in Congress, there are a surprising number of Republicans on board too. Indeed, it is surprising that the party split here is not more distinct. But it isn't, with almost as many Republicans lined up at the trough as Democrats. So, you have a lot of Republicans talking the talk, but not walking the walk, with limited government.

Thus, my answer to your question is that the reason that medium sized government is better than big government is that there is less of it, and therefore less to screw up and to screw up peoples' lives. But that doesn't mean that there isn't corruption, misfeasance, and malfeasance, just that there is less opportunity for it.
3.18.2008 10:27pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Randy R.

"IMHO, there isn't a bird on this planet worth two years of a man's life."

And there isn't a mushroom on this planet that is worth the death penalty. However, nature provides it own way of protecting itself, and any mushroom hunter who makes a mistake in identifyint it's prey, as your friend did, would simply die a short, painful death.

Given those circumstances, most mushroom hunters make damn sure of what they are picking before they pick it. If they can do that, why can't your friend make


You can't really be that clueless, but just in case, I'll type real slow so you can keep up ...

The difference between a natural hazard and a man-made artificial punishment. We as a society, pick and chose the level of punishment for violation of law. We have a choice, and we can tailor it to fit the circumstances by exercising good judgment. Let's pretend eating poisonous wild mushrooms was criminal. I doubt we would pick the same level of punishment for eating a poisoned mushroom if it was done by a child versus an adult, an amatuer versus a professional harvester. Nature doesn't make that distinction ... in fact, based on body weight, the "innocent" child is more likely to suffer the worst consequence.

The issue originally raised was the fairness/rightness of throwing the book at some poor guy who made a mistake. We don't know how reasonable or unreasonable that mistake was; we don't know any of the circumstances. I'm sure we each could make something up to make us feel better about our knee jerk reaction to the outcome, but that avoids the point.

Based on what we were told, my position was that this was a travesty or miscarraige of justice. I still hold that position, all the enviro-extremist posts notwithstanding. I believe, and will probably always continue to beleive, that in general, people are more important than animals. Doesn't mean that some people shouldn't be punished for deliberately mistreating animals. Doesn't mean I wouldn't shoot most people if they were threatening my animals. It isn't a mantra, it's a general proposition, and there are plenty of circumstances where I would act contrary to it. I'd shoot my own dog if it attacked a baby. But I'd shoot any adult intruder that was threatening my dog. Situational awareness. Some people's behavior gets them off my "protected list" real fast. What we were told about the crane-guy's behavior didn't.

hattio1:

"Don't fight the hypo" is just shorthand for don't make up any of your own facts, deal with the ones we were presented with. Focus the discussion. Answer the question asked, not the one you want to answer. (You don't like that, then go run for office!)


Reasonable mistake of fact though is often a defense.

Not for strict liability crimes. (Except for California and Alaska ... who actually allowed the defense in statutory rape cases. Quite the rarity!) Violation of wildlife regulations is generally strict liability. In fact, most regulatory laws are strict liability. The only difference is that often the penalties crank up if it was done "knowingly".

Reasonable and rational, in my 50+ years of life on this planet, have rarely gone hand in hand. I would cite most government actions as examples ... highly rational, rarely reasonable. Stalin was ruthlessly rational. Hitler was ruthlessly rational. Psychopaths are highly rational. There is probably no end to that list. In my moral universe, the test shouldn't be "rational basis", it should be "reasonable basis" ... and then most government action would be struck down. Rational is unconstrained by morality or ethics or principles. Reasonable is not.

Some of my colleagues have told me about conversations they have had with patients in the state mental facility, folks who sounded entirely rational as they conveyed how the CIA had been targeting them and how they responded by killing the hotel clerk, who was in league with them. But not highly reasonable. Took a couple of hours of conversation before you realized the guy wasn't quite "right".
3.19.2008 10:01am
occidental tourist (mail):

Violation of wildlife regulations is generally strict liability.


Illegally taking the king's game and all. A poor legal inheritance.

The difficult trick is converting from elite ownership and management of wildlife tthrough a tragedy of the commmons supplanted by ESA type protection of wildlife largely independent of its utility and value to humans to a system that effects some value and ownership in these resources.

The big problem with the ESA is not the occasional hunter jailed for shooting the wrong bird, although I don't find this approach salutary. It is the landowner told he must maintain his land as a park for endangered species which have no value to him and in which he can have no ownership interest that could afford value.

This is not to deny non-consumptive values like viewing or know they are there or even the surrogate values that the ESA is cynically used to enforce of maintaining particular pereceptually pre-columbian landscapes that environmentalist like but won't pay for. The ESA does exactly the opposite of giving value to our intangible love of nature. Instead it imposes uncompensated costs on those who are in the way of elite management prerogatives -- not much different than the king's game paradigm.

In this context I generally agree that there isn't an animal in the world the loss of which deserves prison terms of revoking your building permit (see the pernicious bullshit of the zoning board comments elsewhere). I probably feel this way even if with a nostaligic twinge about poached elephants, rhinos, etc. And this is certainly impelled by the insane regulations to protect bugs and flys that have allowed me to realize that even measures aimed at protecting charismatic megafauna while popular amongst a majority are tyrrany of the minority and have their genesis in an enviroment of tunnel vision ignoring consequences on human freedom and endeavor and on less favored environments.

Violent retributions in the conduct of trade in endangered species is obviously criminal. If somebody shoots a crane and then starts shooting the wildlife officials coming to investigate, while I understand that the circumstance is the fruit of the poisonous tree, that doesn't excuse taking the chain saw one intends for this policy to the park rangers. Rather human society reasonably demands non-violent resistance to change the policy.

BTW, Shoot, shovel and shut-up is the correct aphorism (at least in alliterative and common usage sense)and it is the correct resistance to the current regulatory environment. If government wishes to exercise the collective will toward other ends it must find a way to give value to non-consumptive or sustainably consumptive uses of wildlife that seriously compete with purportedly unsustainable alternatives.

If people are so damn concerned about nature, finding ways for the market to truly channel what they would invest in it is the missing link. Environmentalists lost their way when they moved from direct conservation activities to simply collecting donations to be leveraged in the public choice arena. When they lose the political argument or realize that civil disobediance is the result of overweening government all they can do is whine because they have completely forgotten how to actually practice conservation.

And for crying out loud don't mention the nature conservancy and other purported conservers of land who have a mainline to the teet of the government dairy to bail them out making them little more than monoplistic real estate agents for government land ownership.

Brian
3.19.2008 10:54am
talleyrand (mail):
Bruce Hayden,

I didn't mean to characterize you as a social conservative and sorry you took it that way (although you are taking this rather personally). I'm only saying that if you characterize liberals as believing that it is right to use tools of government to "perfect" mankind, then the same criticism can be made of modern conservatives/Republicans. Maybe you agree with the merits of that argument, maybe you don't, but I am certainly not making any claims about what you believe, b/c I have no basis on which to make that claim.

Now, as for your assertion that I characterize business is evil, that is not at all the claim I am making and I don't see how you could draw that conclusion (except that perhaps you have certain narrow preconceptions about what "liberals" think and you have unfairly tried to apply them to me). I don't think my argument is that hard to understand, but I'll simplify it for you. 1) Rational businessmen act in their own self-interest. (I think you would agree that, generally, that is a good thing.) 2) Private, self-interested transactions sometimes generate negative consequences for people who are outsiders to that contract. 3) Regulation is sometimes appropriate to discourage or address these kinds of harms.

This is not a claim that govt is inherently good. I have made no moral claims about govt. As I've already said, all things being equal, market solutions are generally preferable to govt solutions. But market solutions are not always fair or efficient, and sometimes regulation leads to more efficient outcomes. The example I gave was securities regulation. That is all.
3.19.2008 11:53am
Mac (mail):
Talleyrand wrote:


It certainly makes it easy to understand a complex issue with myriad causes if you can reflexively reduce the problem to "it's the government," without really being able to explain why or how. But I guess that's somewhat better than saying "it's the corporations"...


I gave you a very specific example. I can't help it if you answer without reading my posts. It is not fair to say I never explained why or how.
3.19.2008 1:27pm
talleyrand (mail):
Really? I looked through your posts and you have said nothing about how the govt caused this credit crisis. What you said was this: "The 1987 "crisis" was caused directly by the Congress passing laws that encouraged people to behave in certain ways and then, when Congress changed the tax laws, they effectively pulled the rug from under everyone who had abided by their first set of laws." Sorry, but that's a rather vague "explanation." What exactly are you talking about? And how does that--whatever it is you were trying to say--show that today's problems are caused primarily by government action?
3.19.2008 1:51pm
hattio1:
ruralcounsel says;

Not for strict liability crimes. (Except for California and Alaska ... who actually allowed the defense [reasonable mistake of fact] in statutory rape cases. Quite the rarity!)


Well, you're missing a couple of things here. A strict liability crime can have an affirmative defense of reasonable mistake of fact. You see, if you attach a intentional or knowing mens rea, the prosecution has to prove it. If you make it an affirmative defense, the defense has to prove it. Doesn't mean it's not a strict liability crime.
But, you're probably not reading this thread anymore anyway.
3.19.2008 7:17pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Based on what we were told, my position was that this was a travesty or miscarraige of justice. I still hold that position, all the enviro-extremist posts notwithstanding. I believe, and will probably always continue to beleive, that in general, people are more important than animals."

Great. So any time a person accidently shoots an endangered species, he should get a lighter sentence if he makes the claim that it was a simple mistake? Knowing humans, I would suspect every single person accused of violating this law would claim this as a defense, rendering it worthless as a deterrant against killing endangered species.

My point about the mushrooms is that when the stakes are rather high, you have a higher degree of care. If every hunter learns that he could end up in jail for not knowing his birds, then he will take the time necessary to learn the birds. If bird watchers can do it for their pleasure, surely the hunters can as well.

Look, I agree that two years is a long time, and I feel sorry for the guy. Perhaps he's just some shmuck who didn't know better. But the extinction of an entire species isn't something to trifle about either. If you keep letting everyone off with light sentences, then the species is gone, and once gone, is gone forever. That's a pretty high price to pay for one person's one day of camping.
3.19.2008 7:37pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
hattio1


Well, you're missing a couple of things here. A strict liability crime can have an affirmative defense of reasonable mistake of fact. You see, if you attach a intentional or knowing mens rea, the prosecution has to prove it. If you make it an affirmative defense, the defense has to prove it. Doesn't mean it's not a strict liability crime.
But, you're probably not reading this thread anymore anyway.


Nope, still here (but probably not much longer ... this thread is about to die of old age).

Perhaps some states will allow that affirmative defense of reasonable mistake of fact for a strict liability criminal violation (the CA an AK examples) ... many (most?) will not. The PD can try and argue it, and generally the judge will put a quick end to it. I've seen it happen. Didn't matter that he thought she looked 17, that she said she was 17, that it was consensual ... he's on the sex offender list now! So, what did I miss?

If that affirmative defense is allowed, it isn't really strict liability. It's some hybrid version of it.
Strict liability means NO mens rea attached, express or constructively. Doesn't matter if you reasonably thought the facts were different and can prove it.
3.20.2008 10:12am
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Randy R. says:

Great. So any time a person accidently shoots an endangered species, he should get a lighter sentence if he makes the claim that it was a simple mistake?

No, but if they turn themselves in, having not been caught in the act in the field, I think circumstances argue for a level of leniency or outright forgiveness. "[A]nytime"? Please, save your strawman arguments for someone else. It's not like the guy was selling it or profiting by it or doing it out of malice in any way we were told about.


But the extinction of an entire species isn't something to trifle about either. If you keep letting everyone off with light sentences, then the species is gone, and once gone, is gone forever.

I disagree. The extinction of a species is really nothing to get all shook up about. Roughly speaking 98+% of all species ever on earth are extinct. Life goes on. Get a grip. Yeah, it's gone forever. Big deal; something else will evolve to take that ecological niche, presuming the niche still exists. If that's the biggest thing you have to worry about, your life has gotten way too easy.

And nobody said letting "everyone" off with a light sentence. How is it that one reasonable exception occurs, and everyone wants to make it the guiding inflexible rigid rule? When we can't bring common sense into the law, and just apply it inflexibly, what's the point of having people involved? We won't need judges or trials, just computers. Seems like you guys either want full amnesty or death penalty (just kidding, I hope)... I'd rather have a flexible range of penalties that can be adapted to match the facts.
3.20.2008 10:35am