[The following essay first appeared at Eternity Road on September 29, 2006. Inasmuch as the Left’s principal remaining weapon in the current campaign is their attempt to cause the Right to self-censor with charges of “racism” and such, it feels quite relevant to the moment. Decide for yourself, as always.]

Fran here. Those who know me personally are aware that, when goosed right, I can spin a skein of profanities that would make a longshoreman blush. It’s in the genes; Dad was a Navy veteran, and both the skill and the proclivity have “bred true.” Those who know me only through Eternity Road might find this surprising, as I neither use nor permit profanity here.

Under normal circumstances.

The essay you’ve begun features what we may euphemistically call “rough language,” and plenty of it. Oh my, yes. As rough as it gets, friends. I’m not kidding, and I’m not being coy or facetious about it, either. After the recent fracas over Virginia Senator George Allen’s alleged use of the word “nigger” thirty years ago, I started pondering the whole subject of linguistic taboos and their uses. I’ve come to some rather ugly conclusions, which, unfortunately, will require the use of some ugly words.

I repeat: I AM NOT KIDDING. The language will be ugly because the topic is ugly. The topic is ugly because ugly persons have been doing ugly things, in service to ugly objectives and ideals. Pace Ayn Rand, the ugliness won’t go away simply because we refuse to speak of it — especially if we accept the new shamans’ assertions of linguistic privilege.

To give you every chance to back away cleanly, I’m going to waste a few pixels on a blank barrier. If, rather than surfing away to some more genteel URL, you choose to press the Page Down key and read on, it will be entirely your decision.


Ah, here we are at last. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, linguistic taboos.

Among primitive tribes, a taboo was a mystical prohibition against a word or deed thought to anger the gods. The definition, rationalization, and enforcement of taboos were the province of the tribe’s shamans, to whom the propitiation of the gods was entrusted. Oftentimes, if a primitive society caught one of its members violating a taboo, its shamans would immediately offer him as a sacrifice to the gods, in the hope of averting an explosion of divine wrath.

In our modern lexicon, a taboo is a legally or socially enforced prohibition against speaking openly of certain things: usually, particular topics considered offensive by a politically privileged group. (Note the adverb “openly.” Many a taboo honored scrupulously in conduct open to general scrutiny is violated freely among intimates.) Today’s shamans, the definers and enforcers of taboos, are those politically privileged groups, often in collaboration with non-members who feel some sympathy with their aims or complaints.

What are the taboos du jour? I’m sure you can name a few:

  • Differences between the sexes, particularly with regard to specific mental competences and the capacity for aggression or initiative;
  • Differences between the races, particularly with regard to general intelligence, proclivity for violent, illegal, or antisocial behavior, and family feeling;
  • The origins, nature, and consequences of homosexuality, particularly with regard to its potential mutability, its association with certain diseases, and its tendency to “proselytize” to the unformed young.
  • The inheritability of general intelligence, and the extent to which post-natal factors can elicit it, stunt it, or compensate for genetic factors.
  • The objective nature of limitations incurred because of handicaps, birth defects, and other irreparable physical conditions.

These are the premier taboo subjects of our day. Indeed, the taboos that cover them are so strong that even to mention that one has an interest in one of these subjects is to draw glares of disapproval and mutterings about one’s character and good sense.

Charles Murray, one of the titans of sociology in our time, said in an interview with Jason de Parle of the New York Times that when Richard Herrnstein approached him about collaborating in an investigation of the inheritability of general intelligence, he got the immediate feeling of having been invited to violate a taboo. (Notably, the article de Parle wrote about Murray was titled “The Most Dangerous Conservative In America.” Good old Times, always willing to let us decide things for ourselves.) The resulting book, The Bell Curve, was a marvel of careful scholarship and restrained reasoning…yet for daring to assert in public that a significant fraction of human intelligence is determined by genetic factors, the two were vilified roundly by every politically correct commentator in America. Indeed, quite a few un-PC persons disposed to agree with Herrnstein and Murray expressed a wistful regret that they’d kept their study and their conclusions to themselves.

Clearly, challenging a taboo is not something to be done lightly. Even here in America, it can have consequences that can be socially, occupationally, or politically devastating. Though no group has yet succeeded in winning a legal ban on what it considers offensive speech, efforts by several groups to suppress statements they find repugnant are unstinting.

One must ask why some subjects are tabooed. The answer is simple, but enormously daunting: to speak of it is to invite inquiry, which threatens the perquisites of the group behind the taboo. Since the American system enshrines freedom of speech as a sacred principle, we can see why taboos must be enforced by social means. Yet the operation of taboos has served to elevate the groups that promulgate them to a position of legal and political advantage over the rest of us, even though equality of all before the law, and a willful blindness toward group membership, are also fundamentals of the American creed.

The mechanism is equally simple: Smith, a member of a taboo-owning group, can always accuse an adversary — Jones, for instance — of violating the taboo out of the public eye. If the taboo-owning group has already been conceded some special status as a victim, and if it’s willing to exploit that status with adequate vigor, it will frequently be conceded guilty-until-proven-innocent powers of accusation. Jones is burdened with having to prove that he never said what Smith has accused him of saying — and it’s well established that one cannot prove a negative of this sort.

This is why accusations about the use of racial, sexual, or other taboo epithets have such force. Even if completely unsubstantiated, they can ruin Jones for life. Persons who fear to be tarred with the taboo-breaker brush will draw away from him reflexively. No one wants to be put in the position of having to prove that he never said this or that, nor did he ever allow a taboo statement to pass unchastized, no matter how simon-pure his motives, how spotless his character, and how well-attested his general benevolence might be.

The damage is done upon the instant a group is accorded enduring victim status, and the privilege of defining taboos. It’s a trump card that can be played over and over again, until society finally rears up on its hind legs and smashes the edifice of guilt built from it. Unfortunately, when that sort of house of cards collapses, it crushes quite a few lives beneath it.

Before we proceed, allow me to state a few things very, very plainly.

  1. I am a Caucasian of Irish and Italian descent, whose parents were immigrants from those lands.
  2. My loyalties are to my family and the United States of America. I would defend either or both to the death. Apart from a mortgage and a car loan, I owe nothing else to anyone.
  3. What matters most to me about others is their character: their willingness to respect the rights of others and to discharge their proper responsibilities, without whining about any of it.
  4. I believe that there is an American culture, and that it is infinitely superior to all the other cultures of the world, past or present. More, I believe that Americans are the finest people in the world — that no other land produces anything remotely comparable to our general standard of decency, justice, generosity, or good humor.
  5. I believe that the races, as conventionally defined, differ in various ways. The importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
  6. I believe that the sexes differ in various ways. As with racial differences, the importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
  7. I believe that homosexual sodomy is self-destructive, but that, at least in certain cases, sexual orientation can be changed.
  8. I believe that there is such a thing as general intelligence, that it is at least partly inherited, and that it varies widely.
  9. I believe that the handicapped should receive our sympathy and compassion as individuals to other individuals, but that they are not entitled to more as a matter of right.
  10. I believe that laws that mandate preferred treatment for the members of any group, however defined, are both unConstitutional and destructive.
  11. I hold these convictions not because anyone else holds them, but because the evidence of my senses and my own powers of reasoning have led me to them.

According to the major taboos of our time, this makes me a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic chauvinist abuser of the physically challenged. By copping to all this, I’ve violated all the major, politically correct taboos of our time: about race, gender, sexual orientation, the handicapped, and multiculturalism. Needless to say, the enforcers of those taboos would like to see me boiled in oil.

They can dip their outrage in beaten eggs, roll it in crushed walnuts, and shove it up their asses.

Perhaps the second-greatest crime to spring from preferential treatment for “victim” groups is this: it’s a powerful inducement to members of those groups to see themselves not as individuals, but as instances of the group first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively. Thus, many young black men who could achieve substantially on their own merits are seduced into victimist beliefs about the hostility and power of “the man,” and slide into permanent attitudes of envy, frustration, and resentment. Many young women quite capable of happiness and fulfillment, whether as careerists or as homemakers, are seduced into victimist beliefs about “glass ceilings” and “patriarchal oppression,” surrender their innocence and delight in the dance of the sexes, and live forever in a blend of resentment and fear. Many handicapped persons take to feeling they’re “owed;” many homosexuals take to feeling they’re “hated;” and so on throughout the universe of victim-status groups.

But the essence of Man is that each of us is individual and unique. We are individually motivated; individually pleased or displeased; individually able or unable; and individually responsible for our decisions and deeds. I cannot believe that anyone with the mental horsepower required by self-awareness is wholly unconscious of that. Yet many persons, apparently prizing group affiliation and its privileges more highly than self-respect, adopt total immersion in a group, and the renunciation of the privileges and responsibilities of individuality, as their modus vivendi.

My contempt for such persons is boundless. I was about to say that the English language lacks words adequate to express it, but in fact it doesn’t. Bide a while and you’ll see.

Nor is it only persons of inferior intelligence or abilities that sink to such depths. No one could accuse race-hustlers such as Cornell West or Jesse Jackson of stupidity. These are men of demonstrable talent. Yet they’ve given themselves to a racialist agenda. Similarly, no one could accuse Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon of inferior ability. One might quarrel with the uses to which they put their gifts, but the power of them is easily sensed. Yet they’ve given themselves to a gender-war agenda. In doing so, these persons have persuaded lesser souls, of lesser powers, to follow them and their agenda. And so it goes, among homosexuals…the handicapped…the “homeless”…and similarly with every category of humanity that has striven to be seen as victimized by anyone or any thing in any way.

The essence of the taboo in American society is linguistic: not to speak the forbidden thought or attitude. So one such as I, who holds many taboo beliefs, is supposed to remain silent about them all. That would reduce me to prayers, requests to pass the condiments, and the occasional statement of approbation for the New York Rangers. Needless to say, I’ve chosen to express myself rather more broadly than that.

But even those of us who defy the taboos ideologically are expected to obey their constraints on our vocabulary. Certain words are forbidden to us with a firmness that hints at a mouthful of soap to come.

Some of those words have an ugly cast. But equally ugly words have passed into common parlance:

  • shit
  • fuck
  • motherfucker
  • cocksucker
  • frig

…and no doubt, our language being a constantly evolving and expanding thing, there are new vulgarities related to sex acts, body parts, elimination, and the like that I haven’t yet learned.

The difference between those common vulgarities and the taboo words claimed by the victim-status groups is this: each of the taboo words is used freely within an owner-group that strives to deny it to outsiders with the force of the taboo:

  • Victimist blacks often call one another “nigger,” often as an expression of fellowship or approbation. Indeed, a rap act of some notoriety named itself Niggers With Attitude, apparently without embarrassment.
  • Homosexuals feel no constraint about calling one another “queers,” “dykes,” “queens,” or “faggots,” even if the rest of us are not licensed to do so. Indeed, one of its activist groups is named “Queer Nation.”
  • Women who ascribe to a particular shade of feminism make free and frequent reference to their “cunts,” which is a hangin’ offense for any possessor of a Y chromosome. A professor of Women’s Studies at a relatively well-known university has been known to discourse on “cuntal dialectics.”

It’s one of my beliefs that, just as to every thing there is a season, to every word there is a proper application. This holds with special force for those words that have acquired their meaning through vulgarization. Perhaps the above uses, unconsciously self-damning as they are, have proved my point. The persons who employ them in such fashion deserve no better.

I could go on, but I believe the point has been made. The shamans of contemporary linguistic taboos have adopted nigger, faggot, cunt, and the other forbidden words as passwords, emblems of group membership — and membership, as American Express has been at pains to remind us, has its privileges. No one outside the shamans’ circle is permitted to speak the password; it’s an arrogation of a jealously guarded status. He who dares must be cut down, ground into the dust, and forbidden ever to speak at all, to any effect, in any context. For as in all systems of nymic magic, the word is deemed congruent with the thing: the taboo words are at the root of the shamans’ power. Failure to enforce the taboo would risk the loss of the group’s privileges and immunities, laboriously amassed over the decades of exploitation of others’ guilt.

Every circle of shamans must have a private language. Better that it be secret, but private above all. The taboo words and their use are all that distinguish the privileged from the hoi polloi. They must be guarded to the death.

“The Good Ship NEWF”

[This essay first appeared at Eternity Road, on July 1, 2006. I claim that one cannot have a defensible position on either abortion or cloning until he has satisfactorily answered the questions here.]

Who are you? I mean, really? And how do you know?

That phrase “identity theft:” what does it mean? Is the thief really stealing his victim’s identity? Perhaps one could assert that in a small number of cases — Jack Nicholson’s old movie The Passenger comes to mind — but far more often, he’s stealing some group of the rights or privileges associated with that identity, isn’t he? He doesn’t want to be you; he simply wants to be able to do a few of the things you’re entitled to do.

But let’s get back to basics. Who are you? How do you know? And how do others know you for who you claim to be?

Most of us, thank God, never have to grapple with the question to any serious degree. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious question. Just ask Jeff Medcalf.

The question is hard to answer even when applied to inanimate objects. For example, let’s imagine that I own a sailboat — I don’t, having no interest in water recreations — and that I’ve named it the NEWF, after my late, beloved, exceedingly moist Newfoundland Bruno. The good ship NEWF can be viewed:

  • Holistically, as a unitary entity with a clearly designed-in function and an associated identity, or:
  • Reductionistically, as an assemblage of anonymous (I hope) wooden, steel, rope, and canvas parts.

When its function as a sailboat is being exercised, its holistic, functional identity is clearly the one of immediate interest. Yet if I were to shipwreck myself upon some lonely island — perhaps Staten, with its forbidding landfills, or Fire, with its natives’…disturbing fleshly practices — NEWF’s reductionistic characteristics would come to the fore, as I made use of its planks for firewood and its sails for blankets. Many would claim that in that second case, there no longer is a good ship NEWF, merely a pile of useful, unnamed items.

Here’s the ultimate poser about identity: Imagine that, in the quite ordinary course of maintenance, I were to remove one of NEWF’s deck planks and replace it with another — but instead of discarding the removed plank, I laid it aside. Imagine further that, over the years, I pulled up and replaced (but did not discard) still more planks, until a decade hence, I had replaced every component built into the original boat with an identical substitute. Would it still be the good ship NEWF?

I’ll take you a step further: Imagine that I’d saved all the replaced components, and out of sheer philosophical whimsy built a boat from them that was identical to the original. The replaced components, torn one by one from the original structure, have now been reassembled into…the original structure! But…but…the “original” — the one that now contains no component built into the NEWF at its moment of christening — is sitting over there, at that dock! Which one is the good ship NEWF?

In practical terms, the problem is unimportant, as anyone who were to do such a thing would swiftly be certified and packed off to some pleasant institution with soft walls. But metaphysically, it spotlights the nature of identity as men understand it.

The undefined abstraction we call identity is inseparable from continuity.

The boat with “all new” components would have been continuously the NEWF, in service as the NEWF gives service, from the moment of its christening to the moment of the question, regardless of how many of its parts had been replaced. Its identity as a holistically, functionally viewed item was never interrupted. The components torn from it had no identity of their own; their “participation” in the NEWF’s identity was strictly as “supporting cast.” Their removal could not undermine the NEWF’s “NEWFness,” any more than the receipt of a transplanted kidney from Smith could lessen Jones’s identity as Jones.

So who are you? Don’t you owe your identity as yourself to having been continuously “in residence” in your body and mind from the moment of your birth? How much of that assemblage could be replaced without undermining your claim to your identity? What about the possibility of an “interruption in service?” That is, if you were to die tomorrow, and some time later were revived exactly as you are today, would you still be legitimately the person you are today? Would the length of the interruption matter to the argument? And what about the regular, refreshing interruptions of consciousness we call sleep?

For the really strong of stomach: were you who you are today — in essence, not in acquired capabilities nor extrinsic possessions — before you were released from your mother’s womb? If so, what intervening events or changes, had they occurred, would have negated your fetus’s claim to be you? If not, why not?


A Cabal Of Its Enemies

[The following essay was first posted at the Palace Of Reason on September 2, 2003. I consider it a useful adjunct to the ongoing series on the nature and behavior of systems of all kinds.]

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently, on the Web and elsewhere, about the State Department’s well known tendency to impede the implementation of Bush Administration policies as they touch on the Israeli / Palestinian conflagration, the Muslim Middle East generally, and the ongoing crisis in North Korea. Some have speculated that Secretary of State Colin Powell, though a retired soldier, is more comfortable with appeasement than with confrontation. Others have opined that the institutional tendencies of the State Department are simply more geared to talk, the polite fictions of diplomacy, and the consequent compromises, than to face-offs from which one side or the other must back down.

Professor Conquest, as noted above, had a simpler take on it. Historically, his capsule seems to hold true, at least for “mature” bureaucracies in which structural and personnel changes have dampened to “holding” levels. But questions of no little importance remain: Why should the incentives that govern America’s State Department perennially produce results that better suit the interests of America’s enemies than those of her people — regardless of the ideological alignment of the executive administration or the majorities in Congress? What is the nature of the mechanism? Can it be exclusively the incentives produced by civil service tenure rules and governmental inertia? Why should those things work against us, rather than for us?

It’s a life study. One of the master intellects of the past century, the great Cyril Northcote Parkinson, made such matters his special field. Despite his penetration, he left the work unfinished. But your Curmudgeon is here to pick up where that mighty mind left off.

Parkinson promulgated a number of laws of bureaucracy that serve to explain a huge percentage of its characteristics. They’ve exhibited remarkable predictive power within their domain. The first of these is the best known:

Parkinson’s First Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson inferred this effect from two central principles governing the behavior of bureaucrats:

  1. Officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  2. Officials make work for one another.

Like most generalizations, these are not always true…but the incentives that apply specifically to tax-funded government bureaucracies make them true much more often than not. They make a striking contrast with the almost exactly opposite behavior observable in private enterprise.

In his wonderfully humorous book of business advice Further Up The Organization, former Avis CEO Robert Townsend advises the young manager to try to eliminate his own job. “No one ever got fired for telling his supervisor, ‘They do it better without me than with me. What should I do now?'”, writes Townsend, and in the world of free enterprise, he’s right. Profit-seeking enterprises prize that kind of effectiveness. It is not so in government.

Government work is never done. In part, that’s because, in the grand scale, the problems addressed by governments are eternal problems, to be solved only by the Last Judgment. But in greater part, it’s because solving problems even on the small scale is antithetical to the personal well being of bureaucrats. Charles Peters, editor of the Washington Monthly, noted this in his book How Washington Really Works. He observed that it is the least effective organs within government that invariably receive the largest increases in funding and staffing. The lesson is seldom lost on the young bureaucrat with a hankering to move up.

That young bureaucrat will profit from deliberate ineffectiveness to the extent that he can get himself viewed as an asset by his superiors and a non-threat by his peers. His superiors want him to produce justifications for the enlargement of their domains. His peers simply ask that he not tread on their provinces.

To justify enlarging his sub-pyramid of the bureaucracy, a manager must represent his efforts as vital and his resources as inadequate. This can put peers in a bureaucracy into conflict with one another, but the budgetary constraints on the bureaucracy as a whole will often give way even if every sub-bureaucracy within it demands more people and funds simultaneously, provided only that Congress can be made to see the alternatives as unacceptably worse.

How does one engineer the required perceptions? By a combination of techniques, the most effective being the partial suppression of information, both about the nature of the problems one addresses and one’s labors to solve them.

Contrary to what intuition might say, a fully informed superior is usually an unhappy man. Even if things are going swimmingly in his organization, if he knows exactly what’s being done at the detail level, he’ll always see things he disapproves — because he once did those jobs himself, and will invariably contrast his subordinates’ methods unfavorably with his own. The temptation to micro-manage is amplified by the possession of those details. His subordinates will know this, of course, and so will suppress any details below the level required for a broad-brush status report. This is an example of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Snafu Principle” in action.

So the portrait of a bureaucracy’s operations, as it emerges from the nether depths at which specific tasks are addressed, becomes ever vaguer and less detailed as it approaches presentation to “outsiders”: the president, Congress, and the general public. In a sense, the “outsiders” are lucky to get any accurate information at all. If it could get away with it, a bureaucracy’s status report to its external control authorities would say nothing but: “You need us desperately, and we’re working as hard as we can, but we need more people and money. Send them soonest.”

Another of Mankind’s master intellects, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, has approached bureaucratic inefficiency from the standpoint of the incentives that govern the use of resources, particularly money. He presented the following matrix of spending decisions:

The Benefit Will Accrue To Me The Benefit Will Accrue To Others
The Cost Will Be Borne By Me
The Cost Will Be Borne By Others

This is the incentives matrix each of us faces any time he has to make a spending decision.

In Type I and II situations, the spender is spending his own money, and so has strong incentives to control cost. In Type I situations, where the spender will be purchasing some benefit for himself, he will attempt to maximize the quality of the thing purchased. In Type II situations, where the benefit will go to someone else, the quality of the thing purchased declines in importance, and is sometimes sloughed entirely.

In Type III and IV situations, which embrace all government spending, the spender is spending someone else’s money, and so has little or no incentive to control costs. In Type III situations, where the spender is buying something for himself, he’ll attempt to maximize the benefit. In Type IV situations, where the spender is buying something for someone else, there are no compelling reasons to control either cost or quality.

Most bureaucratic resource allocation falls into Type IV.

But Friedman’s insight ought to be a starting point, not a stopping point, for the understanding of bureaucratic spending decisions. A bureaucrat will learn, given time, how to “spend on others” in such a fashion that the primary benefit flows to himself, particularly as regards the perception outside his domain that what he’s doing is critically important and must not be interfered with. It’s no accident that every department of the United States federal government runs a public-relations office, something that would be incomprehensible if each department did its work economically and effectively, and were viewed thus by the general public.

In the case of our State Department, it is the bureaucrats’ desire that we see their operations as critically important to the nation’s interests, as America’s relations with other governments affect them. Central to the maintenance of this image is the related perception that, unless the State Department is allowed free rein and generous resources, America will be perennially, ruinously at war.

It’s one of the present day’s largest ironies that our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the most celebrated soldiers of recent memory. The State Department and the Defense Department are bureaucratic peers and therefore rivals. Each strives to minimize the importance of the other.

Von Clausewitz and others have termed war “a continuation of politics by other means,” but when viewed from the perspective of the State Department official, war is the declaration that his organization has failed of its purpose. He sees it as bad public relations for his entire function. Thus, even when the nation’s interests would be overwhelmingly better served by war than by the continuation of diplomacy, the State Department man will prefer diplomacy. It’s in his demesne, and enhances his prestige by enhancing the prestige of his trade.

It’s not too much to say that averting war regardless of its desirability or justifiability is near the top of every State Department functionary’s list of priorities. In this pursuit, the State Department will often find itself opposing even peacetime operations of the military designed to improve its effectiveness, such as the acquisition of new weapons or the enlargement of its ranks. Tom Clancy provided a fictional example of this in his novel The Cardinal Of The Kremlin. The State Department set its face against the perfection of an American anti-missile defense, in no small measure because it would reduce the desirability of arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union.

In the real world, we often find the State Department opposing military decisions, for example about troop deployments or weapons development, specifically out of fear of the reactions of other governments. Objectively, if those decisions made the United States stronger and safer at an acceptable cost, it would be madness to oppose them. But to a State Department loyalist, who has no control over the instruments of force wielded by the Defense Department and whose primary goal is to avert war at all costs, what matters most is the reactions of those other States. If they make unpleasant noises or military adjustments of their own, the State Department man instinctively assesses the risks of war as increasing. Other governments know this, and exploit it.

Not every new State Department employee enters his responsibilities with all these attitudes already in place, of course. But over time, the department’s institutional incentives and outlook will filter out those who fail to adopt the dominant view in Foggy Bottom: War always means failure — for the State Department.

There is a final set of considerations, the least agreeable of the major ones, that must be addressed before we conclude. They relate to the worldview that forms among diplomats and their supporting staffs as a result of their professional circumstances.

The diplomat lives among foreigners. His usual society is, therefore, not aligned with the supposed point of his job: the maintenance and advancement of his country’s national interests. Given this, it would take a will of iron to resist the tendency to draw closer to the representatives of other nations, with whom he must work closely over the span of decades, even at the cost of distancing himself from his fellow citizens. He will unconsciously edge toward the attitudes and convictions of those who form his usual environment. This will affect everyone who makes dealing with foreigners his life’s work; there is no obvious countermeasure for it.

Even more important, a professional diplomatic corps, organizationally separate from its control authorities, is a target of opportunity for the governments of other countries. Inducing America’s diplomats and support staffs to see their own welfare as more aligned with pleasing other governments than with representing America’s interests is a primary objective of foreign powers. They have many kinds of inducement at their disposal.

This is not to suggest that every ambassador, every consular official, and every State Department employee must be constantly scrutinized for indications of treason. However, it would be foolish to deny that foreign powers, who have a large measure of control over how pleasant America’s representatives to them find their work, can thereby influence the mindset and responses of those representatives in all manner of venues. Obviously, that influence is unlikely to be in America’s favor.

Inner Conclusions:

This survey of influences on the State Department and the incentives that affect its personnel appears very bleak. Unfortunately, its implications are strongly confirmed by experience. We’ve seen our State Department embrace the interests of America’s adversaries far too often to wish the matter away.

Everything discussed here touches on motivation at the institutional level. Such motivations arise from the large-scale characteristics of the institutions and the surroundings in which they operate. They cannot be undone by changes in personnel, even the most massive, except over the very short term.

Can anything be done for the long term?

Possibly, but more likely not. The conditions discussed here arise from the nature of the institutions discussed: the State Department and the government milieu generally. They cannot be changed without changing the nature of those institutions in radical ways — and the institutions could be counted upon to resist externally imposed changes with all the powers at their disposal.

A new Secretary of State would find himself thwarted in any attempt to reform his department, absent powers so sweeping that Congress would be exceedingly unlikely to entrust them to a presidential appointee. After all, those who labor in those institutions would easily persuade themselves that they knew better how things should be than any boss imposed upon them from outside their sphere. They would be “conservative about what they know best,” naturally inclined to reject the suggestion that their worldview was in serious error. In the end, the Secretary would almost certainly accept the appearance of change in place of the real thing. Following the incentives that apply to his position in the bureaucracy, he would present it to the nation as a triumph. As Arthur Herzog has noted, “Change is hard, and difficulty makes people impatient.”

Outer Conclusions:

In reflecting on the totality of the thing, your Curmudgeon finds himself struck by Parkinson’s final Law, the last of his intellectual gifts to Mankind:

Law Of The Vacuum: Action expands to fill the void created by human failure.

Action takes many forms. In the world of geopolitics, the most perceptible form is the military kind: the exchange of fire as governments attempt to impose their wills upon one another. War is the ultimate negative-sum game. Even the victor is worse off after a war than before it. This is not to say that war must always be avoided; sometimes all the alternatives are worse. But war becomes ever more necessary to a nation whose professional representatives to foreign powers cannot bring themselves to do the job for which they were hired — to champion their country’s interests plainly, confidently, and fearlessly. To embrace any other agenda than that, whether out of habit, institutional inertia, or the promotion of personal or sectarian priorities above national ones, is to embrace failure itself, and thereby to create a vacuum into which bullets, bombs, and troops will rush.

Verbum sat sapienti.


[This essay first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason, on December 17, 2003. Inasmuch as the Democrats have recently been promulgating the notion that the Republicans are conducting a “war on women,” with specific reference to abortion and birth control, it strikes me as especially pertinent today.]

In response to this Curmudgeonly tirade, reader Noah commented as follows:

When the right declaims a new gun control law, and argues that it’s the first step along the left’s quest to completely disarm the people, everyone laughs. But it’s true.

When the left declaims a new abortion control law, arguing that it’s the first step towards a complete ban on abortion, or birth control, or indeed the complete nationalization of the bedroom, everyone laughs. But mightn’t it be true?

The proponents of each kind of law see them as “common sense”, while the opponents see them as utter lunacy, the first step on a slippery slope to open tyranny.

The truth is that there *are* Republicans who would like to see everything but marital/missionary outlawed, just as there are Democrats (and others) who won’t rest until every privately owned firearm has been melted down. Take a survey of how many states criminalize sodomy, oral sex, adultery, even fornication and cohabitation (best of all prostitution, 49 states last I checked).

I’m not saying I agree with this woman’s ramblings, or advancing a position one way or the other on the partial-birth abortion ban. What I am trying to say is that it would be folly to dismiss her comments as standard leftist trash without sifting them for kernels of truth.

Well, your Curmudgeon isn’t about to defend laws that criminalize private acts that involve only consenting adults. But in drawing his parallels, Noah has provided a striking case study in disparates, and in how their juxtaposition can becloud political thought.

The history of sexual regulation by law goes back to the earliest years of European-derived human presence on this continent. Nearly all of the first groups to arrive here were inspired by the New World’s opportunity for them to practice their religions without being persecuted for it. Ironically, nearly all of them looked forward to the opportunity to enforce their religious beliefs with the power of the State. It wasn’t freedom they sought, but the dominant position in a realm of their own — if you like, the opportunity to indulge in religious oppression in favor of their own beliefs.

Institutions of religion have always been hostile to sex. Sex is the earthiest of all earthly pleasures. Prior to the Industrial Revolution and what it brought in its train, it was one of the very few pleasures available to everyone. Any institution that wanted men to focus on the next world, rather than this one, would naturally frown on something so temporal, so universal, and so powerful.

Regional political power in the colonial era was usually united with some dominant religious sect, all the way into the early 19th Century. Of the original thirteen colonies, only one, Rhode Island, had no established church and no dictates in its founding charter derived from the doctrines of a particular faith. The clerical potentates of the colonies were quite as hostile to sex as any of their European predecessors had been — and here, they had the opportunity to stamp the laws with their own preferences.

Alongside that, until quite recently there were substantial extra-legal risks involved in sexual indulgence. So the typical commoner had, not just the law and the admonitions of his local clerics to inhibit him, but also the possibility of rotting away from syphilis or conceiving children that would be his responsibility to feed and nurture. Marriage as it has been traditionally practiced originated to mitigate these risks. Long before religious hierarchies incorporated marriage into their theologies, it was well established as a force for social stability and the norming of sexual conduct.

Then came penicillin and the Pill. Advances in medical technology reduced the risks of sexual adventurism by orders of magnitude. Though new risks, such as herpes and AIDS, have arisen in the most recent years, these can also be held down by judicious choice of partners and attention to obvious signs of danger. With the rise of an ethic of privacy, made possible by the economic advance of the country, the laws against non-marital and non-reproductive sex, which had always been largely unenforceable, fell into neglect. What remained to inhibit us were the dictates of our consciences and the thunderings from the pulpits, neither of which has proved much of a barrier in practice.

Sex laws passed in the 18th and 19th centuries, driven by religious belief and protected from being laughed aside by forces entirely outside the law, dropped into the Slough of Irrelevance after 1960. Except for freak cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, which made news because they were freak cases, sexual regulation by law is dead in America — and that is entirely as it should be.

Your Curmudgeon will allow that there are a very few Americans who’d like to bring back the whole legal regime, in full force. But they are a trivial rump, who will receive no respectful hearing short of an Islamic takeover. They are ignored by conservatives who appreciate individual rights and the supreme importance of laws that can be evenhandedly and uniformly enforced without violating those rights.

Compare the regulation of sex with the regulation of abortion, and a forest of differences springs up at once.

Sex, apart from rape and molestation, involves only consenting adults, presumed to be competent to make their own decisions and choose their own risks. That there are risks, even between partners who know one another well, cannot be denied, but a competent adult is expected to familiarize himself with them beforehand, make the appropriate mitigations, and shoulder the consequences should the dice not fall his way. Only one possible outcome of a consensual sex act necessarily involves a third party: conception.

The germination of a new life brings a new character onto the stage, one who was not allowed to read the script beforehand and is powerless to affect its ending. There is no question that he is a distinguishable presence; his DNA signature, his abilities, and his vulnerabilities differ radically from those of his parents.

The competent actors might not want him there. Indeed, they might have taken stringent precautions against his creation and were simply the “victims of bad luck.” But there he is. The question before us is no longer about sex; it’s about the rights of that third character, and what responsibilities the first two have toward him.

If the developing embryo is rightless tissue, morally no weightier than a tumor, then excising it and discarding it are morally neutral deeds. Surely a woman has the right to control her own body if in doing so she injures no one else’s rights, just as she has the right to swing her arms freely if no one else’s nose is in the way.

But if the presence in the womb is a human being with the same right to life as his mother, then to abort him — to kill him — is murder. It can only be justified in a “lifeboat scenario,” where either the mother or the baby must inevitably die, regardless of anything that might be done by any involved party. The mother’s prior intentions, and her disinclination to be a mother, are just as irrelevant as they would be once the baby has been born.

There are intermediate positions. Some argue that, until the baby is capable of living on his own, without support from the mother’s body or some technological substitute, he cannot be held to possess rights, for no man has a right to the coerced support of another. Others argue that, even if all abortions are murder in principle, nevertheless, respect for the right of privacy requires that we not criminalize abortions before a certain point in gestation, as to do so would either require massive invasions of privacy, or would open the door to selective prosecution at some district attorney’s sole discretion.

Let all of that pass. The central fact is that abortion has nothing to do with sex. The crux of the abortion debate is when the developing baby’s right to life begins, and what can be done to protect it without incurring unacceptable costs.

If abortion has nothing to do with sex, then the debate over the legal status of abortion need have nothing to do with the legal status of sex.

Are there pro-lifers who seek the re-criminalization of abortion because they hope that it will inhibit sexual license? Yes, indubitably. But that particular motivation is not part of the political / legal debate. Indeed, your Curmudgeon cannot name even one person, public figure or private party, who’s ever expressed that motive. He would regard such a position as unworthy and insincere, as would every other pro-lifer he knows. If the baby’s right to life and the legal protection thereof are not the issues under discussion, there is nothing to discuss. We have had enough of laws against this because it “leads to” that.

It is illuminating to note that, while laws that regulate sexual conduct have had a controversial aspect for nearly two centuries, laws concerning abortion have only been actively discussed for about forty years — that is, roughly since the development of oral contraception. Prior to that, the near-universal conviction was that abortion was absolutely wrong at any stage of gestation. If a man impregnated an unmarried woman, he was under an absolute obligation to do the right thing and marry her. If he would not do so and could not be compelled, the woman would simply have to bear the child, contriving as much privacy for her illegitimate birth as she could, and then arrange for the baby to be adopted.

The shift in attitudes arose because, once high-quality contraception that didn’t interfere with sexual pleasure was available, sexual indulgence was inhibited solely by the possibility of contraceptive failure or negligence in contraceptive use. If only abortion could be legalized, even the remotest possibility of having to endure the shame of illegitimacy could be averted. The fear of the illicit abortionist, nicely dramatized in the movie Dirty Dancing, would cease to confine sexual appetites.

Herein lies the seed of the prevailing obfuscations. The crux of the abortion issue has never been sex, but interest in the thing has been driven from the first by sexual desire. All Palace readers will know the history, from the critical 1973 Supreme Court decision to the present day.

Some day, another topic will relieve abortion of its “most contentious” title, because it will engage a desire even more powerful than the sex drive: the desire to live. The topic will be human cloning.

Imagine that it becomes possible for a human to reproduce himself parthenogenetically — that is, without a contribution of DNA from another party — and therefore to replicate his body perfectly. Human bodies are usually equipped with human brains and minds. The brain is the only portion of such a clone that would not be medically useful to its progenitor.

The clone would be a perfect source for every sort of transplant. If the law were to treat clones as having no rights of their own, they could and would be disassembled at will, to extend or improve the lives of those whose DNA signature they share. Imagine how strongly men will desire that such a resource be available to them.

But if we omit the possibility of artificially induced brain death, such a clone would be human, in all relevant ways indistinguishable from any other. If he is acknowledged as such, to treat him as an organ farm for another person, denied an acknowledged right to life, would be clearly wrong: murder for medical reasons, under color of law.

The abortion controversy prefigures the cloning debate in its core issues, but will be a pale shadow of it in intensity.

So your Curmudgeon will ask: If the development of the clone were to involve a human womb, would the debate be about sex?

The rest, as they say, is an exercise for the reader.

The Desiccated Remains

[This essay first appeared at Eternity Road, on January 23, 2009. It strikes me as extremely pertinent to the machinations of the Left today.]


The list of well known writers on liberty includes some names that don’t belong there, such as John Stuart Mill, and omits some names that should appear at its head, such as the late Dr. Clarence Carson. Dr. Carson’s several books are gems, each and every one, glittering with knowledge, insight, and eloquence, but even among libertarians and conservatives, they’re little known and less employed. Yet no one, not even the great Ayn Rand, has contributed more to the elucidation and articulation of Americanism.

In your Curmudgeon’s opinion, Dr. Carson’s strongest statements on freedom and American principles are to be found in his book The American Tradition. Concerning liberals’ thesis that freedom is adequately defined by freedom of speech plus the electoral mechanism, Dr. Carson declaimed as follows:

[W]e are told that there is no need to fear the concentration of power in government so long as that power is checked by the electoral process. We are urged to believe that so long as we can express our disagreement in words, we have our full rights to disagree. Now both freedom of speech and the electoral process are important to liberty, but alone they are only the desiccated remains of liberty. However vigorously we may argue against foreign aid, our substance is still drained away in never-to-be-repaid loans. Quite often, there is not even a candidate to vote for who holds views remotely like my own. To vent one’s spleen against the graduated income tax may be healthy for the psyche, but one must still yield up his freedom of choice as to how his money will be spent when he pays it to the government. The voice of electors in government is not even proportioned to the tax contribution of individuals; thus, those who contribute more lose rather than gain by the “democratic process.” A majority of voters may decide that property cannot be used in such and such ways, but the liberty of the individual is diminished just as much as in that regard as if a dictator had decreed it. Those who believe in the redistribution of wealth should be free to redistribute their own, but they are undoubtedly limiting the freedom of others when they vote to redistribute theirs.

Effective disagreement means not doing what one does not want to do as well as saying what he wants to say. What is from one angle the welfare state is from another the compulsory state. Let me submit a bill of particulars. Children are forced to go to school. Americans are forced to pay taxes to support foreign aid, forced to support the Peace Corps, forced to make loans to the United Nations, forced to contribute to the building of hospitals, forced to serve in the armed forces. Employers are forced to submit to arbitration with labor leaders. Laborers are forced to accept the majority decision. Employers are forced to pay minimum wages, or go out of business. But it is not even certain that they will be permitted by the courts to go out of business. Railroads are forced to charge established rates and to continue services which may have become uneconomical. Many Americans are forced to pay Social Security. Farmers are forced to operate according to the restrictions voted by a majority of those involved. The list could be extended, but surely the point has been made.

(The above comes from an essay titled “To Agree To Disagree,” which your Curmudgeon regards as the capstone of Dr. Carson’s book.)

Now, a regular reader of Eternity Road will already be familiar with the long train of abuses and usurpations Dr. Carson enumerates above. And of course, liberals still stoutly maintain that the object is a more perfect Union, and not a design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. But the most trustworthy indicators of evil intent are the suppression of dissent and the invalidation of mechanisms for redress: the “desiccated remains” of which Dr. Carson wrote. And so your Curmudgeon must ask: Just how are freedom of expression and the electoral process faring in the Land of the Formerly Free?

First, freedom of expression:

  • The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act has partly abrogated the right to free expression around election time.
  • Given the new Administration and the enlarged Democrat majorities on Capitol Hill, we stand in immediate danger of the revival of the Fairness Doctrine, which is aimed at quenching conservative talk radio.
  • The use of tax law to silence conservative and libertarian opinion is growing, especially as regards voluntary associations such as churches and charitable groups.
  • Several liberal luminaries, among them both Cass Sunstein and Hillary Clinton, have argued for the censorship of the World Wide Web.
  • Lawsuits attempting to silence a commentator who has merely stated established facts or accurately quoted an adversarial opponent are rife, and are usually allowed to go forward by the courts.
  • Conservative public officials are continuously derided, assailed, and slandered, both by the Mainstream Media and by activist groups.
  • Lectures and presentations by libertarian and conservative figures are heckled, massively protested, and often terminally disrupted by liberal activists. The speakers who dare to appear at such events are at continuous risk of physical assault.

The legal impediments to free expression are bad enough. When one adds the “chilling effect” of the extra-legal mechanisms used to silence pro-freedom views, the pile reaches an alarming height.

Now for the electoral process:

  • Laws which explicitly regulate ballot access are ignored by the courts when they conduce to the disadvantage of the Democrats, but are wielded rigorously, and often on specious grounds, against Republicans and pro-freedom minor parties.
  • Democrat candidates and their media allies have been allowed extraordinary latitude at opening the sealed records of their opponents’ divorces, child-custody disputes, and commercial actions.
  • The media treat all allegations of impropriety against Republicans and conservatives as front page news, but hesitate to report on much worse, and much better substantiated, allegations against Democrats and liberals.
  • Boards of Election routinely operate to the advantage of the Democrat in a contested race. Election fraud is rampant, but only allegations of fraud by Republicans are treated seriously. The investigation of even flagrant abuses by Democrats is perfunctory at best.
  • Democrat Administrations have facilitated the acquisition of voting power by un-naturalized immigrants, including illegal immigrants.
  • Lawsuits challenging the validity of a vote tally are used as an entering wedge by which to enable further vote fraud.
  • When a closely disputed election turns out, after a recount, to have been won by the Republican, if the Democrat has already been seated, no action is taken in redress.

To borrow Dr. Carson’s phrasing, these lists could be extended, but surely the point has been made.


None of this is news to any honest observer of our political scene. Nor would your Curmudgeon have bothered to recapitulate it but for one vital aspect of our predicament.

Left-wing figures, these past few years, have repeated ad nauseam that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” It’s been observed in practice that they reserve that evaluation for dissent from the Left, but deny it to dissent from the Right, but that, too, is only to be expected. What we must address here is the practical significance of the progressive suppression of conservatives’ mechanisms for dissenting — freedom of expression and the ballot box — and how these things coordinate with other aspects of the liberal hegemony.

In Thomas Sowell’s two landmark books A Conflict of Visions and The Vision of the Anointed, he notes that liberal defenders of liberal policies, including even the most abject of liberal policy failures, are prone to defending them as “here to stay” — basically a conservative’s argument. Rhetorically, the tactic has some force, but far more significant is what it tells us about the liberal moral-emotional gestalt.

To say that some public policy must not be changed is to say that it is right and necessary: right meaning “not a violation of the rights of the unconsenting,” and necessary meaning “the costs, however measured, of dismantling it would be unacceptable.” But to shout down those who disagree, or to manipulate elections to deny conservatives their fairly earned victories, is by liberals’ own standards a denial of others’ rights. Not only is this hypocrisy — “we’ll respect your right to disagree as long as you refrain from using it” — it’s a revelation of liberals’ deep convictions about both rightness and practicality:

Liberal Conviction #1: Only liberals have rights.
Liberal Conviction #2: What advances the liberal vision is good regardless of its practical effects.

As Dr. Sowell notes early in The Vision of the Anointed, liberals operate under the assumption that they are morally superior to non-liberals, entirely because of their liberalism: a “vision of differential rectitude.” Moral mandates are always absolute; therefore, he who is morally enlightened beyond his opponent cannot allow the opponent to win. Thus, any mechanism for dissent from liberal nostrums must be perverted and distorted until it cannot be used effectively against the liberal cadre and its programs. That’s right and necessary — as right and necessary as liberalism itself.

Dr. Carson’s perception of the “compulsory state” has been fastened upon us for some time. It’s produced loss after loss: in freedom, in prosperity, in human dignity, and in national and international harmony. But it is emotionally vital to the liberal psyche that no critical examination of its failings be allowed, especially in those areas where the objective evidence has become conclusive and irrefutable. Setbacks to liberal policies must be attributed to conservatives’ perverse opposition; defeats of liberal candidates must be railed against as thefts. The vision of liberals’ differential rectitude must be defended.


Over the next four years, the “desiccated remains” of Americans’ traditional freedom will come under ever more intense assault. This is guaranteed by liberals’ assumption of their moral superiority and the steadily accumulating evidence against the beneficence and benevolence of liberal policies. Conservatives and libertarians must expect harsher and harsher attempts, both within and without the law, to silence them and to defraud them of victories at the polls. Violence will be involved more and more often as liberals’ failures mount.

There’s no Last Graf. Short of a pro-freedom revolution, your Curmudgeon has no solutions to offer; besides, most historical revolutions have produced worse tyrannies than the regimes they toppled. To be on the Right is to prefer freedom and privacy to power, public engagement, and the clamors thereof. We stand at a natural disadvantage against those whose lives are completely wound around making others live and behave as liberals think they should.

Hard times are upon us. Remain vigilant, and keep your powder dry.


(The following first appeared at the old Palace of Reason, in 1997.)

Part One: The Comedians.

Is Bigness to be distrusted? Well, yes, but not because of any difference of motives between the people who staff and run big organizations and the people who staff and run small ones. It’s more a combination of two other effects, cited by two great American thinkers:

Scott Adams: “People are idiots.” (The Dilbert Principle, from The Dilbert Principle)
Robert Anton Wilson: “A man with a loaded gun will never be told something that might cause him to pull the trigger.” (The Snafu Principle, from Illuminatus!)

The Adams observation isn’t really a denigration of human intelligence, as such. Properly set in its context, it highlights the tiny stock of competence and understanding each of us has, in comparison to the giant fund of knowledge that undergirds human existence — a condensation of Leonard Read’s famous “I, Pencil” essay, if you will. The Wilson observation is a simple statement of intuitively obvious fact, a survival property that helps to keep us alive.

Large organizations are inherently hierarchical, with authority, scope, and the assumption of expanding competence rising as one ascends the pyramid. If an organization does not possess this property, then it cannot proceed toward a
coherent set of goals. If it cannot proceed toward a coherent set of goals, then it is not in any functional sense a unitary organization.

When you test this property of large organizations against the Dilbert and Snafu dicta, you find some glaring weaknesses in the whole notion of large organizations:

  • The number of people who have a stake in deceiving or under-informing the people on top is such that the folks in the mahogany-paneled offices haven’t got a prayer of knowing what’s going on below them,
  • Even if they knew it all down to the last detail, the mahogany-office guys would have to be considerably smarter than Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein rolled together to understand and direct what’s going on below them.

I’ve been in the business world since 1968, and have passed through a variety of companies large and small. From my own experience, I can attest that no organization with more than four levels of management (group leader, director, vice-president, CEO) can operate as intended by its “guiding hands” as much as half the time. Even with a millennial genius as CEO, the incentive his underlings have to withhold information that might make him frown at them will prevent him from having more than 50% effective control. The situation deteriorates geometrically with each added layer of management.

Since it has been established empirically that no one can effectively manage the activities of more than ten people “below” him, this limits the size of a more-or-less efficient organization with coherent objectives to no more
than 10,000 participants. In practice, even organizations of 2000 or 3000 people seldom function as intended.

Giantism in the private sector is only possible because of giantism in the public sector — and so we move to Part Two.

Part Two: The Incubator.

So: Large organizations have inherent deficiencies that conduce toward a generalized condition of incoherence and failure. Why, then, is the world’s commerce completely dominated by two or three thousand giant corporations?

Simply, because governments systematically tilt the field in their favor.

Ignore the propaganda about “monopoly” and “antitrust.” Nothing favors Big Business like Big Government. The occasional forays against specific targets in the private sector — mostly, companies that have been slow to bend the knee when the State commanded it — are mere flea bites, compared to the many ways the legal environment has been biased toward giant businesses.

Complex tax and regulatory law is one example. The larger a company is, the smaller the percentage of its expenses that will go to its overhead functions, in particular legal counsel and accounting. (For all that accounts payable and receivable are important functions, their complexity and cost pales in comparison to that of tax accounting.)

Liability is another example, and an increasingly important one. With all the ways in which suits against the providers of goods and services have been encouraged in the past thirty years, the fraction of a typical company’s
expenses that go to legal representation, tort insurance, and payoffs has swollen to Brobdingnagian size. (A tiny example: Dr. Ron Paul, Congressman from Texas and former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, told me that the cost of his malpractice insurance in his last year as a practicing obstetrician came to more than a quarter of his annual revenue.)

Finally, but far from least, there’s this: When governments seize and spend 45% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, businesses that sell to governments are going to get really, really rich. And governments, for sociological and organizational reasons I’ll delve into some other time, prefer to do business with the largest of corporations.

I can assure you that none of this is theory. As an engineer and project manager of more than three decades’ experience, who worked in the defense sector for fourteen years, I had the chance to observe it all at unpleasantly close range.

There’s no need for me to go into the pernicious effects corporate giantism has on consumers and the economy at large; anyone who’s progressed past the stage of counting on his fingers can see that larger companies will always mean fewer of them, with a corresponding decrease in competitive incentives and accountability to the consumer. I suggest that those who are interested in the economic progression of the U.S. look at the history of the thing, and try to correlate the swelling of the biggest players with the many statist trends of the 20th Century. I did. It opened my eyes.

Egos The Size Of Cathedrals

Perhaps, given yesterday’s events, I should stay away from politics for awhile. At any rate, today’s topic is non-political.


“These people, it’s no mystery where they come from. You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire. You build egos the size of cathedrals. Fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse. Grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green gold-plated fantasies until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own god. Where can you go from there?” — “John Milton,” from the movie The Devil’s Advocate

I’ve received some plaintive email recently, specifically inquiring why I haven’t been posting anything about matters of faith and the spirit, as I semi-regularly did at Eternity Road. The “Sunday Ruminations” there were apparently a more popular feature than I’d thought. In perfect honesty, I didn’t write them because I felt they’d be popular; I wrote them because I needed to do so. Their primary audience was myself.

(Hey, just because you don’t write hortatory essays to yourself doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the practice.)

Of course, not everyone was pleased with those pieces. Some readers were actually offended by them. I remember, from back when I started the process, one note of particular import, from an old friend who thought he knew me better than he really did. Boiled down to essentials, it said: How can you, Fran, possessor of a genius-plus IQ and a string of intellectual achievements the length of your arm, possibly believe in this completely implausible religious crap?

I wish I’d saved that email. It was a perfect demonstration of the difference between self-awareness and egotism. If its author had possessed more self-awareness, he would have penetrated to the fallacy behind it without any need for assistance. But all things in their proper course.


I’ve loved the “John Milton” quote at the top of this essay ever since I first heard it. It perfectly captures the malady that paralyzes millions of minds: those who preen themselves about being “too smart” to allow that there might be a God, that there might be actual historical truth to the New Testament, and that gratitude to God for the gift of life is a sensible and appropriate emotion. I had a brushing encounter with one such person in the pages of Eternity Road. Here’s what I wrote:

There are some smart folks in the Blogosphere, but intelligence is no substitute for either perspective or judgment, and no one is uniformly knowledgeable about all things. Nope, not even your Curmudgeon.

Hearken to Eric Raymond, supposedly a smart fellow, as he goes wildly wrong about a subject on which he’s badly misinformed:

“Surely, at worst,” they will argue, “only some kinds of faith are toxic; conveniently for us, the wrong kinds.” Harris neatly scotches that argument by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy. There is no doubt that Christian scripture tells its adherents to kill those who turn away from faith, even members of their own families. There is no doubt that Christians have behaved that way in the past; there is no doubt that Christianity only refrains from this now because most Christians have agreed to ignore inconveniently harsh passages from the Bible; and, given that the fastest-growing Christian denominations profess Biblical literalism, there is every reason to suspect that agreement is fragile and temporary. [Emphasis added by your Curmudgeon.]

This is slanderously incorrect. The Book of Deuteronomy is Old Testament, and has no relevance to the Christian New Covenant; the same applies to the bloody commands of the Book of Leviticus. The New Testament contains not one exhortation of the sort Raymond claims to exist there. More, the Founder of Christianity explicitly told His followers to love their enemies, and to do good to their persecutors. So what’s going on here?

The charitable assumption is that Raymond hasn’t read the New Testament, and in making his claim has relied solely on the statements of others as hostile to Christianity as he is. The uncharitable assumption…well, your Curmudgeon, being a Christian, is loath to make it.

And here’s what Eric S. Raymond, to whom the above refers, commented in reply:

Sorry to burst your bubble, Curmudgeon, but Harris also cites New Testament authority for the proposition that Christians are required to kill unbelievers and apostates. Gospel of John, I think; I’d report the chapter and verse Harris quotes, but I lent my copy of “The End of Faith” to a friend yesterday….

The harder you cling to your ignorance now, the stupider you’re going to look when I get my copy of “The End Of Faith” back and drop the correct cite on you.

Clue: you already look pretty stupid. I mean nothing personal in that remark, religious faith has made idiots out of better men than either of us. That’s Sam Harris’s point.

Ta ta for now. Think I’ll call my buddy Scratch and tell him I need that book back pronto…

I have no idea where Mr. Raymond got the notion that a secondary source such as Sam Harris’s The End Of Faith, itself extremely tendentious and filled with false interpretations and equivalences, constitutes evidence of anything. But one who possesses “an ego the size of a cathedral” isn’t likely to be sufficiently self-aware — or self-critical — to take note of such a thing. Nor has Mr. Raymond grown in self-awareness in the years since that exchange:

You say “natural rights flow from our Creator”?

Oh, good. Now you’ve made my liberty dependent on widespread acceptance of religious belief, which is to say delusional insanity that fails to be recognized as such only out of historical habit.

You are not doing the cause of liberty any favors with this maneuver.

Eric S. Raymond’s principal notoriety seems to arise from an essay he wrote, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” that extols the virtues of open-source software. I know of nothing else he’s done or achieved. Whatever the case, he obviously thinks himself “too smart” for religious belief…or for allowing others to maintain their “delusional” religious beliefs without whacking them across the chops for it.

Pure egotism, and a corresponding deficit in self-awareness.


Incidentally, this essay isn’t about religion, faith, atheism, or any immediate consequence of any of them. It’s about the prerequisites for being and living as a decent human being.

Foremost among the most persistent aspects of human consciousness is its centrality. That is: each of us, by nature, sees himself as the center of reality. Needless to say, that’s a personal perspective, which cannot be maintained as an objective fact, especially in the face of someone else’s assertion that he stands at the center of reality. All the same, each of us sits at the focal point of his own universe. All roads lead to us, and from us as well. Breaking free of that perspective and seeing things from someone else’s viewpoint, one of the mileposts in the attainment of maturity, is quite difficult. Ask any teenager.

Now, no one would want to spend every waking moment of his life seeing things from someone else’s viewpoint. However, the ability to do so at need is critical to living successfully in society. By successfully, I mean living happily, in a reasonable degree of contentment, and at peace with those around us. For he who cannot or will not see from the viewpoint of another will be continuously susceptible to some of the very worst faults a man can have:

  • He will be militant about his opinions and priorities, and will see others as deficient — stupid, deluded, insane, or evil — for not sharing them.
  • He will be tempted to meddle in others’ affairs “for their own good”…sometimes coercively, always destructively.
  • He will be vulnerable to flights of envy, the most corrosive of emotions.

The swollen-ego behavior of such a person renders his society uncongenial to humbler and more tolerant persons. He will find himself a victim of “Gresham’s Law of Human Relationships:” Bad company drives out good company when the two are valued equally. Presently, the only persons willing to associate with him will be those with equally swollen egos, who have all the same opinions and priorities and are equally militant about them. This is a recipe for intellectual and emotional stasis, not to mention quite a bit of strife.

I speak from personal experience.


If there’s anything about which I am perfectly certain, it’s human limitations.

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” to be sure, but we are not omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter how far we advance science and technology, there will always be things we do not know, and things we cannot do. Indeed, the heart of the scientific outlook, as Jonathan Rauch once put it, is that there are no final answers and no unquestionable authorities.

(That banging you hear in the distance is Epictetus demanding to be let in. The old coot has been screaming himself hoarse at me about the hazards of being certain about uncertainty. Apparently he made a similar mistake back when, and hates to see it repeated.)

A proper appreciation of our limitations is critical to human advancement. In particular, we must accept that, no matter how lofty an intellectual achievement appears at the time, it is forever capable of being surpassed. Imagine for a moment that in 1905 Albert Einstein, at that time merely a twenty-six-year-old postal worker, had assumed that classical mechanics should be deemed unquestionable — that his notions about relativity were inappropriate, given the disdain for such fantasies among older, respected physicists with chairs at prestigious universities. Would he have continued on to his even more consequential discoveries in thermodynamics and quantum physics?

So also with opinions about anything, including propositions for which there can never be irrefutable proof or disproof: the demesne of religion. Inasmuch as the overwhelming majority of Mankind, past and present, holds to some religious beliefs, getting along in society demands that one be amiable about differences of opinion in such matters. Pressing one’s own opinions on others as irrefutable, and insisting that their failure to accept them is proof of some intellectual or emotional deficiency, is not recommended.


Steven Goldberg, a terrific writer on a very contentious subject — the biologically determined characteristics of the two sexes of Man, and why men prevail over women in certain domains — was once asked by a lecture hall audience whether he would consider seriously any finding of evidence that contradicts his thesis. His response was immediate and positive; indeed, he called it the first obligation of an honest man of science to confront and evaluate evidence that contradicts his beliefs, and to do it at once.

Goldberg’s statement was the epitome of genuine intellectual honesty. Unfortunately, the sentiment is not universal; many, perhaps most of us take it ill when we must confront evidence that we’ve been wrong. We take it as a diminution of self: an act of vandalism against the cathedrals of our egos.

Yet the grand partition remains as it was:

  1. Propositions which can be definitively proved: Mathematics.
  2. Propositions that can be disproved but not proved: Science.
  3. Propositions that can neither be proved nor disproved: Religion.

For best happiness and widest social acceptance, it’s best to confine one’s certainties, and one’s militancy about them, to statements in Category 1. All else is subject to change without notice…and having written and reviewed these sentiments, perhaps they have some application to politics, after all.

The Stupid-Or-Evil Trilogy

Once in a great while, someone who’s emitted as much political blather as I will find that something he wrote long ago has become pertinent once again. We confront exactly that phenomenon today. Under which flimsy rationale I hereby present, as they first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason:

The Stupid-Or-Evil Trilogy

1. Stupid Or Evil?

January 6, 2004

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of the larger West Coast dailies, has printed a guest editorial by one Neal Starkman that promises to stir a lot of mud into the national political discourse. In this remarkably bilious and self-exalting piece, Mr. Starkman opines that the reason for President Bush’s generally high popularity is that Americans are stupid:

It’s not merely that some people are insufficiently intelligent to grasp the nuances of foreign policy, of constitutional law, of macroeconomics or of the variegated interplay of humans and the environment. These aren’t the people I’m referring to. The people I’m referring to cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They’re perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don’t have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all — far above all — they don’t think.

Well, it’s a step up from evil, which is left-liberals’ other explanation for conservative sympathies. But your Curmudgeon, who hasn’t encountered a liberal capable of resisting the temptation to demonize, psychologize, or denigrate conservatives in twenty years, finds it more than merely amusing.

Argument about anything is premised upon the supremacy of facts and logic, measured against a common, honorable standard of evaluation. Whether a fact is brought into play by Albert Einstein or the village idiot is supposed to make no difference. If it is verifiable and relevant, it must be admitted on an equal plane with all other facts. Whether a skein of implication is proposed by Mother Teresa or Satan, honor requires that we ignore its provenance and judge it according to its logical soundness and predictive accuracy.

Starkman, who obviously dislikes President Bush’s policies, though he never says which ones or why, would prefer that we invert that scheme and place the identities, or more precisely the allegiances, of arguers above the objective merits of their arguments. If you approve of Bush Administration policies, then by Starkman’s rubric you cannot possibly have an honorable, rationally defensible reason for doing so. You must be either stupid or evil.

What does Neal Starkman make of George Will and William F. Buckley? Of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams? Of Frank Gaffney and Victor Davis Hanson? Surely he wouldn’t call them stupid. Indeed, if we judge by the diatribe linked above, they could give him cards and spades and still beat him hollow in any contest of intellect, erudition, or eloquence. So they must be evil.

Your Curmudgeon, himself no intellectual slouch, must be evil too. Sigh. How late in life we learn these things.

Were they judged solely on their immediate soundness, Starkman’s contentions could simply be dismissed. But let’s not be hasty. If this is to be the new left-liberal paradigm for countering the arguments of conservatives — and clearly, the Post-Intelligencer thinks it worthy of consideration at the least — it has powerful implications for the immediate future, and possibly for the longer term too.

For quite some time, left-liberals have preened themselves for their moral superiority — what Thomas Sowell calls their “vision of differential rectitude” — to those who disagree with them. On the strength of that assumed superiority, they have deemed themselves exempt from the requirements for courteous persuasion, for demonstrable results, even for candid presentation of their intentions to us benighted ones. Instead, they’ve used political power of several forms to impose their preferences on the country, have retroactively revised their goals when they failed to meet the ones they originally stated, and have increasingly turned to stealth to get their way. They have disdained to stand to account for any failure, be it practical or moral. They have shielded those of their own who’ve demonstrably exploited political privilege for personal gain, though they’ve condemned the ordinary self-interest of private citizens and have done all they could to thwart it.

Today, the consequences of the highest-profile left-liberal policies have become too obvious to conceal. The tide of sentiment against them has propelled their opponents to political dominance. But increasingly often, left-liberals disdain to argue or explain. Instead, in Starkman’s fashion, they dismiss their opponents as either stupid or evil.

How many arguments would you expect to win with tactics like those? How many converts to your convictions would you reap, if you started every pitch by castigating your targets?

Though your Curmudgeon disbelieves in left-liberal doctrines, he believes strongly that they should be argued for — that men of wit and knowledge should undertake to defend them with all the logic and evidence they can muster. This is important precisely because they are opposed to the ideas of freedom, the free market, inviolable individual rights to life and property, and a system of justice founded on objective law, objective evidence, and unbending rules of procedure. We must know how to defend these things logically. If we’re never required to do that, we will forget why they’re important, and will fail to do them justice when they’re attacked by force or guile.

There is this as well: the Starkman paradigm, which accuses conservatives of sealing themselves off from facts and theses that contradict their beliefs, whether by intention or incapacity, actually puts left-liberals in far greater danger of that pitfall. It is not possible to dismiss one’s opponents as either stupid or evil, yet still grapple with their contentions in full sincerity. If we on the Right are correct and the left-liberals are wrong — it doesn’t matter about what — the left-liberals will never learn it.

It’s far better to have intelligent, well-informed opponents than stupid or ignorant ones. You have a chance of learning something from the former, and they have a chance of learning something from you. It’s far better to have opponents you respect, who respect you in equal measure, than contemptible ones who express only contempt for you. Respect is a prerequisite for every constructive form of human interaction. If not given, it cannot be returned.

2. Stupid Or Evil Redux

March 2, 2004

Your Curmudgeon’s charitable impulses — yes, yes, we all know that’s a contradiction in terms — are forever struggling against two other sets: the desire to accept what he sees at its face value, and the inclination to laugh at it. Regard the words of Neil Levy, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne:

Most people believe that we have a duty to gather evidence on both sides of central moral and political controversies, in order to fulfill our epistemic responsibilities and come to hold justified cognitive attitudes on these matters. I argue, on the contrary, that to the extent to which these controversies require special expertise, we have no such duty. We are far more likely to worsen than to improve our epistemic situation by becoming better informed on these questions. I suggest we do better to embrace the views of experts who are also morally wise. I argue that this is likely to lead to more accurate beliefs about these political and moral controversies; in any case, it will avoid the incoherence and irrationality which are the likely consequence of open-minded evidence gathering.

If you’re having trouble believing that a man who sports a Ph.D. could say such a thing, you’re not alone. But there’s worse in the kettle. Regard the following, from Cornell University professor of philosophy Benjamin Hellie:

But left- and right-wing sources are not symmetrical. The goal of the right wing is to perpetuate and worsen a system in which a small number of people control obscene quantities of wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority, whereas the goal of the left wing is to distribute wealth and power more broadly. For short, the goal of the right wing is perpetuating and increasing injustice, whereas the goal of the left wing is increasing justice.

People do not like injustice. The knowledge that injustice is being done to others offends their sense of morality; the knowledge that injustice is being done to them makes them angry and resentful. Both these emotions contribute to a desire to use the political system in order to counter injustice. So it is very helpful for the right wing to achieve its goal if the existence of injustice, and the unjust effects of the policies it endorses, can be concealed.

Providing this concealment is the role of right-wing political writers. Thus, a priori, given that injustice exists and that right-wing policies are unjust, you might expect the ample use of lies, misdirection, and sophistry from these guys. (In fact, my intimate knowledge with right-wing political writing provides ample evidence that what you might expect is exactly what you get.)

By contrast, the role of left-wing political writers is to cause people to believe that there is injustice, and that right-wing policies make it worse. Given, once again, that both these points are true, all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth.

Your Curmudgeon doesn’t normally deride the sincerely felt opinions of others. There’s no shame in differing with others, and no shame in having been wrong, provided one is willing to accept the verdict of reality once it’s delivered. However, these two gentlemen ought to hope that no one else ever reads the above statements. For what, after all, do their arguments amount to?

“You Can Trust Me,
Because I Never Lie,
And I’m Always Right.”

(Thank you, Firesign Theater, for anticipating this need.)

Hellie’s statement goes even further, in that it ascribes evil intentions to those who disagree with this self-elevated moral and political expert. Hellie counsels his readers to assume evil motives among rightist commentators. Clearly, the man isn’t concerned about making converts to his views.

In his earlier essay on this subject, your Curmudgeon wrote that leftist doctrines ought to be argued for, and that it’s in our interests that they be represented capably. But leftists of all varieties are gradually abandoning the field of argument. The two citations presented above would have been extreme outliers two or three decades ago; today, they exemplify the rhetorical preferences of the highest-profile representatives of leftist thought.

Perhaps this is the necessary consequence of Sowell’s “vision of differential rectitude.” Leftists have assumed their moral standing to be significantly above that of others. Over the century past, they’ve had to confront an avalanche of evidence that their prescriptions are less than effective; indeed, that they’re utterly unwholesome, toxic to human life and happiness. Were they not to wall the evidence irretrievably out of bounds — were they not to dismiss all arguments against their notions presumptively, as the whisperings of Satan — the earthquakes that have toppled their political edifices would topple them from their moral pedestals as well.

So they demand to have their intellectual and moral superiority deemed unchallengeable. They exhort us to subordinate our moral and political opinions to the “experts” — care to guess who those are? — and to dismiss counter-evidence and counter-argument with prejudice. They seek to sweep their opponents from the field by disqualifying us morally, before battle can be joined.

Perhaps the height of irony is Hellie’s conclusion that “all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth.” Clearly, if that were so, his demonization of us as conscious agents of injustice would be unnecessary, as would the campaigns of calumny the Left is conducting against anyone to the right of John Kerry.

From the standpoint of the freedom advocate, no development in political discourse could be more promising. Statements such as Levy’s and Hellie’s should receive all the publicity conservatives and libertarians can get them. They are self-damning.

Intelligent leftists who aren’t quite that full of themselves should note the tremors beneath their feet. It isn’t we of the Right who are causing them; it’s their nominal comrades and fellow-travelers, who are so desperate to win the field, and so appalled by the rising wave of evidence and sentiment against them, that they’ve taken to shouting moral denunciations against those who differ with them. Were they to gain power, re-education camps for us benighted ones would probably be Public Policy Priority One.

One final thought: the Levy / Hellie species of leftist is the sort that one can never persuade of anything. To such a mind, we are not respectable participants in an intellectual debate about politics, morals, and society; we are the enemy, precisely because we differ with him. Effort devoted to convincing him of anything is effort wasted. Worse, it can leave the freedom advocate weary, disheartened, and wondering why he bothers, a net loss for all concerned.

Your Curmudgeon extends his thanks to Hei Lun of Begging To Differ for the reference to the Levy article, and to Micha Ghertner of Catallarchy for the Hellie citation.

3. Stupid Or Evil: Judgment Day

May 2, 2004

Your Curmudgeon has written before — indeed, he’s done so twice — about the proclivity of the political Left for classifying its opponents as “stupid or evil.” He who possesses a mature self-regard, leavened with enough humility to allow that he could still be wrong, tends to bridle at such statements, especially when the objective evidence speaks otherwise. But the main point here is not the accuracy nor the completeness of the partition; it’s about the natural tendency of those convinced of their correctness to categorize their adversaries rather than to stick to the subject at hand.

Your Curmudgeon has a personal interest in this matter, having been intimately involved in politics for many years and in many ways. He’s seen this tendency at close range on many occasions. Indeed, he’s surrendered to it now and again himself.

Why can’t we “stick to the subject at hand?” Why are we so inclined to diagnose our opponents, rather than simply conceding their right to be wrong? Wouldn’t the latter approach go better with the concession that, as unlikely as it might seem, we might be the ones in error?

The matter comes to mind today because of two recent posts, the first by psychologist Pat Santy:

In a world where the Democratic Party leadership was anchored to reality, the debate with Republicans would be how to fight the war on terror better; and the American public would not be constantly subjected to the constant whining–by Kerry and others of his gormless ilk– about how we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq in the first place. Or the increasingly petulant demands to simply cut and run because everything is not going perfectly.

The proponents of doom and gloom in the reality-based community insist that it is Bush who is in denial (or people like me), even as they twist and turn every major victory in the war into more evidence in their own minds that we are losing. Instead of national rejoicing at the death of one of the enemy’s leaders; as we recommit ourselves to the fight, we instead witness the spectacle of Democrats pushing for surrender.

My patience with this kind of political denial, and the concomitant paranoid delusional system promulgated by the left, ended on 9/11. Their political insanity has become a threat that no rational person can afford to ignore because they put not only themselves in danger, but everyone else in this country.

Mark Alger, a Curmudgeonly favorite, provided this rejoinder:

…Pat’s diagnosis of the Left as mentally infirm is — in my not-so-very-humble opinion — itself a species of denial which refuses to impute evil motives to evil acts. We are unwilling to credit that the opposition could simply be a bad person — or civility demands that we not say so in polite company. So we try to explain away their illogic, their perfidy, their constant attacking the hull of the Lifeboat of the Nation with an auger as some kind of mental disease and accept that the evil they do as an unfortunate by-product of what — face it — isn’t really their fault.

And, nice and smart as Pat is, I have to call b******t.

We have to face facts, here, people. The Left knows exactly what it’s doing. The long-established — scorn quotes — “progressive” program for humanity has been carefully lain decades ago, its effects and by-products not only well known, but clear desiderata. Socialism isn’t an accidental byproduct of good — albeit mistaken — intentions, people; it’s the end of a long, patient, deliberate march toward exactly that goal.

There is truth in both these observations…but not the whole truth.

All human characteristics exist in a distribution. Only those that unite us as a species are anywhere near to uniformly distributed. Those that distinguish us as individuals are a different subject.

Though many traits factor into one’s relations with others, the ones most pertinent to political discourse are:

  • Percipience,
  • Intelligence,
  • Knowledge,
  • Humility.

In fact, those traits are the ones that will most strongly color one’s relations with others on any subject where men can disagree. For man of good will Smith — remember Smith? — to hold opinions with justifiable confidence, he must first perceive the world around him with some degree of accuracy. He must form applicable generalizations about how it works, and compare the predictions of his theses to the verdicts of history. Assuming his predictions are satisfied, he can vent on the subject with a moderate assurance. But he must remember always that a truly exhaustive verification of any theory is inherently impossible — that no matter how many confirmations his idea might gather, there could still be a contradiction lurking in the shadows that will bring his whole edifice crashing down around him.

When Smith confronts Jones, a dissenter to his concept, those four traits will be reinvoked:

  • “Has Jones accurately perceived the data? Is it possible that he has, but that I haven’t?”
  • “Has Jones penetrated to an implication of my idea that I failed to see? Is it possible that testing that implication might provide the counterexample that would prove me wrong?”
  • “Does Jones know more about this than I? Is he aware of a prior case where this idea was weighed in the scales of reality and found wanting?”
  • “Am I truly open to the possibility that I’ve erred, or have I made my concept into an article of faith?”

Now, in the first three of the above assessments, Smith may legitimately entertain the possibility that Jones is perceptually, intellectually, or educationally deficient. Let’s imagine that Smith does reach one of the above conclusions. What can he do about it?

  • He can present Jones with his own perceptions of the world, and invite Jones to “look where he’s pointing,” in the hope that Jones will then see what Smith has seen.
  • He can attempt to lead Jones down the trails of implication that he’s followed but Jones hasn’t.
  • He can direct Jones’s attention to sources of data on the subject with which Jones is unfamiliar.
  • He can abandon the dispute as not worth pursuing: “You have a right to your opinion.”
  • He can diagnose a flaw in Jones that has rendered him incapable of learning the facts as they really are, reasoning from them to the truth, or conceding that he’s maintained a wrong position.

Allow your Curmudgeon to be clear on one critical point: there are many flawed persons in the world. Some are quite clearly evil, insane, or irremediably mentally deficient. But not all persons who disagree with Smith will deserve to be adjudged thus. A man of good will with an adequate store of humility will refrain from reaching such a verdict until it’s beyond all reasonable doubt.

Political movements are internally heterodynamic. Different persons commit themselves to the same movement for different reasons. For some, it’s an intellectual thing: the concepts strike them as important and sound. For others, it’s an emotional response to the plight of others. For yet a third group, it’s their psyches’ cry to involve themselves in something, somehow. And for a fourth group, it’s the desire to gain and wield power.

The liberty movement, with which your Curmudgeon was once overtly involved and the majority of whose ideals he still shares, is not an exception. The power struggles at the pinnacle of such organizations as the Libertarian Party would seem completely familiar to a visitor from a more conventional group such as the Democrats or the Republicans. But wandering through the ranks, one can easily find representatives of the other three motivational clusters: those intellectually excited by the ideas of individual freedom; those whose hearts ache for all the oppressed of the world; and those who desperately need to be involved in something, lest their lives lack all “meaning.” These orientations and their intensities are distributed non-uniformly throughout the human species, a condition likely to persist until the Second Coming.

Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, in his book The Road To Serfdom, observed in a striking chapter titled “Why The Worst Get On Top” that the drive for power, and the subordination of all other priorities to it, is a critical advantage in the quest for organizational altitude and the authority over others that accompanies it. Leo Tolstoy phrased the matter even more succinctly:

In order to obtain and hold power, a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, cunning, and cruelty.

Thus, we may expect to find evil men — those interested solely in power over others — disproportionately represented near the pinnacle of a political movement, where strategies are formulated, tactics are dictated, and the fruits of victory are carved up for distribution. But by inescapable implication, we will find evil men to be under-represented among the rank and file. Those well separated from the pinnacle, however wrong we might think them, are more likely to be moved by some “wholesome” (according to their lights) desire.

Yes, some will be certifiable — but how many? Aren’t genuinely delusional persons fairly rare in the common run of Man? While they might concentrate to a greater degree in extreme movements, ought we not to exercise restraint about such a diagnosis, as long as they exhibit the fundamental survival traits that constitute basic self-sufficiency?

This subject is inexhaustible. It touches on sanity, epistemology, virtue, and matters of good and evil, all of which are conceptual candle flames to this Curmudgeonly moth. But one must end an essay somewhere, and the time is drawing near when your Curmudgeon must mount his Cub Cadet 1022 and attack the Vietnam simulation his lawn has become.

Enlightened self-interest would dictate that one strive to look as far ahead for the consequences of one’s actions as his intellect and knowledge will permit. Indeed, one of the great faults of the Left has been an unwillingness to peer forward thus. But we of the Right are just as susceptible to the temptation, and in no direction more hazardously than this: we are becoming all too prone to demonizing our opponents wholesale, as they have done to us for lo! these many moons.

Your Curmudgeon is no angel made flesh. He’s done it too.

Let us concede that among our adversaries there are evil, delusional, and mentally and educationally deficient persons. But let us also concede that the great majority are not of those stripes, that we have among us a scattering just as flawed, and that the political discourse would best be served by assuming benevolence and competence in our debating partners as long as humanly possible. After all, to adjudge others as flawed beyond repair is, among other things, a self-exculpation for failing to carry the day. That alone ought to make us suspicious of our own motives for doing it.

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my ruling speaks. — Hamlet, Act III, scene iv.

The Helix

[Inasmuch as I just recently had a most striking reminder of the power of prayer, it seems appropriate that I reprise the following article, which first appeared at Eternity Road on April 2, 2006.]

C. S. Lewis has proposed that the human tastes for constancy and novelty are best conjoined — that they are intended to be mingled in a particular way:

The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, The Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty, yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before. [From the Screwtape Letters]

The above strikes me as Divine inspiration speaking through the mouth of a man. Yet there is another element for our consideration, which Lewis’s passage does not address. A cycle may have change built into it in more than one way. The one Lewis illuminates is only the most obvious. Another, subtler mechanism for cyclic change is built into all of us at a level beneath anything we can control, for which reason it’s often overlooked. Indeed, from time to time it’s been the fashion to deny it.

The Christian world is swiftly moving through the Lenten season, one of the four major demarcations of the Christian liturgical year. Each of those seasons has a pervading theme, which Christians are exhorted to ponder as the season progresses. The themes never change. The liturgical year, based on the events of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is itself a constant. The shifts from one season to the next are as regular as the stars in their courses.

That regularity and constancy of theme has caused some to scoff at the meaninglessness of such a formalism. Of course, there are many who scoff at all formalism as empty and pointless. A thing that does not change, they contend, cannot possibly imbed meaning or value for an intelligent person. By such an argument, Christian rituals would be complete wastes of time.

To which this writer would reply with his First Carbohydrate Aphorism:

“Keep thine eye upon the doughnut, lest thou pass all unawares through the hole.”

Yes, Christian rituals are highly constant in form and theme. Yes, they repeat with extreme regularity in time. But one ought to look carefully at such things before running off at the mouth. In particular, one ought to exhibit a trace of humility about one’s outside-observer’s position:

“If I, an outsider, am correct in thinking that what I observe is pointless, does it not imply that the persons who voluntarily participate in it must necessarily be idiots? Were I to find non-idiots among them and (gasp!) ask what sustenance they draw from these endlessly repeated forms, what might they say?”

This question apparently does not occur to many of those who deride the Church.

Formalisms and rituals have several known effects upon the mind. They’re calming, promote peace and order among their participants, and provide a form of psychic refreshment unavailable from informal activities. We seem to realize that unconsciously; much of life consists of regularities practiced for no other reason than regularity itself. Ask yourself: wouldn’t it make more sense to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy, rather than to set to these things at particular times of day? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work when charged with energy and to cease when exhausted or demotivated than to set out for the workplace at a set time each morning and to leave it at a set time each evening?

Nevertheless, we formalize and regularize those things, not merely because our intercourse with others benefits from the imposition of order, but because they structure our days in a beneficent fashion that assists us in maintaining our composure. We know, broadly, what to expect. We know what will be expected of us, and therefore, upon what conditions we’ll be able to say we’re done with our current tasks and may move on to what comes next. The regularity of our days reassures and soothes us.

Social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively on “the flow experience:” the mode of consciousness in which men experience their greatest inner harmony, productivity, and satisfaction. The majority of such experiences exhibit a great regularity: they’re repetitions of deeds done many times, that will be repeated many times more in days to come. Yet how could one call them empty or pointless, when they clearly create satisfaction, peace, and even joy in their practitioners? Even the least productive ritual that induces such things would seem completely self-justifying, unless satisfaction, peace, and joy are themselves ruled out of the evaluation.

Nor are we finished. For though the forms might be invariant, the practitioners are not. He who looks at a ritual and dismisses it for its changelessness neglects to consider its critical element, which cannot be insulated from change and is the ultimate point of the whole affair: the participant himself.

A formalism with spiritual content has the twin benefits of reminding the participant of its themes and stimulating him to ponder their relevance to his own life. In this sense, the form simultaneously channels the participant’s thoughts while it frees him to apply the theme creatively to his personal circumstances. Not only in engineering is form a source of liberation.

This is particularly true as regards Christian observances. My two favorites, the Mass and the Rosary, are heavily stylized in practice, yet uniquely stimulating and liberating when approached with an open mind and an accepting heart.

The Mass varies little from week to week. The order of the sub-ceremonies remains the same, the prayers themselves vary little, and of course at the center of it all is the Miracle of Transubstantiation, the recreation for contemporary worshippers of the event, two thousand years ago, when the Son of God, in offering Himself as a Sacrifice for the benefit of Man, sealed God’s New Covenant with the world for all the time that remains.

The Rosary is even more constant. The prayers themselves never vary; one prayer is repeated ten times per decade and fifty times per day. The twenty Mysteries, through which one rotates over the course of the week, are also unchanging. Many devotees of the Rosary pray it at exactly the same time, in exactly the same place, every day of their lives, further reinforcing the regularities of the event.

But they who give themselves fully to these celebrations of love and worship grow with each repetition. Indeed, the repetition itself, even if indulged tentatively and in a spirit of doubt, will draw the participant ever deeper into the spiritual themes imbedded in each prayer. It takes an actual effort of resistance, and a strong one at that, to deny oneself the lightening of heart and enlargement of soul they confer.

In other words, prayer changes him who prays; the prayer itself stays constant.

In reviewing the above, it strikes me that I might be accused of having made ritual prayer sound like a panacea. Nothing could be further from my intent. Life offers each of us many problems, both temporal and spiritual. One cannot solve them all through prayer; it would be arrogant to imagine that one could.

But given the many aspects of the life journey that try one’s soul to its stops, that leave the traveler exhausted and desperate for surcease, isn’t it marvelous that a balm as soothing and costless as ritual prayer is available to us?

The cycles of ritual do change somewhat over time. The Mass I love is not the same Mass I celebrated as a boy. It’s even further distant from the Mass celebrated by the Christians of the earliest centuries after Christ. The Rosary, though its major elements are what they’ve always been, has been altered over the years to include new opening and closing prayers. Pope John Paul II himself decreed that the original fifteen Mysteries — the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious pentads — should be expanded to accommodate an additional pentad: the Luminous Mysteries, which commemorate the five major mileposts in Christ’s time of ministry. Other Christian ceremonies have also been altered in gentle, nondestructive ways, always with an eye to strengthening their binding to the themes they express, and deepening their spiritual effects upon those who partake of them.

And Christians who partake of them grow thereby. The cycle of Christian rituals and observances is only flat and unchanging when viewed two-dimensionally, as a set of practices that stand apart from those who practice them. For Christian worship is not two-dimensional, but three: a rising helix of souls striving, through their forms and the meditation they elicit, to an ever better understanding of God’s Will, and an ever greater appreciation of His Love.

May God bless and keep you all.

The Food Chain

We who believe often speak of the need to “grow in faith.” I’ve never been certain exactly what that means. But as time has passed, my own faith has become ever more important to me: not as a comfort against the certainty of bodily death, and not as some sort of confirmation of my own superiority, but rather as a unifying set of premises that allow the universe, and human life within it, to make sense.

This is critical for one overriding reason: the incoherence of every other religion Man has ever practiced with the observable laws of Nature in action around us.

Today being Corpus Christi Sunday — a holy day celebrated much more enthusiastically and demonstrably in Latin countries than in us of the AngloSphere — allow me to reprise an old favorite from Eternity Road.

The most fundamental of all relations among living things is the food relation. For any two species, which one can eat the other, either in theory or in practice, determines just about everything else about their interactions.

This might seem a little fuzzy in certain cases. Beyond question, a dog can kill and eat a man. The same is true for the Portuguese Man O’ War. But how often does it happen? Yet there are millions of people in various parts of the world for whom dog or jellyfish is a regular part of their diets. (You can stop shuddering now.) In the usual case, Man is considered the eater and these other species the eaten.

Thus, a brief exploration of the food chain.

Man has been an eater for a lot longer than he’s been a builder of civilizations. His career as a hunter has established him as the world champion at that contest. His development of systematic agriculture demonstrated that his hegemony extends equally well to the plant kingdom. By all measures, he’s at the pinnacle of the food chain. He eats whatever he wishes, and only in the rarest of cases does any other species eat him.

The centrality of food relations to Earth’s biosystem is so obvious that we’re all but unaware of it. Two of the more significant but less frequently pondered manifestations of the thing can be found in our nightmares and our rites of worship and propitiation.

Almost as soon as men began to compose tales for one another’s entertainment, they invented creatures with power to hunt, kill, and eat human beings. Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves are items of fantasy, traditional terrors that have been invoked in horror tales for many centuries. Yet what is it that makes them so terrifying? Not that they can kill men, for far lesser creatures can do that, if they get the breaks. No, their ability to frighten comes from their greater-than-human hunting ability, and their view of men as food.

There’s nothing that terrifies like the prospect of being eaten. Men have gone into battle against other men under conditions that virtually guaranteed their deaths, yet they’ve often gone willingly, sometimes even eagerly. They still do. But no man can face the prospect of becoming an entree for a greater creature without quaking in fear.

Mess with a man’s assumptions about the food chain and you upend his whole concept of himself as a man.

On the other side, there are human practices with relation to their concepts of divinity. Divinities — gods — are by definition superior to men. Yet their participation in the life of Man is not categorically predatory, even in those creeds which place evil gods on an equal par with good ones, and see the history of the world as a struggle between equally matched forces of light and darkness in which humans are less than pawns. In our attempts to win the favor of the gods, and on occasion to avert their wrath, men have traditionally offered sacrifices to them. Those sacrifices have almost always been food.

Contemplate the nature of ritual sacrifice for a moment. What’s offered to the god being propitiated is something valuable to men: creatures men had to hunt or cultivate, whose substance could nourish and sustain human life. Yet it is deliberately removed from the human economy, usually by burning, in the attempt to convey to the god the sense that we acknowledge his superiority to us. By denying themselves the consumption of the offered food and instead offering it to the god, the sacrificers make plain that they submit themselves to him. Metaphorically, the sacrificed items are substitutes for human bodies: pleadings that the shamans and their congregants not be eaten.

The Biblical story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham’s readiness to obey, is terrifying and exalting for that reason. On the one hand, the God of the Old Testament was not perceived even by His Chosen People, of whom Abraham was the progenitor, as being so intrinsically kindly disposed toward Man that He would never, ever demand such a sacrifice. Moreover, His power was such that there was no question that He could enforce His will in such a matter, and much worse besides. On the other hand, God intervened at the last instant to prevent the sacrifice, having established to His satisfaction that Abraham submitted entirely to His will. Thus, the pact between God and the children of Abraham — the Jewish people — was sealed as one of guidance and beneficence from above in exchange for worship and obedience from below. God did not intend to eat His people.


Clearly, the food relation is a superiority / inferiority relation. He who eats is the stronger, who can have his will in all things. He who is eaten is the weaker, who must prostrate himself before the other in the hope of benevolence or mercy.

Men, the highest of the creatures of this world, do not eat one another, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. Those micro-societies that have practiced cannibalism have extinguished themselves thereby — there are some very nasty diseases, with fatality rates approaching 100%, that arise from cannibalism — or have been humbled and re-educated by more civilized, more insightful peoples. We have attained enough insight into moral matters, and most particularly into the fundamental equality of rights all men should enjoy, to regard cannibalism with appropriate horror.

But we still tell, and shudder over, stories of powerful, inhuman creatures that hunger for human flesh and blood. Vampire legends make up a healthy fraction of our fantastic literature. When we figure in the werewolf, the ghoul, and the occasional extraterrestrial who regards us as haute cuisine, we’ve covered the overwhelming majority of our scare stories. That’s how fundamental the food relation is to our view of our place in the natural world.

There aren’t many religious sects in the modern world that still practice the old form of ritual sacrifice, in which a food item — usually an animal — is offered up to a god in hopes of winning his favor or pardon. The devotees of Santeria do it, now and then, as do the practitioners of voudoun. But these are meager survivals of old, animistic-pagan creeds. Their adherents are few and will probably never be many.

However, a form of sacrifice still characterizes the most important religious rite in the world. Its devotees number in the billions. They partake of this sacrifice at every opportunity; to them, it is the highest a living man can rise in communion with God. And most curiously of all, it is a bidirectional sacrifice, the only such ever celebrated in all the eons of Man.

I speak, of course, of the Miracle of Transubstantiation in the Christian Eucharist.

In the days of Christ, the ritual sacrifice of food animals at the Temple in Jerusalem was still the preeminent religious rite in the classical world. The Hebrews regarded those sacrifices as God’s due for extending His protection over them as His Chosen People. Indeed, according to the Book of Exodus, such sacrifices were ordained by God Himself, as He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. The Jews of that time considered them the only truly complete act of religious devotion.

Christ upended their world by inverting the food chain. No more would they give up their sustenance in propitiation of the divine will. Henceforward, it would be the other way around: the Son of God would be the Sacrifice, and His people would partake.

From the Gospel According To John:

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” [John 6:48-58]

The rite of the Eucharist, in commemoration of the Last Supper, offers bread and wine to God and prays that they might be found acceptable. In response to this humble offering, and in fulfillment of Christ’s promise, through the celebrant-priest He works the Transubstantiation, which allows the form of the bread and wine to remain as they are, but converts their substance into the body and blood of Christ. At each Mass, a traditional sacrifice of food to God is met with a renewal of the offering of Christ’s body and blood to the world, for the remission of sin and as a perpetual grant of His grace to all who will accept it.

No other creed has anything to compare with the Eucharist. Nor could any conceivable rite, however elaborately crusted with mystery or symbolism, approach the stunning power of God Himself, in the Person of His Son, offering Himself as food to lowly Man.

He could eat us all. Instead He offers Himself as food, that we may remember His Sacrifice for us, and draw as close to Him as mortal creatures can get while still in this world.

Today is the Sunday ordained for the celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Sacrifice beyond all others, that no offering by mortal men could ever equal. The proof that the food chain is not God’s manacle about our hands. The unanswerable refutation of those who insist that a malevolent power bestrides the universe. The ironclad guarantee that we are not to be eaten, but to be fed.

And may God bless and keep you all.

King Cash

There are mornings when every columnist must feel he faces an embarrassment of riches. For me, this is one such.

Telling of his recent sailing vacation around the coasts of Italy, Michael Ledeen reports thus:

The spring weather has been unusually unpleasant, which no doubt accounts for at least part of the problem, but this lovely part of the world has long attracted lots of visitors regardless of the temperature. Most of the merchants I talked to blame the Treasury Police, whose numbers have increased as the tourists’ have dropped. The Guardia di Finanza have huge powers to snoop, and they have taken to boarding yachts and asking all manner of questions of those on board: Do you own this? If not, from whom did you rent it? How much are you paying? How are you paying? Which credit card did you use (remember, you cannot pay in cash for anything more than a thousand euros)? And so forth. So when I hear European leaders carry on about stimulating “growth,” I’m not very sympathetic. All over the continent, state organizations like the Guardia di Finanza are showing their citizens that the most important thing is tax collection, not freedom to create new wealth.

You hear stories every day that show how avid our governments are to get their hands on our money. I was talking to an American friend who married an Italian about 40 years ago, stayed married, got dual citizenship, and is now being asked by the Italian government to tell all about what she owns in the U.S., and by the American government to tell all about what she owns in Italy. We all know this is part of the scheme to get her money into the government coffers. Two coffers in this case.

But then, Italy is famous for the adversary relationship between its government and its people. Its “invisible towns,” where citizens and companies labor and prosper in artful concealment from government recognition and attention, have been irregularly famous. The citizenry’s tolerance of organized crime is part and parcel of the opposition between Italian Man and the Italian State.

In George Will’s most recent column, we read of the following:

Russ Caswell, 68, is bewildered: “What country are we in?” He and his wife, Pat, are ensnared in a Kafkaesque nightmare unfolding in Orwellian language. This town’s police department is conniving with the federal government to circumvent Massachusetts law — which is less permissive than federal law — to seize his livelihood and retirement asset. In the lawsuit titled United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the government is suing an inanimate object, the motel Caswell’s father built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime.

Radley Balko has another tidbit along these lines:

When the Brown County, Wis., Drug Task Force arrested her son Joel last February, Beverly Greer started piecing together his bail. She used part of her disability payment and her tax return. Joel Greer’s wife also chipped in, as did his brother and two sisters. On Feb. 29, a judge set Greer’s bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. “The police specifically told us to bring cash,” Greer says. “Not a cashier’s check or a credit card. They said cash.” So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she’d be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son. Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers’ cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills — and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money.

Finally, we have this outrageous report from Tennessee:

“You live in the United States, you think you have rights — and apparently you don’t,” said George Reby.

As a professional insurance adjuster, Reby spends a lot of time traveling from state to state. But it was on a trip to a conference in Nashville last January that he got a real education in Tennessee justice.

“I never had any clue that they thought they could take my money legally,” Reby added. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Reby was driving down Interstate 40, heading west through Putnam County, when he was stopped for speeding.

A Monterey police officer wanted to know if he was carrying any large amounts of cash.
“I said, ‘Around $20,000,'” he recalled. “Then, at the point, he said, ‘Do you mind if I search your vehicle?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t mind.’ I certainly didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong. It was my money.”

That’s when Officer Larry Bates confiscated the cash based on his suspicion that it was drug money.

“Why didn’t you arrest him?” we asked Bates.

“Because he hadn’t committed a criminal [act],” the officer answered.

Truly, “policing for profit” has made it to the shores of these United States.

* * *

The evidence is more than adequate to conclude firmly that America is in a state of civil war. The combatants are its government(s) and its citizenry — the State on one side, and the people on the other.

Governments are inherently rapacious entities. Their hunger for power and money knows no natural bounds. That’s because they’re staffed and operated by people — the sort of people who like the idea of using State power to seize others’ property and deprive them of their freedom.

A naive notion has been making the rounds for quite some time: that if Americans would just wake up to what’s being done to us by our own governments, we’d “turn the rascals out” and put honest men in their place. In a sense, that’s what we strive to do every two years at the ballot box.

It hasn’t worked out terribly well, has it?

The Founding Fathers believed that Americans, aware of their sovereignty and the importance of the franchise, would elevate only men of high principles and good character to public office. To hedge against the possibility that they were wrong about that, they built numerous “checks and balances” into the republican system: organizational and procedural brakes that could reasonably be expected to slow a possible descent into tyranny. But the efficacy of those brakes, tragically, depended on the willingness of the men at the levers to invoke them. Once they’d been corrupted, and a system installed to prevent them from being replaced by anyone not similarly minded, the “checks and balances” scheme failed of its objectives.

When one faces a predatory entity which one cannot deter or reason with, only two alternatives remain: fight and flight. Americans by and large are not prepared, materially or emotionally, to fight the State that oppresses us. Neither do we put much stock in a change of the hegemony from Left to Right. So we seek to elude it…evade it…hide from it. We strive to “go underground:” to conceal our doings to the maximum possible extent. In that undertaking, the critical material commodity, the sine qua non that makes enterprise, commerce, and cooperation possible, is cash. Cash, as they say, is king.

And so the State seeks to eliminate cash.

* * *

Cash, functionally speaking, is any commodity which need not rely upon a government to achieve acceptance as a medium of exchange. There have been many forms of cash throughout history. In America alone, tobacco, buckskins, liquor, seed corn, copper, silver, and gold have been widely used as cash. Note the fundamental similarity among these things: They all have value apart from their acceptance as a medium of exchange.

Today we use the term “cash” loosely, mainly to refer to Federal Reserve Notes bearing the legend “legal tender.” But Federal Reserve Notes are not cash functionally. If the legal tender law had never been passed, no one would have accepted irredeemable paper notes on an equal basis with the precious metals. Americans had to be forced by a Federal edict to surrender their gold and accept paper in exchange. (Prying the silver out of our hands took longer, but was easier of accomplishment.)

All the same, say “cash” to a hundred persons and ninety or more of them will assume you mean Federal Reserve Notes. Most people who demand cash for their wares are perfectly happy to accept those notes. Therefore, please include them in the enveloping category of cash while reading what follows.

* * *

You’re probably aware that cash deposits and withdrawals at the bank, over a certain threshold, are reported to the Internal Revenue Service. The original threshold was $10,000. Recently it was lowered to $5,000. The rationale, of course, is the War on Terror. You’re probably aware that the civil asset forfeiture laws, under which three of the horror stories in the first segment were perpetrated, once required that the person whose assets were seized had to be (at minimum) accused of a drug-related crime. No longer: now all that’s required is “suspicion.” And you’re probably aware that over 90% of the Federal Reserve Notes in circulation today test positive for traces of cocaine. Not too hard to derive “suspicion” from a $20 with a trace of coke on it, eh?

It’s getting ever harder, less private, and more hazardous to deal in Federal Reserve Notes. We’re being unsubtly nudged toward the use of noncash techniques — mainly bank instruments and Electronic Funds Transfers — for our routine dealings. Inasmuch as that concentrates the State’s targets for snooping and predation, it suits our political masters very well.

But cash alternatives remain. Many barter clubs have moved toward the use of privately coined (i.e., non-U.S. Mint) silver rounds as a medium of exchange. Very large transactions are sometimes conducted in gold. And of course, “traditional” barter, in which goods or services are exchanged directly for one another, remains a viable technique.

Don’t think our political masters are unaware of this. Don’t think they’re not planning a counterstroke. Cash is their enemy. The rapid replacement of older Federal Reserve Notes with notes bearing magnetically encoded strips — strips that can be re-encoded as they pass through a metering instrument, thus recording their histories internally for later perusal — should make clear how badly they want to eliminate cash.

I have yet to hear of a motorist being stopped and deprived of his gold or silver rounds, but I don’t expect to have to wait much longer.

* * *

Under current circumstances, the advantage of the free citizen, if he has one, lies in his mobility and maneuverability. Governments cannot act as swiftly as individuals and small associations thereof. But they can sense a threat to their agendas and act against it; therefore, the free citizen determined to remain free must always be flexed to move in a direction the State has not anticipated.

The peril of cash is a paramount subject for such flexibility.

Do not expect that much more time will pass before Washington writes “laws” constraining the possession and sale of the precious metals. Indeed, should Obama hold the White House in November, that time could be upon us quite soon. Those of us who hold significant portions of our savings in those media must be flexed and ready to elude any tightening of the State’s grip.

Today cash is king…and forever uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. But there’s another saying of some importance, particularly to a society of well-armed men whose patience with the State’s voracity is almost gone:

“So you plan to shoot at the King? A word of advice: Don’t miss.” — Author unknown.

The Naked Face Of The Enemy

I’ve considered long and hard. I’ve agonized. I’ve cast about for alternatives until all the skin has worn off my fingers. I’ve repeatedly refused to accept the implications of what my senses repeatedly told me. I simply can’t do it any longer. The evidence is overwhelming.

America is currently in a state of civil war, and has been for some time.

It’s not a conventional, easily recognized, flying-lead sort of war. That’s what makes it so deadly. That’s why the Right must win it. Should we lose, the carnage will be unimaginable.

I can practically hear what you’re thinking: “Porretto has finally flipped his wig.” Perhaps I have. That’s always a possibility. As the saying goes, there’s a fine line between genius and madness. But perhaps I’m right…and perhaps you’ve inhabited the same State of Denial in which I hid from reality for so very long.

We shall see.

* * *

I have several citations this morning. They don’t stand alone. Indeed, none of them, in the absence of much other evidence would be significant at all. That’s part of what makes the ongoing hostilities so lethal: it takes a perspective both wide and deep to grasp the pattern.

The first is from the esteemed Mark Alger:

…Police and Fire are the primary fiduciary responsibilities of government. They should be budgeted first and cut last.

An official was quoted as saying that the citizens he’d talked to didn’t want to raise taxes to “pay for the fire department.” How much you wanna bet he never heard any of them say, “… until you quit wasting taxpayer money on massage parlors and sweetheart deals for your brother-in-law.”


Step into my office. I’ve just heard about this bridge…

Here lately, Teh Won has been on the stump (How is it proper for a government official to campaign for particular policies?) trying to persuade us that, if Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit (How does that make sense?), we’re going to lose [insert laundry list of sacred cows]. Bridges, roads, armies — the latter day version of teachers, cops, firemen.

Saying nothing about bank bailouts, green energy boondoggles, union payoffs, CAGW scams, ACORN, and the rest of the treasury-looting going on…


No. What we want to do is bit-flip the selected duties of government which we are going to fund. We’re going to start with your charter, fiduciary responsibilities, like protect the borders, run the courts, maintain the roads, deliver the mail. The rest of that crap can hold a bake sale.

The tactic employed by the unnamed official (and by Barack Hussein Obama) has a long and dishonorable history. It’s called the Washington Monument Defense. It hearkens back to an incident in which, when Congress dared to reduce the rate of increase of the budget for the operation of the District of Columbia, the city’s lower levels of government immediately retaliated by closing down Washington’s most popular tourist attractions — that is, by denying non-residents access to the only features of the city they really enjoy and value. The outcry was so sharp that Congress immediately restored the full amount the bureaucracy had demanded.

Like other items with the WMD acronym, the Washington Monument Defense can bring an opponent to heel with no more than a suggestion. Consider, if you will, this passage from William E. Simon’s A Time For Truth, about the 1975-1976 New York City budget crisis:

When informed that cuts in jobs and in pay were inevitable, the municipal unions ran amok. It is only fair to say that Mayor Beame’s cuts in the summer of 1975, under the supervision of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC), were deliberately inflammatory. They were calculated for the purpose of “proving” that the city needed state and federal aid. Beame dismissed nearly 5000 policemen and more than 2000 firemen (closing twenty-six firehouses) and fired nearly 3000 of the city’s 10,000 sanitation workers. The unions understood that this was an act of political blackmail. In June 1975 the firemen’s and policemen’s unions published a four page leaflet which they distributed to tourists. Titled “Welcome to Fear City,” with a lurid skeleton’s head on the cover, the pamphlet advised visitors to New York to stay indoors after 6 P.M., avoid public transportation, and, “until things change, stay away from New York if you possibly can.” In July the sanitation workers went on strike. They threatened to turn “Fear City” into “Stink City” and shouted from picket lines, “Wait till the rats come!”

Anyone familiar with New York City’s monstrously bloated government — no less so in the Seventies than today — will realize at once that Beame and the aforementioned unions were playing the Washington Monument Defense. It worked, by the way.

* * *

The thrust of the Washington Monument Defense is obvious: Punish the citizenry for not conceding what the government has demanded. The original incident merely angered tourists to Washington, D.C. More recent invocations of the Defense have struck directly at the legitimate and proper functions of a government: defending the citizen against predation and maintaining peace and order in public places. Mark Alger’s piece above describes the dynamics of such incidents beautifully.

The attitude that gives rise to the Defense is one that divides the nation into “us” and “them.” The inside or “us” group is composed of those who regard their positions in government, or as beneficiaries of government, as theirs by right and not to be challenged or questioned. The outside or “them” group, against whom the Defense is wielded, is composed of everyone else — i.e., those of us who are compelled by threat of punishment to pay for the State’s activities. The Defense itself actuates the threat, albeit not in the conventional manner of indictment, trial, and imprisonment or expropriation.

Before I press onward, ask yourself: What makes the Defense possible? That is: what combination of circumstances and cessions produces a state of affairs in which the insiders — government functionaries (elected, appointed, or hired) — can deprive us on the outside — private citizens under a nominal regime of self-sufficiency — of the protections of life and property?

I’ll return to this.

* * *

The Washington Monument Defense isn’t the one and only weapon in the State’s arsenal, but it does outline the mindset of those inside the “us” group:

If you’re not one of us, you’re the enemy. Any promises we might have made to you are not binding upon us. Our aim is to bring you to heel.

Of course, the candor of that implication doesn’t entirely serve the “us” group. Insiders would generally prefer to maintain the facade of “service” — i.e., that they’re merely dedicated public servants straining to do their duties despite the obstinacy of the “them” group about providing what they “need.” Toward that end they’ll lie so baldfacedly as to create new low-watermarks in the annals of public deceit.

But there are lies and lies. Some lies are easier than others to establish and perpetuate. Take as an example the lie that labor laws, by which Washington can descend on a firm for not having hired enough Negroes, or cripples, or brain-damaged welders of Moldovian descent, actually serve the interests of those of us who work for a living. Or the lie that the many “affirmative action” (i.e., preferential treatment by race, sex, and ethnicity) laws truly improve the prospects of minorities and the character of the American workplace.

Let it be said at once that such intrusions into properly private relationships do nothing to help their supposed beneficiaries, but rather do them a great deal of harm. The statistics speak unequivocally on this point. Indeed, the apartheid regime of pre-Mandela South Africa was brought into existence in part by the imposition of minimum-wage laws; high-ranking members of the National Party admitted that they knew what result would come of them, and steered deliberately toward it. But for a member of the “them” group to speak openly about such effects is to court counterfire of the most devastating sort.

Which brings me to my second citation: a thirty-year-old essay by the great Thomas Sowell:

In the movie, Absence of Malice, lives are damaged and even destroyed by irresponsible reporting — and the law offers no real protection. In real life as well, the most damaging, unsupported, and inaccurate statements about an individual can be written and broadcast coast to coast, without the law’s offering any meaningful recourse. Judges have so watered down the laws on slander and libel that only in special cases can you nail those who are being irresponsible, vindictive, or even outright liars.

I know. As one who has taken controversial stands on various issues, I have been the target of a smear campaign for more than a year. Demonstrably false statements have been made about me in the media and positions attributed to me that are the direct opposite of what I have said for years in my own published writings. And yet a lawsuit would probably do nothing but waste months of my time, at the end of which the smear artists could slip out through one of the many loopholes — and proclaim themselves vindicated and their charges substantiated.

[Applause to Mike Hendrix of Cold Fury for digging up this stunning piece.]

The entire essay is invaluable. It should be read and digested by every American with an interest in the consequences of supposedly well-intentioned public policies. Nor is Dr. Sowell, one of the nation’s strongest and clearest voices for limited government, the only target the “us” group has attacked.

(An aside: In For The Defense, the second of F. Lee Bailey’s legal autobiographies, he narrates the legal ordeal of Captain Ernest Medina, one of the officers accused of perpetrating the My Lai butchery. A telling passage in that tale concerns Time magazine’s slanders against Captain Medina as he awaited trial, for which Bailey and Medina sued under the libel statutes. Time escaped the judgment by claiming, successfully, that Medina was a “public figure,” and thus fair game for anything, by virtue of Time’s own efforts to that effect. Enjoy the irony.)

To give the lie to an “us” group’s representations is, in the minds of the “us” group, a declaration of war — and they believe in total war, in which no weapon and no tactic are off limits. Their entire cadre of hangers-on in the communications trades will mobilize at once to destroy the target. The truth or falsity of their chosen shafts is never under consideration. Victory — the silencing of the dangerous “them” voice — is all that matters.

Compare that behavior to what totalitarian regimes have done to dissenters. Americans of the “them” persuasion aren’t yet in fear for our lives, but it needn’t remain so forever.

* * *

Some years ago, back at Eternity Road of late, lamented memory, I posted the following:

Just a few days ago was the first anniversary of the judicially sanctioned torture-murder of Terri Schindler-Schiavo by her soi-disant husband, Michael Schiavo. During that gruesome process, your Curmudgeon penned a cri de coeur that, had he had his druthers, would have been read by every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth.

To cut to the chase: it wasn’t. At least, it wasn’t taken to heart.

On March 2, 3, and 4 of this year, the Texas Academy of Sciences held its annual conclave, at which it awarded a certain Eric Pianka, a biologist at the University of Texas, with its Distinguished Texas Scientist Award. Whatever Dr. Pianka’s achievements as a researcher or educator might be, they were overshadowed, for the moment at least, by his proposition that 90% of the human race must die:

“Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine,” Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward’s University on Friday. Pianka’s words are part of what he calls his “doomsday talk” — a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity’s ecological misdeeds and Pianka’s predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.

Though his statements are admittedly bold, he’s not without abundant advocates. But what may set this revered biologist apart from other doomsday soothsayers is this: Humanity’s collapse is a notion he embraces.

Indeed, his words deal, very literally, on a life-and-death scale, yet he smiles and jokes candidly throughout the lecture. Disseminating a message many would call morbid, Pianka’s warnings are centered upon awareness rather than fear.

“This is really an exciting time,” he said Friday amid warnings of apocalypse, destruction and disease. Only minutes earlier he declared, “Death. This is what awaits us all. Death.” Reflecting on the so-called Ancient Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times,” he wore, surprisingly, a smile.

So what’s at the heart of Pianka’s claim?

6.5 billion humans is too many.

In his estimation, “We’ve grown fat, apathetic and miserable,” all the while leaving the planet parched.

The solution?

A 90 percent reduction.

That’s 5.8 billion lives — lives he says are turning the planet into “fat, human biomass.” He points to an 85 percent swell in the population during the last 25 years and insists civilization is on the brink of its downfall — likely at the hand of widespread disease.

“[Disease] will control the scourge of humanity,” Pianka said. “We’re looking forward to a huge collapse.”

Let’s get one thing straight before we proceed: Anyone who agrees with Dr. Pianka had better keep his hands where your Curmudgeon can see them.

An attitude like Pianka’s can only come from an ivory tower. One must be utterly isolated from real life and real people to contemplate their extinction with such cheerful equanimity. Yet according to the linked story, Pianka is well supplied with admirers and acolytes:

Most of Pianka’s former students are bursting with praise. Their in-class evaluations celebrate his ideas with words like “the most incredible class I ever had” and “Pianka is a GOD!”

Mims counters their ovation with the story of a Texas Lutheran University student who attended the Academy of Science lecture. Brenna McConnell, a biology senior, said she and others in the audience “had not thought seriously about overpopulation issues and a feasible solution prior to the meeting.” But though McConnell arrived at the event with little to say on the issue, she returned to Seguin with a whole new outlook.

An entry to her online blog captures her initial response to what’s become a new conviction:

“[Pianka is] a radical thinker, that one!” she wrote. “I mean, he’s basically advocating for the death for all but 10 percent of the current population. And at the risk of sounding just as radical, I think he’s right.”

Today, she maintains the Earth is in dire straits. And though she’s decided Ebola isn’t the answer, she’s still considering other deadly viruses that might take its place in the equation.

“Maybe I just see the virus as inevitable because it’s the easiest answer to this problem of overpopulation,” she said.

Of course, “this problem of overpopulation” is a completely impersonal matter. It has no bearing on the identities or futures of identifiable individuals. Were Miss McConnell asked if she expected to be among the doomed 90% or the fortunate 10%, what do you suppose she would say? Is it not likely that in her unspoken thoughts, she assumes herself to be among the architects of the annihilation, rather than an honoree?

Your Curmudgeon calls this the Commissar Complex. It puts him in mind of an anecdote from the 1848 French Revolution, when a coal-carrier scoffed at a lady of the upper classes: “Yes, madam, everything’s going to be equal now. I’ll go in silks and you’ll carry coal.” They who imagine the remaking of the world after their own preferences are like that.

Never imagine that they aren’t serious. Consider the following:

“The ending of the human epoch on Earth would most likely be greeted with a hearty ‘Good riddance!'” — philosopher Paul Taylor in Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics

“Human happiness [is] not as important as a wild and healthy planet….Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.” — biologist David M. Graber, in review of Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, in the Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1989.

But in keeping with the “death cults” motif, your Curmudgeon must emphasize the underlying attitude: Superior individuals, disdainful of the common herd and disinclined to rub elbows with them, theorize about the management of the hoi polloi while sipping Cointreau. Such management connotes a shepherd-to-sheep relation. Certainly it would include a willingness to “thin the herd” at need — with need determined solely by the self-nominated master intellects in the closed circle.

“Kill five-billion-plus people because their continued existence offends us? Why not? Haven’t we acceded to the deaths of millions of unborn children in the name of convenience? Haven’t we argued that to let a child be born with a birth defect, or against its mother’s will, is an act of ‘wrongful life?’ Don’t we have such luminaries as Peter Singer to justify infanticide as a form of retroactive abortion? Haven’t we condemned a president and his administration specifically for liberating two nations from monsters who were slaughtering tens of thousands each year? Haven’t we argued in the highest chambers of power that ‘a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,’ and that rocks and moss and tundra are more precious than the human lives the oil beneath them could sustain? When we argued for those things, did anyone rise to stop us? Who could stop us now?”

Gentle Reader, I wish I had preserved for your edification the batch of hate mail I received after posting that piece. It was an undifferentiated mass of viciousness. You would have thought I’d come out in favor of executing homosexuals, or discriminating against rhythm-challenged Negroes, or the designated hitter rule. But if memory serves, not one of my correspondents dared to address the central thread of Pianka’s lectures — that the death of 90% of the human race would be a good thing — even though Pianka himself has openly said so.

Why would a hate-mailer address that thesis? It’s so clearly anti-human that only someone who actively hates other people and desires their destruction would adopt it. So anyone determined to defend Pianka, but equally resolved to represent himself as a “good guy,” must treat Pianka’s thesis as “off the table.” He must assail the one who dares to express shock and horror that anyone could espouse such an idea as somehow evil.

Doesn’t that suggest that the hate-mailer finds the thesis worthy? Doesn’t it bring to mind the faux-equality of the Parisian coal-carrier — the “Commissar Complex” mindset I alluded to in the above piece?

Which brings me to my third citation: a look at one of Pianka’s more overtly genocidal fellow-travelers:

This is Finnish writer Pentti Linkola — a man who demands that the human population reduce its size to around 500 million and abandon modern technology and the pursuit of economic growth — in his own words.

He likens Earth today to an overflowing lifeboat:

What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides.

He sees America as the root of the problem:

The United States symbolises the worst ideologies in the world: growth and freedom.

He unapologetically advocates bloodthirsty dictatorship:

Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent a dictator that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. The best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and where government would prevent any economical growth.

We will have to learn from the history of revolutionary movements — the national socialists, the Finnish Stalinists, from the many stages of the Russian revolution, from the methods of the Red Brigades — and forget our narcissistic selves.
A fundamental, devastating error is to set up a political system based on desire. Society and life have been organized on the basis of what an individual wants, not on what is good for him or her.

As is often the way with extremist central planners Linkola believes he knows what is best for each and every individual, as well as society as a whole:

Just as only one out of 100,000 has the talent to be an engineer or an acrobat, only a few are those truly capable of managing the matters of a nation or mankind as a whole. In this time and this part of the World we are headlessly hanging on democracy and the parliamentary system, even though these are the most mindless and desperate experiments of mankind. In democratic countries the destruction of nature and sum of ecological disasters has accumulated most. Our only hope lies in strong central government and uncompromising control of the individual citizen.

Linkola’s ground assumption is that the current penetration of environmental alarmism is an adequate popular basis for his recommendations. He’s wrong, of course; most Americans, at least, would not consent to having nine-tenths of their number liquidated and the survivors subjected to rigid totalitarian rule for any reason, much less to “save the planet.” But his aim isn’t truly to bring about mass death and totalitarian rule for the sake of the environment; it’s to use “the environment” as the rationale for mass death and totalitarian rule. Indeed, he hardly bothers to disguise it.

The disturbing things about this vile notion are:

  • That there are many, including many in the United States, who would call Linkola’s unsubstantiated assumptions of ecological crisis, like those of the aforementioned Eric Pianka, rational and defensible;
  • That the “us” group now promulgates those assumptions as dogmas beyond question;
  • That those dogmas are now the overt basis of public policies at all levels of government;
  • That anyone who gives these obscenities true coloration — i.e., as expressions of hatred and contempt for Mankind — will come in for the full vituperative, calumnious force of the “us” group, most particularly via their mouthpieces in the media.

Do you disagree? Read this, and tell me if you still do.

* * *

I hope my central point hasn’t been lost among all the atrocities covered in the above. My tiny participation in the incidents I related is insignificant; I’m so far down the list of English-language political commentators that I don’t deserve personal mention. The pattern beneath these incidents is what matters.

We are at war. Not by our decision — that is, the wills of those of us in the “them” group — but by those in the “us” group. The “us” group aims at our complete, unquestioning subjugation, a campaign in which effort no weapon is to be held in reserve, and no tactic deemed beyond the pale.

Bu really, that’s only one of the major points I’d like to make today. The other concerns this snippet from an earlier segment:

Before I press onward, ask yourself: What makes the Defense possible? That is: what combination of circumstances and cessions produces a state of affairs in which the insiders — government functionaries (elected, appointed, or hired) can deprive us on the outside — private citizens under a nominal regime of self-sufficiency — of the protections of life and property?

Like most of the genuinely basic questions about social and political affairs, to ask the question — sincerely, determined to know the answer regardless of what it might tell us about ourselves — is to answer it.

We are no longer self-sufficient.
We have ceded all responsibility for the protection of our lives, our property, and peace in the streets to The State.
The State has taken advantage of that cession to reduce us ever more completely to helplessness before it — in some regions, mainly psychological helplessness, but in others objective helplessness as well.
The State has compounded our subjugation by creating numerous mascot groups, some of which are merely strident, others of which are ready and eager to use violence, in support of the State’s overall agenda.
Our response to these developments has mostly been to shrug.

Please, please, please: Interpret “the State” broadly, not narrowly. Anyone who, for any reason, wields coercive force or the threat thereof to compel obedience to some external dictum is at that time and in that place an agent of the State. Ask Massachusetts ice cream vendor Mark Duffy whether it mattered to his livelihood whether the “armed environmental police” were hirelings of Washington, or Massachusetts, or the town of Carlisle, or claimed to be “private citizens” solely interested in “the public good.” Ask him whether he would have regarded an equal or greater force that dared to stand in his defense against those “armed environmental police” as enemies, or as courageous and infinitely praiseworthy American patriots.

Then ask yourself whether, should you ever be in a position comparable to Duffy’s, such a force is at all likely to appear in your defense.

* * *

Political salvation has become extremely unlikely. Yes, I meant what I said in this essay about the desirability of buying time. We need time for the general recognition of the war between “us” and “them” to burgeon and mature. But I can’t see a reversal of the trend through political mechanisms alone as plausible.

If that’s the case, we can go in only two directions from here:

  • Acceptance of de jure subjugation, coupled with as much “underground resistance” as is possible to us;
  • Open armed revolt.

We are not ready to revolt. Not only do far too many Americans still believe in “the system;” there aren’t enough of us ready, willing and able to put “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” at risk for a chance at a Constitutional restoration. Among the Constitutional movement’s weaknesses is that too many of us are in our “declining years.” Though we recognize the rumble of Juggernaut’s carriage, we’re far more inclined toward “riding it out” than taking up arms against it.

Far more Americans must grasp the enormity of our common plight before an overt uprising would have a significant chance of success.

* * *

One cannot recognize a state of war yet deny that an enemy exists; the latter posture makes the former impossible. My overriding purpose in the above was to make it more difficult to deny the existence of the enemy — to some extent, to give us of the “them” group “a face to hate.”

I wish I could think of a way to end that last sentence with some other phrase. Hatred is always destructive. Indeed, it’s the engine of willed destruction itself: the conscious desire to do harm to someone else. Christians are enjoined against hatred…with one exception:

Then an experience that perhaps no good man can ever have in our world came over (Ransom) – a torrent of perfectly unmixed and lawful hatred came over him. The energy of hating, never before felt without some guilt, without some dim knowledge that he was failing to distinguish the sinner from the sin, rose into his arms and legs till he felt they were pillars of burning blood. What was before him appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself to which will was attached only as an instrument. Ages ago it had been a Person: but the ruins of personality now survived in it only at the disposal of a furious self-exiled negation. It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for. As a boy with an axe rejoices on finding a tree, or a boy with a box of coloured chalks rejoices on finding a pile of perfectly white paper, so he rejoiced in the perfect congruity between his emotion and its object.

Elwin Ransom’s Adversary was already damned. We cannot wish for — certainly not labor for — the damnation of the “us” group; that’s theological hatred, hatred unto eternity, which is the worst of all kinds. But we can ardently desire their downfall and disgrace. We must look upon their faces, not merely as a group but as individuals, dispel the notion that they’re simply “misguided,” acknowledge the enmity between us, and respond to their ill-concealed desire for our subjugation with a confident, justified desire for their ruin. More, until we allow ourselves to do so, we will make no headway at restoring liberty and justice to these United States.

Tension And Habitat

Part 1: Racial Tensions

In recent weeks, talk of an impending race war has become commonplace — far more so than one would expect from the people of a deliberately multiracial, multi-ethnic nation. Moreover, in light of the multiple nationwide attacks on innocent Caucasians by Negroes (including gangs and impromptu bands of Negroes), it cannot be waved aside as mere scare-mongering. In short, though the probability is difficult to assess, a race war looks more likely today than ever before in American history.

Similarly, political forces have whipped up the notion of a “war on women” among left-leaning women. This is being done specifically for electoral advantage, but its effect cannot be contained to that subject alone. American women have been made steadily more aware that American men’s overall opinion of them is considerably lower than their own. Thus, women are accumulating reasons to fear that genuine hostility is growing up between the sexes, perhaps to the point that men might soon seek to do women objective damage.

Not very pleasant thoughts, are they? No, I didn’t think so.

Of course, quite a lot of this tension is propelled by political forces. Race tensions are deliberately fomented by race-hustlers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who seek to enlarge their own public profiles and political influence thereby. Tensions between the sexes, though they’ve been rising since the emergence of gender-war feminism, are getting a big boost from the Democrats’ need to run a negative campaign in this year of Our Lord 2012. Were it possible to subtract politics and political aspirations from the mix, racial and gender relations would be far more amicable than they are today.

However, even with current politics excluded, tensions would still exist. Groups as disparate as Caucasians and Negroes, or as men and women, must always feel some uncertainty about their standing with one another. Such uncertainty sometimes manifests itself in ugly ways.

I’m about to step out onto a slender limb, so I’ll understand perfectly if you choose not to accompany me any further.

* * * * * * * * * *

A population acquires its group-generic characteristics from adapting to its habitat. Only after shifting to a substantially different habitat will those characteristics experience any pressure to change.

Among anthropologists, the above are non-controversial statements. However, if given specific application to race, they suddenly become “unspeakable truths,” the sort of statement that can instantly trigger denunciation, ostracism, or worse. Yet they remain true, and possess great explanatory power.

For example, the Negro race originated in the world’s hotter, wetter climates. Energy and water are the fundamentals of life on Earth: the more of them are available in a given locale, the more abundant will life be in that locale. This, too, is non-controversial. So the Negro race’s origins are in a habitat where life of all sorts was plentifully supplied with its basic necessities: the jungle.

The jungle is a very dangerous place specifically because it teems with life of all sorts, from microbes to giant predators. Technology can make it more survivable, but the dangers cannot be eradicated without eradicating the jungle itself. For a non-technological or pre-technological population, the dangers cannot easily be addressed through defensive measures. If a jungle population is to survive, it must grow faster than it’s being worn down by the hazards of its habitat. This impels two adaptations:

  • Tribalism;
  • A high birth rate.

A tribal allegiance attempts to marshal a defense against both predatory species and competing tribes. A high birth rate attacks the problem of loss of population to predation and disease. Both of these characterized pre-technological jungle societies. (In a fascinating parallel, we can see race-independent, slightly weaker forms of these adaptations in pre-technological farming communities in the colonial-era United States.)

The Caucasian race, wherever it may have germinated, spread swiftly through the more temperate climates of the world. Less energy and less water meant less life, and therefore less exposure to the hazards of predation and disease than obtain in the jungle. Thus, the pressure on pre-technological Caucasians to form small, tightly-bound tribes and produce large numbers of infants was less than on their Negro cousins. Caucasian societies tended toward larger, more inclusive structures; Caucasian birth rates tended to be less than those of Negroes. Thousands of years of adaptation to their respective habitats cemented these differences rather firmly.

Adaptations of this sort tend to persist for some time even when the environmental pressures that evoked them have been altered, whether by technology or relocation. The new conditions “need time” to work on the adapted population through natural selection. That usually takes several generations, at least. More, the re-adaptation can be slowed or thwarted by other forces, which has happened to both Caucasians and Negroes.

* * * * * * * * * *

When Caucasians penetrated to interior Africa, they brought their technology with them. Along with the survival pressures that militate toward tribalism and a high birth rate, jungle conditions also impede the development of technology. In consequence, the new arrivals weren’t only lighter-skinned; they also commanded machines and tools of considerably greater power than those wielded by the indigenes. The Euro-colonization of Africa could not have happened otherwise; neither could the persistence of recognizably European enclaves, which mimicked European communities of the Old World nations from which their populaces derived. The imported technology allowed Europeans in Africa to resist the pressures to which the indigenous populations had adapted willy-nilly.

Early tensions between black and white arose not merely from anatomical differences, but from the difference Europeans’ imported technology made to their way of life and their ability to impose themselves on the natives. Hilaire Belloc’s quatrain:

Whatever happens,
We have got
The Maxim gun,
And they have not.

…has more explanatory power than any number of socio-anthropological treatises.

This inequality in technological mastery compelled the Euro-colonists to seek a rationale for the dominance it conferred upon them. Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “White Man’s Burden” is probably the best known expression of that rationale. It wasn’t abhorred then, nor should it have been; it merely expressed the difference, so great as to be qualitative, between the moral and social outlooks of the two races Euro-imperialism had thrown together. Indeed, Europeans generally viewed the elevation of the Negro race to equal moral and social stature as a God-given responsibility, regardless of what it might demand from the Caucasian peoples.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were untroubled by our twenty-first century notions about absolute human equality.

* * * * * * * * * *

The institution of slavery proved a devastating intrusion into the generally benign system of Euro-imperialism. When Caucasian slavers started cooperating with Negro slavers — yet another “unspeakable truth” — it became much more difficult for colonial powers that tolerated the slave trade to pose as wholly benign. (They’d never been “wholly” benign in any event; the desire to profit from the natural resources of the colonized lands had been an incentive to colonization from the first.) Slavery is always a benefit solely to a small, highly privileged group; a power that tolerates it has implicitly aligned itself with the interests of that group. Thus, even in African colonies where Euro-colonization had won substantial “buy-in” from native populations, the colonial power suffered a severe setback in its relations with the Negro population.

(Note that this effect never touched India, though the British ruled it for more than a century. The British Empire did not tolerate the sale of Indians to foreign slave traders, though somewhat milder forms of “domestic” enslavement persisted even under Imperial rule. In consequence, Indians’ attitudes toward the British Empire remained moderately favorable even after Mohandas Gandhi started the nativist movement that eventuated in Indian self-rule.)

There was worse to come. Caucasian involvement in the enslavement of Negroes started the admixture of the races in majority-Caucasian nations on the worst imaginable race-relations terms. The effects would persist for many decades; as Demosthenes once said, once you have destroyed a man, it’s no simple matter to make him whole again. Nothing is more destructive to good will or the human spirit than slavery. Even the invocation of remote memories of the era of slavery is sufficient to mobilize Negro animosity toward Caucasians, including Caucasians who haven’t even an ancestral involvement in the vile practice.

The Negro who crossed the ocean in chains went from his African habitat, the innate ferocity of which had adapted his people toward a tribal outlook and a high birth rate, to a temperate habitat where he was regarded as property: a rightless sub-human who existed for the convenience and profit of his owner. Even should he somehow attain freedom, his incentives for adapting to his new habitat and emulating the practices of the Caucasian majority were minuscule at best. Indeed, he had good reason to feel he was owed by those who had placed him in bondage.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the United States in our time, the “legacy of slavery” is mostly a cant phrase by which race-hustlers hope to exacerbate racial tensions for political advantage. It does have some effect, but time and the gradual accession of American Negroes to social and economic equality with American Caucasians have devalued it substantially. It’s not nearly as potent a divisor as one of the most poignantly well-intentioned yet destructive social policies of all time: welfare.

Federal and state welfare programs do not differentiate the eligibility criteria nor the available benefits according to the race of the beneficiary. Even so, welfarism has had an effect on American Negroes far beyond what it exerted on American Caucasians. The reason is not far to seek.

Welfarism — the distribution by a government of material benefits to private persons according to legal criteria — requires a bureaucracy. A welfare bureaucracy incorporates the same sort of incentives as any other bureaucracy: it needs employees dedicated to its purposes, and external supporters who will fight to protect and expand the bureaucracy’s mission. The administrators of newborn welfare systems were aware of this, as are all persons in such positions. Therefore, they swiftly sought prospective client populations upon whom they could bestow benefits. The best “hunting grounds” for such populations were in the largest American cities.

Among the tragedies of the post-Civil War period was the reaction of the cities to the subsequent migration of Negroes toward urban areas, as they sought economic opportunity. Before that diaspora, the cities of the North were largely economically free; in reaction to the influx of Negro labor, they erected legal barriers to economic self-sufficiency that earlier immigrants had not faced. The completion of those barriers would take decades, but step by step, city governments opted to “protect” existing corporations and their pre-existent merchant classes from the newcomers arriving from the South.

The consequence was the steady concentration of the cities’ Negro populations into economically depressed zones: ghettoes. Whereas earlier Caucasian immigrants arriving in the port cities had found a freewheeling economic environment in which any man could immediately begin hawking his trade or his wares, America’s internal migrants confronted massive difficulties. This even extended to getting employment; the progressive constriction of the cities’ economies by regulation put a discouraging pressure on business formation, expansion, and hiring.

Urban Negro ghettoes were thus perfect targets for welfare workers eager to sign large numbers of clients up for the benefits from the new welfare systems. Indeed, so eager were the bureaucracies to enlist this large potential clientele that they established quiet preferential policies for hiring representatives of such ghettoes into their work forces. Owing to their economic disadvantages, those ghetto populations were unusually receptive to the suggestion that they had a “right” to government support. Few stopped to think through the probable effects on their futures, or on the futures of their communities as functioning components in a capitalist society. No one, with the possible exception of one or two exceptionally farsighted analysts, gave a thought to the retardant effect welfare would have on American Negroes’ need to adapt to the nation’s “habitat:” its social, economic, and political norms.

Every statistical difference in pathologies between America’s Caucasian and Negro populations derives, at least in part, from this progression.

* * * * * * * * * *

Economic separation begets cultural alienation, which is amplified by any tendency toward tribal allegiances. Though the Negro influence on American culture before the burgeoning of welfare was largely agglutinative and positive, its more recent outcroppings have been quite the opposite. In retrospect, it’s easy for us of the twenty-first century to laugh at the scare-mongers who shrieked that “jazz is destroying our youth.” Those folks should be happy they didn’t live to experience rap or hip-hop.

Today, the most prominent aspects of what the media term “black culture” are militantly anti-Caucasian and anti-American. Ironically, by far the greater number of American Negroes has adopted traditional American norms about self-reliance, responsibility, and civic virtue. Indeed, it’s a mistake and an injustice to speak of “black America” as if it were a monolithic entity; it’s quite sharply divided internally by differential adoption of American norms. But the militants, the demanders of reparations, and the promulgators of overtly anti-American sentiments, get nearly all the air time and column inches.

Racial solidarity is a known phenomenon in all the conventionally recognized races. Though the degree varies, persons of race X will feel an inclination to “protect” their anomalous elements, including overt lawbreakers, against prosecution by persons outside race X. Inasmuch as it’s as likely as not that an “anomaly” is the child of one who has successfully adapted to the nation’s norms, the consequence pits respectable, law-abiding Negroes against respectable, law-abiding Caucasians, in the service of persons who feel contempt for the former and outright hatred for the latter.

Is it any wonder that there should be racial tension? Is it any wonder, given that our major media have made it their policy to suppress news of black-on-white crimes while aggressively promoting white-on-black crimes (and pseudo-crimes), that there should be so much talk about an impending race war?

* * * * * * * * * *

There is no Last Graf. America’s social policies are so tightly intertwined with the political efforts of special interests that they constitute a Gordian knot. They cannot be unraveled; they must be cut. But slashing apart so large a system, with so many beneficiaries of so many kinds, will take more courage and more resolve than any contemporary American politician possesses. It is the recognition of the insolubility of the problem that, in my estimation, accounts for the recent willingness to speak openly of a possible race war: an armed struggle to reserve the American habitat for one race only.

War, as Sir John Slessor said, is horrible, but not the most horrible of things. Here and there, Americans of all races are beginning to wonder whether a race war, at the end of which one race would be expelled (if not expunged) from the United States, would be less horrible than the perpetuation of today’s highly tense, morally indefensible, sporadically violent conditions. Which way of thought will prevail, I cannot foresee. Should such a war come, what would determine its form, the level of its carnage, or its ultimate outcome, I fear to imagine.

More anon.


Tension And Habitat

Part 2: Thoughts On Tribe And Tribalism

First, my thanks to those of you who have written to express appreciation for the previous essay in this new series and to warn me that I’ve “painted a bull’s-eye on my chest.” I’m aware of the risks inherent in telling people things they don’t want to hear; I’m also aware that the longer the “unspeakable truth,” of whatever import, remains unspoken, the more damage it will occur when those who have refused to face it are finally compelled to do so. In this and in all similar oppositions, I feel a personal moral obligation to take reality’s side.

And yes, I am attempting to “sleep with one eye open.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Owing to its associations with various aboriginal groupings around the world, there are few words with as unpleasant a connotation as tribe. Yet it remains exceptionally useful as an envelope within which to study the great importance of habitat and adaptation in human social organization and interaction.

Tribe, first of all, has nothing to do with race. All the races of the world form tribes. Sometimes those tribes are even multiracial. This distinction is critical to making use of the concept.

A tribe is a group with certain social and political characteristics:

  1. It possesses a set of criteria for determining who is (and who is not) a member;
  2. It demonstrates a substantial degree of cohesion over time;
  3. It prefers members to non-members in significant ways;
  4. It enforces a code of conduct upon members, whether formally or informally;
  5. It regards interaction and interpenetration with outsiders as occasions of elevated danger and opportunity.

From that definition, it follows that the tribe is the precursor of the organized political unit. The explicitly political unit’s major distinction is that it has completely formalized its code of conduct, the penalties for violating it, and the mechanisms that enforce it. Yet we can see the outlines of the political unit, particularly the nation-state, in the characteristics and operation of the tribe.

What makes the tribe fascinating is the extent to which its formation derives from habitat.

The characteristics of a given locale will determine what sorts of life can flourish there. When some species become dominant in that locale is when we traditionally begin to refer to it as those species’ habitat. But a habitat, as I argued in the previous essay, never ceases to operate in shaping the species that adopt it. One of the most obvious, yet least studied, aspects of a habitat’s operation on its dominant species is in how it shapes whatever tribe might form there.

Remember that a tribe must exhibit both criteria for inclusion and cohesion over time. The most important determinants of these things are blood relationships and the distances over which individuals may practically travel, with the latter helping to shape the former. For example, a severe desert environment such as the contemporary Sahara sharply limits individuals’ radius of travel; thus, tribes that form in that environment will tend to be geographically compact. A more life-tolerant environment such as Middle Europe will permit individuals to move more freely and at greater distances; thus, tribes that form there will on average be geographically more dispersed. As a population advances technologically, those radii can be expanded, but characteristics of the environment, such as great heat or lack of easily accessible resources, can retard such progress.

Critical to the understanding of tribes’ political importance is the appreciation of how they function in relation to one another over time. The cohesive identity of a tribe causes it to resist subsumption in a larger unit. That resistance is not absolute; tribes have often allowed such subsumption, when given a sufficient reason, as in the case of the formation of the United States from the freshly liberated states. However, since a tribe’s ways and traditions incorporate preferences for its own members, the interpenetration of tribes, for whatever reason, will sometimes eventuate in violence. Neighboring tribes that have a history of violent interactions will thus have two reasons to resist subsumption, one considerably more powerful than the other.

The degree of resistance particular tribes exhibit to subsumption and unification is what gives rise to the sizes and shapes of the political units we recognize as nation-states.

* * * * * * * * * *

Even after nation-states have formalized their legal systems and all that goes with them, whatever tribes they have subsumed will still exhibit tribal characteristics, at least for a while. In particular, members of a subsumed tribe will continue to prefer one another to the members of other subsumed tribes. In historical studies, this is often called sectionalism, but the geographical connotations of that word should not be allowed to lead us astray. After subsumption by a nation-state, the members of a tribe will often undergo some degree of internal dispersion. Yet they will continue to maintain tribal preferences as they disperse, until interpenetration and the slow process of binding to their new locales have had time to weaken them. Consider the resistance of various religious groups to exogamy as an illustration.

Should political incentives arise that reinforce tribal distinctions and preferences, havoc will ensue. A nation-state cannot endure under conditions of internal inter-tribal strife; as Abraham Lincoln put it, a house divided cannot stand. There must ultimately be either a convulsive reduction of the tribes to political passivity, for example by warfare, or a parting of the ways that dissolves the nation-state into two or more separate units, as happened after the British relinquished the rule of India.

A subsumed tribe reluctant to weaken its cohesion and its preferences, but unwilling to risk open conflict with the enveloping polity or with other subsumed tribes, will sometimes “go underground.” That is: it will attempt to pull its distinctive characteristics and its methods for preferring members to non-members out of public view. This isn’t always possible; when possible, it isn’t necessarily easy. But it does occur, for example in the case of the Amish, the Mennonites, and similarly insular groups in American history.

Most fascinating of all, interior conflicts brought about by political forces can actually germinate new tribes within the nation-state. Those conflicts, and the nascent tribes they elicit, can arise from:

  • Legal privileges granted to some persons but not others;
  • National policies that have regionally, racially, sexually, ethnically, occupationally, religiously, or otherwise discriminatory effects;
  • De facto infringements or abridgements of the rights of recognizable groups.

When such forces causes new tribes to arise within an existing nation-state, their tribalism tends to be irruptive, disruptive…and sometimes violent. The extent to which they take hold and attract allegiants is the measure of their impact upon the health of such a nation, and the prospects for its continued existence.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tribalism is shorthand for the perpetuation of the preferences and practices of a tribe by those who are or were once its members. Among the politically most important aspects of tribalism is the behavior political scientists call particularism: the willingness to grant one’s primary allegiance to the tribe in preference to the nation-state. When a tribe subsumed within a nation-state become restive, its members begin to be covertly particularist; when such allegiances become overt, open inter-tribal warfare becomes a real possibility.

There are far too many examples of such alignments in operation in the United States today to be complacent about them. In just the post-World War II decades, we have seen the emergence of tribes based on region (militias), on race (the Black Panthers, old and new), on religion (Muslims in America), on ethnicity (Aztlan, La Raza, et. al.), on gender (militant feminism), sexual orientation (don’t get me started), disability (the “deaf culture”), and so forth. A fully cohesive polity would refuse such tribes the slightest degree of political recognition or legislative influence. Sadly, that has not been the case these past fifty years.

I contend that the greatest of all hazards to America’s future inheres in the burgeoning tribalism / particularism we observe around us today. To the extent it prevails among us, we are no longer “One nation under God.” Rather, we are an assemblage of mutually hostile tribes jockeying for advantage over one another, the ultimate effect of which can only be either the forcible suppression of some tribes by others or the political dissolution of the United States. If we wish not to be impaled on either of those tines of the political pitchfork, we must quench the forces that have given rise to the tribes among us. How that is to be done, I cannot say.

More anon.


Part 3: The Political Species

In every land and every generation there have been men whose overriding priority is acquiring power over others. They’ve espoused dogmas of many kinds, such that one cannot easily find an ideological thread to connect them all. But in one respect they’ve been entirely consistent: They’ve all labored to increase the power of governments over those subject to them.

The success of their efforts has varied from nation to nation. Now and then they’ve triumphed completely; in several places, their grip on power has yet to be seriously threatened. Even in the United States, they’ve made inroads far deeper than those of us who love freedom like to admit…and most of us are at a loss to comprehend or explain how that came to pass.

I’ve begun to think that habitat might provide the answer.

The concept of habitat as a locale whose characteristics conduce to the flourishing of particular species can be extended into the realm of abstractions. If a particular set of ideas must be established for persons whose livelihood depends on the widespread acceptance of those ideas to flourish, those ideas constitute a non-geographic sort of habitat: an ideological foundation which, when established among a populace, will permit persons whose ambitions they favor to rise in prosperity, prestige, and influence.

This sort of habitat is unlike the natural sort in a critical way: Those who desire to exploit it can take action to construct it.

There are many directions in which I could take this concept, but the one in which I have the greatest interest is the slow erection of a habitat for socialist premises and Big Government in the United States.

* * * * * * * * *

A country as large as the U.S. makes room for many sorts of ideas, and thus for communities dedicated to them. As early as the 1820s, persons such as Robert Owen and John Humphrey Noyes built communes — proto-communist states — within America’s borders. Those, of course, were entirely voluntary communities; their members were free to depart at any time. Nevertheless, they constituted a womb for the embryonic theories they expressed in practice…theories which persons of more abstract bent, such as Marx and Engels, would develop to their full malignancy shortly thereafter.

It’s not perfectly accurate nor entirely fair to those early utopians to call them socialists or Communists. They had a vision of a “good society” that they hoped to achieve by departing from the prevailing norms. Why they thought they could improve on conditions in the larger society around them isn’t easy to determine. Though their experiments failed to provide the results they sought, the ideas they germinated did not fail to find supporters and promulgators.

A period of general prosperity is a tough one for promulgators of radical doctrines. When people are happy with their stations in life and the fruits of their labors, selling them on the notion that the society that made their advancements possible is wholly incorrect in its premises is almost impossible. Yet throughout the nineteenth century, socialist ideas kept a fingernail grip on just enough minds that when conditions for their dissemination became more favorable, there were dedicated, energetic promulgators available to spread them.

The period approximately from 1880 to 1900 saw a downturn in the fortunes of rural communities, at least in comparison to those of the rapidly industrializing cities. Though the records don’t compel one conclusion over another, it’s possible that the most important aspect of the economic tensions of those years was a nostalgia, among farm communities, for the time before the industrial surge — a time when you didn’t have to worry about how you’d “keep ’em on the farm,” because the farm was essentially all there was. Rural families experienced significant “losses” to the centers of industry, where the prospect of quick riches glittered, while coping with the recognition that their own labors could not match the opulence available from the enterprises that clustered in the urban zones. Resentment, exacerbated by the inexcusable
favoritism shown by Washington and the state governments to certain industries and the captains thereof, swelled.

That period saw the emergence of the Progressives, whose chief public face, William Jennings Bryan, was personally responsible for the largest political realignment yet observed in American history. But Bryan was little more than a poster boy for a set of ideas that were finding the resentments of the rural populace fertile soil from which to flower.

A few names:

  • Edward Bellamy
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Lincoln Steffens
  • Jacob Riis
  • Upton Sinclair
  • Richard Ely
  • Colonel Edward House
  • Herbert Croly
  • Charles Sanders Peirce

These were the major promulgators of the socialist / Big Government ideas which, after careful laying of groundwork by the Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson Administrations, would burst forth from FDR’s New Deal as a replacement doctrine for traditional American conceptions of individual freedom.

Convenient crises — the Panic of 1906; World War I; the Great Depression — played a part in this progression, beyond all question. But the ideas had to be “waiting in the wings,” already well established in a sufficient number of Americans’ minds and favorable to the ambitions of energetic, opportunistic men, to exploit them. That idea-foundation provided just enough habitat for the earliest acolytes of the Omnipotent State to flourish and expand.

* * * * * * * * * *

We’ve come a long way downhill since those critical decades. Today, the suggestion that there should be any topics, any areas of enterprise, or any venues of human interaction deemed off limits to the State is considered “controversial.” Property is now considered conditional. A man’s body is a thing to be regulated and “protected” by political force. Even freedom of speech is widely regarded as a charming vestige of a primitive time: something our forebears could tolerate, but which our “more complex era” cannot afford. In all things, the needs of the State come first — and woe to him who thinks to stand in its way.

We stand upon the threshold of a complete rejection of the concept of individual freedom.

Amidst all this, we who love freedom speak of a vulpine “political class,” no member of which can be trusted. We orate that it must somehow be removed from the levers of power, so that persons who genuinely love freedom and appreciate the importance of objective law can get to work at restoring those blessings. More openly than ever, sincere Americans, men of good will, mutter about the probable necessity of a Second American Revolution, aimed at deposing the current ruling class and restoring the Constitution in full and literal effect.

But wait: hearken first to Bertrand Russell:

Those who have seized power, even for the noblest of motives soon persuade themselves that there are good reasons for not relinquishing it. This is particularly likely to happen if they believe themselves to represent some immensely important cause. They will feel that their opponents are ignorant and perverse; before long they will come to hate them…The important thing is to keep their power, not to use it as a means to an eventual paradise. And so what were means become ends, and the original ends are forgotten except on Sundays.

Let’s imagine for a moment that a revolution were to take place. Imagine further that it were to succeed in deposing our current political masters. Given the assumptions and ideas prevalent among Americans generally, what would most likely follow?

* * * * * * * * * *

It could be worse, of course:

In the end, the French and Dutch electorates voted No to the new [European] constitution. One recalls the T-shirt slogan popular among American feminists: “What part of ‘No’ don’t you understand?” In the chancelleries of Europe, pretty much every part. At the time of the constitution referenda, the rotating European “presidency” was held by Luxembourg, a country slightly larger than your rec room. Jean-Claude Juncker, its rhetorically deranged prime minister and European “president,” staggered around like a collegiate date-rape defendant, insisting that all reasonable persons understand that “Non” really means “Oui.” As he put it before the big vote, “If it’s a yes, we will say ‘on we go,’ and if it’s a no we will say ‘we continue.'”…

…For his part, the architect of the constitution — the former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing — was happy to pile on: why, even if the French and the Dutch had been boorish enough to want to vote no to the constitution, they would have been incapable of so doing, as the whole thing was designed to be way above their pretty little heads. “It is not possible for anyone to understand the full text,” declared M. Giscard….The point is that his ingrate subjects had no need to read beyond the opening sentence: “We the people agree to leave it to you the people who know better than the people.” [Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the world as We Know It

Europe, the majority of whose nation-states are nominal democracies, has proved utterly unable to shake off its masters, despite the well-established opposition of the majority of ordinary Europeans to them and their socialist-superstate scheme. The Old World has had longer to marinate in socialist and superstate ideas, though one might well wonder why the proximity of the largest failed socialist superstate in history hasn’t dampened their affection for them. What those ordinary Europeans fail to grasp is that their demands on their governments, jointly and severally, constitute a demand for exactly what’s being done to them. The ideological habitat of contemporary Europe is immensely favorable to authoritarianism, socialism, and the Omnipotent State, and ferociously hostile to freedom, capitalism, and national sovereignty.

And that is the direction in which the United States of America is headed.

* * * * * * * * * *

Part 4: “Progressives”

To destroy a species, or even to compel it to relocate, one must destroy its habitat. When the habitat exists in the minds of men, there is one and only one way to do that: ideological warfare.

There’s little point to debating what income tax rates should be. There’s even less point to carping about “too much regulation.” We will not liberate this country by accepting the totalitarians’ premises and then haggling over details.

But are enough of us properly armed and motivated for a true combat of ideas?


     A number of readers have written to me specifically about the “Tribe And Tribalism” segment in this series. Their missives have suggested both alternate approaches to “tribe” and a great many additional examples of recognizable tribes within this nation and others. It’s the sort of feedback that makes me pleased to have elicited it, because it indicates that people are thinking seriously about fundamentals.

     One “tribe” that’s drawn particular attention is the ideological tribe of hard-left “progressives.” We can see from the criteria in that earlier essay that self-nominated “progressives” do constitute a tribe:

  • It possesses a set of criteria for determining who is (and who is not) a member: Identification is by political alignment and the use of the proper “shibboleth” words.
  • It demonstrates a substantial degree of cohesion over time: “Progressives” virtually never defect from their tribe.
  • It prefers members to non-members in significant ways: Have you ever known a “progressive” who would willingly associate with non-”progressives?”
  • It enforces a code of conduct upon members, whether formally or informally: Mandatory attendance at a certain number of public protests and demonstrations per year.
  • It regards interaction and interpenetration with outsiders as occasions of elevated danger and opportunity: Mainly to meet “progressives” of the opposite sex for, ah, extra-curricular dialogue.

     When Eric Hoffer wrote of “a compact and unified church” of “true believers,” he might well have had his era’s “progressives” in mind. However, it’s fairly clear that, whatever “progressives” might truly value, progress, at least as we regular humans understand it, is no part of their agenda:

     “Progress is the improved satisfaction of human desires, morally, with less input.” — Kevin Cullinane

     Indeed. Even if those “human desires” included all the ostensible policy goals “progressives” claim to cherish, they can’t claim progress toward those, either. As a recent humorous example, consider that wind farms, long a totem of the enviro-Nazi faction of the “progressives,” are now believed to contribute to “global warming.” ( That puts the “warmistas” at war with the renewable-energy bunch and the Left’s cadre of crony capitalists! Superb!

     As matters are trending, “progressives” might soon become an endangered species. The tribe is incapable of advancing on its overt goals, ever more deeply riven by internal discord, completely dependent on a relatively small group of “sugar daddies,” and frowned upon by an increasing fraction of the American electorate. America still shelters enclaves within which it’s safe — nay, required — to pose as a “progressive,” but those habitats are relatively well demarcated geographically. More, their denizens seldom venture out, unless it’s by aircraft to another such habitat.

     Perhaps it’s time to get the EPA involved…


Part 5: Safety And Adaptation

Once a species becomes dominant in a habitat, it starts to alter that habitat.

Granted, various species possess different degrees of power over their environments. We can’t expect nonsentient creatures without manipulative organs to do as well at altering their habitats as Man. All the same, the process gets under way as soon as species dominance is established.

The first of all alterations to be addressed, consciously or otherwise, is for safety.

Safety is a badly abused concept. In reality, it’s a matter of degrees and comparisons, but it’s often treated (especially by left-liberal political mouthpieces) as if it were a condition that can be made absolute. When a rational man says “We’re safe here,” or “This [item or practice] is safe,” he’s not guaranteeing that absolutely no harm could possibly come of it. Such a guarantee would be both fictitious and foolish, by the nature of the laws that govern the universe.

With regard to habitat safety, the usual progression of things is as follows:

  • Category 1: Hazards to the Alpha members of the species are addressed until the rate at which they victimize the Alpha member is reduced to a tolerable level.
  • Category 2: Hazards to the average members of the species are addressed next, with the same effect.
  • Category 3: Hazards to the most vulnerable members of the species are addressed last, with the same effect.

Of course, the above assumes that those hazards have revealed themselves to the species in some unambiguous fashion, but we need that simplification for the purposes of comprehension.

The Alphas must come first, for the most obvious of reasons: They are the species’ primary defense. If they fall, mass carnage is likely to follow. The average members — the “worker bees,” if I may — come next because they provide the sustenance for all members. The weakest and
most vulnerable come third and last by default. This might seem odd to a species such as ours, whose alterations of its environment have been going on for so long that we’ve largely forgotten what it means for our strongest to be continuously exposed to mortal peril.

Note how the above pattern conforms to the pressures exerted on a species by natural selection.

Adaptation continues in the midst of alteration. The species’ characteristics will be shaped by the altered environment even as the environment is changed. The successful reduction of Category 1 hazards will cause non-Alphas to become more willing to “stand in” for Alphas,
at least rhetorically. The successful reduction of Category 2 hazards will concomitantly reduce non-Alphas’ appreciation for, and admiration of, the Alpha class. The successful reduction of Category 3 hazards will further diminish general appreciation for the Alpha class, while
simultaneously increasing the support burdens on non-Alphas and adding to the attractions of being (or becoming) one of those burdens.

* * * * * * * * * *

     Anyone who says that economic security is a human right, has been too much babied. While he babbles, other men are risking and losing their lives to protect him. They are fighting the sea, fighting the land, fighting disease and insects and weather and space and time, for him, while he chatters that all men have a right to security and that some pagan god — Society, The State, The Government, The Commune — must give it to them. Let the fighting men stop fighting this inhuman earth for one hour, and he will learn how much security there is. — Rose Wilder Lane, “The Discovery of Freedom”

Once active threats to life and limb have been adequately addressed, other demands on men’s time will become paramount, in particular the provision of nutrition, clothing, and shelter. These things are easily folded into the conceptual envelope of safety — “security” and “safety” are near to being synonymous, contextual differences to the side — and a dependent class for whose safety others have labored is unlikely to distinguish between active threats and the passive sort that arise from inability to see to one’s own maintenance…or unwillingness to attend to the necessity.

In effect, a species that protects its weakest members too effectively has created a sub-habitat suitable for dominance by a parasite class.

Among men, such a parasite class will be populated both by the genuinely incapable and by those who are merely unwilling to make their own way in the world. The former will provide political cover for the latter (cf. the “starving widows and orphans” defense for a luxuriant welfare state). It is in the nature of things that the truly incapable will reproduce thinly if at all, generally well below replacement rate. But the unwilling will reproduce according to their whims; worse, they’ll attract emulation from the “lower margin” of the capable and willing. The burden they represent on the rest of their society will increase over time.

If the Alphas and worker class agree to accept that burden, it will have several effects. Most significant among them will be an increase in the hazards to which Alphas and workers are exposed.

* * * * * * * * * *

     A grievance is most poignant when it is almost redressed. — Eric Hoffer

When he emitted the above, Hoffer was speaking principally of injustices and their consequences. However, the phenomenon extends without distortion to “problems” whose remediation has been successful yet short of complete.

Thomas Sowell has written eloquently on the tendency of our era to view any condition that we’d like to see improved as a “problem” to be “solved.” One of his most famous formulations is “There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.” That epigram captures perfectly the nature of any effort to ameliorate conditions which some of us find distasteful:

  • If we can achieve an improvement, it will be at a cost.
  • As the improvement asymptotically approaches a 100% remediation, the cost of further progress increases asymptotically as well.
  • He who is disinclined to consider the costs, perhaps because he’s their beneficiary, or has averted them from his own shoulders and wallet, will nevertheless demand a “solution to the problem,” rather than accept that the condition cannot be completely and finally eradicated except at infinite cost.

Along with this recognition goes the comprehension of the sub-habitat I discussed in the segment above. This is easily grasped in the context of welfarism. “The poor you will always have with you,” said Jesus, and as with everything else He said, this is beyond refutation, for reasons that are easy to see. As the hazards and discomforts experienced by “the poor,” however defined, are ameliorated by the labors and sacrifices of Alphas and workers, their sub-habitat will become increasingly attractive to new entrants. Therefore, the “problem of poverty” cannot be “solved.” Indeed, among the sub-habitats that will arise, we are likely to find a political sub-habitat, occupied by persons whose livelihoods depend on having “poor people” to “serve,” and whose class interests require the expansion of that domain to as large a size as the society can support.

Don’t try telling that to a left-liberal, of course.

* * * * * * * * * *

Clearly, certain kinds and degrees of “safety” for some create large risks for others. This goes beyond the “Type I — Type II” risk dynamic Aaron Wildavsky wrote about in “Searching For Safety.” It’s about habitat, the way a habitat can subdivide internally, and the differential responses of its denizens to such internal divisions.

As with all the other segments in this series, there is no Last Graf. I have no solutions; indeed, as you can surely tell from the above, I disbelieve that “solutions” exist. I certainly won’t suggest a stark “survival of the fittest” ethic as a replacement for our species’ admirable concern for the plight of the weak and vulnerable. That ethic is what makes us more than just the most efficient predators to arise on Earth. Still, the topic is worthy of extended thought.


Part 6: Summation

     The previous five pieces in this little series have emphasized habitat as an envelope-concept: a framework for comprehending the development and persistence of various social, economic, and political pathologies. That was my entire intent in writing them. A couple of readers have written to ask why I thought it a constructive use of time and pixels. The time has come to answer them.

* * * * * * * * * *

There are many conceptual envelopes applicable to political dynamics and tensions. Habitat is merely the one I’ve chosen to exploit. It’s not inherently more significant than any of the other approaches; it’s merely one that hasn’t been used until now. Neither does it provide an especially potent insight into how America’s prevalent pathologies could be undone. But it does provide its own insights, and its own indications of directions to be followed. That’s sufficient justification for exploring it.

The constitutionalist / traditionalist / libertarian-conservative Right has had enormous difficulty in countering those pathologies. Its spokesmen and activists have tried one strategy after another to gain a purchase on our devolution and mobilize Americans into reversing it.

We’ve had little success, despite frequent, ingenious reconceptualizations and shifts of emphasis.

That doesn’t mean we should give up and let Leviathan roll over us. It does mean that we have to become more inventive. Indeed, given the failure of past monothematic approaches, I submit that our overarching need is to become concurrently inventive and mutually supportive:

  • Any approach anyone can conceive should be developed and tried;
  • All approaches should be wielded concurrently;
  • Differences in approach must be prevented from engendering hostility
    or fostering isolation;
  • When one approach fails with a given target, another must be
    deployed, until something has been found that produces ingress.

Habitat-analysis is merely one more arrow in our quiver. If it has some virtues, we should exploit them. If it proves insufficient with a certain target populace, we should prefer another scheme in approaching that sector. Add it to the persuasive arsenal, try it out when appropriate, and note where it hits and where it misses. That is all.

* * * * * * * * * *

I was once briefly acquainted with a drug-legalization advocate who expressed great frustration at his inability to get his message across. He was intelligent, knowledgeable, impassioned, and perseverant: a good combination of characteristics for anyone resolved upon a public campaign. In appearance, he was a classic “hippie:” long hair and beard; tie-dyed shirts and ragged, multiply-patched jeans; sandals twelve months a year. I sympathized with him — always a good starting point — and proceeded to quiz him about his methods and his target audience. This is what I learned:

  • Drug legalization was his sole political passion;
  • He approved of the use of recreational drugs;
  • He targeted middle class, preponderantly Caucasian audiences;
  • His talks were heavy with details about the history of recreational
    drug use in the U.S.;
  • He routinely brushed aside questions about how to prevent young
    people from becoming recreational-drug users.
  • He tended to be combative toward those who disagreed with him on this

My acquaintance’s approach was poorly matched to his preferred audiences. They demanded a completely different approach — possibly a completely different proponent, as well. His conceptual envelope disallowed the recognition of that incongruity; as far as he was concerned, anyone who failed to see the inescapable implications of his arguments was simply too stupid to bother with.

Does that sound to you like a formula for success at persuasion?

The above is a specimen of intellectual rigidity — a lack of versatility when confronted with failure. He who fails, not once but repeatedly, must find some versatility within himself if he’s going to keep on trying. Versatility in the political marketplace demands that one have more than one set of intellectual and rhetorical tools. Any and every concept that might be the key to opening some minds — not all, just some — should be kept available for when it might prove

Perhaps my acquaintance could have used habitat as his conceptual foundation. Perhaps by suggesting that drug prohibition creates a habitat that all manner of corrupt and evil forces can and will dominate, he might have reached the audiences he targeted. He never tried it, so we’ll never know.

* * * * * * * * * *

The future is looking grim. I hardly need to tell any regular reader how much we have to worry about. No matter how they turn out, the November elections won’t cause us to reverse course and sprint briskly away from disaster. At best, we’ll dig in our spikes and stop rushing pell-mell toward the abyss. It will take much more, and much longer, to get back on a wholesome, freedom-respecting political basis.

We need keys to the minds of our fellow citizens. Not one key, but many.

Every concept, every analogy, every parallel we can draw between the hazards of our time and any well-known period in history or easily grasped aspect of Nature should be available for use at all times. Politics doesn’t sit isolated in the vacuum, giving birth to itself; it arises from the assumptions and convictions prevalent among a nation’s people. Changing those assumptions and convictions isn’t something we can accomplish with a single skeleton-key concept. As with any other undertaking, we need the right tools for the job — and the job will change with every individual we confront.

If you really want to avoid a complete descent into tyranny, and have no stomach for a violent revolution, arm yourself conceptually as well as with “beans, bullets, and Band-Aids.”

You have my contribution.



Some time ago, when embroiled in a quarrelsome encounter, I challenged my adversary in a fashion he found troubling. “Define Milwaukee,” I said.
“Huh? Why?” he replied.
“To prove to me that you know both how to do it and why to do it.”

At first he rejected it as absurd, but I persisted, and he agreed to try it. He had some trouble with it, but ultimately he managed to produce a valid statement about Milwaukee that most people would agree would not apply to any other city. But he couldn’t cope with the “why” portion of the challenge. In particular, he couldn’t articulate why he’d felt the demand for a “definition” of Milwaukee was absurd.

Eventually I let him off the hook. “There’s only one Milwaukee, right?”
“Right,” he said warily.
“So why bother to define it? Definition is a practical undertaking. We only need definitions so we can cope with categories — so we can know if a thing is or is not a member of a defined category. If a thing is one of a kind, there’s no need for a definition of it. Think of it this way: Do we need a definition of you?”

So it is with “social justice,” one of the enduring shibboleths of the American Left.

“Social justice” is a label for a condition some persons claim is desirable. However, the condition lacks a definition. The Left’s tacticians prefer it that way: it makes it impossible to state with assurance when and where it exists. But if “social justice” is desirable yet uncertain, there’s never a conclusive argument for ceasing to strive for it…or for the use of unlimited State power in attempting to reach it.

The one thing the Left insists, and will continue to insist, is that “social justice” does not exist in the United States. But ask a Leftist flackster “How do you know?” and he’s immediately on the defensive. After all, he has no definition with which to falsify the claim. Moreover, he’d be unwilling ever to concede that the U.S. possesses this undefined attribute, because it would torpedo his demand for unlimited power over the American people and economy.

The core of the thing is, of course, that “social justice” is a meaningless term. Not only hasn’t it ever been defined; it cannot be defined without destroying the meaning of “justice.” Justice is founded on the concept of individual rights and cannot exist apart from it. Thus, justice is inherently opposed to collectivization; any attempt to define it in terms of groups immediately destroys its meaning as applied to individuals. The Communists’ “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” maxim applies with full force.

The “eggs” the flackster for “social justice” will break are thee and me, Gentle Reader.

* * *

Definition, as I remarked to my unnamed adversary above, is a practical matter. We don’t compose definitions for mere pleasure. We do so because we think in categories. For categories to be useful implements of thought, they must have boundaries. Aristotle’s approach to definition as a combination of a “genus” (an enclosing category) and a “differentia” (what distinguishes the category being defined from the one of which it’s a subset) is what makes useful definitions possible, and any thought that employs them fruitful.

In this connection, ponder the extensive list of bludgeon-words and phrases the Left routinely uses against us:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Islamophobia
  • Compassion
  • Fair Share
  • Social Justice

Not one of the above possesses a firm definition applicable to political discourse. They are rhetorical weapons, nothing more: intended to intimidate, to impute low motives to their target, and to imply that “good people” ought never to align themselves with him.

This, too, is a practical matter. The best sort of weapon is one for which there is no countermeasure. Failing that, the countermeasure should be elusive and hard to wield. Leftist rhetoric, being based on nebulous emotional appeals to the melioristic impulse good Americans share, is particularly potent for that reason: most of us on the pro-freedom Right aren’t combative enough, or, quite frankly, sharp enough, to counter it expeditiously.

* * *

Time was, I was resolved to treat with the promoter of left-liberalism as a well-intentioned sort who differed with me from a rational basis. That is, I assumed that either our premises were incompatibly different, or one of us had committed one or more logical errors. Given that assumption, it was possible for me to believe that eventually we would manage to “reason together,” find the faults one or the other of us had incorporated into his thinking, and arrive at a shared conclusion.

Time was.

The giveaway to the fallacy is left-liberals’ utter contempt for anyone who differs with them. Their “assumption of differential rectitude” (Thomas Sowell) amounts to a relegation of others of different opinions to a lower stratum of intelligence and morality. The article I linked below displays that contempt undisguised. Worse, it was completely unnecessary, being entirely disjoint from the topic the author was addressing.

I have no doubt that many Americans who hold political opinions of the left-liberal sort are nevertheless fundamentally decent people — the sort who “hate only in abstractions,” to borrow a phrase from the late John Brunner. But that doesn’t apply to persons who readily condemn whole categories of people, in service to leftist ideology. They deserve as swift, as sharp, and as contemptuous a backhanding as I can dish out: the only treatment appropriate for nominal adults who persist in acting like vicious, self-absorbed children.

It’s a practical thing: a stroke in the cause of freedom and justice. No one who preaches against freedom or justice, whatever pseudo-noble motives he claims, shall be permitted to pass me unscathed.


Yesterday afternoon, Beth and I indulged our taste for action movies and went to see Lockout, Guy Pearce’s near-future star vehicle about a breakout on an orbital prison. Yes, we enjoyed it quite a bit, though perhaps for different reasons.

Pearce’s character Snow is the archetype of the American hero of yesteryear: masculine, cool, fearless, unbending, and ready with a wisecrack for any occasion. He takes quite a bit of abuse — though competent, Snow is neither indefeasible nor invulnerable — but prevails in the end, in part due to a complete unwillingness to surrender to events. Indeed, in one critical scene, he embraces the probability of his own fiery death because it appears that there’s no other way to fulfill his core mission: rescuing the daughter of the president.

I can’t overemphasize how refreshing it was to see a movie built around such a character. Such figures, if not completely absent from recent entertainment, have definitely become an endangered species.

I write heroes, both male and female. I sculpt my stories around them because it’s the sort of fiction I love best, the sort I prefer to read. Being an older guy, it’s the sort I did read in my so-called formative years…which, if God is good, and He is, aren’t over yet.

A long time ago, I proclaimed a definition of a hero that I continue to maintain: A hero is one who puts himself at risk for someone or something else.

An adventurer, who embraces risk in a quest for gain, is not a hero. One who fights in defense of his own life or property is not a hero. The sports figures paraded before us daily, some of whom are undeniably magnificent specimens of athletic prowess, are not heroes. Many of these might have admirable qualities, but until they thrust themselves into danger for someone else’s sake, or in defense of some important principle, they remain merely specimens of Mankind interesting for specific reasons and in specific contexts.

A significant part of the reason for the gradual enervation of the American man’s will and character has been the entertainment world’s assault on America’s traditional conception of a hero. Who in recent popular fiction qualifies as a hero? Who in recent popular cinema would qualify? Harry Potter? Katniss Everdeen?

Today’s offerings are more likely to focus on antiheroes: men portrayed as victims of forces beyond their power to oppose. The archetypal antihero, Winston Smith of George Orwell’s 1984, is ground to characterological powder by a State that will tolerate not even the thought of defiance and has the means both to smoke it out and to destroy it. We can sympathize with Winston’s agonies; we can feel horror at the torments employed to break him; we cannot aspire to be him.

A society’s hero figures are critically important to that society’s spirit — to its conception of its virtues, its strengths, and its destiny. Consider: America became the world’s savior, defeating totalitarian powers in three successive world wars, because we stepped up. We weren’t fighting for advantages for ourselves, or for our nation; we were fighting for freedom and justice. To the extent that they’ve served as the world’s policemen, our fighting men have been willing to do so largely for the same reason: because we regarded freedom and justice as too important not to be defended, even at great national cost and great individual risk.

Apropos of the above, the rise of a careerist ethic in the ranks of our senior officers tracks strongly with the entertainment world’s promotion of cynicism about heroes, and by extension, about our national character. It’s not yet pandemic, but even a hint of it should be viewed with great alarm: a nation whose military commanders think more of their prospects of winning high rank than of the nation and the ideals for which it stands is a nation in danger of being abandoned by its own defenders.

A nation is more than a demarcated territory. It’s more than a Constitutional tradition. It’s certainly more than a common language and culture. If it is not more than these things, singly or in aggregate, it has little chance to sustain itself against the assaults and villainies of those who would profit from its diminution or demise.

A nation that will endure, that will leave its mark upon the ages, must express, through the characters and deeds of its men, a set of moral principles.

Men acquire their principles and aspirations from their culture’s myths and traditions, and most particularly from the heroes at the center of its greatest stories. Even the heroes of the purest fiction play a part…perhaps, given how few of us are ever put to a significant test in this time of great comfort, the largest part of all.

The Three Systems of Man

Some years ago, a DEC software engineer by the name of Mike Gancarz wrote an intriguing little book called “The UNIX Philosophy.” In it, he propounded his conception of the Three Systems of Man.

The First system occurs when some genius with time and CPU cycles on his hands thinks up a nifty new idea: maybe a cross-platform machine-independent language that’s so easy to learn, so extensible, and so close to the hardware that no other language could do better. He implements it, leaves a few desirable features out for lack of time, and neglects to polish off some rough edges. It becomes a hit — he is a genius, after all — but everyone who uses it notes one of the missing desirable features or gripes about one of the rough edges.

The Second system occurs when a bunch of under-employed academics and think-tank-types seize on the First system and say, to themselves and one another, “Wow. We could really make a classic buck off this.” So they create a 500-member committee to “pull the First system all the way to completion,” or some such, and develop a Brobdingnagian spec for a new language that will have everything but the kitchen sink in it. It takes 1000 GBytes to implement that spec, the product is shaky and error-prone, and no one knows how to use all the features except for a few of the committee members …but the committee members, their reputations now established as industry experts, get fat on books and speaking tours.

The Third system occurs when a second genius with time and CPU cycles to spare notices that there’s the germ of a brilliant idea buried in the Second system, underneath a lot of useless gingerbread. He recovers it, strips away the excrescences added by that damned committee, adds the handful of important features neglected by the First system, polishes off the roughnesses…and issues it under a completely different name.

A classic First system: C

A classic Second system: C++ (ongoing)

A classic Third system: Java

There are, of course, many others.

The supreme challenge facing the engineer of any variety is to figure out how to produce the Third System first, without needing to endure the costs and disappointments of the Second System. Sadly, this challenge has never been met. Indeed, it might be impossible in the nature of things. But research continues.

Life Stories

     [The following was written by a dear friend – a young woman who can fairly be said to have saved my sanity – named Duyen Ky. It first appeared at the late, lamented Eternity Road on January 18, 2009. Today she lives in Southern California with her husband. – FWP]

     Welcome to Sunday! After the somewhat angry posts of the last two days, it’s a pleasure to have…well, “an excuse” isn’t the exact right way to put it, but it will have to do…to talk about something a little more pleasant than virginity auctions, Gaza, and Muslim fanatics.

     Yesterday I visited with a new friend who’s rapidly becoming a very close friend: Matt, the gun store manager I met on my “armament shopping trip” a few weeks ago. He’s a little younger than I am — he’ll be 26 just about as I turn 34 — but he has a hard sense about him that a lot of older people could stand to learn from. Maybe that comes from working around “deadly weapons” and the people who love them. I couldn’t say. But I really enjoy the spin he puts on some of the stuff we talk about. (I also love that he has no fear about driving into New York City on the spur of the moment.)

     Matt has no religion. I, of course, told him that I’m a practicing Catholic…just yesterday evening, for the first time. In the process of getting to know someone who might become really important to you, you can’t just blurt out the most important stuff about you; you have to choose the right time and setting. You also have to work up enough nerve, for some things at least. Religion is one of them.

     Matt was curious. He wanted to know more. Not in a prosecuting-attorney sort of way, either. He really, truly wanted my reasons. He wasn’t about to let me get away with a synopsis, either; he wanted the whole story. So I did my best to give it to him.

     I had no problem explaining the core of Christian doctrine — hey, we sum the whole thing up in one prayer — and no problem with the basic rituals of Roman Catholicism and why we practice them. But how do you explain conversion? It’s an internal process. It involves things no one else can see, hear, or feel — what Fran calls private knowledge. Talking about it can make you sound like some kind of nut.

     I tried to avoid it, but Matt wouldn’t let me. I became curious about the intensity of his interest, but I kept all my questions to myself and just did what I could.

     He took it seriously. That surprised me more than anything else. He didn’t pull a face. he didn’t act as if I was someone who had to be handled very carefully. He accepted what I said as a truthful narration of what I’d experienced.

     After a while, he said, “Do you think that happens to everyone? Because it hasn’t happened to me.”

     I tried flippancy. “Well, you’re not dead yet.”

     He scowled. “Look, if this is a good thing, then it ought to be available to everyone. Catholics don’t believe in predestination like the Calvinists, do they?”

     That set me back. “No, of course not.”

     “Then I want to know why you and not me,” he said.

     Oh boy, I thought, now I have to play theologian.

     “Look,” I said, “I’m not a missionary, I’m just a believer. I wouldn’t dream of trying to convert you.

     “Why not?”

     I was punch-drunk by then. “Well, most people consider it impolite to press their religion on other people.”

     And this twenty-five-year-old man who sells steel, lead, and gunpowder for a living, who’s surrounded six days a week by people whose every third word is obscene, who described the household he grew up in as “a demilitarized zone,” said to me, “That’s their problem. If this is good stuff, I want in. And if you believe it’s good stuff, you should be out there trying to share it with others. Especially as it costs you nothing.”




     Have you ever used the phrase “the story of my life?” Do you think your life has a story — a plot line that runs from an opening scene, through a series of crises, to a climactic moment that resolves into a dramatic finish? Probably not, when it’s put that way. But I know a few people who’d like to be able to say so — and I know why.

     Stories are built around meaning. If your life has a story, then your existence means something to someone: the guy who “wrote” you, and anyone else who’s “read and enjoyed” you. People seek meaning. They want their lives to have meaning. At least, I do.

     (I know, I’m generalizing from a single data point, but everybody does that. At least, I do!)

     But we look for meaning in a lot of perverse places: work, love, dependents, responsibilities, possessions, achievements, hobbies, etc. Those are all temporary. I can’t imagine anything but transient meaning coming out of any of them. If they’re the heart of your “story,” I think you’ll end up disappointed.

     Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re not just the protagonist of your “story,” but the author as well. You’re standing outside time, just like God, deciding on everything about the temporal you: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Would you have “written” yourself and your “story” as it is?

     Most people wouldn’t. At least, I wouldn’t have. (There I go again!) I’d want to be a person of stature: big stature, huge achievements, bringer of universal freedom, peace, and prosperity. The ultimate benefactor to everyone who’ll ever live. I’d want to be remembered that way for eons and eons, until the Sun goes nova and Mankind is only a memory. (I’d also want better teeth and a fuller figure, but that’s a subject for another time.)

     It’s a good thing we don’t get to do that. There’d be too much competition for that Ultimate Benefactor position.

     But here’s the kicker: Someone did “write” me. He had to have His reasons. I mean something to Him, which is a lot more meaning than I could get from any other source.

     Okay, that’s a matter of faith. That’s the “private knowledge” part that you can’t reason your way to, that has to come as a gift. But once you’ve been given that gift, doesn’t the rest sort of follow?

     A writer doesn’t put a character into a story unless that character has a reason to be there. So whatever my own purposes might be at any time, my Author gave me a higher one, too — and part of my job on Earth is to figure out what it is. That’s only right and proper. Especially considering all the detail work He had to do.



     I’m speaking only for myself, of course. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty for being carefree, or for feeling completely in charge of his own life. But yesterday’s conversation with Matt has me looking at the thread of my own “story” in a brand new way.

     The highest purpose I can imagine for someone as insignificant as me is to help others to find the love and acceptance of Christ, the main blessing of my life. I can’t give them the “private knowledge” that opened me to Him. And I know I mustn’t force myself or my convictions on anyone, either. But I can “bear witness” by living as a Christian should. Not only can I embrace the seven virtues for myself, I can exemplify them to others.

     Being a good example is a form of charity that isn’t much appreciated. But it’s always been the most effective form of preaching, the preparation for everything else. Your deeds can open the door for your words; nothing else will. And when that door is opened to you, you must speak. You must tell your story — without embarrassment or fear — and you must learn how to reassure others who haven’t “gotten there” yet that their stories still have a few chapters to run.

     It took a sharp observation by a smart young man with no religion to open my eyes to this. I can only pray that I won’t forget it.


     [This essay first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason on August 5, 2003 — FWP]


     Once upon a time, a group of gamblers who controlled the nation of Japan looked around them at a vista that gleamed with opportunity. A host of prizes stood temptingly near, theirs for the taking. There loomed but one hazard: America, a large, wealthy, but martially disinclined nation at the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. There was a chance, small but not to be dismissed, that America would object to Japan’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, owing to its Hawaiian and Philippine possessions. That risk bothered some of the Japanese oligarchs greatly.

     The Tojo faction believed it necessary to eliminate the American threat by destroying the United States Pacific Fleet, based at Pearl Harbor. The Yamamoto faction believed that this would increase the risks; that, even if its Pacific Fleet were destroyed, if America did not immediately sue for peace, American industrial strength converted into an instrument of war would crush Japan utterly.

     The Tojo faction prevailed. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy struck Pearl Harbor in the most consequential act of war since the Battle of Waterloo. The battleship flotilla of the United States Pacific Fleet was destroyed, along with seventeen hundred American casualties.

     On December 8, Admiral Yamamoto’s nightmare materialized: Congress voted to declare war on the Empire of Japan.

     It wasn’t until the Battle of Midway that it became clear that America would defeat Japan. During the first months of the conflict, the Japanese enjoyed success after success. America was still learning how to use the new weapons of maritime combat, the aircraft carrier and the submarine, in an effective way. However, after the stunning defeat dealt to the Japanese at Midway, it could no longer be doubted that America would prevail. Tojo’s gamble had failed.

     Gambling is an essential aspect of Weltpolitik. One can never predict the actions or reactions of other nations with certainty; different cultures value particular things, such as surrender, subjugation, and “face,” quite differently. More, one can never be perfectly sure that one’s armed forces will prevail in some imagined contest. For there is always a maximum price one is willing to pay for victory.

     American arms surged across the Pacific, recapturing the Japanese strongholds one at a time in bloody battles that cost thousands of lives and have given rise to some of the most exciting war stories ever recorded. The naval war gradually became a matter of attrition and suppression, as American submarines and patrol boats interdicted those strongholds against resupply from Japan’s Home Islands.

     But the Japanese, though thoroughly beaten and fully aware of it as early as New Year’s Day of 1945, would not surrender. Japanese pride would not permit it. Tojo and his associates could not face the prospect of humbling themselves before gaijin conquerors, or worse, being tried for war crimes committed in Burma, Korea, Manchuria and the Philippines. Though they had gambled and lost, they refused to fold their cards. They stayed at the table, increasing their stake to the complete destruction of the Home Islands.

     So American air power, launched from bases dotted around the western Pacific, commenced the reduction of the Japanese military-industrial base. Huge bombing sorties darkened the skies of Japan’s major cities, carpet-bombing industrial centers until not a roof could be seen for miles around. Japan’s air defenses proved unable to stop them.

     But the Japanese still refused to surrender. Saving face and averting humiliation before the despised white race remained more important still.

     In the early summer of 1945, with the war in Europe concluded, American war planners tried to assess what it would cost to defeat Japan on its own soil. Their predictions were frightening. Most of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe would have to circle the globe to invade Japan. Casualty estimates from the urban combat the planners foresaw were horrendous. The worst case figures hovered near a million American dead: five times our total losses in the European theater.

     President Truman had to decide how much he was willing to pay to compel an unconditional Japanese surrender. Pacifying Japan, which had proved itself to be the most aggressively inclined of all the Pacific states, was important, but was it important enough to spill that much American blood?

     The arrival of the atomic bomb gave Truman a new option, and a new risk. After the tests at White Sands, it was clear that America had a superweapon at its disposal. However, the supply of such weapons was not large. At that time, the refinement of fissionable uranium 235 was done by cyclotron, and it was not a rapid process.

     Truman had to choose among a number of risky courses: an amphibious invasion of Japan that would strain American naval power to its limits and take a dreadful toll in American lives; a demonstration to Japanese witnesses of what the new weapons could do, without actually using them against a Japanese target, in the hopes that it would be enough to evoke surrender; or the atomic bombardment of one or more Japanese military-industrial centers.

     On August 6, 1945, Truman ordered the atomic bombing of one of three Japanese cities. Kokuru, the first city on the target list, was bypassed because of forbidding cloud cover. Hiroshima, the second target, wasn’t that lucky. “Little Boy,” a 12 KT weapon, was delivered to it by the Enola Gay, a B-29 commanded by Col. Paul Tibbets.

     The Japanese surrender was still not forthcoming. On August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, immediately moving into Manchuria and Sakhalin Island and cutting all communication between those regions and the Home Islands.

     On August 9, Nagasaki was atomic-bombed by “Fat Man,” a 20 KT weapon. Truman swore that further resistance by Japan would bring a rain of atomic fury that would leave the Home Islands a heap of lifeless ash From that moment until August 11, when Japan’s Emperor broadcast his nation’s surrender, the entire Truman Administration held its breath.

     There were no more atomic bombs. Truman’s threat of the atomic destruction of Japan was a pure bluff.

     The gamble paid off. Japan capitulated, Tojo and his principal henchmen were tried and executed for war crimes, and with time and American supervision, Japan learned the ways of peace.

     But there were other gambles as well. Why not compel capitulation by destroying Tokyo? It would have eliminated the Japanese military command and left the Home Islands completely passive before an American occupation. Surely the idea occurred to the president and his war planners. Was the projected cost in Japanese lives too high?

     What if either Little Boy or Fat Man had failed to detonate? The loss of face to the United States, and the increase in the will to resist of the Japanese, would have been considerable. With no more fissionable uranium, America would have been hard pressed to try again.

     Finally, what if, after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan had still refused to surrender? Even as the Emperor capitulated, troops loyal to the Tojo faction were assaulting the radio station, trying to prevent the broadcast. Had they succeeded, how would the war have continued? Would the invasion of the Home Islands by American troops have gone forward as previously envisioned? What would the cost in lives have been? Would the Soviets have seized still more Asian territory, perhaps the whole of Korea and one or two of the Home Islands as well?

     We will never know. What we do know underlines what a risky business war is, how many uncertainties it holds, and how much faith in oneself and one’s cause is required to set forth to war at all.

     And we know this: even a victorious war is horrible. A war accurately remembered contains infinitely more grief and terror than triumph or martial pride. Even for those wars that must be fought, even when all goes according to plan, the best caption for any war is the one uttered to the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, fifty-eight years ago tomorrow, by Col. Tibbets as he banked the Enola Gay into its return flight and viewed what military science had done:

“Oh my God.”

Reason, Death, And Unholy Desire

     When confusion abounds and a multitude of strident voices make the world into one giant cacophony, I retreat to the classics. No, not Shakespeare or Milton, though they too have their place. I’m thinking of the great theorists of war and international relations, the RAND Corporation and Hudson Institute conflict-resolution scholia: Albert and Rebecca Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, and the great Thomas Schelling, author of The Strategy Of Conflict. I spent much of the weekend just behind us retracing that intellectual odyssey.

     So it was a disappointment to confirm that these men, the most penetrating of our era’s analysts of adversarial relations, didn’t have an answer to the question that troubled me most: How does one deal rationally with an opponent whose non-negotiable desire is to work your destruction, and who’s willing to pay any price to do it?

     Conflict-resolution analysts have always based their approaches on the classic, game-theoretic approaches pioneered by John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. These men, themselves mighty geniuses, built atop the economic understandings of David Ricardo and Vilfredo Pareto. The thinking of Ricardo, Pareto, and the rest of the scholium of classical economics took its founding insights from the father of all rational economic reasoning, Adam Smith.

     From Smith to the great thinkers of RAND and Hudson, we can trace an unbroken chain of calm, reasoned analysis, all of which rested on a silent, indispensable postulate: For any given thing a contestant in a contest might want, there is a maximum price he’d be willing to pay, and no more.

     Seems unassailable, doesn’t it? The contrary proposition would be that there’s someone willing to pay an infinite amount for some good. That would imply that he’d be willing to sacrifice his life, the lives of all his loved ones and friends, and everything else he could manipulate, to achieve some desideratum. Insane! Who would be left to enjoy whatever it was he had purchased?

     Before Black Tuesday, no one would have entertained the notion.

     Somewhere in my time closet, I have a button that says, “If you’re willing to die, you can do anything.” Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement, but it points up an unpleasant truth. The sacrifice of one’s own life, which has been called “the ultimate price,” will buy a lot of things that are available for no other currency. Yet the willingness to make that sacrifice contradicts the unspoken assumption of classical economics. It renders conventional methods of valuation, and the reasoning by which we use them, impotent.

     The line of thought derived from Smith, whose fullest flowering arrived with Schelling, cannot cope with decisions that incorporate a willingness to pay an unbounded price.

     It gets worse when we include the nature of the “purchase” being made by the terror masters of our time: the destruction of innocent others. I mean analytically worse. How do we reproduce, in terms accessible to the non-suicidal mind, the value a terrorist places on carnage dealt to innocent others? The best of us can barely comprehend the possibility of sacrificing our lives to protect a loved one. But to throw away life and all it holds out to us merely to visit horror upon people we don’t even know? From whose demise no good can flow?

     That postulate of economic rationality is what makes it possible to think about conflict resolution at all. Once removed, even the brilliance of Thomas Schelling can’t cope with the results.

     As David Friedman has noted, there are only three interpersonal modes: love, trade, and force. I might give you what you want out of personal affection. I might give it to you in trade for a consideration from you. Or you might take it from me by threatening me with death or injury. There are no other methods.

     Conflict theory is premised on the postulate of economic rationality because, without it, its powers are blocked. No scheme of objective analysis can deal with the suppression of self-interest charcteristic of love, or with the inclusive nihilism of violent predation. The possibility of averting a war, or ending a war already in progress, by negotiation rests on the premise that the potential combatants want something for which they’d be willing to put up their swords, if they could get it some less costly way.

     It’s a knowledge suffused with sorrow, for it implies that there can be no peace with the Islamist radicals, nor with the Palestinian irredentists whose terror campaign seeks the destruction of Israel. There can only be victory or death.

     With regard to the looming conflict with Saddam Hussein, I have previously characterized that particular dictator as rationally evil. That is, he is unwilling to pay more than some maximum price for what he wants, though he often contrives to transfer that price onto others’ shoulders. What will determine whether we depose him by force, given that he can’t prevent it once we’ve committed to it, will be whether the cost of buying us off is within that maximum.

     But sometimes price is a multi-dimensional commodity, spread out over space and time and bound in chains of consequence. Hussein, being rational, wants first and foremost to live, and after that to gain in wealth and power. Should the other malevolent forces of his region, some of which are irrationally evil, put their own knives to his throat, and threaten to topple him themselves should he accommodate the United States too dramatically, he might find his back against the wall in the ultimate “no-win scenario,” where the only choice remaining is at whose hands he’d prefer to die. At that point, his bank having been broken in advance, a tide of destruction would be inevitable.

     And all the genius of three centuries’ worth of economists and political scientists will not avail any of us against that tide. It will be victory or death.


     Being of a certain age — I’m certain of it even if you aren’t — I came to manhood amid the loudest and rowdiest years of the Sexual Revolution. Being of a certain height, build, and facial conformation — see the Personal page if you really need to know — mostly I didn’t participate. But I did watch from the sidelines, as it were, and over the years I’ve come to a firm conclusion.

     We wuz robbed.

     It’s true that contraceptive technology is available to make sex largely consequence-free. And it’s true that the viral hazards, to heterosexuals who don’t use drugs or play with folks who do, have been wildly overstated by a certain special-interest community that lusts after Federal bucks for AIDS research, so that its members won’t have to change their ways. But there are other aspects to sex that contraceptives and public health measures can never address. I will take this opportunity to quote a great American pundit whose wisdom in this area has gone largely unremarked:

     “Sleeping with someone changes everything.” — Bruce Feirstein, author of Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche and Nice Guys Sleep Alone.

     Truer words have never been spoken… and yet, for something like three decades the young people of Western society have pretended to believe that it wasn’t so. In some ways, we’re still pretending.

     It’s worth a few moments to think about why it’s that way. Viewed through a coarsely-grained lens, sex is just a variety of agreeable physical contact between bodies. Why should it differ emotionally from other physical activities we enjoy? What makes it so special?

     The mystery deepens when we note that there are devices, available for a few dollars, that can excite the body to greater degrees of pleasure than ordinary sex, or even extraordinary sex, could ever achieve. Yet people overwhelmingly prefer the genuine article, with all its muss, fuss, occasions for embarrassment, and potential for social and emotional disaster.

     Everyone has a thesis, whether it be religiously, sociologically, biologically, or otherwise derived. Some of them aren’t half bad, either. Mine is, well, uh, hey, look at that cardinal nesting in the Douglas fir!

     All right, all right. Mine is strategic.

     You have to open your defensive perimeter, your reflex-reaction zone, to let someone else get close enough to you to make love. A woman has to permit her man to enter her body. Each partner is in a state of total physical vulnerability while their embrace lasts. There are implications and overtones to this that no rationalization about sex being mere happy friction can erase.

     Among my other fetishes, I’m a student of military history and military theory. I tell you frankly, viewed from that perspective, the whole idea of sex is the plainest madness.

     And it doesn’t stop with the sexual embrace itself. No matter how often we tell ourselves otherwise, every sex act is a test of a proposition: “Will we be a unit? Will I share his home and bear his children? Will she stand by me in my battles and nurture me in my times of infirmity?”

     The unit of two is the unit best suited to human beings. One person can accept and bond to another on mutually agreed terms, with little or no ambiguity about the nature, obligations and extent of the intended relationship. Larger numbers don’t work nearly as well. If you disagree, you’ve never been in politics.

     No amount of propaganda about sex being just one more way for people to enjoy their bodies can erase these facts. They are graven in our genes, and in our nature as a species.

     Does this mean that some sort of official policy about sex and marriage, that recognizes these things and attempts to promote them with statutes and programs, would be appropriate? Of course not. Sexual and marital relations are so quintessentially private that any intrusion upon them from the public sphere would be sufficient justification for revolt, all by itself. That’s not what I’m saying, and if you choose to interpret it that way, the problem lies with you, not with me.

     No, it’s more like this.

     See that handsome stranger or pretty lady across the bar? What were you thinking a moment ago, about how it would be nice to try the night with him / her, and needn’t come to more than that if it doesn’t work out?

     Don’t kid yourself, my friend. From the moment you first touch, forces will be unleashed in heaven and on Earth that will rock you to your core, and it won’t matter a dented copper groat what your intentions were.

     Be smart. Know yourself. Know your species.

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