I rage much, I sleep little. Incongruously, I have been a union activist and simultaneously a Constitutional libertarian. I am a registered nurse, a sailor, an Army veteran, and a III%er... I am a complicated man.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Right To Choose Poorly

During the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the bad guy sees a table covered with chalices of all sorts, among which is the one true Holy Grail. He asks, “Which one is it?” The Crusader guarding the Holy Grail tells him, “You must choose.” Recognizing his own inadequacy, he allows his properly Aryan she-devil historian cohort to make the choice for him. After a properly grotesque special-effects-wizard’s-dream of a death scene, the Crusader, in overwrought understatement, informed everyone else that “He chose… poorly.”

We make many choices every day. Few of them are as momentous as trying to select the one true Grail from a passel of deadly impostors, and I cannot think of a single one that would do unto us quite what the false Grail did to Marcus Brody, but there are indeed choices we make every day that can have profound impact on our lives. Choosing not to jay walk in front of a speeding bus may not seem like one that we put much brain power into deciding, but it is a choice, and a life-or-death one.

That is, obviously a reductio ad absurdum example, but any discussion of rights must necessarily drill down to bedrock principles, and bedrock principles govern even the absurd. If we are to contemplate individual liberty and the premise of self-ownership, we must recognize that the primacy of the individual includes the right to make mistakes, the right to do stupid things, the right to choose poorly. If we try to limit this right, we destroy it. A right abridged is a right denied.

What, however, of consequences from mistakes, poor choices, or outright stupidity? What of harm to others caused by bad acts, unintentional or intentional?

There is no inconsistency here, nor is there an abridgment of rights. One individual’s rights do not supersede another’s. I cannot act in a way that violates another’s rights and claim I have the right to do so. I do not. Nor do I have the right to demand I be rescued from the negative consequences of my poor choices. Society may choose to provide some relief, either through the voluntary actions of individuals and groups, or via government (yes, redistribution via government force is itself a violation of rights, but hold off for a moment). That societal choice does not, however, grant others the power to limit my choices.

Well-versed and well-rehearsed libertarians understand this and root their beliefs thus. Neither liberals nor conservatives, on the other hand, accept that, without the right to choose poorly and suffer the consequences of poor choices, there is no liberty, at least when it comes to their preferred stalking horses.

The Left seeks to interfere with (and, often, absolve) poor economic choices. The Right seeks to interfere with poor behavioral choices. Both speak of rights, but neither truly respects others’ rights when those rights are exercised in ways that cross their own preferences. And, when challenged on those violations, both will trot out some version of the bootstrapping argument i.e. the costs to society of one’s poor choices grant society the right to infringe on rights and restrict liberty. But, as I noted above, this neither reflects a proper understanding of rights nor recognizes that one cannot regulate something in order to regulate it.

Furthermore, without the right to choose poorly, people cannot learn or grow, and societal knowledge cannot be expanded effectively. 

Thomas Edison quipped: 

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

And Gandalf the Grey observed: 

The burned hand teaches best.

It is true that many refuse to learn the lessons taught by poor choices, and it is also true that, sometimes, the harm caused to others by those poor choices cannot be or does not get fully remediated. The latter is a perfection fallacy – you cannot fairly judge the good against an unachievable utopia. The former is, unfortunately, exacerbated by those who would infringe on people’s rights to protect them from bad choices. When a society institutionalizes absolution from and prohibition against bad choices, it infantilizes its citizens. All its citizens. And, in doing so, it conditions citizens into thinking less about consequences and ramifications. In economics, they call this moral hazard, and it has been a major contributor to the student debt crisis, to the sort of institutionalized poverty that has trapped so many, and to many other societal problems.

It is just one of several quiet and insidious erosions of liberty that have been steadily moving the nation away from its core principles – and under the noses of the very people who scream loudly (and correctly) about violations of speech and religious liberty.

I’ve recently blogged about two others: the right to earn a living and the right to move about; and I cover the right to self-defense that derives from the principle of self-ownership in my Gun Rights Lesson series. It is vitally important to any lover of liberty to remember that our rights are not all named (and, in being named, limited) by the explicit protections of the Bill of Rights, as the under-appreciated Ninth Amendment reminds us:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The right to choose poorly, if liberty is to mean anything, must be included, remembered and protected. This doesn’t mean that we, as individuals acting within a society, should turn our backs on those who’ve made poor choices. To the contrary, the individuals of a healthy society help each other and care for each other. That help and caring shouldn’t be abandoned to the government, and it mustn’t step on the rights of everyone else. We do not help and care for our needier neighbors when we vote power to the government to infringe on our and their rights. As history and ample example show, far more often, we make things worse.

Some of our most fundamental rights, the ones that we think we have, the ones deemed so deeply obvious that the Founders deemed it unnecessary to enumerate them, are pale ghosts of their former selves. This has happened and is happening under the radar, with little notice or noise from many of the staunchest and loudest defenders of our more commonly recognized and widely debated rights. Individual determination, even when it results in less than ideal results, must be recognized and must be defended. 

Without the right to choose poorly, we have no rights at all.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Societal Evolution and Human Behavior

by Peter Venetoklis

Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.
A bit over two thousand years ago, the Roman philosopher and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero penned these words. We can admire their continued validity across the past twenty centuries, but it is telling that these observations were considered centuries-long hindsight even then.
They tell us that little has changed in the ways of human nature, no matter that human civilization has advanced tremendously since their utterance. The human condition today, in the aggregate across the globe, is far, FAR better than at any other time in history. The poorest of the poor are doing better than ever, and the poor in first-world nations are enjoying living standards that in most ways exceed those available to the “1%ers” of centuries and millennia past. Technological advancement has provided the foundation for this, and for the societal evolution that fostered the recognition of each of us as a free individual, with inherent rights, and not inherently subordinate to a hereditary ruler.
It is a reality that societal evolution has outpaced behavioral evolution. The human brain is the product of billions of years of evolution, and human behavior has been conditioned by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. In contrast, the oldest civilizations only date back 5000-6000 years. Societally, we’ve come a long way in the 6 millennia or so since our ancestors took their first steps away from nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, but our biological hard-wiring hasn’t had the time to change as much.
Thus, all that Cicero observed remains as valid today as it did then, and that is not going to change, in our lifetimes or in our great-grandchildren’s lifetimes.
We can recognize these inherent human tendencies and the mistakes they foster, and we can, both as individuals and as proselytizers, urge others to recognize and overcome them. We cannot, however, presume that they can be taught out, overwritten, or legislated away. This reality, ably addressed in Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, must be given its due in both our daily lives and in our politics. We can, each of us, work to overcome our tendencies towards these mistakes. We can urge others to do the same. But, we cannot ignore others’ inherent tendencies in these directions when living our lives, nor can we force others to, as the final mistake notes, believe and live as we do. Or, worse, as we believe they should believe and live.
Cicero’s six mistakes are rooted in our tendency toward self-centeredness. That tendency is a fact, reinforced by the most fundamental drive of evolution: to pass one’s genes forward. This imperative, which is coldly competitive, is often at odds with the behaviors that produce the best societal outcomes. While, as rational humans of the modern age, we want to live long, full and meaningful lives, biologically-speaking, once we pass prime child-birthing age, our usefulness is only as a support system for our descendants. While, as rational humans, we can idealize a world at peace and harmony, biology drives war and repression of the weak. Biology has also left behind all sorts of behavioral tendencies and imperatives that aren’t nearly as relevant to life in modern society as they were during the large majority of human existence. These range from the tendency to overeat to the preference for excess today over prudent planning for the future. They also give us a sometimes unhealthy tendency to defer to father and authority figures. Our genes don’t care about anything more than getting passed on.
Historically, humanity has instituted political and religious systems to elevate our motives beyond that of selfish DNA propagation, but history is overwhelmingly an annal of the bending of those systems’ noble motives to selfish ends. This, too, is biological, as the good and altruistic are undermined by the selfish. Biology rewards subversion from within, and biology rewards the application of selfish power over acts of selflessness. This reality warns us against investing too much power and authority in others. The old adage “power corrupts” is true for a reason, and that reason is inherent in our very nature as human beings.
Thus, we are informed of the correct direction for societal evolution: the limiting of the power that some have over others. This is the essence of individual liberty and political systems that prioritize and defend it. This is the essence of why liberty and the free market system has, as Milton Friedman observed:
the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.
And, it is the essence of why the various forms of socialism have overwhelmingly produced human misery and slowed societal evolution. When power is concentrated in the hands of a few, rather than limited so as to leave as much as possible in the hands of the many, biology drives the few to seek selfish advantage. Those who overcome that drive are themselves susceptible to the selfishness of others, and even a great and wise leader eventually grows old and dies.
Marx saw socialism as the next evolutionary step, societally, after capitalism. Marx was wrong. Capitalism, liberty, free enterprise, laissez-faire, whatever you want to call it, rooted in a system that protects individual rights (including individuals’ property rights) is the pinnacle of societal evolution, given the reality of human biology. Socialism and Communism may promise a “nicer” society with utopian outcomes, but unless and until human biology “catches up” with societal evolution, they’re actually stray paths that lead to misery and destruction. And, given that natural selection will always motivate “selfish” behavior, biology’s never going to “catch up” to the point where collectivist ideas become biologically hard-wired.
We must therefore accept the reality that the promises of big government, of collectivism, of socialism, of central planning, and of forcible redistribution of wealth inevitably produce bad outcomes. Humans are wired a certain way, and that’s not going to change. Despite the passing of two thousand years, the “mistakes” Cicero cited are as prevalent as ever. And, they are prevalent in the richest and poorest societies. The most capitalistic and the most socialistic societies. Hedonistic and puritanical. Young and old. Hot and cold. Eastern and Western and Northern and Southern. Human nature persists, across the centuries, across the millennia.
Want a good society, where things get better for people? Want to evolve the human condition? Want to overcome the uncaring selfishness of our genetics? Embrace liberty. For your self and for all your fellow humans. Invest as little power as possible in the rulers, keep as much power as possible in the hands of the ruled. History proves it, and overcoming biology requires it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Responding to Fascist Organizing

The great economist and early anti-statist thinker Bastiat famously pointed out the way our attention is often drawn to the most immediate, losing sight of the wider array of consequences and causations. Such myopia is how modern statism flourishes, obscuring the threat of the policeman’s pistol and the swing of his truncheon, so that a proposed tax for instance is sliced away from all context and rendered into a seemingly inert, docile thing.
Through centuries of hard fought progress the public has increasingly grown adverse to violence and explicit acts of domination. It is impossible to understate the accomplishment this represents. And yet our rulers have compensated not by lessening their brutality but by obscuring it. Every sociopath intuitively knows to exploit the limits of human attention through complicated misdirection. What is seen is a politician standing before an adoring crowd, what may go unseen is the brutality their policy depends upon, the threat they implicitly make.

A society might appear peaceful and idyllic, with acts of brutality not only invisible but entirely absent, and yet “that peace” be the result of the threat of incredible violence. If the citizens of a totalitarian regime do not resist, do not incur repression, but simply hang their heads in submission, it would be wrong to say no violence or aggression is present. And yet a particularly bureaucratic soul might look around and dismiss the claims of the oppressed, might demand that they lay their bodies on the line to make visible the implicit threat of the state, and even then dispute that there is not enough data. Might request that their bodies be stacked ever higher to “prove” the systematic nature of the threat. And god forbid the threat be delayed, the promise be made years out of violence to come. When the implicit but very clear threat is, “We will murder you and your entire family. Not today. But soon. Once our power has finished growing. Resist now and die then.”

Such violent “peace” is not exclusively the product of the state. It sneaks into human affairs on all levels. It shapes and twists our society, our economy. The gangster in the streets whose theft is tolerated, even made invisible, uncommented upon, because the threat is perceived as so overwhelming. The “Move along, n—-r” that contains mutually understood volumes of collective threat, the word resonating and cutting with centuries of lynchings and beatings behind it, but its meaning deniable in an instant. “How do you knoooow I meant that as a threat?” and a flash of white teeth at the interlocutor. Such implicit violence becomes fractional, fungible. Not every use of a racial epithet contains it in full, but they often trade off the watered down possibility of violence. What is 1/200th of a threat of lynching, or a beating? Violence suffuses our world, it flows unseen through complex circuits, accumulates in silent but vast reservoirs, rearranging and curtailing what is possible.

When fascists or white nationalists talk of “voluntary” ethnic cleansing we all know what they mean. The word “voluntary” is a laughable tissue, the confident sneer of a bully who knows how to play within the shortsighted rules, but wants almost all observers to note his audacity, and to — in letting it pass — demonstrate their own weakness. A detailed threat is delivered by mail and deniable reference to it made in person. The game is simple. One oily fascist wears his suits in front of the cameras while a broader ecosystem of fascists delivers the violence. People of color are murdered for sport, anti-racist activists are assassinated, prison nazis sand off people’s skin and dump their bodies in public. Shaggy sings, “it wasn’t me.”

They know it’s a game, their with-a-wink pretenses of distance, “nazism was about a particular historical context”, “I have my critiques of Hitler”, “oh I don’t hang with those specific guys” are never meant to stand firmly, they’re more about poking fun at the self-constraint of formal systems and dissolve under even a moment’s scrutiny.
When neonazis march through a town their action is precisely that: an action. A demonstration of force. A threat. A two part declaration: “We will exterminate you. Here are the tools we will use, the strength we have amassed for the task.” Its character is hardly invisible to those targeted.

And yet, true to form, most liberals are seemingly incapable of recognizing the act for what it is, of looking beyond their noses to any semblance of context. In the liberal’s mind a march of goosestepping nazis carrying weapons through a black neighborhood is just a parade of people with bad opinions.

Similarly when a representative of a neonazi group sets up a table at a metal show or steps before the cameras the oh-so-astute public notices that they’re not murdering anyone at the moment. Just recruiting people to murder in the future. Like the army recruiter that likewise preys on disaffected youth the public largely cannot see such recruitment as inextricable from a larger mechanism of violence. The very point of such individual acts of recruitment is to add up into an unstoppable army when it finally decides to initiate force en masse.
Yet just as the state’s necessarily simplistic legal system discretizes every single action, stripping away vital context, so too have the public’s moral analytic capacities atrophied to only recognize the most immediate, the most apparent. There’s utility to such constraint in certain arenas, we would never want to give the state the capacity to determine what discourse is permissible, or to prosecute nazis for their beliefs (despite conservative hysteria by all accounts the vast majority of antifascist activists are anarchists who have consistently opposed state legislation and the “antifa bolts” famously stand for opposition to Bolshevism as well as fascism). The reality is that every individual is capable of greater perception and intelligence than the state, of directly seeing realities the state is structurally incapable of parsing. When a trusted friend tells you someone raped them you’ll likely cancel your date with him, even if your friend’s testimony alone wouldn’t and shouldn’t be sufficient to convict in a court of law. As autonomous individuals we can and should take actions that based on our more intimate and direct knowledge — knowledge it would be impossible to systematize or make objective in some legal system. It will always be possible to construct threats of violence sufficiently obscured as to be rendered invisible or plausibly deniable to some observers but crystal clear to the recipient(s). This is one of the innate failings of codified justice systems, abstracted to some level of collectivity, and part of the reason ethics enshrines individual agency above legality.

If the first step on the road to fascism is blinding ourselves to its violence, the second step is denying our agency to respond.

Let us be absolutely clear though that formal “fascism” and the broader white nationalist ecosystem around it constitutes but one type of authoritarianism. While its aspirations are grave and its spectre is on the rise, there are many other flavors of authoritarianism alive in our world, currently wielding far more power. These authoritarianisms are presenting killing far far more people than some scrawny white nationalist pricks hanging out in /pol/ and occasionally shooting up protesters, and these other authoritarianisms absolutely must be countered.

But. Nevertheless the history of the last century overwhelmingly shows that fascism constitutes a relatively unique threat that must be diligently resisted, lest certain dynamics particular to it otherwise spiral into runaway growth. The threat it poses to ethics, modernity and to civilization is always present (despite its occasional opportunistic adoption of those mantles), it can be countered, but to do so requires us to get serious. To understand its function and its motivation.

There are broadly two common sources of authoritarianism:
The first is a kind of inane and “edgy” consequentialism that, upon realizing ends can justify means, leaps to grab onto the most stupid and violent of means. If you want to bake a blueberry pie then obviously you should ban independent press and gulag all the kulaks. While these authoritarians sometimes start with relatable aims, their misstep is to view “power” as a universal currency and without externalities. At some point they internalize the assumption that if you want to get ___ done you should obtain power, whereupon you will just be able to do it. They fail to grasp that some ends are impossible to accomplish through social control and coercion, and that such means have tendencies of their own. This authoritarianism is the blind tantrum of a child demanding that their parents make water less wet. Its watchwords are “There should be a law.” Obviously it’s the dominant form of authoritarianism found in liberals and socialists.

The second kind of authoritarianism views power not as a means but as an ends. In practice these are typically people for whom the unfortunate homo sapiens preoccupation with social standing has festered into a blistering wound. In this virulent pathology power is near enough to the sole ends in life and everything else is a delusion that risks rendering you instrumental in someone else’s power. This ideological sociopathy is utterly uninterested in reality. To paraphrase Scott Alexander, there are no philosopher Trumps. Fascism has from the start demonstrated a well documented postmodern mutability, happily contorting its stated beliefs or tenets into all kinds of incoherencies and absurdities. This sort of authoritarian intuitively understands discourse as just another arena of positioning and ideology as just another shell game. Every statement is reduced into terms of affect, allegiance, and the disruption of any process that might be bent by the pressures of objectivity. Karl Rove’s “We make our own reality” hangs among a pantheon of other Orwellian admissions by this sort of authoritarian. This form of authoritarianism is widespread among conservatives, who often admit to seeing liberal democracy or even religion as useful lies when pressed. And individuals with such nihilistic perspectives can be found in literally any social space — certainly inclusive of social justice movements — usually acting as predators and climbing social ladders. But its most consistent and large-scale ideological expression lies in fascism.

There are of course in practice many other niche mutations and subspecies of authoritarianism. One increasingly prominent example are reactionaries who seek to disable and impede technological capacity — ideologically committed to a world of immediatism or a return to some ‘essential human nature’, they seek impose a material state of affairs where possibility is dramatically curtailed. If you bomb everyone back to the stone age then you no longer need active jailers to prevent creativity and connection, the muddy ruined landscape itself provides the constraint. In such case the kernel of authoritarianism lies in the ideological fixation, the hunger for a certain simplicity, that is then achieved through the suppression of others’ options. But like other niche expressions such an authoritarianism is thankfully still quite rare.

What’s important to note is that every species of authoritarianism demands a different response.

The authoritarianism of a liberal or socialist, being instrumental and arising from profound ignorance, lacks a self-awareness and can be effectively challenged in debate. That is not of course necessarily to say that the authoritarian liberal or socialist will themselves retreat from their ridiculous policies upon evidence, but that they lack the conscious duplicity to really prepare for counter-evidence. Bring to light the vicious physical brutality hidden in their cigarette tax or the clear ludicrousness of a transitional dictatorship that will “wither away” to create a free society and the sincere liberal or socialist is left spinning in circles, trying to find places of retreat on the fly, the ineptitude of their proffered means apparent to all direct observers, and defanged of serious recruiting capacity.

Nothing could be less the case with a nazi. An actual fascist is well aware that some proposed policy may not have much of a leg to stand on. They are prepared for objective reality to line up against them. They know at heart that their race statistics are often false, misrepresented, or actually evidence for the reverse of their claims and insinuations. Not only does this not matter to them, they strategize from the beginning with it in mind. A fascist cares only about the landscape of power and how they can shift it to make them “win”. I want to be clear here: the problem isn’t merely that they’re arguing in conscious bad faith, fascists have no monopoly on that — nor even do authoritarians — the problem is what this arises from: a hunger for social power, and how fundamental it is to their position. Fascist recruitment doesn’t function in terms of persuasion, it functions in terms of promises of power.

Authoritarian personalities flock to movements that promise them comfortably easy solutions, but more self-aware authoritarians flock to movements that promise them power.
The primary recruitment tool of the fascist is the appearance of power.
This is why fascists — and those other self-aware authoritarians in their general orbit including Stalinists and Maoists — focus so strongly on aesthetics and rituals that reinforce perceptions of broad popularity, community, strength-by-association and general social standing. Those movements that only whine, offering victimization narratives and promises of power without any tangible content to them, rarely recruit any lasting base of self-aware authoritarians (although a few will surreptitiously set up shop to prey upon the few true believers and deadenders). Appearance of strength and legitimacy is everything, without it fascist movements dry up. No self-aware authoritarian wants to back a loser cause.

This is why refusing fascists the legitimization of a platform and violently countering their rallies has worked so well historically. The authoritarian base that fascists recruit from, don’t share the instincts of proponents of liberty, they aren’t attracted to underdogs with no hope, they aren’t compelled to self-sacrifice in defense of the weak, they’re attracted to supermen on the rise. When a nazi gets up on a stage to call for genocide his arguments don’t matter, it’s the potency of the act, the very fact that he was able to get on that stage and say such things in the first place, that recruits.

Fascists make a mockery of debate intentionally, in the authoritarian mind it’s inherently just positioning and only fools take ideas seriously. From such a perspective the fascist that discards the existing norms, that dances around in a flagrantly bad faith way, demonstrates a kind of strength in honesty. The only honesty, in their mind, being that truth and ideas don’t matter. Power matters, power through deception and manipulation — the capacity to get someone to put you on a stage, in a position of respect, despite your flagrant dishonesty — and power through physical strength — the capacity to march in the open, in great numbers, with weapons, with muscles, trappings of masculinity, displays of wealth, etc. Widespread mockery can hurt fascists by demonstrating their unpopularity, but so long as they have other sorts of power to fall back on the fascist can simply tell himself “this is the real power, this is the only thing that actually matters, what those people have is fake and hollow, that they will be overthrown.”

Regardless of whether or not you agree with it or consider it ethical, people punch fascists because it frequently works.

When you hurt a proponent of liberty we flock to each other’s aid, when you hurt an authoritarian other authoritarians are instinctively disgusted by his weakness and most scuttle further away. Sure, a tiny embittered core remains, some fools without the self-awareness of their own authoritarianism and other authoritarians now too invested to escape, and some misguided defenders of underdogs might come to their aid, but the compounding growth of the movement is derailed: few authoritarian personalities feel much inclined to join a bunch of powerless whiners.

There are, of course, complexities. Many authoritarian communists, for instance — despite similar totalitarian aspirations as explicit fascists — vary in degrees of self-awareness among their base about their hunger for power. Movements like Stalinism and Maoism depend on broad bases of leftist fools who swallow the simplistic doublethink necessary to see Assad or Bob Avakian as noble oppressed underdogs. Still, when anarchists have fought them in the streets, as for example in Athens or Minneapolis, there has appeared to result a shrink in their base, or at least a bluntening of their power. Certain currents in today’s alt-right follow a comparable dynamic, mixing self-aware authoritarians alongside psuedo-libertarian fools who swallow the doublethink necessary to see people organizing for racial genocide as allies and feminist media reviewers as dire enemies.

It will certainly be the case that the tactics and strategies employed with such success against boneheads in the 80s that drove them off the streets and largely dissolved their ranks will transfer in their entirety to the fight against garbage-tier memelords like Richard Spencer, but it also does not appear that antifascist groups are copying them over fullcloth. There have been many eras and contexts of resistance to fascism, with many differences between them. The awkward dance of someone like Spencer as opposed to an outright prison nazi is to try to look like a hardass to cement his base while playing the victim for liberals to milk them of prestige and legitimacy. This is not an easy dance, and is prone to derailment from multiple fronts.

We are in a new landscape, and people oppose fascism from all sorts of angles and perspectives, it is up to us to find effective means of countering them. To flood the market of antifascist resistance, as it were, with diverse innovations and let the best rise on their own. But we should also not neglect the lessons of the past and insights of antifascists in communities throughout time and around the world. When an army is being built, when it is rolling toward you, is not the time to debate it, or to snicker in complacency at its lies and contradictions. When a force openly plans to exterminate you, we cannot afford the naivety of waiting for it with open arms — as Gandhi advised people do of the Third Reich — hoping you will last long enough to dissolve it from the inside. When generals talk of plans to invade and suppress free speech, when politicians propose legislation to bar freedom of movement, you do not waste time worrying if your resistance will in the process undermine the free speech or freedom of movement of those generals and politicians. You resist.
Anarchists and libertarians come in many stripes, consequentialist and not.

Personally — as a consequentialist seeking to maximize the liberty of all — my perspective is straightforward: while there are externalities to some acts to stay mindful of, and we have social norms and detentes of significant value, one cannot afford to take a reactive stance, to merely wait while fascists mobilize — drunk on their own perception of power — and hope for the best. There are dangers, slippery slopes, and corruptive human instincts to watch out for in our resistance, but such demand vigilance not total abstention or a bureaucratic shortsightedness.

On the other hand those who closely heed to pacifism or non-aggression in good faith must still ask themselves when an act or threat of violence despite being obscured or ‘unseen’ is still a pressing one, what proportionality and prioritization looks like, what preparations are called for before the seen “moment” of aggression, and generally what can still be done to counter fascist organizing efforts on all fronts. Even if you oppose punching a nazi leader, there’s still much that can be done. If nazis march through a town in a demonstration of force, show up with your own guns ready to fire back. When nazis organize online, systematically disrupt and expose their efforts. Yes, today’s alt-right is a mealymouthed lot, mixing self-aware authoritarianism with whiny pretenses of libertarianism, and much can be accomplished peeling off the small swamp of useful fools they depend upon, forcing into the light the audacity of their pretense to the accomplishments of liberty while fetishizing nationality and borders — a claim of collective ownership as absurd as any Soviet gosplan proclamation and inherently murderous and totalitarian in implementation. But we must recognize that claims to the legacy and aspirations of liberty are rarely made with any sincerity. The core of these people are not mistaken about means, their authoritarianism is not the idiotic quick-solution authoritarianism of most liberals and socialists; their draw is power itself. The boneheads and trolls slathering at the thought of genocide and apartheid are open enemies of discourse and rationality itself. They believe they can bypass debate, derail it, make a mockery of it, use it to hide the circuits of their violence, the shell game of their aggression. They believe that physical force is the only thing that matters. We cannot afford to ignore that language.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fascism in America?

By A.B.
I'm not without critique of antifa or diversity of tactics. I'm all about assessing reasonable impact and requisite threat levels. However, I think a lot of the pushback against antifa misses a major historical point which is that middle to high level speech acts aren't usually just speeches. They're almost always explicit or implicit paramilitary commandments. Hitlers first Putsch started in a beer-hall speech where he declared National Revolution. He took notes from Mussolini's "populist pageantry". The SS, the SA, Freikorps (social democrats can't be fascist oh my!), etc were all mobilized through speeches like this. Given specific orders. People get vague on this point like "oh we know there exists some connection between fascist speech and like recruitment or incitement to violence" and act like this is just some loose correlation. The thing is, the Overton shift is primarily necessary in order to create space to both recruit, mobilize, and command paramilitary actions with increased normalization.
You can't just go straight from Obama presidency to 5,000 non-state nazis with AR15s walking down main streets in large cities across the country you have to ease people in and create a safety bubble to overcome the vulnerable aspects of trying to signal strength when you're still just a stupid little niche racist movement. Historically, paramilitary mobilization of vets, the disgruntled youth, and political leaders has all happened on the platform. National Front organized the boneheads in France to start marching because having an armed and trained contingent made them seem like a valid group rather than just some out-there right-nationalist party. It helps to get people thinking like "okay these nazis are one part of a complex truth that is somewhere in the middle" (anchoring bias) when really they should be the farthest fucking thing from anyones mind. But it starts with a speech where people find a sense of strength and maybe a bunch of people conceal carry weapons or beat up some minorities afterwards and meet a couple other pecker-woods that were in a different county jail. The bigger the crowd of more acceptably racist and middle of the road fascists, the more the hardcore people willing to build the perception of fascist strength through violence is possible.
Even if you don't see speaking as violence, you would see a general ordering a drone strike as violence. It's a similar, although not always exactly the same phenomena. The problem is though, even if it's unethical somehow to resist speech violence (assuming even that no direct or implicit commands of violence were given) once the paramilitary aspects supporting these strong man figures have been able to mobilize, we've already lost a major battle and possibly the war. Once a formalized paramilitary outfit, with strong relationships to the state military forces and police is created, they're able to more effectively control the narrative and project anyone who resists them as terroristic riff-raff and further justify their mobilization as the clean-cut purifiers of society who must obviously be correct because they have the blessings, or at least the intentional ignorance, of the state and it's blade. Once they have paramilitary and physical power they can further diverge ideology from action and control the narrative so they no longer have to abide even by their own stated values. They can dive ever deeper into left-right crossover mythos and rally people at levels never before possible. Once they have that, they can buy whatever political power they need because they have people and military strength. The government becomes unsure who its own army would side with. That's how fucking coups happen.
The KPD saw the Nazis as being better than control by the Social Democrats who by then had already killed Rosa Luxemburg amongst countless others in the commie and anarchist left so they softened their stance on fascism and assumed that people would come to their senses and they could seize power in the meantime. By the time the KPD realized what was happening with Hitler and began to rescind their allegiances and form AFA (antifascist action) it was already too little too late. And it wasn't militant diversity of tactics from the left that caused the rise of the nazis. It was more some strong allegiances from the left and right and normalization through debate and 'strategic' partnerships. By then the nazis already had enough power to purge literally anyone they wanted not just the anarchists and the commies (and of course the Jews et al.) but also the SA (the night of long knives) and frame it all as a state of emergency and use it further project their strength and recruit and justify exponential violence.
When hitler gave that first speech to the "patriot movement" in a crowded beer hall in Munich in 1923 and ordered a Putsch to seize Bavaria, is the moment the Nazis really won. Of course the "Beer Hall Putsch" did not succeed and Hitler was sent to jail where he was given a light sentence and was allowed to have Mein Kampf transcribed. But he had to have a general in there. He had to worm around and be smarmy with his anti-semitism, catering to audiences and taking risks before that crucial moment. Had people tried to wait for him to give an explicit military command, they would have been far outnumbered, outgunned, and out-trained by the time he said the magic words. Because the moment when implicitly violent speech acts turns to explicit military commands, is but the time it takes for the sentence to form and by then you've already lost.
I'm not condemning non-violent or liberal antifascist strategies. I've said it before and I'll always say it. We need all kinds. The one-two punch is important (although the social democrats and the communists will kill you and choose the state the first chance they get). But to assume that the speech acts of medium to high level proto-fascists are not directly linked to violence is something of an abuse to the historical record. We definitely need people constantly voicing the moral high ground and holding us accountable for our excesses but also we need to be realistic about stopping looming threats. Whether or not a given fascists book gets popularized after a resistance push is secondary in a sense to the meaningful resistance capable of challenging their threats to power and striking while that power projection is still fragile to prevent it from solidifying. But I also don't consider this to be a "pre-emptive" strike. I consider this to be a response to evidence.
(rant inspired by against the fascist creep)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

For Every Entitlement Created we Generate a Moral Hazard.

During the Senate confirmation hearings for Congressman Tom Price yesterday, Price asserted the US was a compassionate country. Then, everyone’s favorite socialist, Bernie Sanders, accused the people of the United States aren’t actually all that compassionate. He said:
>>>“No, we’re not a compassionate society! …I don’t think, compared to other countries, we are particularly compassionate.”<<<
Well Bernie, the Gallup organization has consistently found that the US is the most charitable of the developed nations in the world, both internationally and domestically. A Heritage Foundation study found that our poor have more than the middle class in Europe. There is no absolute poverty left in America, only relative poverty built on envy of what others have.
For millennia, how to show compassion toward the less fortunate is a real question, one societies have struggled to answer. For most of the last century in the Western world, the answer has been the creation of a burgeoning welfare state, complete with guaranteed entitlements. However; since there is no such thing as a free lunch, for every entitlement created there are also a moral hazard created.
A moral hazard can be defined as any situation in which a party insulated from risk behaves differently from how it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk - and yet we hear no recognition of the creation of moral hazards as we are told we are not compassionate. The danger of moral hazard is so great, people as diverse in thought as de Tocqueville, Nietzsche, Burke, John Stuart Mill, and Ayn Rand have all warned against creating them.
Do the “less fortunate” behave differently than if they were entirely responsible for their financial health?
Many people have witnessed others shopping with food stamps while talking on a mobile phone, then taking that food to their car. Many people have overheard those same people talking about what they watched on cable TV or a game they played on X-Box. People have seen others paying for groceries with and EBT card and then paying cash for cigarettes and beer. If you haven’t, you likely haven’t been in a middle market grocery store anywhere in America. Coincidentally, these are also the people most likely to be obese, have health issues due obesity and are least likely to be able to afford health care.
None of this is an indictment of the poor – they are only living within a poorly designed system – one that often prevents them from rising out of poverty on their own. Sometimes being poor is a function of bad choices, poor education, downturns in the economy or sometimes just pure bad luck – but sometimes it is a choice.
If we are going to support a welfare state, we must ask if the role of government is to create a minimum standard of living rather than assisting those who are temporarily in need. Does the “safety net” provide survival or “stuff” to assure a certain standard of living? Should the system be designed so that the “poor” have TV, mobile phones, cars and X-boxes and yet need support for food, clothing and shelter?
It is no secret that poverty rates were trending down until the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson started to bite. Per the Department of Health and Human Services, the 2016 US poverty line is $11,880 for an individual – according to the World Bank, 80% of the world’s population gets by on less than $10 a day – $3,650 a year, 90% less than $20 a day – $7,300 a year.
I’ll bet most don’t know that America’s “poor” rank in the top 10% of global incomes - not in the top 10% of the incomes of the world’s poor – the top 10% of ALL incomes.
There is no way we can look at the record level of food stamp participants or the trillions of dollars spent during the 50-year “War on Poverty” and call it a success. In our attempts at relief, what we have done is create moral hazard, making it far more difficult to solve the eternal riddle of helping the less fortunate.
If we truly want to be compassionate, we should be against the perpetuation of a permanent underclass dependent on handouts.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Rabid and Very Visible Democrat Opposition to Trump

I think the rabid and very visible Democrat opposition to Trump is a good thing. These folks are exercising their Constitutional right to freely express themselves and to associate with groups of people who feel the same way.
It's also great because they are all being put on the historical record for what they claim to oppose and what they believe Trump will do. When none of that happens, they will forever be remembered as being "on the wrong side of history" as they are so inclined to say about conservatives and Republicans.
Hooooray for Hollywood!
I'm going to print out the pictures of every Democrat in Congress who doesn't go to the inauguration and I already have saved the pathetic little video vignettes the Red Diaper Doper Babies in Hollywood produced. Better archive them now, because like they did with their quotes about Saddam Hussein, Democrats tend to forget what they said.
All presidents make mistakes. Not all of their policies work as intended but Democrats always want to judge Republican presidents by a criminal standard. They pick apart the minutiae and scream "Look! He got that one thing wrong! He's a guilty failure! Not my president! Not my president!"
I actually laughed out loud last night as one "Protect Obamacare" protester here in Utah was interviewed - she said that Trump must tell everybody exactly what he plans to do, exactly how it is going to work, exactly how much it will cost and exactly what level of care people currently receiving subsidies and insurance through Obamacare can expect (I'm paraphrasing because I was laughing too hard to listen to it all). What is funny is this is the same bunch of people who slathered Pelosi with adoration when she and the rest of the Democrats were "You have to pass it to see what is in it" and promising you can "keep your plan/doctor if you like your plan/doctor" and healthcare costs would be going down by $2500 per year when they knew all along they were lying (according to Jonathan Gruber).
I've no idea how a Trump presidency will go. I do know Democrat presidents are almost always predictable. Democrats always seek negative solutions - they seek increase government government control to stop people from doing certain things, try to regulate people into doing what the government wants them to do and seek to inhibit freedom by reducing liberty. Democrats have never met an individual activity they didn't want to control.
GOP presidents are less predictable, often representing a schizophrenic mix of progressivism and conservatism. For example, Dub was castigated as a GOP conservative hardliner when he was actually a moderate, almost Clintonian president - he was almost Dem-Lite, especially in his second term. If his first term had not been totally engaged in war and concerns for national security due to 9/11, we might well have seen how Clinton-like "compassionate conservatism" really was - but when taken in total, Dub's eight years at the wheel were at least right leaning.
Overall, there is no doubt. Obama was a progressive - a socialist leaning, central control loving, pen and phone ruling Democrat president.
Whatever Trump is - it seems will prove to be even more unpredictable and more elusive to classify.
I will choose to judge Trump as I believe all presidents should be judged - by the civil law standard of a preponderance of evidence. I believe Trump has a real chance to be successful as long most of his efforts are designed to free up the economy, to reduce burdensome regulations and to cut the worthless bureaucratic costs of government.
Whether he is successful or not remains to be seen - but the Democrats have laid down their markers and they are betting on failure...and we know who they are.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What might have been.

Reading this article reminded me of how I was encouraged as Tea Party Conservatives like Mia Love won primaries, beating go-along-to-get-along Big Government Republicans, and then won election to Congress.. idealogues (a complimentary adjective) who had the courage of their convictions.

Mia Love, Paul Ryan, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, and many others that had the integrity and wisdom to move government to the Right. It seemed the arc of history was bending towards liberty and fiscal responsibility. Actual hope and change was on the horizon. The ideals of the Founders were resurgent.

Then the 2016 election changed my outlook.

We inarguably live in an Idiocracy. A yuge, orange, narcissistic, Idiocracy. Now I think Representatives and Senators like those I mentioned will always be a small minority. It's not likely to get better.. i mean schools are graduating people who don't know shit about their own country's history but they are damn sure it's shameful.

People today aren't ideologues, they just want free shit. The popularity of socialism is rising while capitalism and the rule of law, proven indisputably by history as the cure for poverty, are in disrepute. People think the government can create prosperity or wealth out of thin air by simply raising the minimum wage or discouraging trade with foreign countries.

History and economics are indispensable fields of study; now a scant few have any knowledge of either. Lessons that could have been learned in good schools are about to be learned the hard way. Teachers are great. Teachers unions, well, not so much. 

The next 4 years are going to be very interesting times, in the Chinese proverb sense.





Friday, January 6, 2017

'Cultural Marxism': a uniting theory for right wingers who love to play the victim

What do the Australian’s columnist Nick Cater, video game hate group #Gamergate, Norwegian mass shooter Anders Breivik and random blokes on YouTube have in common? Apart from anything else, they have all invoked the spectre of “cultural Marxism” to account for things they disapprove of – things like Islamic immigrant communities, feminism and, er, opposition leader Bill Shorten.
What are they talking about? The tale varies in the telling, but the theory of cultural Marxism is integral to the fantasy life of the contemporary right. It depends on a crazy-mirror history, which glancingly reflects things that really happened, only to distort them in the most bizarre ways.
It begins in the 1910s and 1920s. When the socialist revolution failed to materialise beyond the Soviet Union, Marxist thinkers like Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs tried to explain why. Their answer was that culture and religion blunted the proletariat’s desire to revolt, and the solution was that Marxists should carry out a “long march through the institutions” – universities and schools, government bureaucracies and the media – so that cultural values could be progressively changed from above.
Adapting this, later thinkers of the Frankfurt School decided that the key to destroying capitalism was to mix up Marx with a bit of Freud, since workers were not only economically oppressed, but made orderly by sexual repression and other social conventions. The problem was not only capitalism as an economic system, but the family, gender hierarchies, normal sexuality – in short, the whole suite of traditional western values.
The conspiracy theorists claim that these “cultural Marxists” began to use insidious forms of psychological manipulation to upend the west. Then, when Nazism forced the (mostly Jewish) members of the Frankfurt School to move to America, they had, the story goes, a chance to undermine the culture and values that had sustained the world’s most powerful capitalist nation.
The vogue for the ideas of theorists like Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno in the 1960s counterculture culminated with their acolytes’ occupation of the commanding heights of the most important cultural institutions, from universities to Hollywood studios. There, the conspiracy says, they promoted and even enforced ideas which were intended to destroy traditional Christian values and overthrow free enterprise: feminism, multiculturalism, gay rights and atheism. And this, apparently, is where political correctness came from. I promise you: this is what they really think.
The whole story is transparently barmy. If humanities faculties are really geared to brainwashing students into accepting the postulates of far-left ideology, the composition of western parliaments and presidencies and the roaring success of corporate capitalism suggests they’re doing an astoundingly bad job. Anyone who takes a cool look at the last three decades of politics will think it bizarre that anyone could interpret what’s happened as the triumph of an all-powerful left.
The theory of cultural Marxism is also blatantly antisemitic, drawing on the idea of Jews as a fifth column bringing down western civilisation from within, a racist trope that has a longer history than Marxism. Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the theory was fabricated to order, for a special purpose: the institution and perpetuation of culture war. We can even nominate an author for this lunacy: William S Lind, a polymath of the American hard right, who sought to put rightwing activism on a new footing as the cold war drew to a close.
In the late 1980s, Lind wrote a couple of monographs arguing that there was an emerging mainstream political consensus on free-market economics (due in part to the “disarray” of the traditional social-democratic left), but that many Americans across the political spectrum were dismayed by the decline in traditional values, the family and middle-class life. If conflict with the left could be shifted to the ground of culture, there was a chance of binding the right and even claiming some socially conservative voters who had traditionally voted for the Democrats.
When the Berlin Wall fell, it was time for Lind’s strategy of “cultural conservatism” to become a central strategy for US Republicans: it identified a new kind of social enemy for the right to mobilise against. The changing parameters of economic debate and the beginning of American decline demanded that conservatives embrace a politics “centred more, not less, on cultural issues” – the family, education, crime and morality. The fairytale of cultural Marxism provided a post-communist adversary located specifically in the cultural realm – academics, Hollywood, journalists, civil rights activists and feminists. It has been a mainstay of conservative activism and rhetoric ever since.
While Lind has recently become a more marginal figure, his story of cultural Marxism has proved durable and useful across the spectrum of right-wing thought because it offers so much. 
It allows those smarting from a loss of privilege to be offered the shroud of victimhood, by pointing to a shadowy, omnipresent, quasi-foreign elite who are attempting to destroy all that is good in the world. It offers an explanation for the decline of families, small towns, patriarchal authority, and unchallenged white power: a vast, century-long left wing conspiracy. And it distracts from the most important factor in these changes: capitalism, which demands mobility, whose crises have eroded living standards, and which thus, among other things, undermines the viability of conventional family structures and the traditional lifestyles that conservatives approve of.
The story of cultural Marxism is also flexible and can be tailored to fit with the obsessions of a range of right-wing actors. As such, it’s one example of an idea from the extremes which has been mobilised by more mainstream figures and has dragged politics as a whole a little further right.
Anders Breivik killed young social democrats because he believed that their party was involved in a cultural Marxist plot to undermine traditional European values by means of mass immigration from the Islamic world. Prominent voices in the #Gamergate movement have invoked it to warn of what is really motivating the feminist and queer critics of game aesthetics and culture – a desire to purge the culture of “proper” masculine values. It can even chime with Cater’s dreary, pedestrian moaning about how a “graduate class” seeks to remodel authentic, “egalitarian” Australian culture.
The idea of a cultural Marxist conspiracy has also endured because, in the absence of a genuine clash of ideas about the way the economy should be run, it provides an animating idea for the political contest. For Cater to claim that Bill Shorten is a Marxist of any kind is laughable precisely because to the extent that the opposition leader is explicitly offering anything, it’s plainly just a slightly more cushioned version of the same underlying economic orthodoxy embraced by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. Until that changes, the right will always be able to offer their story of victimhood and conspiracy with some hope of success.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Fake News".

The entire mainstream media is gnashing their teeth and rending their hair over "fake news" after an election where they chose a candidate and supported that candidate by reporting out of context, omitting information, conducting opposition research for their chosen candidate and propagandizing according to their own bias. Now they want to "filter out" so called "fake news". Know which country already has a "filter" for fake news?
China. They are communists (we call them progressives in America).
Progressive lefties worry about Trump building internment camps - but these camps already exist. Where are they and who built them?
University campuses.The progressive left built them.
The progressive left is screeching about the "racism" that Trump's cabinet appointments represent, yet which ideology separates all America by race, implements quotas based on skin color and disrespects minorities by the soft bigotry of low expectations?
Progressives.
Ditto with "hatred" these appointments supposedly represent but which ideology violently protests when their own governance fails as in Ferguson and Baltimore?
Progressives.
Prior to the election, the media and the progressive left were aghast that Trump wouldn't automatically agree with the outcome of the election but who refused to accept the results of the election, took to the streets after they lost and are threatening Electoral College electors in an attempt to corrupt the process?
Progressives.
Which ideological group believes in the Constitution and its Amendments (i.e. states rights and the Electoral College) until they lose?
Progressives.
Which ideological group hides behind "states rights" when challenged over open borders and so-called "sanctuary cities" but hypocritically supports centralized federal control in all other circumstances?
Progressives.
What ideological group thought secession of various states that disagreed with Obama's policies was against the Constitution but now wants California to secede?
Progressives.. From these facts, one could get the idea that progressivism is bad for America.

Michael Smith 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

American Video Reality

Michael Smith
11/12/2016

In my humble opinion, these anti-Trump protests have a very FPS/RPG video-game (First Person Shooter/Role Playing Game) feel to them. I say that because in these video game worlds (like HALO, Gears of War or Call of Duty) there is a lot of action, the players are totally absorbed in the game, even the weakest nerd can be Master Chief and monumental feats of strength, bravery and import can be accomplished – even the most emasculated male can be made a masculine hero and save the day (these games Make America Gender-specific Again!). What you do in the game is important and matters.
But the minute you hit “exit”, the fact that your team achieved its in-game objective and you were the hero is meaningless in the real world. That’s a significant reason for the popularity of such games, people can become a hero with no real risk and in turn, become someone of consequence in that world – even if you aren’t outside cyberspace. It creates a feeling of self-worth, strength and self-importance and mission validity that the player will never achieve IRL (in real life).
In truth, such masculine games have robbed American youth of their true masculinity because they have created a false image of what it means to be masculine, of how hard it is in real life to be a man where risk is real. When you fail, there are real consequences for you and your team. When you get cut, you bleed and when you get shot, you die. You don’t get to change to a better character – you are who you are.
You are butthurt. We get it. It happens. It happened to the political right in 2008 when the current semi-retired/differently-enabled waterfowl (politically correct for “lame duck”) president was elected the first time. We protested. We didn’t burn dumpsters, tag buildings, break windows, beat random pedestrians wearing “Hope and Change” sweatshirts or stop traffic on the interstate highways. We held protests over Obamacare where racist protesters were thrown out by protest members and mass gatherings on the National Mall where we left the Mall grounds cleaner than when we showed up. We focused on killing Obama’s progressive agenda rather than killing the man (assassination fantasies are all the rage on the left, going back to books and plays wishing for the murder of George W. Bush).
In the Keanu Reeves movie “Constantine”, he can travel to Hell – but Hell is actually just another hidden dimension of the reality we see every day. I think this is the way the left sees the world – their loss sent them to the alternate Los Angeles where all the buildings are rubble and soul-stealing right-wing demons roam the dystopian landscape in service to the Satan Trump.
The news media is asking the question “What will these protests accomplish?” to which I answer, “Nothing.” These “protests” only have the validity the public will give them - and boy, are the stone-faced, super-serious Max Headroom (google him) talking heads, the breathless leg-crossing newsreaders and on-the-spot reporterettes ever trying to find some validity for them.
These protests are symbolic of the left’s delusion that their ideology is the only correct ideology and all else is illegitimate and everybody should see what they represent as important and worthy because it is important and worthy to THEM. Only they know the true feelings of America. Only they know what racist, bigoted, homophobic and Islamophobic acts the Nazi Trump and his Brownshirts will commit in the future. They have constructed a game environment and landscape to fit the world they have inferred from what the media has implied.
These are emasculated, weepy, puppy cuddling, coloring book artists who are displaying their power and masculinity in a video game universe. In their world, all that they believe is true and what they are doing matters. It is as much a cry for attention as any tantrum thrown by any two year-old and just as inconsequential to the lives of the rest of us. It is as irritating and grating as it is meaningless and temporary.