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Posts Tagged ‘collectivism’

I am not by any stretch a writer and most certainly not a screenwriter. And I’m pretty glad I’m not because to be a writer in the US and be eligible to sell your script to any significant production house, you have to join the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA).

Yes, you heard that right, the WGA compels your membership. You have to join, you have to pay your dues and you have to obey their orders when they say you must strike. Membership is automatic and does not depend on your consent; nor is there a way for a writer to resign his membership ever. The closest you can go to resignation is by opting for fi-core status. You continue to pay dues and so on, but you cannot vote and you are not obliged to follow guild rules or obey their orders.

Fi-core members are very few and are despised by the guild; but as John Ridley points out, they get something that cannot be bargained for, freedom. If I were ever to switch careers and start writing (unlikely), that’s certainly the path I’d take. Ideally I’d not belong to the guild at all but as I said, that is impossible.

No, I do not hate unions or deny the power (and occasional necessity) of collective action. I hate coercion. And I will never belong to a coercive institution, even one that fights to improve my financial condition.

All of the above is of course irrelevant to my current life, except that they give me an excuse to post John Ridley’s amazing post during the Writers Guild strike of last year. He went fi-core and was despised by his colleagues. But as I said, I’d have done the same. Here’s the post in full. An excerpt is below:

Since I was conscripted into the Writers Guild of America a decade and a half ago — and membership in the guild is mandatory — I’ve found myself politically opposed to it on any number of issues. Not long after, I wrote an Op-Ed about the woeful lack of diversity in Hollywood and what little the guild was doing to rectify the situation. I got a personal call from then-WGA President Frank Pierson ripping me a new orifice for daring to take my disappointment public. The gist of his argument: If you haven’t anything nice to say about the union, then shut up. But, hey, what did I expect? If you shake the tree, you can’t get upset when the apples fall.

[…] The first rule of Strike Club: Never talk about Strike Club!
That would be fine for an organization whose membership joins voluntarily. But when membership is compulsory, free expression must be accommodated. The obligation of the union is to protect, not crush, the minority view.

In December, I attended the general guild meeting in Santa Monica. Outside the Civic Center, before the meeting, guild members told me that I was not welcome and that if I went inside, I should prepare to be pilloried. During the meeting, one high-profile television writer announced to the membership that anyone who didn’t have anything good to say about the strike should shut up. If I used the adjective “frenzied” to describe the reception the declaration was given, I don’t think I’d be exaggerating.

Did the president or the executive director who sat onstage rise up and announce — even if just for show — that their tent is large enough to accept dissent? That their cause is sufficiently just to withstand criticism? Or did they tacitly support the blood fervor by sitting on their hands? That is, if they weren’t also applauding wildly?

They sat. They let the threat carry the day. I got the message.

After 15 years of being told shut up, sit down and be part of the groupthink, I decided I did not belong in the guild. The guild has a way to option out. I took the option.

[…] I’ve no desire to start a movement, to be the first name on an open petition, or to be the poster child for disgruntled writers. I don’t want to do a money grab and jump on a rewrite of “Pinkville.” Though, I’ll be perfectly honest with you: If I’m going to be trashed anyway, I’m not about to be trashed on the cuff. I am, simply, done.

So, then, this is my interim agreement. You all can have your strike. I’ll take what can’t be bargained for: self-determination.

Update: Apart from the Writer’s Guild, showbusiness also has the Actors Guild, the Director’s guild and so on. All of them employ the same coercive and monopolistic techniques (you are compelled to join the guild if you want to work for any major studio). It gives me pleasure to learn that some prominent movie personalities, notably George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Jon Voight, either have fi-core status or are not even members of their particular guild. In fact, this was the reason that Tarantino — who is one of my favourite directors — was refused permission by the guild to direct an episode of X-files. It is heartening to know that there exist creative people I admire who prefer self-determination to the group-think of the collective.

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A nice follow-up by Robin Hanson to his earlier post I had linked to:

You just can’t fight “conformity” by indulging the evil pleasure of enjoying your conformity to a small tight-knit group of “non-conformists.”  All this does is promote some groups at the expense of other groups, and poisons your mind in the process.  It is like fighting “loyalty” by dogged devotion to an anti-loyalty alliance.

Best to clear your mind and emotions of group loyalties and resentments and ask, if this belief gave me no pleasure of rebelling against some folks or identifying with others, if it was just me alone choosing, would my best evidence suggest that this belief is true?  All else is the road to rationality ruin.

Indeed. Whether your views are simple and mainstream or whether you subscribe to some fringe philosophy such as libertarianism, it is always a sign of danger when your beliefs and conclusions are affected and (subconsciously) dictated by emotions derived from your identification. I guess the human psyche, by its very nature, is hopelessly susceptible to this kind of bias; the first step in fighting it is to realize that it exists and it is poisonous.

[Edit] Just in case it wasn’t clear, I am not saying one should have no emotions associated with one’s beliefs. However, you need to be wary when your emotion is at least partially derived from loyalty to your group or your ideology; for it can then affect your reasoning ability when faced with a new issue. The pleasure of non-conformity should not get in the way of dispassionate analysis. See Robin’s last paragraph above, also see my comment below.

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Sometimes I am tempted to modify my moral premises so that I can be more at peace with the world.

I am always saved by the realization that I cannot do such a thing deliberately and retain my self-respect.

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Robin Hanson expresses eloquently a theme I have often touched upon:

We feel a deep pleasure from realizing that we believe something in common with our friends, and different from most people.  We feel an even deeper pleasure letting everyone know of this fact.  This feeling is EVIL.  Learn to see it in yourself, and then learn to be horrified by how thoroughly it can poison your mind.  Yes evidence may at times force you to disagree with a majority, and your friends may have correlated exposure to that evidence, but take no pleasure when you and your associates disagree with others; that is the road to rationality ruin.

I see this everyday with my liberal friends, I see it in the blogosphere, I see it in atheists and worshippers, libertarians and socialists, idealists and pragmatists. The collectivist tendency is a powerful one.

And I know it exists within me too, though it is rarely displayed on a social level, principally because there’s no one I know who I think of as an intellectual associate. Perhaps that is a good thing.

The tendency to immerse oneself within echo chambers is hard-wired into the human psyche. It is a survival mechanism and it is an enemy of rational thought.

Robin Hanson’s words deserve to be remembered everyday by each person who thinks of himself or herself as a rational, intellectual being.

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I have been meaning to do a lengthy post on Naomi Klein for a long, long time. The lady deserves it. She is charismatic, enormously influential among my liberal friends and intellectually dishonest. She is a brilliant manipulator of words and distorter of facts. She is the arch-proponent and promoter of elitist collectivism. Though a mere journalist, her best-selling books have assured her a vaunted place in the leftist pantheon. Like Keynes and Galbraith, she is frequently and approvingly quoted — but here’s the thing, Keynes and Galbraith were great economists (wrong perhaps, but still great). She is a bit like a modern day Ellsworth Toohey.

Unfortunately, my activities this term (editing a paper, writing another, making a research statement, applying for jobs) are leaving me little time for such posts — so it will have to wait. For now, I recommend Jesse Walker’s excellent Reason article.

And if you are in the mood for something longer, do check out Jonah Norberg’s masterly destruction of Klein’s bestselling book “The Shock Doctrine”.

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Damon Root has an excellent article at Reason where he discusses liberty and federalism in the context of a draconian South Dakota law that, if the voters decide so, would ban virtually all kinds of abortions.

Look at it like this. The United States Constitution guarantees a number of specific individual rights, including free speech and the right to keep and bear arms. But what about those rights that aren’t listed? Do we have the right to drink apple juice? How about the right to grow a mustache? More crucially, what about the right to be left alone? The Constitution mentions none of them. So if a majority of voters agree that we don’t possess these (or countless other) rights, what’s to stop the government from restricting our liberty?

Which brings us back to the voters of South Dakota. There’s nothing inherently noble about a majority of people agreeing on a particular issue. Indeed, bad ideas often prove more popular than good ones. It’s only when popular majorities are anchored to the idea of inalienable rights that they’re most entitled to our respect. Without that underlying commitment to individualism, majority rule can and frequently will degenerate into the loss of liberty for unpopular minorities. The racist policies of the Jim Crow South, after all, were often extremely popular among white voters.

So before we get too misty over the will of the people of South Dakota, let’s remember that James Madison warned us about the tyranny of the majority, not the tyranny of unfettered individual liberty.

Read the whole article.

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“Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

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