Category 8. My Favorites

A Culturist

As you may know, the word libertarian fairly describes my thinking on most broadly political, economic and even social matters; there should be a word that captures how I, and others like me, think about culture. I propose the word culturist. I think – and clutch your pearls now if you are one of the perpetually offended – that some cultures are better than others.

By better, I mean both that such cultures are – in broad terms – fairer and that they encourage behaviors that result in the creation of vastly more wealth and knowledge. They help mankind not lead lives that are, in Hobbes’s immortal phrase, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Over time the vast majority of people who have ever lived have done so in Hobbesian conditions; we do not...

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What the Iconoclasts Forget

Years ago, a friend who doesn’t eat meat told me that he thinks that in a few generations people will remember their carnivorous forbears – like me – with the same sense of shame now felt by the descendants of American slave owners. His comment didn’t convince me to change my eating habits but it did set me thinking about how societal norms sometimes undergo radical changes.

Until late in the eighteenth century, slavery was more or less universally accepted as the way of the world. Every empire-building conqueror and even the thought-leaders among the great ancient civilizations took the buying and selling of human beings for granted...

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Against Multiculturalism

Take a moment to think again about one of the most important sentences ever written:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the Founders set out a proudly universalist vision of natural rights. If all men are created equal, then preferences for one tribe, sect or class over another, whether in law or custom, are wrong.

This statement was a (literally) revolutionary rejection of the caste systems – and tribe-based identities – of other nations of the world. It spoke of universal natural rights...

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Under a Steel-Gray Sky

Two days ago I slipped in some mud while carrying my kayak up a hill. I caught myself, but in doing so I seem to have hurt something deep in my right shoulder. Since then the right side of my torso has ached.

This morning, at the suggestion of my Beloved Spouse, I went outside to sit in the hot tub by our pool. I am not really a hot tub guy – I have probably used it a dozen times in as many years – but she thought the heat and bubble jets might help lessen my shoulder pain.

So I sat in the steaming water under a steel-gray sky; to my surprise, my thoughts turned to an old friend.

***

Doug and I went to boarding school together. We got to know each other through rowing; he was a big, athletic guy – a gentle giant. Though we were two years apart, we became fast friends.

For we were nur...

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To See America

The Idea – 1/11/16

Three months from today, I am going to set out from Los Angeles by bicycle, hoping to ride to Old Lyme, CT. I have dreamed of doing this for thirty years; it’s now or never.

Over the next three months, I’ll give a lot of thought to the logistics, and try to get fit enough so that I’ll make it.

Just now, though, I have to tell the Beloved Spouse about the plan. I’m not sure she’ll be thrilled.

Day Zero – 4/10/16

This is the first in a series of daily posts that I intend to write over the next six or seven weeks about the attempt I am about to make at riding my bicycle across the country.

I sent three bikes – my two beautiful new steel Mariposas, pictured below at home just after their arrival a month ago, and my much older carbon fiber Parlee – on ahead to Los Angeles w...

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I Don’t Want to Talk About It.

Is it possible to be thrown out of a tight-knit group that one was instrumental in forming? I have a chance to find out.

I am in a fabulous book club. I got the group rolling four or five years ago by recruiting a handful of close friends to the venture. On a rotating schedule, one person chooses a book, another cooks a meal and a third leads the discussion. We read all kinds of books, and our subsequent discussions are augmented by fine food and wine. We are just as competitive about the consumables as we are about the selections of, and our opinions about, the books.

Considering that the book club is small, and consists exclusively of people who are sociologically similar (we are all prosperous men, 55+) the points of view represented are widely divergent: our political and religious ori...

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A Traitor to My Class?

I do not give to Princeton, where I went to college.

Last Friday evening I had dinner with three close friends who among them have four Ivy League degrees, including ones from Harvard and Yale. In the course of our conversation I mentioned that I don’t give to my alma mater and added that the institutions that we graduated from have so much money that they are accountable to no one but themselves. None of my friends took issue with my comment – which is interesting, because all four of us have long made philanthropic commitments important parts of our lives.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton have endowments that total about $80 billion between them...

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Race, Social Class and Personal Brands

Out for a walk just now, I had an unremarkable experience.

I crossed paths with an African-American of perhaps 30, well dressed and groomed, wearing horn-rimmed glasses not unlike my own. Had we spoken, I would guess that his diction and intonation, and quite possibly his accent, would also have been similar to mine; his appearance and manner strongly suggested that we were of the same social class.

We smiled silent greetings and kept on our merry ways.

Let’s think about brands for a minute or two, before coming back to race and social class.

McDonalds and Coca-Cola have built enormous businesses on the comfort that consumers take from knowing exactly what they’ll get when they purchase burgers or sodas...

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The Old Continent(s?)

At present, I am sitting in the bar of an old hotel in Lisbon, nursing a drink while my beloved has a pot of tea. Over the last couple of days, we have walked all over this city.

Europe is the cradle of Western Civilization; it is breathtakingly beautiful and its inhabitants have refined the enjoyment of life’s physical delights to a high art. Even so, its present state saddens me: Europe is tired.

For those who have money and live here or, like us, are just passing through, life is still beautiful, but whole countries look backward with nostalgia and forward with concern.

Europe’s native populations have opted for the illusions of security – personal and societal – provided by their local governments and the EU – over grander visions and more sustaining values.

For most Western Europeans,...

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American Jews, Israel and Me

I have the highest regard and the deepest affection for the Jews in my life. I find them, and the culture that I see in their actions, fantastically impressive. There’s a reason that Jews have won so many Nobel prizes, achieved so much in business and made their various marks on the world: their culture fosters achievement. And they not only demonstrate industry and wit, they are charitable – albeit often with somewhat more of a tribal focus than others might appreciate; but in considering that undoubted bias, one cannot forget that since time immemorial they have both segregated themselves, and been segregated, often abusively, by others; these are two sides of the coin of apartness.

The relationship between American Jews and Israel fascinates me...

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