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.



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.”


     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.

Dictionary Of Government Doublespeak

Ever wondered why you simply can’t understand bureaucratese? It’s a problem that daunts many people, what with phraseology like “firmly tentative,” “bold caution,” and “interim final rules.” But never fear: your old friend Fran is on the job, and herewith presents the First Edition (collectors be alert!) of his fabulous…


Like the exotic language it unravels, this dictionary is a living, growing document; interested parties are warmly invited to submit their favorite statist obfuscations for inclusion in future editions. Meanwhile, welcome to the land of American Newspeak, where currency becomes money, law becomes justice, plunder becomes taxation, inflation becomes price increases, war becomes peace, freedom becomes slavery, and ignorance becomes strength. It looks like English, it sounds like English, but the English I learned in school, it ain’t.

When They Say You Should Hear
Abusive tax shelters Survival foxholes for the productive
Affirmative action Nouveau discrimination
Ally Former or future enemy (e.g., Russia)
Antitrust laws Unintelligible
Austerity Higher taxes and government spending
Balanced budget When Hell freezes over, maybe
Big Bad, except for government
Black market Free market
Brain drain People with talent and hard sense fleeing to countries with stronger
property rights and more personal freedom
Budget cuts (bureaucratic profanity)
Bureaucrat 1. Professional parasite

2. Plunder broker

Campaign contribution Down payment on future legislation
Campaign promises Liar’s poker
Capital gain Automatic liability
Capital loss (The IRS says this can’t happen)
Capitalism (undefined)
Cease-fire Halftime for war
Civil servant Government employee; neither civil nor servile
Commissions Parking places for stubborn problems
Common good “Just trust me”
Competition The ultimate evil
Conservative Someone opposed to high taxes and government spending, unless they
benefit him or his constituency
Contribution Extortion
Crisis Excuse for raising taxes and hiring more bureaucrats
Cure Bigger government
Currency Worthless paper that bears the same relation to money as a car title
bears to a stolen car
Cutting red tape New regulations for old
Debt rescheduling Declaring national bankruptcy (“if you don’t have it, flaunt
Defensive weapon Russian bomber in Cuba
Deficit spending Kiting checks
Democracy “The bludgeoning of the people, for the people, by the
people” (Oscar Wilde)
Department of Energy OPEC’s Washington lobbyists
Depression Government-inflicted wound to the economy
Destructive competition Competition that increases the volume of goods and services while
lowering their prices and otherwise “destroying” prosperity
Develop Corrupt or destroy (e.g., “develop” the economy)
Dictator (friendly) A criminal (e.g., Somoza) who oppresses the people, admires Hitler, and
embraces fascism.
Dictator (unfriendly) A criminal (e.g., Castro) who oppresses the people, admires Stalin, and
embraces Communism.
Diplomacy Saying “nice doggy” winningly while groping for a rock.
Discrimination (see “graduated income tax”)
Dumping Bargains for consumers on imports
Easy money Inflation
Economic democracy Socialism
Economic policy Reelection strategy
Election “advance auction of stolen goods” (H.L. Mencken)
Embassy Espionage headquarters
Enemy Former or future ally (e.g., Russia)
Energy crisis “Oh my God, what have we done?”
Ethics (undefined)
Entitlement program Institutionalized theft
Essential Luxury we can’t afford
Fact-finding tour All-expenses-paid vacation
Fair Too many meanings to list here
Federal debt “We’ll spend it; you’ll pay it.”
Federal Reserve Note “We make money the old fashioned way; we print it.”
Fiscal dividend Taxes generated by inflating hapless Americans into higher tax brackets
Flexible Unprincipled
Foreign aid Auction for “allies”
Foreign policy “perpetual war for perpetual peace” (Charles A. Beard)
Forgotten man Taxpayer
Freedom “Voting makes you free, doesn’t it?” (cf. Russia)
Free trade (undefined)
Government “An association of men who do violence to the rest of us” (Leo
Government Accounting Office Chaplain of the whorehouse
Government estimate Wrong
Government loan Gift
Government employee Diligent loafer
Hard-core unemployed Politician or bureaucrat
Helping the poor Plundering the productive
Hoarding Saving
Honor Swollen ego
Improving compliance Threatening louder
Industrial policy Causing companies to go bankrupt with government interference and then
investing tax money in them (cf. Lockheed)
Inflation Unarmed robbery via the printing press
Inflexible Unwilling to sell out your principles for a government job or a
pork barrel appropriation
Internal Revenue Service “We provide relief from prosperity!”
Investment Speculation
Jobs bill Bureaucrats get the jobs; taxpayers foot the bill.
Justice (undefined)
Keynesian Economist who believes that prosperity is the result of printing more
zeroes on more pieces of paper
Law Formal injustice
Leadership Staying on top of the polls
Legal tender Worthless paper currency backed by a gun
Liberal Government worshipper
Lynch mob Informal injustice
Majority rule Mutually assured plunder
Managing Interfering
Market failure “We want MORE!”
Meaningful dialogue Empty posturing and rhetoric
Minimum wage Price controls on human flesh
Monetary policy Rate of inflation
Money Currency
Monopoly Successful business whose campaign contributions went to the losing
Nationalization Confiscation
Necessary Don’t argue
Negotiation Surrender
New Deal Socialism
No (undefined; this is a word that politicians apparently cannot say)
Nonaligned country Dictator shopping for the best deal
Objective (see “necessary”)
Obscene profits Imaginary gains from inflation (Jimmy Carter’s overworked imagination)
Off-budget items Underground government
Offensive weapon Russian bomber in Russia
Open society “What’s wrong with wiretapping?”
Paternalism Totalitarianism
Peacekeeping force U.S. troops furnished to a Third World hellhole for target practice
Peace with honor Surrender
Permanent (undefined)
Police action Mass murder with conventional weapons (“Is killing conventional?”
— Arthur Herzog)
Political crisis Not getting reelected
Positive action Inflation
Price controls “How dare you call our freshly printed currency worthless!”
Principle “Something that politicians must rise above” (H.L. Mencken)
Promise A firmly tentative maybe
Property taxes Protection money for real estate
Public interest group (see “economic pressure group”)
Public servant Public master
Rationing “Now that we’ve killed the goose, we have to divide up the eggs
fair and square”
Reaganomics Spending oneself rich
Realism Socialism
Recession “My nature is too refined to use the word ‘depression’ “
Redistribution Trolling for votes
Regulation Strangulation
Reindustrialization “Invest in yesterday!”
Rent control (see “redistribution”)
Revenue shortfall Spending hemorrhage
Rights Desires or demands
Selfish Wanting to keep what you earned
Social justice More government
Social Security Government Ponzi scheme
Socially responsible Submissive
Speculators People who attempt to protect themselves from irresponsible government
economic interventions by buying hard assets
Spending cuts (bureaucratic profanity)
Stabilization Subsidization or price control
Statesman Politician unable to attain elective office
Stimulating the economy Inflation
Supply management Pouring milk into the gutter to raise milk prices
Tariff Restraint of trade by government
Tax audit Guilty until proven innocent
Tax benefits The thanks you owe a burglar who refrains from taking everything
Tax cut Tax increase
Tax-free “We haven’t gotten to it yet”
Tax protestor Citizen under the delusion that the Constitution will be upheld by the
Tax return Signed confession
Taxation Armed robbery
Taxpayers Victims (“Stand still, little sheep, and be shorn.”)
Temporary Permanent (e.g., withholding tax)
Tight money Restraint of inflation
Transfer payments (see “majority rule”)
Treaty Meaningless scrap of paper
Trust fund Betrayal fund
Underground economy (see “black market”)
Unemployment Gainful idleness
Unfair competition Healthy competition
Unpatriotic Someone who declines self-immolation
Verifiable Unverifiable
Voluntary Compulsory (e.g., “voluntary taxation”)
Voluntary import quota Extortionary restraint of trade
Voluntary taxation Decline to volunteer and receive a free vacation behind bars
Voodoo economics Cutting spending and ceasing to inflate
Voting Choosing between evils
War of national liberation War of national enslavement
War on poverty War on property rights and prosperity
Waste (undefined)
Wasteful duplication of services (see “unfair competition”)
Welfare Generosity with someone else’s money
Zero-based budgeting Race to add zeroes to government budgets


Private Knowledge

     I consider myself a Catholic. I also consider myself an agnostic. And while you’re catching your breath from that seeming contradiction, I’m going to indulge in a little word-splitting, hopefully of the consciousness-expanding kind.

     The original Gnostic controversy propelled a great deal of the early unrest within the Church. On one side stood men, apparently sincere, who believed that knowledge of God’s will came directly to each individual in the form of a private revelation, a gnosis. The most famous case of gnosis recorded in Christian history is the “road to Damascus” revelation of Paul of Tarsus, who may justly be regarded as the doctrinal founder of the Church.

     Opposed to these stood men who rejected the very idea of gnosis. They held that since not all persons had one, and that God would not be so cruel as to deny His word to anyone who desired to hear it, then these private revelations should be regarded as events of unknown significance at best, rather than reliable indicators of God’s will. These were the original agnostics.

     Interestingly, the Church, though its doctrines were shaped by the most celebrated gnosis of all time, almost immediately thereafter rejected the Gnostic position, declaring it beyond the pale for any communicant to place his private revelation above the teachings approved by the Church hierarchy. Gnosticism, thus anathematized, acquired an unsavory aspect, allied itself with forms of mysticism at odds with core Christian beliefs, and after a couple of centuries ceased to be an important influence on the development of the Christian faith.

     There are Christian faiths that preserve some fragment of the Gnostic belief. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints, for example, explicitly teaches its adherents that God may be expected to speak directly to them on matters of critical importance to them personally. However, most mainline Christian sects, including my own, are firmly agnostic. True doctrine, they teach, is preserved and propagated by the Church itself, in keeping with the responsibility conferred upon the apostle Peter by Christ Himself.

     All of this might seem a bit abstruse to the layman with a layman’s interest in matters of faith. I assure you, it’s more important than most Christians realize — not because of the possible clash between doctrine and revelation, but because of the private nature of all revelations, and the importance of that essential privacy to faith itself.

     In this world, God coerces no one. He has laid down the laws of Nature; that is all. Those laws may be denied or decried, but they cannot be broken. One aspect of those laws is that, for any given miracle — that is, for any given observed phenomenon that’s so far from the ordinary course of things that one explanation offered for it is the hand of God — there will always be at least one other plausible explanation, such that disbelief will remain possible. I believe that this is a part of the Divine Non-Coercion package, designed to allow men’s minds to be free even on the most fundamental of all subjects.

     Why does God want men’s minds to be so free? A good question. It might be part of the test. It might be part of what it means to be men. And it might be that we’ll all know soon enough. My own theory is that this is how God speaks directly to some men, such as Paul of Tarsus, while leaving others capable of reaching their own conclusions.

     Revelation is always private. Private events, as opposed to public events that may be witnessed by many persons simultaneously, have no evidentiary value for those who have not experienced them. Private events give rise only to private knowledge and private convictions. If a man has had such an experience, it may help him to persuade others, but even here there are stronger factors than the revelation itself: his known character, the degree of his eloquence, and his strength of will in staying true to the substance of the revelation and refraining from adulterating it with opinions of his own.

     To be a Christian agnostic is to say: Revelation is wonderful, if you’ve had one. It’s stunning, thrilling, enlarging beyond any other experience of the mind. But it has no weight as evidence in any argument with others. Your revelation was meant for you alone, or all the rest of us would have had it too.

     The Christian agnostic position is an insistence on personal humility: self-doubt, not doubt of God. How can we doubt what He has said to all of us together, the objectively verifiable laws that govern our universe and dictate how we may use what we find in it? But how can we not politely reserve judgment in the face of a Gnostic’s claim to have personal knowledge of His will? To do otherwise would be to elevate the convictions of a mere human above the actual mechanics of the cosmos, the continuously unfolding panoply of Creation itself.

     Why am I nattering on about this, you ask? Have I been accosted by self-nominated visionaries one too many times, or have I had a revelation of my own?

     Sorry, that’s private.


     Economists tend to partition the world’s goods into:

  • Capital goods (made because they help to produce something else),
  • Consumption goods (made because they’re desirable in and of themselves).

     This is an incomplete partition, and its failings have cost us dearly.

     There is a third category: overhead. Overhead goods aren’t made for productive purposes, nor are they satisfactions of any positive desire. We make them because, without them, we’d suffer losses or be seriously impeded in our more positive activities.

     Insurance is an obvious example of an overhead good. No one wants insurance for its positive features. No one buys insurance because with it he can produce something else. We buy insurance because, without it, we’d be exposed to an undesirable degree of risk from some more positive activity, such as driving or owning a house.

     With the exception of postal service, the activities permitted to the federal government by the Constitution are all overhead activities. They’re also all goods with pronounced externalities — that is, once these goods have been produced, everyone gets the benefit of them, not merely the people who’ve paid for them. This is no coincidence.

     When such goods are left to the free market, they tend to be under-produced. Their overhead nature means that people won’t experience any positive lure to produce them. Their externalities mean that there will be an incentive to “free ride” on the contributions of others, and that some appreciable fraction of the beneficiaries will do so if possible.

     The proper sphere of government, if it has one, can be seen in the light of this insight. Indeed, if there were no such things as these overhead-cum-externalities goods and services, there would be no conceivable justification for government. Individuals pay for their own overheads all the time, provided they don’t thereby pay for the overheads of others. And individuals and corporations produce goods with strong externalities as well — broadcast television is an example — so long as there’s a sufficient prospect of gain to the producer.

     The great question of political economy is how to confine government to its proper activities — the production of overhead-cum-externality goods and services — and how to ensure that those things will be produced in sufficient quantities. Suffice it to say that, as of yet, no satisfactory solution has been found.

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