My wife and I have recently been binge-watching the FX show Justified. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard story, the show takes place mostly in eastern Kentucky, an apparent hotbed of criminal activity, rampant drug use, ruthless mafia types, and off-beat characters. The show is entertaining but bloody. Being aware of its use of violence for entertainment value, we can understand how disconnected this story is from reality.

As has been mentioned here before, we are often given portrayals of history which are far removed from reality. We’ve been told, and largely come to believe, that the settlement of the American west was “wild” with violence and lawlessness. The remedy, we’re lead to believe, was wise government oversight and policing. However, much like the landscape of modern fiction, the body count and criminal activity portrayed in popular history would have made settlement unlikely at best.

People seek opportunities to improve their lives. Those who chose the arduous journey westward would have been far less likely to go had they believed the destination held violence and death. They certainly would not have ventured without the expectation of self-defense. There is little reason to expect otherwise.

The purpose of popular fiction is entertainment. The popular fiction which evolved into a history of the old west, on the other hand, developed a new purpose: reinforcing the supposed necessity of the state. Without government to create and enforce law, the narrative insists, we would violently extract from one another the means of survival. This was not true then and is not likely to ever be true. There is a cost of violence which makes cooperation and mutual support far more appealing and, therefore, likely.

More of that which is Seen and that which is Unseen
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In Praise of Critical Thinking

Modern culture is awash in misinformation and propaganda. While the Internet makes it possible for decentralized dissemination of information, it is no less prone to abuses than are any other communication media. As has been chronicled here before, little emphasis is given to teaching logic in U.S. public schools. Some might argue that this is by design but, regardless of the cause, the result is a lack of critical thinking across the majority in the population.

As the saying goes, “If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.” However, this simple adage somehow escapes significant numbers of people. Nowhere is this more evident than when new government programs or solutions are being marketed.

If a government program exists that exceeds expectations of performance or results, it remains a well kept secret. Similarly, if a government agency consistently operates under budget, it hasn’t been given adequate exposure. Yet both efficiency and low cost are commonly claimed for each proposal. Obamacare, for example, was supposed to lower health costs and improve health care. Whether you support centralized management of health services or not, anyone applying a modicum of critical thinking would question such an assertion, particularly in light of the aforementioned track record for government achieving neither.

Disappearing Laundromats

We are often told that things are getting worse: the poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer. While the gap between rich and poor may indeed be increasing, this does not necessarily equate to the poor or middle class getting poorer. In the United States, smart phones are ubiquitous, as are tablets, access to the Internet, computers, gaming systems, and many other electronic devices. Additionally, conveniences like central heating and air conditioning, microwave ovens, clothes washers and dryers, and automatic dishwashers are increasingly available to those less well off. The standard of living in the U.S. has been steadily increasing for wealthy and poor alike.

As a sign of these improvements, recent articles have delved into the shrinking number of laundromats across the country. In The Atlantic, for example, we’re told of the trend in new construction including washer-dryer units. In Hoodline, an online San Francisco periodical, a similar pattern of diminishing laundromat coverage is chronicled in that city. However, as Steven Horwitz of FEE points out, the dwindling number of laundromats is generally painted as a bad thing. The fact that the market for these services has declined as a result of lower cost alternatives is bemoaned by progressives as detrimental to the poor and underclasses.

Laundromats, like shopping malls, book stores, and arcades, are going the way of jukeboxes, Blockbuster Video, phone booths, and dial-up Internet. Market forces impact industries, replacing the less efficient as alternatives arise. The availability of more affordable washer and dryer units is a good thing for everyone and is reflected in declining numbers of laundromats.