Good morning, Gentle Reader. Despite the contrast between their titles, please consider this piece a companion to this one of yesterday. For I find that there is much more to say on the highly extended subject of where are we going and who ripped the bottom off the handbasket? But then, you expected that from this wordy old Curmudgeon, didn’t you?
First, two views of hope:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Take a few moments over those two. Are they contradictory, or two facets of a single jewel?
Just in case you haven’t noticed, things are pretty bad just now. The economy sucks, we’re on the verge of war with Russia, our political polarization is nearing totality, there’s rampant crime and violence throughout our cities, Usurpers control the federal government and are doing their damnedest to make their rule absolute and unassailable, and every whiny child of privilege or subliterate violent savage who can get his puss in front of a camera or a microphone is screaming at the top of his lungs about being oppressed. (“About what?” you ask? Does that really matter?) Not to put too fine a point on it, things have been better.
If any collection of disasters and looming threats ever seemed designed to make the virtue of hope preeminent, our time fits the bill.
There’s talk about the “black pill” trend, whose members essentially renounce hope in favor of “hunkering down” and striving merely to ride out the collapse and come out alive. Some commentators have recommended it, while others have condemned it. As usual, right? Pick a development, or a trend, and you can find at least two well-promoted approaches to it without measurable effort. Usually there are more than two. Myself, I prefer to take pills with a glass of Chateau Lafayette Reneau Dry Riesling. Well, except for Advil, that is; those go better with Emperor’s Blush. But I digress.
If there’s an unanswered question before us today, it would be this:
And yes, my favorite word is stuck in it like a splinter. But be not afraid, Gentle Reader. Not yet, that is.
Hope proceeds from a recognition that some desired outcome is possible, but not guaranteed. If the outcome at issue must be attained through personal effort, perhaps his confidence in his abilities is imperfect. If he would need the willing cooperation of others, he may doubt that he can persuade them to help him. Finally for today, if it would require defeating the opposition of some level of government, he may doubt that it’s available at an affordable price.
As governments are at the heart of nearly all our current troubles, that last category is the one we must stress.
The State is an evil institution. I know that’s not the prevailing view. But it’s come to be mine. Moreover, I’m not alone in that:
Where the State begins, individual liberty ceases, and vice versa. – Mikhail Bakunin
Force always attracts men of low morality. – Albert Einstein
Government is not the doctor. It is the disease. – H. S. Ferns
The possession of power over others is inherently destructive both to the possessor of power and to those over whom it is exercised. – George Herron
Government of man by man in every form is oppression. – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
All government, of course, is against liberty. – H. L. Mencken
We no longer believe that it is just for one man to govern men, but we have yet to outgrow the absurd belief that it is just for two men to govern one man. – Charles T. Sprading
Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us. – Leo Tolstoy
I’ve got plenty more where those came from, so there are a few respected figures who share my opinion. Moreover, the evidence is against those who claim that governments can be bounded, such that they are strictly harmless. If a heavily armed citizenry such as ours, with a Constitutional buttress to reinforce its convictions, cannot restrain its governments, then who would have any hope of doing so? And why, given both the evidence and the reasoning, should we tolerate such an institution as the State?
In sum, if you are an honest man:
- Hoping for government to assent to your desires is pointless.
- Hoping for government to assist you toward your desires is lunacy.
So those must be removed from your hopes. But as matters stand, we still have governments to cope with. So what then?
As individuals and voluntary associations thereof, Americans are highly capable. I don’t think I have to argue for that, as our record speaks for itself. But the dozen or so decades just behind us tell us more than that. Specifically, they testify that unless the masters of the State can contrive a way to divert the benefits of human enterprise to the State, they will oppose our exertions in our own interest. The reason, which “should” be “obvious,” is that human capability and the prosperity it makes possible provide a defense against State predation and subjugation. The further we progress, the better defended we are against the tyrants and parasites in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.
The implication “should” be equally “obvious:”
If you wish to be free, wealthy, and at peace,
Oppose the State by every practical means.
The practical means of our time, when the eyes, ears, and enforcers of our 88,000 governments are everywhere, are subterfuge and defiance. Each of those things reinforces the other.
Deny governments your personal information when possible.
Eschew government handouts and other offers of assistance.
Don’t solicit government attention to anything you do.
Know whom you can trust with your life and liberty.
Don’t bestow your loyalty on the undeserving.
Don’t be seduced by appeals to patriotism.
Remember what they really want:
They get more open about it every day.
“But where’s the hope bit?” I hear you cry. It’s in this: Ultimately, our enemies who wish to rule us are weak while we are strong. They need our willing submission to do so. If a sufficient fraction of us deny them that submission, they’re powerless. They can’t do what they want to us unless we permit it!
Defiance and subterfuge, Gentle Reader. If millions of us simply resolve upon those things, get on with our lives and enterprises, and support one another in our aspirations, we can have a future of freedom, wealth, and peace. Our hope must be of the unfeathered kind: our willingness, coupled to the willingness of enough of our fellow citizens, to practice what Glenn Reynolds called “Irish Democracy:”
If regular democracy isn’t doing so well, maybe it’s time to fall back on “Irish Democracy.”
That’s what Yale political scientist James Scott calls the passive resistance of a society that doesn’t like what its rulers are doing to it. In his book “Two Cheers for Anarchy,” he writes, “One need not have an actual conspiracy to achieve the practical effects of a conspiracy. More regimes have been brought, piecemeal, to their knees by what was once called ‘Irish Democracy,’ the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal and truculence of millions of ordinary people, than by revolutionary vanguards or rioting mobs.”
Irish Democracy is when the populace simply doesn’t cooperate with the agenda. Sometimes there is active sabotage, sometimes surreptitious monkey-wrenching, sometimes foot-dragging and sometimes outright noncompliance. Sometimes it’s all of those at once.
But that course demands courage, endurance, and the willingness to take a few bruises at need – especially when one of our fellows has been targeted for subjection or destruction.
Can enough of us stand together?
As a thematic coda, below is a short story I wrote not long ago. It’s of particular interest to Second Amendment enthusiasts, but the principle it embodies applies far more widely than just the right to keep and bear arms. And in that principle, now that what remains of the American constitutional order is only a memory, is my hope: entirely without feathers.
Less than half a second after the alarm light flashed on his intercom panel, Integral Security Services commander and CEO Kevin Conway surged out from behind his desk, plucked his life vest from his coat tree, and sprinted down the stairs toward the monitoring room.
He donned the vest as he ran. People were scurrying and red lights flashing throughout the building. As he passed through the ready room, he distributed quick shoulder pats and murmurs of encouragement to the officers garbing for battle, then moved as swiftly as was politic to the large, dark chamber that housed Integral’s twenty-four-hour audio / video monitoring operation.
The officers on duty at the monitoring stations were unusually quiet even for them. The overhead screen tuned to the feed from Integral’s drone aircraft displayed the reason: a SWAT team of considerable size assembling in the staging area behind Onteora County’s First Precinct.
This one could get ugly.
He stooped to whisper to the young woman attending to that data stream.
“Do we have a target yet, Phyllis?”
She shook her head, eliciting a faint rattle from her headgear. “Still quiet, Boss. Orders should be coming down…wait one.”
Conway held his breath. On the screen, a police lieutenant was unfolding a stapled sheaf of papers.
“2317 Kettle Knoll in Foxwood, Boss,” the young woman murmured.
That’s Art Giordano’s place. Shit.
“Scream it out, Phyl. All hands. We’re going to need the whole standby force for this one.”
He clapped her on the shoulder and headed toward Integral’s own staging area as she called out the all hands alert on the PA and the company’s breakthrough frequency.
Integral’s four heavily modified H1-Alphas roared down the streets of Foxwood hamlet at top speed. Conway was determined to get his forces to the target address before the SWAT team could get there. Though they’d executed such a lightning mobilization and deployment several times before, an all hands alert never failed to raise blood pressures throughout the force. There’d been no live fire or other violence on any of the previous sorties, but no one could be sure that it would always be thus.
At the targeted address Conway leaped out of the lead vehicle, trotted for the house’s porch, and took up station immediately before its front door. The commotion brought Art Giordano to the door, coffee mug in hand, wearing a bathrobe and a puzzled frown. Conway waved him back authoritatively and bade him close the inside door. Giordano complied at once.
As Integral’s troopers debarked from the other Humvees, Conway directed them into their various positions with quick, crisp hand gestures. Sixty seconds after his arrival, he stood at his ease, the Humvees had roared off to concealment, and his men were locked, loaded, poised and ready for whatever might come next.
They were quick enough by less than two minutes.
Onteora SWAT’s armored car, a legacy of the infantry drawdown of the decade before, pulled to a stop before the residence of Arthur Giordano, retired engineer and shooting sports enthusiast. The lieutenant Conway had seen via the drone feed debarked from the shotgun seat, papers in hand, and strode toward the porch. When his gaze landed on Conway’s face, his lips contorted into a snarl.
Conway smiled. “Good morning, Lieutenant Reynolds. Lovely day for a SWAT raid. May I ask the purpose of your visit?”
SWAT team commander Lieutenant Ellis Reynolds kept his voice under tight control. “We’re here in pursuit of some illegal firearms.” He glanced down at his papers. “Our investigators reported an unregistered AK-47 and AR-15 in the possession of the owner of this residence.”
“There is no such thing,” Conway said, “as an illegal firearm.”
“New York state law—”
“Does not trump the Second Amendment to the Constitution, Lieutenant.”
“That’s a matter for the courts,” Reynolds growled. The rest of the SWAT team had debarked from their vehicle and gathered close behind him, weapons in a variety of postures.
Tactically unwise, but I’d rather not teach them the hard way.
Conway shook his head. “I disagree.” He raised his voice. “And I brought a few friends who feel the same.”
It was the signal the Integral troopers awaited. They moved out of concealment and converged on the front of the Giordano home, rifles trained on the SWAT personnel.
The cops behind Ellis Reynolds exchanged uneasy looks and shrugs of a most un-SWAT-like variety. The dark crimson of the lieutenant’s face suggested that he was edging toward a stroke.
“How did you know—”
“I have investigators of my own, Lieutenant. Good ones. And Arthur Giordano is a client of Integral Security. I protect my clients—from public as well as private threats.”
Hope Art’s got his ear to the door.
It wasn’t a standoff in the usual sense. The Integral personnel outnumbered the SWAT team members, were exquisitely well placed, and toted rifles that overmatched any known body armor. The excellence of Integral’s forces, an order of magnitude beyond the capabilities of the county police, was well known. Should matters come to a head, their standing orders were to gun down the entire SWAT detachment…even if it should cost Conway his life.
Probably be for the best if it did.
He did his best to appear utterly unconcerned.
Reynolds turned to his men, growled “Mount up,” and waited as they complied. Before he departed, he awarded Conway a final scowl.
“We’ll be back,” he said.
Conway nodded. “We’ll be here.”
Conway watched the last of his Humvees pull away, turned to Giordano, and shrugged expressively.
“Hell of a start for your Saturday, eh?”
Giordano was still visibly adjusting to what had occurred on his front porch.
“Kevin, what was that—”
“About you being an Integral client?”
Giordano nodded, eyes wary.
“Call it a conversation filler. A moment, please.” Conway pulled out his cell phone and hit a speed-dial button. “Larry? All secure. You’re in command until I get back. Send a car, would you please? Thanks.” He closed and pocketed the phone and glanced at Giordano’s mug. “Might I impose on you for a cuppa? It’s been a difficult morning.”
Giordano gestured him inside. Presently they were seated at the dinette table in Giordano’s modest kitchen, each with a mug and a doughnut.
“Look,” the retiree said, “I appreciate what you did, but you know very well I can’t afford—”
Conway waved it aside. “Very well indeed, Art. But you know just as well that my sort of operation costs serious money. I have to keep a sizable standby force, a drone in the air around the clock and people to monitor the feed from it, and a police informant on the payroll. The county could bankrupt me simply by staging these raids continuously, two or three at a time, such that all my forces had to go to stopping them.” He grimaced and sipped from his mug. “Integral doesn’t have the taxing power. Not that I want it.”
Giordano said nothing.
“Have you given any thought to what I suggested at the civic association meeting?”
“Kevin,” Giordano said, “there aren’t enough of us willing to buy in just yet. We’re already paying some of the highest property taxes in New York. We can’t afford you. Not if what you charge your condo clients is any indication.”
“I understand, Art. Believe me, I do. But there are ways to lower the cost quite a bit, if you and your neighbors would be willing to help.”
“No one,” the retiree ground out, “is ready for the sort of surveillance setup you proposed. Cameras all over the place. Hard lines to your office. Rotating foot patrols with walkie-talkies. For God’s sake, Kevin, we’re a bunch of private citizens who just want to be left alone, and we’re already dealing with a sense of being watched wherever we go!”
A car pulled audibly into the driveway. Conway nodded, finished his coffee, and gently set the mug down before him.
“That’s the heart of the problem,” he said. “Not only are you being watched—that raid was because an Onteora cop spotted you at the range in Hamilton you visited a week ago—you’re paying through the nose for it. And here I am, desperate to protect you from those watchers, pleading that you pay me for the privilege.” He grinned humorlessly. “You’d have every right to suspect that the cops and I are in it together.”
Giordano shook his head. “Never.”
“Well, that’s a comfort, at least.” Conway rose, and his host did the same. “But please, Art, think about what would have happened if my guys hadn’t been here. The standby forces and support personnel that made that mobilization possible cost me about a million dollars a year. That halves Integral’s annual pre-tax profits. Imagine if the county were to get really aggressive about the firearms laws, and I had to double or triple those forces. How long do you suppose I could stay in business?
“The state police aren’t willing to get involved with the firearms laws…for now, at least, and thank God for that. But that could change. I doubt I could deter them with nothing but Integral’s forces and resources. There’d be blood spilled. Likely some of it would be mine. The only way to avert that beforehand is to turn communities like Foxwood into self-protecting bastions, places where only the newest, dumbest rookie would dare to throw his weight around.”
Conway put out his hand, and Giordano took it.
“My ride is here. Think about it some more? Please?”
The retiree nodded.
Conway returned to find Larry Sokoloff waiting at his office door. Integral’s second in command noted the expression on his commander’s face and smirked.
Conway chuckled. “Why, as a matter of fact, Larry, I have a security contract for the whole of Onteora County in my back pocket. Two hundred mil a year. Monthly payments in Spanish doubloons. Get on the horn and start hiring now. Anyone who can fog a mirror!”
Conway seated himself at his desk. Sokoloff slipped into a guest chair.
“I know, I know. It’s just money, Larry.”
“It’s money,” Sokoloff intoned, “that would pay for new guns and armor, a new firing range, improved gym facilities, and raises that would put smiles on quite a few faces.”
“I’m not going to let the cops trample our neighbors’ rights, Larry. It might break us financially, but as long as we’re capable—”
“Kevin.” Sokoloff slid forward, new intensity in his eyes. “What about what it’s doing to you? How much sleep did you get last night?”
Conway tried to shrug it off. “I’m fine. And if it gets to be too much for me, that’s why I have you, Syl, and Ken, right?”
He tried to make it light and jocular. Sokoloff’s gravity remained unchanged.
“You know I’ll always back your play, Boss,” the lieutenant said. “Hell, I’d take a bullet for you. But you can’t expect that from everyone on the force. And you can’t expect to run a…a charity operation like this for much longer before the guys start wondering what’s in it for them.”
Conway’s neck muscles drew tight. “They do get paid, Larry.”
Sokoloff nodded. “That they do. But is it enough to cover having to face down the county cops over and over? When it’s a lead-pipe cinch that sooner or later bullets will fly and someone will get killed?”
A charged silence passed between them.
“I do think about that,” Conway said. “It’s why I go on these sorties unarmed, so it’s as obvious as it can possibly be that my blood will be the first spilled. But I can’t do anything more about it until our neighbors wake up to the threat and take a hand in their own defense.”
“And you won’t stop providing that defense gratis,” Sokoloff said. “Even though that’s the perfect disincentive to getting them to act for themselves.”
Conway opened his mouth to reply, closed it without speaking.
Sokoloff waited impassively.
“I’ll give it more thought, Larry. I promise.”
The second-in-command nodded, rose, and made his exit. Conway dropped his head into his hands.
The State bleeds you dry for funds it uses to tyrannize you, while your only defender, who risks his life to thwart your official oppressors, has to work for coffee and doughnuts. Organized crime never had it so good.
Is it a whole new paradigm of governance, or the oldest one of all?
It doesn’t matter. Either way it can’t go on much longer. But I can’t just go limp on them.
They need a leader figure who’ll rally them to their own colors. A Man on Horseback they’ll follow without having to be shamed or prodded. For damn sure that’s not me. But who, then?
He had no answer.
Copyright © 2014 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.