Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It Must Be Kicked

The pessimist:
The optimist:
I fly my pennant for Team Aristotle. You might not recognize it in my proto-Chestertonian anarchism, but I agree with ol' Ari that the political life is the highest calling of the citizen. Unfortunately, the greatest rewards to participation in politics accrue to knaves in greater proportion than to honest folk. Of course the monopolists of force protect themselves first. I cannot endeavor to lay my finger upon a single instance anywhere at any time when that was not the case. The First Rule of Policing is as close to a universal truth in society as can be found.

Kaley v US, Bennis v Michigan... the ugly list of asset forfeiture cases that line up benefiting the organized banditry masquerading as a peace force bares the lie that there exists a gentleman's agreement between the sovereign and the governed.

My utopian comet has a police force. Law and order are crucial to commerce, to comfort, to general opulence. But the agreement between the enforcers and the median constituent would be euvoluntary. Enforce the natural law, uphold capital-J Justice, protect the innocent.

Then again, I can hardly blame the cops for shaking down citizens and acting as unaccountable thugs. Not too much anyway. Most of the fault lies with over-zealous legislatures who spend their hazy days making every effort to appease tumultuous constituents whose conflicting interests produce mountainous, inscrutable reams of rules so prodigious that any citizen might be apprehended at any time for reasons so arcane that they may as well be utterly capricious. And woe be unto thee if thou are the target of a prosecutor's or a politician's caprice.

It would be unreasonable to expect a marble bust of Pallas to emerge from a rout of snails. Is it no less unreasonable to expect an ideal rule of law to emerge from a coven of senators?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to Hurt the Poor Every Day of the Year

I can't beat Jeff's Thanksgiving post from last year. Unfortunately, Heraclitus was right, and this year's Turkey Day is marred by hundreds-years'-old strife raised to a boil by events in Missouri. As such. the idea of a single day of commercial boycotting fades gently under the penumbra of rioting induced by the wretched systematic injustices of power-mad goons.

The goons I refer to are, of course, the ones elected or appointed to positions of nominal authority. They bear the seals of office, wear the badges of service, and enjoy all the prestige and protection that the "justice" system affords them. Which is quite a bit.

So what am I thankful for this year? I'm thankful first and foremost for my family and friends, their warm companionship and love, and the comfort they bring. But I'm also thankful that our society has [mostly] conquered hunger (unless you're homeless in Florida), violent crime (unless you live in a community hobbled by mandatory unemployment legislation aka minimum wage statutes), and the violent oppression of minorities (unless you have the keys to surplus war materiel courtesy of the DoD as well as carte blanche justification for the use of civil asset forfeiture). In other words, I'm privately, narrowly thankful for my privilege.

In a more just, more euvoluntary America, more residents, including those who move here freely from abroad would enjoy all the same privileges I do: the privilege to walk around without being molested or harassed by anyone, including cops and private citizens, the privilege to accept employment with whom I choose under mutually agreeable terms, the privilege to truck, barter, and exchange goods and services I find pleasing and to recompense my trading partner so as to encrease the opulence and joy of the both of us.

It is customary when splitting the collarbone of the turkey to make a wish. If I get the better part of the wishbone this year, I wish for an end to the systematic injustice that still plagues the beautiful country I love so dearly.

A happy Thanksgiving to you all, or at least as happy as you can manage in these bleak times.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Horrible Truth about Net Neutrality

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about net neutrality. All right, here is how I feel about net neutrality:

If when you say net neutrality you mean the crony's crowbar, the monopolist's schmooze, the crook's corruption, that empowers cozy insiders, throttles competition, destroys the urge to innovate, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the wifi connection from the laptops of little children; if you mean the evil regulator-is-the-regulated revolving door we have in this present day in the provision of utilities that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say net neutrality you mean breaking the de facto local monopoly, restoring to the hearths and homes of this great nation the liberty of its people to choose their own ISP, the laughter on a child's lips when Bob the Builder on Netflix comes streaming in with no buffer wheel, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean the cheer of customers when telecoms obliged by the harsh discipline of competition to provide the best possible service at prices agreeable to the public; if you mean the streaming content that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the regulatory philosophy which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that trust-busting urge, the implementation of which pours into our homes untold millions of gigabytes of content, which are used to provide in-home education via Khan Academy, Marginal Revolution University, and the like for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to reclaim telecom right-of-way for the good of the public, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stuart Smalley Political Economy

Those of you old enough to remember Al Franken before he morphed into a Skeksis and took his rightful place in the US Senate may recall his SNL character Stuart Smalley, whose flaccid mantra was "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." It was a funny enough pastiche at the time, woven from the unbearable sadness of broken, low-status people shambling their way through the aftermath of trauma (Franken says that the character emerged from his experiences in Al-Anon meetings).

The humor, and I feel a little foolish for having to point this out, arose from the unmanly, servile, wimpish nature of the character. Smalley was constantly trying to rebuild his self-esteem, and that's silly because self-esteem is silly.

Well, it was anyway. Wunca-ponna time. I know this will sound like intergenerational bellyaching, but I'd like you to consider the content of the material Patrick at Popehat has lately taken to lambasting.

See the thing in all its glory.

Young Mr. Zach Traynor flirts with his totalitarian instincts on the dance floor of self-esteem. To him (and judging from an admittedly non-representative sample of people his age, many of his peers), the threat of physical violence is a distant memory of a Whiggish past, gone but not forgotten, rearing occasionally in the periodic school shootings that have become a numbing part of the relentless news cycle. No more swirlies, no more noogies, no more fistfights by the bleachers. We used to knock the books out of your hands. Now we tweet mean things about you. Isn't that still bullying? If you troll me, do I not bleed?

The Straussian reading of Traynor is this: the American public has chosen to move up Maslow's pyramid. Violent crime is way down, particularly from the excesses of the last quarter of last century. Social media has drastically reduced the search costs of ad hoc communities, so that previously outre interests now have gigantic annual conventions in major cities. Honestly, if you would have told me while Franken was still on the air in a pastel sweater that American men would be congregate once a year dressed up as My Little Pony characters, I would have gone all British and accused you of taking the piss. The only frontiers left for bullies to ply their craft is in the rarefied vapor of self-esteem and self-actualization.

And yes, it still sucks. Getting stuffed in a locker sucks too, but assault is a crime. Making speech a crime has horrific consequences that should be obvious to anyone over the age of five.

Still though, making speech a crime is a choice that the public could make. It's possible that given enough time, public opinion could drift far enough into Traynoresque tyranny that we could see a repeal of the First Amendment. He's a Dartmouth student, he and his peers will inherit the keys to the Constitution soon enough. I'd be curious to see if he and his ilk end up successful whether or not the next round of censorious intent will be leveled at the next layer of Maslow, if folks who dare impede personal perfection through criticism or other barrier-erecting will end up tasting hobnails.

Speech is not euvoluntary. Well, at least the speech that most desperately needs protecting. Tender feelings are hurt when people make harshly critical remarks. There's little mutual felicity exchanged when Serrano submerges a plastic Christ in his own urine. But I encourage you, dear reader, to recall that when you petition the state to intervene, you are affirming that in the limit, you are willing to kill to enforce the statute law you wish to enact. Do not forget that in a confrontation with agents chartered to enforce statue legislation, sufficient resistance ends one way: with the perpetrator shot dead.

Mr. Traynor, are you willing to kill American citizens to preserve the self-esteem of others?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Comin' Down from the Gallows

Ohio is considering legislation to shield manufacturers of drugs used in executions from identification (NPR, AP). This comes in the wake of the botched execution of Dennis McGuire (and Joseph R Wood in Arizona, and Michael Wilson in Oklahoma), ordeals that ex post violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause of the 8th Amendment.

At issue: firms that provide drugs for lethal injections squander "goodwill", an accounting term-of-art meant to measure the dollar value of brand loyalty or public trust the firm enjoys. It's bad for business to be seen as the merchant of death, I suppose. The EU has even gone so far as to threaten an embargo against the US if the several states continue to use Eurozone-manufactured drugs to execute prisoners.

The dropsman, the burly axeman, that grim bareback stretcher of necks, Le danseur du Madame Guillotine, the Final Servant of High Justice, the Scharfricher... call him what you will, but almost universally, this man is hooded to protect his identity lest he become a pariah. Ottoman Imperial executioners were drawn only from Romany stock, untouchable wandering peasants. I strain to imagine a historically lower status profession over the long arc of written history. Dung heap shovelers never needed hide their face for fear of community reprisal. Cold-blooded execution, even if directed by the impartial arm of the Law, is simply reprehensible, atavistically so. Execution is not euvoluntary (duh).

Curious: why wouldn't the exact same moral intuition apply to the many, many, many firms that deal either directly or indirectly with state agencies responsible for casualties incurred in the many armed conflicts around the world. Drugs that end the lives of heinous criminals are one thing, bombs that end the lives of innocent children are something else entirely. How many Eurozone firms conduct commerce with General Atomics Aeronautics (the company that makes Predator drones)? How about General Electric, with their immense DoD contracts, or Westinghouse, or General Dynamics? Are EU political elites threatening to embargo these firms? Why not? What's the difference?

In Arnold Kling's 3-axis model, the conservative axis has that state executions are barbaric, and rehabilitation is civilized. The progressive axis would suggest that criminals are (perhaps) the result of oppressive power structures, and there is no justice in an execution—though I confess I'm not sure how the use of drone warfare would square with the moral intuition on this issue. And for libertarians? I don't think I'm familiar with a definitive libertarian stance on capital punishment. I don't think there's much marginal deterrence compared to lifetime imprisonment, and there are convincing deontological arguments both for and against.

At any rate, it's worth it, I think, to revisit from time to time the question of whether the state has a compelling interest in executing its citizens for heinous crimes. I also think it's worth considering if there can be justice in exchange when the telos of the trade is to end human life. I also think that to be consistent with principles of universality and fairness that considerate euvoluntary exchangeurs should give some thought to examining a wide range of trades, not merely those that offend moral sensitivities inherited from distant times. Perhaps it is immoral to hawk pentobarbitol to the headsman, but perhaps also it's just as immoral (if not more so) to sell guidance systems that'll sit in a GA MQ-1 Predator.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Horrible Truth of Nien Nunb

For those of you too young or insufficiently interested in the minutae of Star Wars trivia to recall, Nien Nunb was the Sullustan "co"-pilot who, together with Lando Calrissian, successfully detonated the power plant at the center of the second Death Star orbiting the forest moon of Endor. This assault marked the demise of both Emperor Palpatine and the last remaining Sith apprentice, Darth Vader.

Astute viewers will notice that while aboard the Millennium Falcon, Lando occupied the seat typically filled by Han Solo, and the froglike Nunb took Chewbacca's seat. Even more astute viewers will note that nearly every scene in the previous movies that required both adept piloting (the escape from the first Death Star or the flight from Hoth eg) and assistance elsewhere aboard the Falcon, Chewie kept his post, while Han went off to man the turrets or flirt with Leia or whatever. Han may have had legal title over the Falcon, but Chewbacca was its main pilot. This is not unlike our own terrestrial seagoing vessels, where the owner of the ship, the captain of the vessel, and the pilot are seldom the same person. If Nien Nunb was actually in the pilot's chair, it was he who deserves the lion's share of credit for the victory at Endor.

Despite this obvious-in-retrospect conclusion, Nunb is virtually unknown to casual fans. I had to wait until the action figure came out to learn his name, and it was only because of the extended universe novels that I remembered it with any regularity. How could this happen? Why do we so cavalierly forget one of the most important figures of the Rebellion?

The answer is a little complicated, so bear with me. On Nien Nunb's homeworld of Sullust, his distant ancestors civilized themselves in low-lying swamplands on one of the larger continents. This continent was a dangerous place, chock full of toothy predators and geological hazards. Proto-Sullustans competed with a number of similar Anurials for the same sorts of swamp resources. What set Nunb's ancestors apart from the other contenders for intellectual advancement was an idiosyncratic propensity to cooperate. This propensity arose almost by accident when a group of medium-status individuals found that by banding together to kill individually powerful males one at a time, they were able to avoid domination and capture a larger share of the community wealth. Of course, they were still social animals, and the Anurials clever enough to band together were also clever enough to exclude the very low-status members, obliging them to accept either charity or a BATNA of autarky (you get what you can make with your own two hands). Nota bene, in order for coalition members to avoid becoming the next assassination target, proto-Sullustans got very good at loudly championing equality for all, while surreptitiously hoarding wealth and excluding the untouchables.

Ancient proper Sullustans organized themselves by loosely-hierarchical clans. Members were more or less equal, with a clan head (usually an elder) to give direction where needed. But the habits of their Anurial ancestors was already baked into their DNA, so to speak, and they carried with them a strong skepticism of overt domination, or of bragging, or other displays of individualism. It was only with the development of stable farming that they began to deepen hierarchy and re-assert a measure of dominion.

Unfortunately for the military accolades owed to Nunb himself, re-emergent hierarchy was arrested by the arrival of hyperspace-capable vessels. Sullustans had all the mental faculties required for spacefaring, so it was simply a matter of a couple generations' training to get them serving aboard freight vessels and eventually as the chief pilot responsible for the fall of the Empire.

And so we have Nunb, heir to a culture that had never provided much in the way of reward for exceptional courage, and had indeed gone out of its way to punish overt displays of dominance. And as heir to this culture, he readily joined with Mon Mothma's fleet to overthrow the most domineering regime in the entire galaxy: Palpatine's Empire. But he also had flowing through his cold veins just enough contempt for lower-status creatures that he couldn't much care about the flaming debris that cascaded down onto the surface of Endor. Ewoks barely register as sapient, their ultimate sacrifice so that the galaxy can be rid of a hated sovereign was more than worth it. After all, it would have been a heck of a hassle to wrest control of the Death Star (and the rebel fleet had no way of knowing that Vader had killed Palpatine anyway) and move it out of Endor's gravity well. Right?

Nunb was in thrall to his biological and cultural programming. He could have no more sought recognition for his vital role in overthrowing the Empire than our own hotheaded champions of "justice" and "fairness" could have kept themselves from frothing up a lather over the unprofessional sartorial choices of a European rocket scientist who just helped land a tiny probe on a distant comet. Sullustans, much like we humans, are social creatures first and foremost. The tiny little triggers in our heads itch to be pulled, and they're tuned not for unfathomable greatness in achievement, but to slight cues of dominance. It is only by mastery of the Force can anyone hope to Jedi their way out of the swamps and savannas whence we emerged.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Title 32 in Missouri

I further order, pursuant to Section 41.480, RSMo, the Adjutant General of the State of Missouri, or his designee, to forthwith call and order into active service such portions of the organized militia as he deems necessary to protect life and property and assist civilian authorities and it is further directed that the Adjutant General or his designee, and through him, the commanding officer of any unit or other organization of such organized militia so called into active service take such action and employ such equipment as may be necessary to carry out requests processed through the Missouri State Highway Patrol and ordered by the Governor of the state to protect life and property and support civilian authorities.
What do you do when a little violence isn't getting the job done? Produce more violence.

Peaceful, euvoluntary exchange is mutually felicitous. Force executed on behalf of ambitious (or scared) political elites is not.

I am not convinced that there is a peaceful solution to civil unrest in Ferguson, but I am convinced that the institutional underpinnings of the ongoing drama there can be eradicated. End the War on Drugs, overturn civil asset forfeiture protocols. Assign police to their original charter as guardians of law and order. It may not even be too late for Missouri.

Yikes, you guys. Yikes.