Well, it’s not exactly a "day off." I’ll actually be spending today on a host of chores unrelated to Liberty’s Torch. Some of them have been pending for quite a while. So unless my strangely silent Co-Contributors ring in with some good stuff, things will be static here until tomorrow. Please stop by then, when my insane political rantings, masculinist tirades, and treacly Christian feel-good-isms are almost guaranteed to resume.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
The silent ships glow faintly as they move
With purpose past the looming darkened shore
Where guns and lighted matches lay awake
In fog the forty-four waits for the spark
The flash, the roar, the broadside that will prove
The enemy is there and what is more
He’ll fight for honor and for glory’s sake
The years, like seas, go silent on their way
The wooden walls have given way to steel
Sharp eyes in crows nest no more climb the shrouds
And wooden decks no longer spread with sand
The ships still sail, still anchor in the bay
A rating still stands silent at the wheel
The sun still shines behind the lowering clouds
The Navy still protects this golden land
Maybe it won't that that kind of Saturday after all.
This collection of Twitter citations is both worrisome and enraging. The most recent developments in the George Zimmerman murder trial make it quite plain that the accused was merely defending himself, that the prosecution has no case, and that the indictment was handed down purely for political purposes. Yet numerous Twitterers are calling for a riot should George Zimmerman be acquitted as he deserves.
Why riot? Well, Trayvon Martin was black. That makes his life sacrosanct. Never mind that he was verifiably trying to kill George Zimmerman, and Zimmerman did the one and only thing guaranteed to preserve his own life. Martin was a member of a protected species under some law or other. Maybe it was the Environmental Protection Act.
Remember the Los Angeles riots over the acquittals of two of the policemen in the Rodney King affair? Same underlying rationale. What rationale? Relax; we'll get there.
Reader "Adam" gives me the third degree via email over my support of Texas’ pro-life bill SB5:While I understand that you may find the idea and morality of abortion to be abominable, it is constitutionally protected under the ruling of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court case. The bill that was under voting while supposedly in the support of stricter health guidelines for abortion clinics in Texas, are needlessly binding them with more red tape.
The provisions of the bill would cause a dramatic rise in the cost of running these clinics and shut down the majority of them. This would mean that the second most populous state in the Union would have close to the lowest number of abortion clinics in the nation. This would infringe on the rights of women desiring to obtain an abortion, just as poll taxes and literacy tests reduced the ability of non-whites to exercise their right to vote in the time prior to the 1950-1970 civil rights movements.
Despite the fact that you claim to be a conservative which in itself advocates reduced government involvement in the private affairs of citizens, you advocate a bill that directly interfeeres with and blocks the rights of those citizens.
tl;dr: You are not a conservative and you’re infringing on rights
Let's ignore "Adam's" poor grammar and inability to spell. We all know that those things are regarded by Leftists as relics of the bad old days when there were rules about such things. ("Capitalist patriarchal oppression" and "dead white European males," anyone?) At first blush, "Adam" is completely confused about the source of rights. (He's also confused about why conservatives adopt the positions we do, but that's a tirade for another day.) Rights are not created by the State or any organ thereof; they proceed from the laws of Nature, especially those of human nature. Yet "Adam" dismisses the right to life as an obstacle to be swept aside if a feminist mob or a SCOTUS decision demands it. How did he manage to do that? More to the point, why?
(An aside: If you begin from a completely secular set of precepts and assumptions, it is just barely possible to frame a case that abortion, up to about 13 weeks' gestation, is morally ambiguous -- enough so, at least, to argue that it should be legal. But even a case-hardened secularist runs into trouble after that; the developing creature is too obvious, and too obviously a human baby with an ironclad right to life.
No one who calls himself a Christian can condone abortion at any stage of gestation -- and the funny thing about that is that the thinker who made the perfect case against it, Aristotle, died more than three centuries before Christ.
Frankly, I regard anyone who thinks a SCOTUS ruling can legitimize the murder of a helpless infant as irremediably morally corrupt. (Synonym: evil.) To all such persons: make no sudden moves and keep your hands where I can see them. I tend to shoot first and worry about the paperwork later. End of aside.)
If I may misquote Winston Churchill: The terrible "whys" accumulate.
Finally, I'd like to invite you to think back to a couple of lurid murder cases: the first was that of Matthew Shepard, the second that of Jesse Dirkhising. Both cases engaged public attention because of their sexual aspects. In the Shepard case, the murderers were heterosexual and the victim was homosexual. In the Dirkhising case, the reverse was true. Homosexual activists raised a tremendous row in both cases, but for opposite reasons.
You see, the sexual orientations of the principals made the first case a "hate crime" in homosexual activists' eyes. They demanded the lives of the murderers unconditionally, for that reason alone. But they insisted that the sexual orientations of the murderers in the Dirkhising case were irrelevant, despite the brutal and repeated homosexual rape of the 13-year-old victim.
Has the pattern become clear enough?
It appears that the Left has decided to institute a new interpretation of the right to life:
Sleek, eh? If accepted into law, it would turn about 80% of the country into legitimized victims. Moreover, all you'd have to do to incur the pre-indemnified murderous wrath of a Negro, a homosexual, or your unwilling-mother-to-be is exist. But regardless of what any one of the Left's mascots might do or have done, his characteristics are absolutely above reproach. No accusation leveled against them can have implications for their race, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, or any other affiliation.
This is the obvious implication of leftists' rhetoric in all cases where one of their mascots is involved in a life-or-death confrontation, in either role.
I've occasionally speculated upon the possibility of a new civil war, where the sides are divided not by a political stance on slavery or allegiance pledged to some foreign power, but rather by characteristics generally deemed personal. Any such conflagration would be horrific. Millions would die, and many more would suffer.
Left-liberal vermiculations, both legal and rhetorical, are bringing such a possibility closer every day.
The key lies in a single evil idea: that some have more rights than others because they're [fill-in-the-blank], which the Left has declared "protected." That idea advances every time we allow the presumption of sincerity to a leftist arguing as they did in the cases cited above.
They are never sincere.
They mean to have you at their mercy.
Their mascot groups are tools toward that end.
Don't expect to be shown any mercy. They have none.
And don't silence yourself in a forlorn hope for peace or tolerance.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Megan McArdle, the quondam "Jane Galt" of Asymmetrical Information, writes of a particularly hand and heart-wringing case:
Justin Peters, who runs Slate's crime blog, has been on a crusade against people who leave guns where kids can find them. I am all for promoting gun safety, but Peters takes it a bit farther: he wants family members punished if their kids get their hands on a gun and shoot someone. Even he, however, is taken aback at the news that Louisiana is preparing to try a woman for murder because her child found a gun and shot herself.I’m glad Smith is being held accountable for her daughter’s death. Parents who allow guns into their homes need to bear responsibility for what their children do with those guns. While initial reports made it seem like the gun belonged to Smith, it now appears that the gun may have belonged to a family friend who was temporarily storing it at Smith’s house. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Smith allowed the gun into her house. She’s responsible for what happened with it.
But “bearing responsibility” doesn’t mean “lock her up and throw away the key.”
Here I must disagree. I don't see that any purpose is served by punishing this woman. She has already had the worst possible thing happen to her. In what sense can the government "hold her accountable" in any way that is not dwarfed by her own conscience, and memory?
When it comes to punishment, we should embrace a concept that has gotten lost in American justice in recent decades: enough. Punishment should be enough to deter, to punish, and in the case of incorrigibles, to rehabilitate. But beyond that point, there's no reason to lard on extra damage. Overpunishment is both costly and cruel.
A bad thing has happened: someone died. It was brought about by negligence rather than either premeditation or momentary intent. What shall we do?
Not many folks would shrug and say "Nothing." Surely "we" (whoever that is) would prefer that such things never happen. One traditional approach to events we'd prefer not to happen is deterrence through punishment. Yet in this case, the "perpetrator" is dead and the "accessory" has already suffered a huge, reaving loss. What now?
Quite a three-pipe problem, Watson.
If we continue to view such an occurrence through a crime-and-punishment paradigm, the most relevant bit of high law would be the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
This first attempt at circumscribing penal injustice was somewhat less than specific. Yet its use of the words excessive and cruel and unusual marked a striking departure from European practice, wherein punishments for an offense were essentially unbounded.
The idea, albeit dimly grasped even then, is that there is a binding relationship between a crime and the just punishment.
Megan says "Punishment should be enough to deter, to punish," which is an inexact standard. We measure deterrence in highly subjective ways; this is as it must be, because future offenders are, well, in the future and uncounted at the time of sentencing. As for "punishment," there is no inherent metric for how much suffering or loss of rights an offender "should" incur for his deed. Men are not gods; courts of law cannot appeal to the Father for His opinion.
Wait: perhaps there is a standard we can apply. Perhaps the amount of damage done by the offender should be used as our measuring stick for punishment. That's fairly easy to apply to crimes of property: the fine shall be the amount stolen or destroyed, plus a penal percentage -- no greater than 100% -- for deterrence. What about crimes of violence?
Willful homicide's the easiest case: the death penalty. But what about manslaughter? What about assault and battery? What about rape? Is it possible to have "the punishment fit the crime" in some measurable way in those cases?
As for our distraught mother, whose negligence made it possible for her child to kill herself, crimes of this sort are the toughest cases of all... if, that is, we insist upon calling them crimes.
The very concept of justice implies a standard of exactitude. We might differ on what that is, but we must agree that whatever it is, to the extent the penalty imposed for a deed fails to meet that standard, it will fail to be just. This is admittedly clearer in matters where only property is involved rather than life, limb, or nonmaterial prerogatives, but nevertheless it is so in all cases.
There can be no question that Mrs. Smith was the "enabler" to her daughter's fatal misadventure. She bears at least some responsibility for the consequences. But it remains debatable whether any amount of punishment is appropriate, whether in the name of justice or in the interests of deterrence.
I'm torn on this. I can't imagine what it would feel like to lose a beloved child in such a fashion. Neither can I conceive of an appropriate penalty for the mother's role in the affair. Taking away her other children, if she has any, seems excessive and pointless...though one can certainly argue for it as a stroke against potential "recidivism." Subjecting her to a fine or imprisonment would be even worse. As for the death penalty, if you seriously believe that would be fitting, keep your hands where I can see them and make absolutely no sudden moves.
If we do insist that Mrs. Smith incur some sort of penalty, yet another question arises: What about the friend who left the gun there for "storage?" Did he leave it in a locked box, or lying on the coffee table? Did he leave it loaded, in the irrational assumption that no one would touch it, or unloaded, as would have been prudent and proper? Is it just to dismiss his role in the affair as immaterial, when there were clearly actions he could have taken to avert the sequel?
Negligence is among the most difficult of all things to punish or deter for this reason among others: the length of the chain of responsibility, once one moves from the "proximate cause" -- in this case, the dead daughter -- to the "enablers," is difficult to bound by any objective standard.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
The State Department yielded to pressure from a coalition of Seattle and Washington state politicians, community groups, and advocacy organizations and agreed to withdraw at least one ad in the department’s Metro bus ad campaign in Seattle promoting the “Rewards for Justice” campaign. The program pays rewards to individuals who provide leads about the location of wanted terrorists.
Congressman Jim McDermott, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, and King county councilmember Rod Dembowski joined forces with others in the community, as well as organizations like the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), to raise concerns about the ads. Mayor McGinn reported at least some success in their efforts [emphasis added]:[Arsalan] Bukhari [of the Council on American-Islamic Relations] worked with the ACLU of Washington State to convene a meeting that included Magdaleno Rose-Avila and Sahar Fathi of our Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. After a productive meeting, the lead investigator for the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program, Tim Corso, acknowledged our concerns with the ad that featured the language “Global Faces of Terrorism” along with photos of men from the Philippines, Somalia, Russia, Sudan and Algeria. He has agreed to take down this particular ad and to work with community advocates in doing outreach in Seattle going forward.
I take Ann Coulter's position: When 100% of the perpetrators match the "profile," it's no longer a "profile" but a description of the suspect. I know of only one white American terrorist whose acts have marred these shores: Timothy McVeigh of the Murragh Building bombing. All the others have been Muslim men -- either Middle-Eastern-swarthy or black.
But then, if it were otherwise, CAIR would not be up in arms about these ads. The facts would be well known as they are now...and they would speak for themselves.
It puts me in mind of the old gag about the beat cop on the night shift who comes across a drunk under a lamppost. The drunk is running his hands through the grass as the cop approaches.
Cop: Why are you doing that, sir?
Drunk: I dropped my keys over there (points to a spot about fifty feet away) and I'm looking for them.
Cop: But if you dropped them over there, why are you over here?
Drunk: The light's better over here.
We won't "find our keys" under the lamppost, and the Muslim mouthpiece groups know it.
From just this morning:
FWP: So what will you be working on today?
CSO: Oh, just some odds and ends.
FWP: Ah! Well, do the odds first. That’s very important.
FWP: Because only if the odds are done can you go directly from the ends to the calculation of the averages. And then the old saying becomes true...
CSO: Hm? What old saying?
FWP: “The ends justify the means.”
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
[The following thumb-in-the-eye of the environmentalist Left was first published at Eternity Road on April 28, 2006. -- FWP]
The entire country seems to be massively exercised over gasoline prices these past couple of years. To anyone with an economics background, recent events would appear inevitable. Two major population nodes, India and China, have been industrializing at a rapid rate, and therefore have been competing with the developed world for energy resources. Enviro-Nazis have succeeded in choking off essentially all development of new petroleum finds, no matter where they might be. (They've also succeeded in preventing the expansion of American refining capacity.) The Middle East is no longer a reliable, stable supplier of crude oil, Mexico is suffering great instabilities of all sorts, Britain is committing slow suicide in its own, very British way, and Venezuela...well, let's just not go there.
If oil and gas production are flat but demand is rising, what else could we expect but steady increases in price?
Some have hoisted the banner of alternative energy sources. True, any practical substitute for oil or gas would lower demand for those things, and hence help to relieve the pressure on their prices. But what alternatives are there? Electrical power must be generated from some source; the most efficient starting points are water power, burning fossil fuels, or nuclear fission. The green bigots have forbidden all nuclear power development, have placed insupportably costly regulations on the use of coal, and would wet their pants at the idea of a new hydropower dam marring one of their beloved rivers. Even wind-power farms are being blocked by the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody) crowd. So the plants that provide the watts that keep our computers hot and our beer cold will continue to compete with our cars and heating oil tanks for that precious black sludge.
The word your Curmudgeon has gotten terminally sick of hearing is "conservation:"
Conservation, by definition, is a short-term emergency measure. If you are in a lifeboat with seven people and only one jar of water, you conserve it, meaning you dole it out by drops to the group until all are rescued. But to demand of a giant industrial nation that it "conserve" energy without simultaneously offering an ultimate rescue plan is insanity. The unstated implication of [such a] law [is] simply that we [have] become helplessly dependent on the extortionist OPEC nations for our very survival and, should our relations with them go awry, we would die. [Former Treasury Secretary and Energy Czar William E. Simon, in A Time For Truth, writing of the 1973-1975 OPEC Oil Embargo]
This should be self-explanatory. The steady climb of petroleum product prices these past twenty years heralds a steadily intensifying demand-competition for oil and its successor products. If we regard Mankind as a single man and oil as his nourishment, if current conditions continue, the price curves foretell his death by starvation. If Man is to live, his alternatives are the development of new energy sources, including both the fossil fuels and the alternatives to them, or his slow and agonizing demise. There are no others.
Viewed thus, the hard-line environmentalists who seek to prevent any increase in petroleum extraction or refining are the enemies of the human race. Indeed, they seem to relish the title. Paul Ehrlich, Jeremy Rifkin, and Amory Lovins have several times each said that they favored a reduction in world energy supplies. Ehrlich and Rifkin were appalled when the "cold fusion" developments of the late Eighties were announced:
Ehrlich: "It's the worst thing that could happen to our planet!"
Rifkin: "It would be like giving a machine gun to an idiot child."
Lovins, in a notorious interview with Playboy magazine, had said:
If you ask me, it'd be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other. [Amory Lovins, Playboy interview, Nov/Dec 1977]
These are the icons of the environmentalism movement. If they sound like the sort of persons from whom you would be disposed to seek edification, stay far away from your Curmudgeon; he's armed and has had a very bad week.
If America is to continue to climb the curve of technological advance, hopefully culminating in a society powered by the ultimately cheap, clean and flexible source of energy -- nuclear fusion, which would give us transmutation of the elements as a "spinoff" -- we must continue to seek out, extract, and refine the petroleum gifts of the Earth. As the prices of oil and gas advance, and ordinary people find it increasingly difficult to heat their homes and drive their cars, they will grow very tired of the self-righteous pseudo-moralizing of the save-the-Earth crowd. At some point, when hundreds or thousands of Americans have died of exposure to the cold and the shortfall of petroleum has precipitated a nationwide depression, anyone who dares to suggest that further energy exploration, extraction, or refinement is unacceptable for some moss-and-dirt-worshipping reason will find himself ornamenting the end of a rope.
June 27, 2013: I still feel that way -- Barack Hussein Obama's machinations at shutting down America's energy industry have me particularly exercised today -- and quite frankly, I'd be willing to do some of the stringing-up myself. Especially now that I've replaced Mercy:
Woe betide him who tries to prevent me from feeding her! Anyway, she gets 25 mpg.
The three big stories of yesterday were, of course, the Supreme Court's nullification of Title V of the Voting Rights Act; the Obama speech promising executive action against "carbon pollution;" and the Senate's passage of its version of immigration reform. The threads running through these events are all blood-red.
The Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, while novel in terms of legal reasoning -- how can an Act have been Constitutional in 1965 but no longer today, when there have been no relevant amendments to the Constitution in the interim? -- is a sensible one. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the five-vote majority, put it thus:
"Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past."
Indeed. A federal law that discriminates among the states, conceding the sovereignty of some while invading and abridging that of others, must produce a valid reason for doing so: specific criteria that can be objectively applied. If conditions change, the criteria must be re-evaluated; else justice will not be served.
The reactions from the Left are, of course, quite the contrary. Some of them amount to "democracy died last night" whining of the sort we heard after the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was defeated. A couple hint at a race war to come...fallaciously, of course, as there can be no doubt what the outcome of such a conflagration would be. Beneath those plaints lies a most unsavory motivation: the use of Title V to prevent the affected states from redistricting in light of the 2010 census, which would result in the elimination of some "majority-minority" Congressional districts upon which the Democrats rely for seats in the House of Representatives.
Power is always the explanation when the professional mouthpieces begin to spray spittle.
I trust few will disagree when I say that Barack Hussein Obama is a man who dislikes to be thwarted. Most of us find it irksome, of course, but The Won regards it as an offense against every law of God and Man. At least, that's the way he reacts.
Obama's "war on coal" speech has drawn enough commentary about its economic and environmental fatuity that I need say no more about that. But we've known for a while that The Won isn't truly concerned about either the American economy or the cleanliness of the air and water. These are merely sticks with which to beat his adversaries. Obama makes all sorts of deceitful claims about both, trusting that his supporters will accept them on his say-so and despise those eeeeeevil Republicans even more for daring to disagree.
Obama's promised "carbon pollution" initiative will open the door to a radical expansion of the variety of cronyism we saw in the Administration's promotion of electric automobiles and solar electrical power. Power generating firms politically connected to the Obama regime will get waivers from the EPA's new regulations; those that refuse to kowtow to The Won will be cast into the outer darkness, where there is the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Thus, there will arise an EPA-centered redistribution of the power generation industry. Indeed, depending on the precise wording of the new regulations, the redistribution might apply to electrical power itself, hobbling disfavored businesses by denying them kilowatt-hours. This will sharply increase the incentives for Big Business to align with the Left.
The opportunity to discriminate politically in this fashion is what Obama most values. Don't imagine for a moment that he cares about the economic carnage that will ensue. His priorities, as he's made perfectly clear, are "to reward our friends and punish our enemies."
Few political subjects have elicited as much Sturm und Drang as the debate over illegal immigration. It's conceded by all sides that the current situation should be redressed. It's conceded by most that to round up and expel the estimated 11 million illegal aliens within America's borders is probably impossible and would certainly occasion much expense and suffering. But one side of the debate wants to fix the conditions that gave rise to the problem; the other wants to open the spigots even wider.
The Democrats can do virtually nothing to conceal their true agenda. They want the complete normalization -- all the way to citizenship -- of those 11 million illegals, and to import still more behind them. They see the Hispanic wave as the means to a permanent Democrat majority, providing them with enduring, unchallengeable control of the federal government. Any nonsense about "breaking up families" or "compassion" is mere window dressing. Indeed, some open-borders advocates are almost candid about it.
Unfortunately, there are Republicans -- nominal conservatives -- who fantasize along the same lines.
This displacement of fidelity to Constitutional law, the national interest, and personal ethics by the lust for increased power has reached the point where one no longer needs to wait for a politician to say "Trust me" before suspecting him of villainy. It has become irrefutable that there is no honor in either of the major political parties, though individual statesmen still stand above the rest. But the parties control the electoral process; therefore, all prospects for an electoral rescue of the Constitution of the United States have passed their expiration dates and must, regretfully, be relegated to the realm of fiction.
The time has come for a reorientation of our people: a redefinition of greatness:
The possession of power over others is inherently destructive both to the possessor of power and to those over whom it is exercised. And the great man of the future, in distinction from the great man of the past, is he who will seek to create power in people, and not gain power over them. The great man of the future is he who will refuse to be great at all, in the historic sense; he is the man who will literally lose himself, who will altogether diffuse himself in the life of humanity. -- George Herron
There are vanishingly few exemplars of this sort among us today. The desire for adulation is near to universal. Our great industrialists tend to be self-promoters; the typical captain of industry certainly doesn't strive to "literally lose himself," or "altogether diffuse himself in the life of humanity." Most cultural and religious figures suffer from the same virus.
Nevertheless, there have been a few, though most lived in ages well behind us. Perhaps we can make more: men who create power in others, rather than striving to exalt themselves over the rest of us.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Let's have something out in front of us before we begin: Barack Hussein Obama is an aspiring tyrant, and the Executive Branch has followed his lead. Given the behavior of the IRS, the NSA, the EPA, the DOJ, the BATF, and quite a few other alphabetic combinations, this strikes me as irrefutable. Throw in the Obamunists' relentless demonization of anyone who dares to criticize his regime, and it takes an idiot -- or a willful liar -- to imagine otherwise.
But it's a truism of government, at least up to this point in history, that whether formally invoked or not, every government must have the implicit consent of the governed to remain in power. That consent must remain in place between elections, or the government will fail of its objectives regardless of legislative or executive exertions. How to keep it in place has been a study of would-be tyrants throughout Man's history.
In these United States, one of the most important factories of implicit consent -- it would not be amiss to translate that as "submission" -- is the "Fourth Estate," a.k.a. the Main Stream Media.
We've seen the extent to which the media are willing to go to protect The Won. That was to be expected; after all, he's their creation. They've concealed important facts, misdirected the public's attention, and framed critical stories in an openly tendentious manner. What's been done on editorial pages is still worse, but they're recognized as fora for opinion. But as the damage from Obama's policies has mounted, a few brave journalists have dared to break free of the prevailing lockstep support of the regime, at least on one or two topics of interest.
The outrage stimulated by the wiretapping of James Rosen and a gaggle of Associated Press reporters has taught the regime that direct action against "dissident" journalists is as likely to work against it as for it. But the Fourth Estate is critical to Obama's prospects for an attractive "legacy," to say nothing of his quest for total power. So a disciplinary mechanism by which to lasso the wanderers and drag them back onto the left-liberal plantation is required.
And indeed, one has emerged:
On Sunday’s "Meet the Press," NBC News host David Gregory conducted an informative and provocative interview with Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who has broken much of the recent material on National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance. Gregory pushed Greenwald for details on where his source, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was headed; on secrecy and accountability; on whether Snowden had broken the law. And, finally, on whether Greenwald himself had broken the law:GREGORY: Final question for you…. To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?
The media has taken to policing itself. No, not for failures of objectivity or accuracy, or for some sort of lapse in "journalistic ethics," but for daring to assist a designated enemy of the regime in any way.
Greenwald, to his credit, replied with a blistering return of service:
GREENWALD: I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I've aided and abetted him in any way. The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator in felonies, for working with sources.
If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it's precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. It's why The New Yorker's Jane Mayer said, "Investigative reporting has come to a standstill," her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced.
Later on, Greenwald emitted a pithy tweet:
Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?
And in a later exchange directly with Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, Greenwald expanded most piercingly:
Some of what is driving this hostility from some media figures is personal bitterness. Some of it is resentment over my having been able to break these big stories not despite, but because of, my deliberate breaching of the conventions that rule their world.
But most of it is what I have long criticized them for most: they are far more servants to political power than adversarial watchdogs over it, and what provokes their rage most is not corruption on the part of those in power (they don’t care about that) but rather those who expose that corruption, especially when the ones bringing transparency are outside of, even hostile to, their incestuous media circles.
They’re just courtiers doing what courtiers have always done: defending the royal court and attacking anyone who challenges or dissents from it. That’s how they maintain their status and access within it. That’s what courtiers to power, by definition, do.
So yes, some establishment journalists have been hostile to our reporting, usually by ignoring the substance in favor of personalized attacks (is Snowden a narcissist? Am I engaged in “advocacy journalism”?). But truly: if I weren’t upsetting the David Gregorys and Andrew Ross Sorkins of the world, I’d be very alarmed, as it would be proof that I wasn’t engaging in meaningful adversarial journalism against their political and financial masters.
The incident, however it may run from here, speaks of a perception of urgency among the Obama regime's media backers. Greenwald has dared to remain undistracted by the Administration's attempt to demonize Snowden and has focused instead on the substance of his revelations. Therefore, Greenwald is off the reservation and must be either hauled back or delegitimized. Accusations of criminal conduct, unsupported by theory or evidence, have served that purpose in the past.
It will be fascinating to watch as other major media figures and institutions decide where they stand on the Snowden disclosures. Some will probably do as Gregory tried to do. Some, more aware of the threat to their occupation and the evanescence of political favor, will stand with those colleagues who focus on the revelations of NSA's pervasive data gathering.
We may be sure that the Obama White House will show one group a friendlier face than the other. What's less certain is whether the Main Stream Media, which have slumbered innocently in the path of the truth-averse Juggernaut of politics in our time, will awaken as a body in time to save accurate, incisive, investigative journalism from extinction.
Monday, June 24, 2013
One of the hoariest of all rhetorical techniques, prominently featured in the verbal arsenals of the dishonest, is the change of subject. He who fancies himself to be on the losing end of an argument will frequently invoke this tactic, or a variation thereof, in the hope of extracting himself from an indefensible position.
Moreover, when competently executed, it works more often than not. The key to "competently executing" the change of subject is to make the new topic one that's difficult to distinguish from the old one. If the practitioner can pull this off -- and if he chooses his new battleground with care, of course -- he will frequently snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, while his opponent will find himself puzzled by how the exchange "got off track."
We have an example of that today at PJ Media, where Walter Hudson has posted an insightful article about the severance of sex from procreation:
An act which epitomizes connection has become detached from its vital moorings, divorced from marriage, divorced from love, and – most consequentially – divorced from parenthood....
Though atheistic, [Ayn] Rand condemned a few choices as sin, including the refusal to think and the rejection of reality. Detaching the sex act from its natural consequence commits both. Sex may result in children. Competent adults know that going in, and stand responsible for the lives of any children they may produce regardless.
There exists a certain irony in the fact that, while Rand’s overall philosophy remains on the fringes of popular culture, her views regarding sex, reproduction, and parenthood have been roughly and broadly adopted.
Hudson seques from that into a discussion of the implications for the abortion culture, in which he makes a critical point that far too many "women's rights" advocates would prefer not be raised:
Rand’s philosophy holds that one man’s need places no moral claim upon the life of another. Thus, if we drive past someone injured on the side of the road, we have no duty to assist them. However, if we hit someone with our car while driving, a duty to assist emerges. That’s why states properly prohibit hit and runs.
The same principle applies to procreation. A neighbor in need has no moral claim to your assistance. However, a child which exists as a consequence of your own action does. [Emphasis added by FWP]
Hudson's point is extremely well made. Indeed, it could hardly be clearer. But look at what a pro-abortion commenter tried to do:
You know, the democrats with Obama are doing everything they can to basically destroy the economy. ObamaCare, global warming BS, all kinds of regulations that hamper business and limit economic opportunity. Now we hear they are using the IRS to persecute conservative political organizations and the NSA to spy on all of our phone and internet usage.
Yet, instead of targeting these issues and using them to argue in favor of limited government and more economic freedom and opportunity, we get conservatives who obsess over what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms and want to regulate everyones' sex lives.
Its very clear to me why democrats continue to be elected and why Obama, in particular, was re-elected last fall. [Emphasis added by FWP]
Note the shift of subject from procreation back to sex -- and in particular, to conservatives' supposed desire to "regulate everyone's sex lives."
Hudson and others rebuked the above commenter for attempting to change the subject. That indicates both an awareness of what was being attempted and a determination to stand the appropriate ground, both laudable. But it won't put an end to attempts to change the subject, especially on topics as sensitive to the Left as abortion.
I've been on the receiving end of that tactic many times, as has just about everyone who writes from a conservative or libertarian perspective:
- You address: The negative physiological and psychological consequences of homosexuality.
They claim: You want to put "those faggots" in jail.
- You address: The terrible damage being done to the underclass by the welfare culture.
They claim: You hate poor people and want them to starve.
- You address: The disproportionate number of violent crimes committed by Negroes and illegal aliens.
They claim: You're a racist who hates "brown people."
- You address: The anti-Constitutional overexpansion of the federal government.
They claim: You're a miser who cares about nothing but his wallet.
- You address: The use of environmentalist pieties to shut down human enterprise.
They claim: You want to poison the poor with dirty air and water.
And on it goes: in each case a change of subject designed to derail your argument and get you to try to defend against a vicious slur. To respond to the slur is always a mistake, no matter how you do so. But most of us find it hard to resist.
All I can recommend, from my own years of fencing over political subjects, is this riposte:
Then go on with your chosen argument. After that, you can preen yourself on having proved how smart you are.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
A brief parable, courtesy of the celebrant at this morning's Mass:
Smith, walking along through the evening gloom failed to notice a large, deep hole in his path, and fell into it, spraining an ankle as he landed. After a moment's confusion, he staggered upright, wincing at the pain from his injury. He looked around, saw no handholds, and concluded that he had no chance of getting out of the pit without assistance from above. Accordingly, he began yelling for help, hoping that a passerby would come to his rescue.
The first person to hear and heed him was a physician he knew well. "My good man, whatever has happened to you?" Dr. Jones asked.
"I was inattentive, Doctor, and fell into this pit," our hero said. "I've sprained an ankle and can't get out."
"Tsk, tsk," Dr. Jones replied. He pulled a pad of prescription slips from his jacket pocket, scribbled briefly on one, and tossed it to Smith. "That's for the pain. When you get out, call my office and make an appointment to see me this coming week." And with that, Dr. Jones sauntered away.
Smith went back to screaming for help. The next passerby to peer down at him was a prominent local lawyer, Lawyer Black. "Good grief, Smith, what has happened to you?"
Smith said, "Well, I fell into this pit for lack of attention, and it appears I've sprained my ankle into the bargain." To which Lawyer Black responded by pulling a business card from his jacket, tossing it down to Smith, and saying "Call me when you get out and we'll sue the city for a bundle." And with that, Lawyer Black sauntered away.
Shaken but undaunted, Smith returned to screaming for help. And in time, a third passerby peers down at him: his parish pastor, Father White. "Good heavens, Smith, what has befallen you?"
Smith replied "I've fallen into this pit, Father, and I can't get out on my own, but so far no one has offered me any assistance." He looked up hopefully at the priest, and his hopes surged as Father White reached a hand down into the pit.
But as Smith took the cleric's hand, Father White merely shook and released it, said "I'll pray for you," and sauntered off.
Is this effective Christianity?
We Christians are big on platitudes and portentous maxims. We tend to be less handy with the sort of help that others truly need -- and no, I'm not talking about donating to this charity or that one; that's conscience-salving-by-check, and close to completely ineffective as lasting help.
There are persons who "need" material help, of course, just as Smith needs some sort of assistance in getting out of that pit. But material need is often -- in our nation at this time, perhaps more often than not -- a symptom of a larger and more threatening deficit.
Man lives in time -- God's least easily recognized creation -- specifically because time gives rise to cause and effect. Under a regime of unchanging natural law, cause and effect compel us to learn. The overarching rule of the temporal universe, as it applies to human life, is succinctly stated:
Won't learn? Won't live.
This is also the rule of the supra-temporal realm to which every man's soul is destined to return.
Christianity's mythos -- the technical terminology in religious studies for its specific theology -- is seldom properly connected to its ethos -- its practical implications. It's possible to be the most fervent believer in the mythos while giving the ethos no attention whatsoever. Such a person is unlikely to have the admiration and respect of those around him. Nor is he likely to win God's favor.
Christ laid the foundation of the ethos when He enunciated the Second Great Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Inasmuch as a neighbor is "one who has come near," the commandment amounts to treating those with whom one comes into contact as you would prefer to be treated yourself: a restatement of the Golden Rule Christ proclaimed during the Sermon on the Mount.
It is in Man's nature to want to be self-sufficient: that is, not to need assistance in practical matters. That this is impossible in a wide range of circumstances has no bearing on the desire. In the parable above, when Smith realized he'd fallen into a pit, his first inclination was to help himself. Only when he'd concluded that he could not escape on his own did he begin to clamor for help from others.
A "traditional" Good Samaritan-like ending to the parable would have some passerby Smith has never met before reach down and hoist him out of the pit. But that's certainly not the one that best illuminates effective Christian outreach. I prefer this one, instead:
In time, another passerby, a man unknown to Smith, was attracted by Smith's cries. This fourth man looked briefly down into the pit, nodded, and jumped in beside Smith.
Smith was incredulous. "Why did you do that? Now we're both stuck down here!"
The newcomer smiled and shook his head. "Not at all. You see, I'm a municipal construction worker. My work has me in and around pits like this one all the time. Yes, I could have hauled you out from above. You would have thanked me and walked away, and thought nothing more about it. You would have been no better off than you were before you fell in here. But your life won't end once you're out of this hole. You very well might fall into it, or a similar one, at some time in the future, when no one else is around. Wouldn't you prefer that I show you how to get out by yourself?"
May God bless and keep you all.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Any organization not explicitly right-wing will over time become left-wing. -- Robert Conquest's Second Law of Politics
I'm not a big fan of contemporary notions about relations between the sexes. ("No, really?") By my lights, they teetered on the edge of terminally poisoned for some years, but recently appeared to be returning to an endurable state. The progenitor of the deterioration, militant / gender-war feminism, has been in retreat for about a decade, and more gracious conceptions have returned as it waned. However, there are some effects that simply refuse to be quenched. One of those is garishly visible in the occupational association that styles itself the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).
This article provides a peek at the carnage:
It wasn't until this week that I glanced at the Locus Online website to catch up on SF news and book reviews (I'd also been neglecting both the print and online versions of Locus) and saw a link to the Guardian Online article that I reference above, entitled "Science fiction authors attack sexism in row over SFWA magazine". Reading it, I learned that Mike and Barry were at the center of an online controversy over alleged sexism in SFWA, which focused both on several of their recent columns and the cover to issue 200 of the Bulletin, which featured an iconic image of a barbarian woman warrior/goddess in a chainmail bikini, brandishing her bloody sword over the corpse of a Frost Giant. The article provided a link to an online roundup of commentary from dozens of science fiction professionals, would-be professionals, and fans. Perusing this long selection of snippets, seventy-six of them at last count, I noted the following epithets being applied to Mike and Barry or to their words: unprofessional (the kindest of the lot), wankers, regressive, outdated, condescending, sources of "sexist douchebaggery," "misogynistic, irrelevant dinosaurs," "old men yelling at clouds," "majority men in power," "hideous, backwards, and strangely atavistic," "blithering nincompoops," antiquated, "deeply offensive," "at best stupid and at worst censorious," "sexist dippery," gross, "never ending stream of sexism," shitty, prehistoric, and, perhaps most colorful, "giant space dicks." Also linked to on this list was a charming blog post entitled, "Dear Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick: Fuck You. Signed, Rachael Acks" (which, incidentally, is the #3 search result of 187,000 results when you type in the words Barry Malzberg into Google's search bar).
Holy bejezzus, I thought to myself as I read through this list. What did Mike and Barry do? Had they gone all Westboro Baptist Church in one of their recent columns?
I went home that night and dug my most recent four issues, all previously unread, of the Bulletin out of my "to be read" pile. And I read all four Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues in order (the Dialogue from issue 201 plays no part in the brouhaha).
Never in my forty-eight years have I witnessed such an immense chasm yawning between an inciting incident and the level of vitriol it inspired....
The editor of the Bulletin, Jean Rabe, asked Barry and Mike to write a column or two on the history of women in science fiction. This request resulted in two columns, published in issues 199 and 200, entitled "Literary Ladies: Part One" (focusing on writers) and "Literary Ladies: Part Two" (focusing on editors and publishers). One of the pair (I suspect it is Mike) has a longstanding weakness for alliteration; thus, the "LL" of "Literary Ladies." In accordance with the titles of the articles, Mike and Barry frequently (but by no means exclusively) refer to their subjects as "lady writers," "lady editors," or "lady publishers" (there are a few "lady agents" mentioned, too).
This use of "lady" as a modifying adjective is one of the primary complaints the legions of critics online have hurled at Mike and Barry, a main plank in their contention that the pair are "reactionary, shitty, prehistoric, misogynistic, giant space dicks" (to mash up just a few of the pejoratives I've quoted in the list above). Now, maybe it's just me, but I have never encountered the use of the word "lady" as a pejorative or even as having a negative connotation. At least when I was growing up, it was a compliment, a label for those of the female gender to aspire to. Is the word a bit old-fashioned? Sure. Does it have a bit of a musty smell about it? A case could certainly be made. Is it mean-spirited? Hell, no.
I am not a member of SFWA and would not join if invited to do so. Indeed, I'm not a member of any group except my parish, and I sometimes get a queasy feeling about that. I simply don't join groups...and the effect the abovementioned brouhaha so vividly exemplifies is the reason.
Give that a few CPU cycles while I fetch a muffin to wash down my coffee.
It's an unpleasant fact that all organized groups, regardless of their overt purpose, are political in nature, and will ultimately be "taken over" by those whose foremost priority is power. As those persons are innately hostile to dissent and criticism, they will use such power as they acquire to suppress those things, by whatever means are expedient. When codes of personal ethics cease to constrain them, nothing remains to inhibit them from doing so.
I have no doubt that some of my Gentle Readers are shaking their heads vigorously at the paragraph above. They've probably missed the significance of the word organized. A sewing circle doesn't qualify. Neither does a "beer, belch, and bitch bunch" of the sort that "convenes" at the local tavern on Friday and Saturday nights. An organized group:
- Has members, and by implication, a procedure for becoming a member;
- Has a set of rules of operation, by which the group's resources are directed;
- Has a specific procedure for making decisions, and (in the usual case) some sort of hierarchy for effectuating them.
Such groups in the United States almost all have a majoritarian basis. That is, their rules and procedures make reference to majority consensus at the base level: the admission of members, the adoption and modification of rules, the election of officers, and the process by which the group decides what it will do with its resources. That basis isn't always visible. Neither is the effect it has on persons whose principal drive is power.
The implication of group organization is that he who acquires influence and / or authority within such a group will have a degree of power over its membership and resources. If power is what he wants most in this world, he will seek more of it, for power is a drug that doesn't sate. And as Friedrich Hayek has told us, the "race to the top" will over time be dominated by persons of that sort.
Yes, Gentle Reader, Robert Conquest's Second Law really, truly does apply to all organized groups. In my fond and foolish youth I was involved in a number of groups -- how do you think I got all these scars? -- and I can testify to the inexorability of the dynamic. Remember that you read it here first.
And if that unsettles you, buckle your seat belt, Bubba, 'cause you ain't seen nothin' yet.
One of the intrinsic differences between the sexes is that between men's and women's interest in power over others.
Historically, the great political figures -- good and bad -- have overwhelmingly been male. But then, it wasn't until about a century ago that women were permitted entry into politics in Western societies. (In most Eastern ones, they're still excluded from full participation in political processes, whether candidly or by covert means.) Yet it is women, beyond all argument, who are more concerned with the acquisition of power over others. That women have not yet risen to the pinnacle of political power in these United States is mainly due to the short span since the institution of female suffrage.
The female psyche is oriented toward collective decision-making. All those nights squatting around Cro-Magnon campfires complaining about their mates' ingratitude and the impossibility of keeping a neat cave when Ug simply refuses to put his antelope femur away at the end of the day have left an indelible legacy. There are some female individualists, of course, but they tend to be a minority, and are generally shunned by their more collectivist sisters. She who thinks sitting around and kvetching about the menfolk is a waste of time cannot fail to let the attitude show, and so will be made unwelcome in the larger circle.
Collectivism -- the assumption that "we" trumps "I" -- is indispensable to power politics.
Women who seek power will naturally attempt first to gain consensus support from other women. It's a female politician's fundamental "constituency." Within explicitly political women's groups, you will find few consensuses that are not near to absolute, for women are also naturally inclined toward the sort of emotional manipulation -- indeed, emotional brutality -- that's on display toward Malzberg and Resnick.
Even women who don't seek power for themselves are passionate about power for women, which of course translates to women's power over men; they see it as the one and only way to "straighten out" the rest of us. Thus, when a sister begins to "climb the ladder," they will rally behind her to an overwhelming degree, hoping that she will acquire the stature needed to beat some sense into our thick male skulls. The suggestion that this is more likely than not to evoke an adverse reaction tends to upset them; most women will dismiss it without giving it any thought. (Cf. women's reactions to Helen Smith's recent book Men on Strike.)
Here we come to yet another ugly truth: the one that's forcing me ever closer to absolute anarchism:
The SFWA dustup is a perfect example of the way women seek to use power of any sort to impose their preferences on others. Fortunately for Malzberg and Resnick, the sort of power that can be deployed against them is collective nasty denigration, nothing more. They can ignore it in perfect safety; their reputations as writers are proof against female slanders. But of course, the women attacking them can't see the matter that way; to them, this is about promoting their sex and its "interests" above the "patriarchal" survivals of past eras, and thus is obligatory if "women are to make progress."
It's twaddle, of course. Sexist twaddle, at that. But most women are blocked, emotionally, from grasping that. Even some very intelligent women are unable to come to grips with it; their genetic predisposition toward viewing relations between the sexes in collectivist terms prevents their intellects from functioning in that arena.
The Wendy McElroys, the Christina Hoff Sommerses, the Ann Coulters, and the Helen Smiths are a minority, and are destined to remain so for at least a quarter-million years...if the race, which appears to be headed for extinction due to power politics, should last that long.
There is no solution, no cure, nor even a palliative for a man determined to go his own way, value what he prefers, speak his mind as he pleases, and choose according to his own tastes, except for one: Ignore the screechings of women. Let the harridans rant and rave; for now at least, they have no actual power over you, so don't give them any by allowing them to make you ashamed of your words or preferences.
There are some women of a more agreeable sort, but you're not guaranteed to encounter them, especially given present trends. Worse, some of the seemingly agreeable sorts are trying to "pass," for reasons that surely need not be elucidated here, and will drop the disguise as soon as they get what they want.
Above all, don't be a "joiner." Avoid organized groups, especially groups that admit women as members. Remain an individual unbound by others' rules. Remember always these words of wisdom from the late Keith Laumer's iconic diplomat Jame Retief:
Retief stood up. "I'm taking a few weeks off...if you have no objections, Mr. Ambassador. My pal Whonk wants to show me an island down south where the fishing is good."
"But there are some extremely important matters coming up," Magnan said. "We're planning to sponsor Senior Citizen Groups."
"Count me out. Groups give me an itch."
"Why, what an astonishing remark, Retief. After all, we diplomats are ourselves a group."
"Uh-huh," Retief said. "That's what I mean."
Magnan sat quietly, his mouth open, and watched as Retief stepped into the hall and closed the door gently behind him.
Friday, June 21, 2013
End of the week...worn out...must rest...BLEEP!ing Fibre Channel...have just a few tidbits before I...can't keep my eyes open any longer...sorry...BZZZZZZZZ...
1. An important insight.
Yesterday on Fox News's "Special Report," the subject of greatest interest was the current state of the immigration bill being drafted by the Notorious Gang of Eight in the U.S. Senate. The details of the "Corker Amendment" were laid out, and the panel was invited to comment.
As is often the case, the most important observation came from Charles Krauthammer: the amendment speaks only of inputs, never of outputs. That is, among its provisions are various things to be done and amounts to be budgeted to "strengthen border security," but not one word about metrics of performance or how such measures would condition our attitude toward our present gaggle of illegal alien residents.
This is commonplace in faux-"reform" legislation. Inputs tell us nothing about whether the problem under discussion is being addressed effectively. Inputs, however, allow legislators to posture about having "done something," while the actual results of their "efforts" can always be attributed to suit their purposes at a later time. (Do not expect a politician to take responsibility for a failed effort, ever. That's what his predecessors, the opposition, and faceless bureaucrats are for.)
I recall an exchange from some years back in which one colleague, a left-liberal, was arguing the merits of a proposed program with a conservative. The liberal orated passionately about how bad the situation was, and how massive funding must go to its remediation. The conservative listened in silence. When the liberal finally ran down and demanded a response to his declamation, the conservative said, "So? You're just going to throw bundles of dollar bills at it? How has that worked in the past?"
It was a valuable lesson for all concerned.
2. Critical cutbacks to a much-needed government program.
This "austerity" binge has gone too far:
The Ministry of Defence closed down its UFO desk because it served "no defence purpose" and was taking staff away from "more valuable defence-related activities", newly released files show.
The desk was shut down in December 2009 despite a surge in reported sightings.
The disclosure came in National Archives files relating to reports of UFOs - Unidentified Flying Objects - between 2007 and November 2009.
They show UFOs were reported at several UK landmarks, including Stonehenge.
Really, now! How is the United Kingdom to deal with the ongoing alien invasion without a functioning, well-funded UFO desk? Surely we of the United States have enough experience to counsel them:
Close encounters of the first kind: Visual sightings of an unidentified flying object.
Close encounters of the second kind: Physical evidence of a UFO.
Close encounters of the third kind: Contact.
Close encounters of the fourth kind: Complaining to your drinking buddies about not meeting any aliens.
Close encounters of the fifth kind: Meeting an alien through an online dating site.
Close encounters of the sixth kind: Dinner and a movie with an alien.
Close encounters of the seventh kind: Marrying an alien in Las Vegas.
Close encounters of the eighth kind: Fighting with an alien over money, sex, and the state of the lawn.
Close encounters of the ninth kind: Negotiating joint custody of the larvae with your ex-alien's lawyer.
Close encounters of the tenth kind: Receiving nasty phone calls from a lawyer at Alpha Centauri about the child support.
And (unfortunately) on it goes...until:
Close encounters of the last kind: Complaining to your drinking buddies about your ex-alien.
3. He meant exactly what he implied.
On June 7, the federal Department of Education announced its plan to “redesign” all government high schools in America.
Creating yet another federal enticement program – this time called the “High School Redesign Initiative” – the feds will offer “competitive grants to local educational agencies” to do such things as “redesign academic content and instructional practices” as well as “strategically use learning time in more meaningful ways,” whatever that actually means.
Similar to the feds using Common Core “state” standards to exercise a greater role in state and local education, this initiative will once again employ the persuasive power of the federal government to affect the culture of local schools and what they should teach. It follows the natural progression of creating a national education system.
So while the Obama administration is promoting the standardization of what should be taught, the centralized education bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. is also promoting the standardization of the schools themselves.
Meanwhile, President Obama took to the podium in Ireland yesterday to attack Catholic education – to a room full of Catholics!
That's for anyone who thought yesterday's emission was just a poorly chosen phrase. No one will ever convince me that Barack Hussein Obama, who was educated in Djakarta as a Muslim and remains a Muslim sympathizer in all his public words and deeds, is a sincere Christian.
I wrote on several occasions back at Eternity Road about the horror that is Fibre Channel:
Fibre Channel, or FC, is a high-speed network technology (commonly running at 2-, 4-, 8- and 16-gigabit speeds) primarily used for storage networking. Fibre Channel is standardized in the T11 Technical Committee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited standards committee. Fibre Channel was primarily used in the supercomputer field, but has now become the standard connection type for storage area networks (SAN) in enterprise storage.
Don't believe a word of it. Fibre Channel is not a "standard" in any sense worthy of the word.
You want proof? A prominent vendor of Fibre Channel adapters, with which I have the extreme misfortune to be compelled to work:
- Makes adapters that are incompatible with one another;
- Sells adapters with device drivers for Windows that crash Windows XP on installation;
- Refuses to fix the bugs in its own products unless paid to do so;
- Absolutely refuses to consider providing support for Windows 7 or any subsequent version.
I'm currently collaborating with the Fibre Channel expert at another company -- a gentleman with far more experience in this domain than I possess -- and asked him, after a long conversation about our shared difficulties, whether this was characteristic of this so-called "standard," and whether we should expect further problems of this sort in the future. He replied in the affirmative, sadly but without hesitation.
Stick with Ethernet, friends. Trust me on this.
5. A Fiction Query.
- Should I write another Onteora Canon novel?
- Should I write a Stephen Graham Sumner presidency novel?
- Should I write more about the Spooner Federation and its evolution?
- Then there's "The Warm Lands" novelette; should I take that somewhere?
- What about Todd Iverson? Does he deserve further adventures?
- More Christian-themed material?
- More erotica?
Each of these paths has its attractions and its hazards. I'm in the position of the proverbial donkey who found himself standing equidistant from two equally large piles of hay, and starved to death because he had no way to choose between them!
Now's the time to get your cards and letters in, Gentle Readers. And please, please, please: Post reviews of the works you've read and (hopefully) enjoyed. It really does help sales.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The following might seem a bit scattered, because the theme I plan to address has quite a lot of facets. Please bear with me as I try to stitch them together.
The emergence of the great, multi-polity domain once known as Christendom proceeded from a relatively compact set of formative influences:
- The coalescence of regionally dominant military powers, each capable of defending its borders against comparable aggressors;
- The development of aristocracies generally trustworthy at maintaining peace and order within their domains;
- The Peace of Westphalia, which provided the basis for the modern concept of national sovereignty and self-determination;
- The perfusion of Europe, including its royal and noble houses, with Christian ethical norms.
Not one of those ingredients could have been removed. All were vital to the formation of Christendom, the largest generally successful political project in the history of Man. From the Westphalian treaties of 1648 to the outbreak of the First World War, it made Europe the source of virtually all technological, economic, and social advancement. Mind you, it wasn't an unblemished entity; it knew various periods of warfare, and miscellaneous varieties of institutional evil. But it stands head and shoulders above all other, similarly large political undertakings.
Why? Or rather: How? What made Christendom such a relative success?
Hold that thought. We'll get back to it.
President Obama wasn't kidding in March of 2012 when he told then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" after the election. We got a chilling look at what Obama meant by that during a speech in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit when he declared religious schools divisive:If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.
Note that Obama singles out Catholic and Protestant schools, and not Islamic schools.
Leftists like Obama loath parochial schools because they put children outside of the reach of government. The left sees public schools as breeding grounds–the place where they can insert themselves into their favorite spot: between parent and child.
It is all about influencing our kids–Borging them into conformity in an environment void of Bibles and trans-fat but loaded with condoms and victimhood.
The author of the above, John Nolte, has discerned an important aspect of modern left-liberalism: the drive to homogenize beliefs and attitudes through universal subjection to conformity-inducing institutions such as the "public" schools. "Division," you see, is the left-liberal's enemy...especially a "division" on political subjects. Left-liberalism is innately hostile to political dissent -- and to the Left, all things are political.
Given that Obama feels so obviously hostile toward Christian educational institutions, one must wonder how he feels about homeschooling...and what he would like to do about it, were he able.
The great Gilbert Keith Chesterton emitted many an incisive statement, but the one dearest to me is this:
“There exists… a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I do not see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer, “If you do not see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it…”
Some person had a good reason for thinking (the gate or fence) would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. … The truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served.
But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion…” [from The Thing]
Tradition has been described as "the democracy of the dead:" the less-than-formal means by which those who have preceded us have passed down what they think they know, for our edification and protection. Edification of a sort that cannot be arrived at through the "ivory tower" style of abstract contemplation; protection, in the all-important domain of protection from our own vagrant impulses and failures of humility.
Man has done much erring over the millennia. Yet his accumulated mistakes have left a residuum of wisdom...wisdom conveyed to us largely in the form of traditions.
Mind you, not all traditions are utterly sound and to be cleaved to without thought. Traditions deserve to be reflected upon, their origins studied, and their practice supplemented or modified when appropriate with more recently acquired knowledge and experience. But they are not to be cast aside heedlessly, as would the "modern type of reformer" in Chesterton's statement above. History teaches that we're more likely to suffer than prosper from such radicalism. Besides, the dead wouldn't like it.
Each thing exists for a reason...including our differences.
Porthos: You know, it strikes me that we would be better employed ringing Milady's pretty neck than shooting these poor devils of protestants. I mean, what are we killing them for? Because they sing psalms in French and we sing them in Latin?
Aramis: Porthos, have you no education? What do you think religious wars are all about?
[From Pat Wollaston's screenplay for the Four Musketeers.]
Note that in an earlier segment I referred to Christian ethical norms. The Peace of Westphalia was in large measure an effort to end internecine warfare that arose from religious differences among Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Calvinists.
Those four divisions of Christianity differed on many things, some of them so sharply that they were unable to discuss them in civil tones. But they agreed on the core of Christian ethics:
Then someone came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and your mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew 19:16-19]
Christendom would not have been possible, had the various Christian sects differed on any of Jesus's commandments to the "rich young man." For it is these that make peace and public order possible at all. A nation in which "tolerance" (rapidly becoming one of my least favorite words) is extended to persons who differ with the Savior on those essentials, whether generally or with reference to certain groups, is doomed to vanish, "in a spread of ruins and slaughter." [Ayn Rand]
It is possible to form great and peaceable assemblages conducive to human flourishing only on the basis of Christ's instructions above, which are sometimes called the Noachite Commandments. Christendom functioned well only while it maintained coherence around those six absolutes. In the early Twentieth Century, when the nations of Europe began to discard them in a quest for territory, profit, prestige, colonies, or what-have-you, Christendom itself ceased to exist. Fragmentation and the concomitant violence became inevitable. Only America, separated from the ensuing turmoil by two great oceans, retained any prospect of cohesion in general peace.
Europe's present-day turmoil, as the "post-Christian" EU teeters and staggers toward its doom over international tensions and divisions, is a reminder that among peoples who differ on all else, the commonalities that flow from the Noachite Commandments are indispensable.
Frank Burns: Normality is everyone doing and thinking the same thing.
Trapper John: But what about individuality, Frank?
Frank Burns: Individuality's fine...as long as we all do it together!
[From the TV show M*A*S*H.]
We cannot agree on all things. Indeed, it's Satan's whisper that we should try. For what does it imply?
- That there are final answers to all questions;
- That there is a coterie of absolute authorities among men who deserve utter deference on all things;
- That dissent from any of those authorities' dicta amounts to treason against humanity, harmony, and knowledge itself.
We are all human, and therefore must agree on those things that experience has proved utterly necessary for social peace and species survival. But individuals are designed to be individual: to differ in many ways, some critical to their health and well-being. Beyond our mandatory agreements, divergence is essential and must be respected and protected.
There will be many episodes in which our differences will seem both critical and irresolvable. I maintain that it is at those exact moments that the Unity Con -- that we must agree on something beyond the Noachite Commandments -- is most dangerous. No other agreements are vital; accordingly, no other agreement should be allowed to incur a cost in blood, even in potential. When politics is invoked in an attempt to forge such an agreement, a sword hangs over our heads regardless of whether we can sense it. They who would wield that sword are unlikely to respect anyone's convictions or opinions except their own.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
[After I’d read this essay by humorist P.J. O’Rourke, it occurred to me that the time was right for a reprint of the following essay, which first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason in November, 2002. -- FWP]
1. A Harmonization.
In 1987, a California organization called the Advocates for Self-Government, led by a brilliant polemicist named Marshall Fritz, set forth to persuade the nation that the libertarian political philosophy could answer most, if not all, of the most vexing questions in public debate. To aid in opening minds to his message, Mr. Fritz composed a short quiz, whose results were intended to determine where a man's opinions placed him in the overall distribution of political opinion. Mr. Fritz built a campaign around this quiz, and called it "Operation Politically Homeless," to emphasize the considerable gap that had grown up between the major political parties and the typical American. It was upon meeting Mr. Fritz and being exposed to his presentation of the libertarian idea that I first decided to call myself a libertarian.
Yet I'm still a politically homeless man, and am still made uncomfortable by it. Yes, I call myself a libertarian; note the lower-case L. However, I differ with "party" Libertarians -- note the upper-case L -- on several important topics. And the people I get along best with, by party affiliation, are not Libertarians but Republicans.
Many conservatives find themselves at odds with the official positions of the Republican Party on one or more important points. Yet most of those persons would not be comfortable with "pure" libertarianism, and for good reasons. It's too wholesale. It attempts to answer every question, to be all things to all men. And it fails to recognize where it ceases to provide palatable answers.
Please don't mistake me. I think the libertarian political philosophy, where applicable, is a very good one. It's more accurate in its assessment of human nature and its controlling influences, and leads to better societies and better economic results, than any other political concept ever advanced. But the "where applicable" part is very important; in fact, it's the most important part of this paragraph, as it explains in near-totality the "conservative-libertarian schism."
Where would the libertarian postulates of individual rights and individual responsibilities fail to apply? Three generic places:
- Where the atoms that interact are not individuals, but collectivities;
- Where the "individual" under discussion is incapable, either from innate incapacity or from injury, of understanding rights and responsibilities;
- Where rights clash in an absolute and irreconcilable way.
Important specific topics that fall within these categories are:
- National defense and foreign dealings;
- The protection and restraint of the immature and the mentally diseased;
On the subject of international dealings, including military excursions, American libertarians have strained under the tension of conflicting desires. On the one hand, the State's warmaking power is the most dangerous thing it possesses, at least superficially. On the other, no one has yet advanced a plausible market-based scheme for protecting the country that would operate reliably enough to satisfy us. Moreover, the American military, with a few exceptions, really has been used in a wholesome, life-and-freedom-promoting way, against genuinely deserving targets, and has met high ethical standards wherever it's been sent.
Immigration is another area of real agony for American libertarians. There's much truth to the old saw that you can't be anti-immigrant without being anti-American, for America is largely a nation of immigrants. Yet the demise of the assumption of assimilation has rendered large-scale immigration to these shores a positive danger to the commonalities on which our national survival depends. It's unclear, given world trends, that we could re-invigorate the mechanisms that enforce assimilation any time soon. Until we do, the path of prudence will be to close the borders to all but a carefully screened trickle from countries with compatible cultures. Our collectivity must preserve its key commonalities -- a common language, respect for the law, a shared concept of public order, and a sense of unity in the face of demands posed by other nations or cultures -- if it is to preserve itself.
Milton Friedman, one of the century's greatest minds, wrote in his seminal book Capitalism And Freedom: "Freedom is a tenable objective for responsible individuals only. We do not believe in freedom for children or madmen." How true! "Pure" libertarianism has wounded itself badly by attempting to deny this obvious requirement of life: the irresponsible must be protected and restrained until they become responsible, so that they will be safe from others, and others will be safe from them. Madmen who were granted the rights of the sane nearly made New York City unendurable. If the "children's rights" lobby ever got its way, children would die in numbers to defy the imagination, and the American family would vanish.
Of course there are difficulties in determining who is responsible and who isn't. No one said it would be easy. Yet our court system, excepting the obscene, supra-Constitutional "Family Courts," works quite well to determine competence, and would work still better if it were relieved of the burden of all the victimless crimes that swell court dockets nationwide.
Finally, abortion. Let it be conceded that a woman has the right to control her body and its processes. But let it also be conceded that a fetus in the womb is a human being with human rights, not to be deprived of that status by any sophistry. The clash is absolute; rights theory cannot resolve it. Therefore an arbitrary political decision must be made. The position most compatible with other American ideals is to protect the weaker party -- the developing baby -- from destruction by the stronger, unless doing so would demonstrably endanger the life of the mother. Other positions exist, such as a "brain-wave" criterion for protected human life, which has the virtue of consistency with the way we define human death. However, whatever position we ultimately reach will be arbitrary, as no unassailable logical defense can apply to any decision to use (or not use) force when rights clash.
Pure libertarian thinking must concede these bounds -- the bounds of individual action, individual responsibility, and clearly defined, non-contradictory rights -- before "orthodox" conservatives will take it seriously.
By contrast with the above, matters such as the War On Drugs are minor bagatelles. Most conservatives are open-minded enough to consider the possibility that the Drug War might be misconceived. Indeed, there are far more conservatives in the pro-legalization ranks than liberals. The harmony between rights theory and the argument for legalization only buttresses the practical evidence that the Drug War's massive invasions of privacy, erection of unaccountable vice squad bureaus, and sanctification of police-state tactics has done far more harm than good. The conversation will continue, the evidence will accumulate still further, and eventually the Drug War will end.
On the purely practical matter of political efficacy, the Libertarian Party should not be expected to produce electoral victories. It can't, in the nature of things. It's not pragmatic enough to play to the populace's current desires or demands. As a particular "libertarian" position becomes popular enough to command wide support, it will usually be adopted by the Republicans. This is as it should be; third parties do their best work along the margins of the debate, by addressing the more "daring" ideas that the institutionally committed major parties can't afford to play with while they're still controversial.
There's no shame in adhering to either the LP or the GOP, whether your convictions are libertarian or more conventionally conservative. The only shame is in insisting that you must be right, that all precincts have reported now and forever, that your mind is unchangeably made up regardless of whatever new logic or evidence might be presented to you, from whatever source. But this was put far better by the polemicist admired by more conservatives and libertarians than any other, the late, great Ayn Rand:
"There are no evil thoughts, Mr. Rearden," Francisco said, "except one: the refusal to think." (from Atlas Shrugged)
Since I first composed the above essay, a number of readers have written me to comment on "the missing ingredient" of libertarianism: a respect for the law, in particular for the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States. Adherents to the libertarian philosophy, they claim, are entirely too willing to flout the law and to disregard Constitutional stricture in their boundless devotion to principle.
I won't dismiss the charge out of hand. It has some substance. And constitutionalism is an important element in the defense of liberty, as we shall see. However, to condemn a group or its animating ideal because, at a particular point in time, what it advocates is outside the law is a bit shortsighted and low on context.
First, the negative aspects of rigid adherence to the law must be admitted. A case in point: There was a time when slavery was not only condoned by the Constitution and the law in several states, but the other states of the Union, against their own law and the inclinations of their citizens, were compelled by the Fugitive Slave Act to return escaped slaves to their "rightful owners." No one would rise to defend these legal obscenities today, yet at that time, they were enforced with federal power. Those who defied them were not villains, but the heroes of the time. Like another great Hero, the greatest known to history, they came not to overthrow the law, but to fulfill it.
Another case in point: At the conclusion of World War II, the Allied Powers imposed war crimes trials on defeated Germany and Japan. The Nuremberg Tribunal executed or imprisoned many persons, not all of whom were Third Reich policy makers, and not all of whom were personally guilty of direct violence against undeserving victims. The argument used to convict them was that they were instruments in the Nazi death machine, that they knowingly participated in organizing its crimes against humanity and giving them the patina of legality, and that the written law of the Reich, which often explicitly prescribed their deeds under threat of horrific punishment, was no defense. Many judges were imprisoned for life on this basis.
These examples and others like them suggest that there are limits to the fidelity a man owes to the written law. Of course, opinions will vary as to where those limits lie, but a key element of our founding tradition is the recognition that they exist:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. (From the Declaration of Independence)
But let it not be thought that written law and its observance are merely shackles for the citizen. The concept of written law, properly understood, and the principle of constitutionalism are the best formal safeguards for freedom that any society has ever devised. They must be twisted and abused to be made into instruments of despotism.
A side observation: Isn't it one of the major criticisms of the federal government at this time that the overwhelming majority of "laws" are made, not by Congress, whose members seldom even read the bills they vote on, but by the unelected regulators and bureaucrats of the "alphabet agencies"? Isn't it a great part of our unhappiness with Washington that the gigantic Federal Register, whose contents are legally binding on every American, is produced by faceless men no voter can remove, and is as fluid and elusive as the proverbial butterfly of love?
The Federal Register, which is arguably more important to American life than any other emission of the federal government, fails to exhibit the most important, legitimizing characteristics of written law -- and from here we pass to what those characteristics are.
To possess widely recognized legitimacy:
- The law must be made by accepted mechanisms.
- The law must be made through accepted procedures.
- The law must clearly conform to broad, and broadly accepted, standards of right and wrong.
In the United States, at the federal level, that means the law must be made by Congress, with approval by the President and contingent sanction from the federal courts. It also means that the law must conform to the requirements of the Constitution and the great tradition of the Anglo-American common law, in which the common understanding of right and wrong have been codified over a millennium of reasoning and practice.
The principle of constitutionalism was invented on these shores. It was the first assertion of any standard for legitimacy other than divine right or force of arms. In exalting the law above the ruler -- indeed, in asserting that the rulers themselves are subject to the law, bound by it quite as much as any private citizen -- it first announced to the Old World that something new was going on here.
Constitutionalism doesn't sit alone in the void, giving birth to all our ideas. It is itself grounded in the postulate that government must have the consent of the governed, or at least an overwhelming majority thereof. At the time of the Founding, the "overwhelming majority" standard was set at three-fourths of the states. That was the requirement for ratification, and also the requirement for amendment.
It's worth reflecting on how little the Constitution would be worth if it were possible for Congress to amend it by a simple majority vote. That's the case in New York, whose state constitution is hardly worth the paper it's written on. Whenever the New York legislature wants to extend its powers, it simply votes itself new ones. This happens rather frequently. Yet even this smirk at the consent of the governed pays homage to the underlying rule: that government is bound by the document that expresses the people's consensus about its legitimate powers.
A government that seizes powers not granted by the people's consensus -- in the United States, a government that transgresses the bounds set by its constitution -- is an illegitimate government, that has no rightful claim on the obedience of its citizens.
Obviously, when practiced properly, without any "evolving document" evasions, constitutionalism is an enormously conservative idea. It puts a brake on rapid and wide-ranging changes in government and its authority. It requires the fulfillment of an elaborate set of procedures to approve expansions of power. It keeps the rulers intimately in touch with the people whose natural individual sovereignty they borrow.
This is not just a conservative, tradition-affirming idea; it is a powerful liberty-affirming idea. Any bounds on the powers of the State are libertarian in nature. They insist that the Republic must confine itself to the rei publicae: the public matters upon which legislation and exertion of political authority are appropriate. If the precise placement of the bounds changes, it will be gradually, and only with the express consent of the governed.
Opponents of constitutionalism, who dislike its conservative tendency, often raise the "slavery objection" to the original document: how, they ask, can you sanctify a document that allowed some men to own others? What they fail to see is that, though the Constitution as ratified permitted the obscenity of slavery -- ratification would not have been possible otherwise -- the principles behind the Constitution and enshrined in its provisions guaranteed slavery's eventual demise. To protect slavery for even a few years, Chief Justice Roger Taney had to claim in the Dred Scott decision that a Negro was not a human being, an entirely unsustainable position.
The chief problem with constitutionalism is the problem constitutionalism itself tries to solve: the problem of lawless government. At this time, more than 90% of federal activity and lawmaking is in violation both of the provisions of the Constitution and of the principles upon which it's based. The greatest obscenity is Congress's routine delegation of its lawmaking power to unelected regulators. This privilege was not granted to Congress in the Constitution, and for good reason: It puts the real lawmakers of the United States out of reach of the electorate, safe from removal.
This was made possible by citizen passivity. The enforcement agency of the Constitution is the citizenry; there is no other.
Libertarians and conservatives must find ways to reimpose Constitutional limits on the State, without interpretive legerdemain to accommodate particular interest groups, and without carving holes in the fundamental rights expressed by the Bill Of Rights that would allow governments to conduct campaigns against private practices that some people dislike.
The alternatives to a properly framed, properly observed constitution and objective written laws consistent with it are anarchy and tyranny. Anarchy looks ever more attractive to a people who cannot restrain the State that rules over them. Tyranny, of course, always looks attractive to people who want power over others.
3. The Confidence Factor.
Each abridgement of liberty has been used to justify further ones. Scholars of political systems have noted this repeatedly. The lesson is not lost on those whose agenda is total power. They perpetually strain to wedge the camel's nose into the tent, and not for the nose's sake.
Many a fine person will concede to you that "liberty is all very well in theory," follow that up with "but," and go on from there to tabulate aspects of life that, in his opinion, the voluntary actions of responsible persons interacting in freedom could never cope with. Oftentimes, free men and free markets have coped with his objections in the recent past, whether he knows it or not. You could point this out to him, provide references and footnotes, and still not overcome his resistance, for it does not depend on the specifics he cited.
His reluctance to embrace freedom is frequently based on fear, the power-monger's best friend.
Fantasist Robert Anton Wilson has written: "The State is based on threat." And so it is. After all, the State, no matter how structured, is a parasitic creature. It seizes our wealth and constrains our freedom, gives vague promises of performance in return, and then as often as not fails to deliver. No self-respecting people would tolerate such an institution if it did not regard the alternatives as worse.
The alternatives are seldom discussed in objective, unemotional terms. Sometimes they are worse, by my assessment, but why should you accept my word for it?
Let it be. The typical American, when he opts for State action over freedom, isn't acting on reasoned conviction, but on fear of a negative result. Sometimes the fear, which is frequently backed by a visceral revulsion, is so strong that no amount of counterevidence can dissolve it, including the abject failure of State action.
We've had a number of recent examples of this. To name only two prominent ones:
- The welfare reform of 1996, which limited total welfare benefits to healthy adults and imposed work and training requirements for collecting them, is among the most successful social policy enactments of our time. Huge numbers of welfare recipients have left the dole and assumed paying jobs, transforming themselves from dead loads on society to contributors to it. Yet many politicians and those sympathetic to their aims continue to argue that the welfare system must be expanded, liberalized, and made more generous. A good fraction of these are honestly concerned about the possibility that the 1996 restrictions, the first substantial curtailments of State welfarism since the New Deal, are producing privation among Americans unable to care for themselves.
- The War On Drugs, whose lineage reaches back to the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Control Act, has consumed tens of billions of dollars, radically diverted the attentions of state and federal law enforcement, exercised a pernicious corrupting influence on police forces, polluted our relations with several other countries, funded an immense underworld whose marketing practices are founded on bloodshed, and abridged the liberty and privacy of law-abiding Americans, but has produced no significant decrease in recreational drug consumption. Yet many Americans will not even consider the possibility that the War On Drugs should be scaled back or terminated altogether. Most resist from the fear that drug use and violence would explode without limit, possibly leading to the dissolution of civil society.
In either of the above cases, could we but take away the fear factor, there would be essentially no argument remaining.
Fear, like pain, can be useful. When it engenders caution, it can prolong life and preserve health. Conservatives in particular appreciate the value of caution. The conservative mindset is innately opposed to radical, destabilizing change, and history has proved such opposition to be wise.
However, a fear that nothing can dispel is a pure detriment to him who suffers it.
Generally, the antidote to fear is knowledge: logically sound arguments grounded in unshakable postulates and well buttressed by practical experience. Once one knows what brings a particular undesirable condition about, one has a chance of changing or averting it. The great challenge is to overcome fears so intense that they preclude a rational examination of the thing feared.
Where mainstream conservatives and libertarians part company is along the disjunction of their fears. The conservative tends to fear that, without State involvement in various social matters, the country and its norms would suffer unacceptably. Areas where such a fear applies include drug use, abortion, international trade, immigration, cultural matters, sexual behavior, and public deportment. The libertarian tends to fear the consequences of State involvement more greatly. He argues to the conservative that non-coercive ways of curbing the things he dislikes, ways that are free of statist hazards, should be investigated first, before turning to the police.
I call myself a libertarian, but I can't discount conservative fears in all cases -- especially where the libertarian approach to some social ill involves a major change to established ways. Radical transformations of society don't have a rosy history.
Yet conservatives, too, could be more realistic, and could show more confidence in the ideals they strive to defend. As Thomas Sowell has written in discussing the War On Drugs, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damned fool about it."
The past two decades, starting roughly with Ronald Reagan's ascent to national prominence, have laid the foundations for an enduring coalition between freedom-oriented libertarian thinkers and virtue-and-stability-oriented conservative thinkers. Each side needs to learn greater confidence in the other, if we are to establish the serious exchange of ideas and reservations, free of invective and dismissive rhetoric, as an ongoing process. Such confidence must include sufficient humility to allow for respect for the other side's fears -- for an unshakable confidence in one's own rightness is nearly always misplaced. There is little to learn from those who agree with you, whereas much may be learned from those who disagree.
4. The Ongoing Political Problem.
Libertarianism is a philosophy. Conservatism is not. Strictly speaking, conservatism is a set of preferences, some of which are political in nature, about certain kinds of social phenomena and changes to them.
It's rather a pity that so much confusion should attend the matter. However, the fog can be dispelled by recurring to fundamentals.
A philosophy is a system of thought, usually intended to be applied to a particular domain, that proceeds from a small set of coherent principles. The philosophy's specific statements must be in harmony with those principles, or one has a disintegrated mess that can't be logically defended.
Needless to say, the soundness of the core principles will determine the accuracy and utility of the philosophy. Moreover, no matter how good it is within its domain of applicability, attempts to apply it outside that domain will produce unsatisfactory results. Section 1, "A Harmonization," explores some such cases, the ones that most often divide libertarians from "orthodox" conservatives.
The breaches between libertarian thought and conservative preferences arise from two sources:
- Libertarian philosophical overreach: attempts to assert the primacy of the central libertarian principle, ethical individualism, where it doesn't apply, and:
- Inconsistent conservative policy preferences: conservatives' arguments for some things directly contradict the premises and logic of their arguments for other things.
Each camp's faults are a perfect picture of its essential character. Libertarians, who are idea-oriented and have fixed on a very compelling idea as the heart of their belief system, tend to overuse that idea, thrusting it into domains where it does active harm. Conservatives, who possess a great affection for certain attributes of a time past when there was more agreement on what constitutes virtue or vice, strain toward both its good and bad features rather than attempt to separate out the bad ones and discard them.
There's also the matter of libertarian ideological "purity," a matter that's little understood. In the political realm, an insistence on "purity" is a self-defeating thing. There aren't two people anywhere in this country who agree 100% in their political positions, including any two conservatives one might name. (Let's call this the "axiom of disagreement.") However, philosophical discussion is entirely about achieving exactly such an accord. In that sense, it's unsuited to practical political combat. Yet, in another, it's the most important asset a political movement could have. Only the continuing articulation and refinement of one's principles can provide the logical tools by which one can defend one's concepts of right and wrong -- and concepts of right and wrong are the foundation of all political thought.
Now, a lot of people are impatient with this business of working out the "right and wrong" of things from principles. Some things appear to them to be obviously wrong, and they want to act against them. The impulse is a credit to them. The problem is that political action -- the use of legitimized force -- carries costs and secondary consequences that aren't always perceptible nor predictable before it's applied. To be honest about one's integrity, one must be humble in the face of results.
There are numerous examples of the above observation; drug prohibition is only the most prominent. But it's noteworthy that this "cleavage" issue is the one that most often divides libertarians and conservatives. Libertarians, guided by ethical individualism, insist on the right to control one's own body as one sees fit. Conservatives, horrified at the moral dissolution that accompanies drug abuse, want no truck with "principles," and strain to overlook the awful consequences of politicizing this particular question of personal behavior. Once again, the innate characters of the two camps are on gaudy display.
Just as there are bounds to the applicability of any abstract principle, there are bounds to the applicability of any "practical" tool such as political authority. We might not know where those limits lie before we set out, but the results we reap will tell us afterward -- if we deign to consider them soberly.
Regarding the matter of political party alignment, there is a huge misconception among Republican partisans about the preferences of libertarian-minded voters. In brief, that misconception is that all of us are obsessed with ideological purity.
The Libertarian Party, an organization I've distanced myself from, attempts to spread that misconception. Its loyalists probably conform to that pattern. But the LP's membership is about twenty thousand souls, whereas the count of generally liberty-minded private citizens, who will occasionally reach for the LP lever in the voting booth, is about twenty times that many.
The Ron Paul candidacy in 1988 is a good indicator of this distribution. The core LP partisans didn't like Dr. Paul; as a constitutionalist with traditional views on certain subjects such as abortion, he offended their "purity" test. However, the larger American electorate liked him much more; about 420,000 of them turned out to vote for him for President.
So: Did the LP do a good thing in nominating Dr. Paul, or a bad thing? For a libertarian to believe it was a good thing, he has to accept the axiom of disagreement and be willing to bend to accommodate the views of others, at least in the near term. For a conservative to believe it was a bad thing, he has to believe that the association between Dr. Paul, a notable conservative who garners immense respect from others, and the LP was to Dr. Paul's discredit, regardless of what practical effects it might have had.
Despite a few areas of disagreement with his views, I was pleased to be Dr. Paul's New York State campaign manager, and even more pleased that so many persons who called themselves conservatives found favor with his beliefs. I think the promotion his thought received far outweighed any of the negative aspects of his association with a minor party generally disparaged by mainstream politicians and pundits.
There are thinkers, including some quite brilliant ones such as Thomas Sowell, who deplore third party politics. They believe that political progress is possible only from a marshaling of all available resources behind one banner -- getting all the horses into one corral. The argument has some weight, but, ironically in Dr. Sowell's case, it overlooks the importance of the ongoing process by which political beliefs are formed, altered and swayed, and preponderance of political will moves from one pole to another.
There are important differences between libertarian thought and the practical postures and behavior of major figures in the Republican Party. Those differences might not be resolved in the foreseeable future, but they can never be resolved, in either direction, if the two sides play kissy-face and the issues are never raised. Whichever side is right, the argument must be played out, in public -- and the aspect of the argument that political office-seekers pay attention to is voting distributions.
Whichever side one agrees with, to say that one must suppress important differences of conviction and throw one's support to the other side to "have a chance of winning" is to say that those differences aren't that important after all. What if they are? And what if the politicos watching one's decisions conclude the wrong thing from what they see?
That's the political process. Along with its function in distributing authority, it's a learning and teaching process. That's what makes it dynamic and interesting -- and vital. There is no way to circumvent it, nor can one dismiss activity at its margins as merely people working out their pique and their character flaws, unless one is willing to forgo all prospect of changing one's mind on matters of divergence.
I hope to see a continuing refinement of libertarian-conservative or "fusionist" thought. I do what I can to advance it. Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder, and others of greater stature than myself are also working on it, from their particular perspectives. It is the most important effort under way in political thought. Unless it succeeds, and allows us to build a single front -- united on critical matters and tolerant of divergence on lesser ones -- with which to oppose the statism and special-interest-propelled panderings of the Left, freedom in America is doomed. Libertarians will have to face an accelerating loss of the freedoms they cherish. Conservatives will have to face the ongoing reduction of their bastions, as the power hungry, ideologically propelled forces of the Left eat into their numbers via the schools, the media, and the awful power of their patented divide-to-seduce technique.
There's much to be said for humility. It's the ultimate asset for one determined to learn from his mistakes -- and really, does learning ever occur any other way?