In the right-wing blogosphere there has long been a theme that says that Obama is a disciple of the old lefty, Saul Alinsky, and that he and Hillary Clinton are (literally) playing from his rulebook, an actual book called Rules for Radicals. Hillary's senior thesis at Wellesley was on Alisnky, so they say. I'm not interested in that issue. BHO's behavior won't look any worse (or better) to me depending on where he learned it. But some quotes from that book interested me.
I don't really know anything about this guy, except that leftists often mention him as as a sort of wise, lovable old coot, a sort of leftie Yoda.
I found an electronic copy of the book and read (most, I think) of a chapter titled "Tactics." My jaw dropped. The core of the chapter is thirteen tactical rules for changing the world (in good ways, supposedly). Most of them belong with the sort of tactical advice you can read in The Prince or Mein Kampf.
Yoda he is not. Look at this. (And as you read, try to imagine Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Gandhi, or Thoreau saying any of this.)
RULE 1: "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have."
One thing this seems to mean, if we read it in connection with some of the rules that follow, is that his goal is to intimidate those who disagree with him, controlling them through fear, and not to convince them of something by appealing to their mind or conscience. Note also that this power seems to be based on deception of some sort.
RULE 2: "Never go outside the expertise of your people." It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
RULE 3: "Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy." Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.Rule 2 is actually good advice. Base your arguments on your own experience and that of your audience. Knowing that your case is based on solid evidence increases confidence and dispels fear. But notice that he applies this valid principle in reverse against others. Spreading this disabling fear far and wide is just what Rule 3 advises.
RULE 4: "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
This rule might have been defensible if it meant that you should expose hypocrisy or take advantage of the impracticality of your opponent's moral code. But that is not what he has in mind. He says that everyone is vulnerable to this tactic, not just hypocrites. And the example he gives, of answering every letter, is actually a decent and sensible rule. He is advising you to take advantage, not of your opponents' hypocrisy and foolishness, but of their decency and their ideals. And to take advantage of the fact that they can't do something that, according to him, nobody could do anyway.
RULE 5: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon." There is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force [note his word choice here] the enemy into concessions.
I take it the idea here is something like this. Instead of engaging in a debate with Dick Cheney about the ethics of torture -- where you'll end up dealing with a mass of theories and supposed facts -- make fun of him for shooting his friend in the face on a hunting expedition.. If you do it right, people will just start to snicker when he shows up on TV. They won't hear a word he says. It will be just as though you have turned off his microphone. If you are really lucky, he will lose his temper and look even worse.
As with Rule 13, below, the basic strategy here is the respond to speech by delegitimizing the speaker. I can't think of a single practice (short of the use of threats and violence) that is more deeply inimical to the basic principles of civilized discourse.
RULE 8: "Keep the pressure on. Never let up." Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
In other words, disable his opponent's capacity to reason.
RULE 9: "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself." Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
Need I say more?
RULE 10: The major premise of tactics is the development of operations that will maintain constant pressure on the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.
Translation: Provoke your opponents to doing irrational things that are not in their interest, but are in yours.
RULE 11: "If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive." Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
Get them to abandon reason altogether and resort to violence. Now you are a martyr. Yay! you win!
RULE 13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
I think this rule is the most evil one of the lot, partly for the reason I gave under Rule 5. But there is more.
I have long been convinced that the problems in the world are due to bad institutions and not ultimately to bad people. Bad institutions reward bad behavior, punish good behavior and distort people's ideas. When bad people are at the center of things, it is generally because we have created an institution in which the only people who can flourish are ones with certain moral vices.
This truth, that "it's not the people, it's the system," was one of Marx's most distinctive ideas, and it is responsible for what is true in his doctrine.
It makes it hard to reform the world, however, because people don't get energized about "institutions," and even find them difficult to think about. The issue has to be personalized somehow.
What Alinsky is recommending is that you personalize the issue in the cheapest, most duplicitous, and cruelest way: pick out hate figures and demonize them.
If old Saul's disciples are indeed in the saddle, we are headed straight for Nastyville. I'm not going to enjoy the ride one bit.
The laws of this nature are those which forbid one to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be suppose that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and more arbitry injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance.This argument applies best of all to mass shooters like James Holmes. Like most such people, Holmes did not suddenly "snap." He planned his atrocity well in advance, beginning at least four months ago, with great patience and determination, accumulating an arsenal of weapons as well as elaborate body armor, and elaborately booby-trapping his apartment. It is obvious that someone who will shoot seventy completely innocent and defenseless strangers in a darkened theater is not going to be deterred by "oh, I can't buy that weapon -- it's illegal," and it's also pretty clear to me that Holmes would have had the determination to get weapons from an illegal source. Like drug laws, gun bans do not make the banned item disappear, rather they drive it into the netherworld of criminal commerce.
If you are going to advocate a law based on a single horrific case, then that law has to be one that would have prevented that horror. Otherwise, that one case is, logically, completely irrelevant to whether that law was a good thing or not. And gun bans would nothing to prevent and atrocity like Aurora.
Having said this, I have to admit that the principle I have just place in italics, which makes perfect sense to me, seems to have no effect on most my fellow human beings. When Oswald murdered Kennedy with a gun purchased through mail order, Congress responded by passing a law that banned such purchases. Even at the time, as a teenager, it was obvious to me that, whatever the reasons for such a law might be, the Kennedy assassination was not one of them. Who could think that Oswald would not have killed Kennedy, or tried to kill General Walker, if he could not have gotten his cheap Mannlicher-Carcano through the mail?
Mass shootings like Aurora are not good reasons for weapons bans; they are emotionally powerful symbols of violence. Those who are moved to ban a weapon by such incidents are acting on emotion and not on the basis of reason. Especially in the realm of the law, that is a dangerous thing to do.*
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind.
I've just re-read Ortega's Mission of the University. Interesting stuff, like everything he wrote, but the best part is the last page, which is a blistering attack on the press -- or what we today would call "the mainstream media." When his colleagues at El Sol, a paper for which he wrote, saw it, they wrote a collective editorial bashing him for it. What's most disturbing is how close to the truth it still is today -- probably much closer than it was in 1930, when he wrote it.
Here we are in the midst of a primary election campaign, and there is a huge amount of reporting on who is going to win (though it's fairly obvious who will win), little reporting on their positions on the issues, and almost non on the issues themselves. That is exactly the sort of "inversion" Ortega talks about below.
[H]oy no existe en la vida pública más “poder espiritual” que la Prensa. La vida pública, que es la verdaderamente histórica, necesita siempre ser regida, quiérase o no. Ella, por si, es anónima y ciega, sin dirección autónoma. Ahora bien: a estas fechas han desaparecido los antiguos “poderes espirituales”: la Iglesia, porque ha abandonado el presente, y la vida pública es siempre actualisima; el Estado, porque, triunfante la democracia, no dirige ya a ésta, sino al revés, es gobernado por la opinión pública. En tal situación, la vida pública se ha entregado a la única fuerza espiritual que por oficio se ocupa de la actualidad: la Prensa.
Yo no quisiera molestar en dosis apreciable a los periodistas. Entre otros motivos, porque tal vez yo no sea otra cosa que un periodista. Pero es ilusorio cerrarse a la evidencia con que se presenta la jerarquía de las realidades espirituales. En ella ocupa el periodismo el rango inferior. Y acaece que la
conciencia pública no recibe hoy otra presión ni otro mando que los que le llegan de esa espiritualidad ínfima rezumada por las columnas del periódico. Tan ínfima es a menudo, que casi no llega a ser espiritualidad; que en cierto modo es antiespiritualidad. Por dejación de otros poderes, ha quedado encargado de alimentar y dirigir el alma pública el periodista, que es no sólo una de las clases menos cultas de la sociedad presente, sino que, por causas, espero, transitorias, admite en su gremio a pseudointelectuales chafados, llenos de resentimiento y de odio hacia el verdadero espíritu. Ya su profesión los lleva a entender por realidad del tiempo lo que momentáneamente mete ruido, sea lo
que sea, sin perspectiva ni arquitectura.
La vida real es de cierto pura actualidad; pero la visión periodística deforma esta verdad reduciendo lo actual a lo instantáneo y lo instantáneo a lo resonante. De aquí que en la conciencia pública aparezca hoy el mundo bajo una imagen rigorosamente invertida. Cuanto más importancia sustantiva y perdurante tenga una cosa o persona, menos hablarán de ella los periódicos, y en cambio, destacarán en sus páginas lo que agota su esencia con ser un “suceso” y dar lugar a una noticia. Habrían de no obrar sobre los periódicos los intereses, muchas veces inconfesables, de sus empresas; habría de mantenerse el dinero castamente alejado de influir en la doctrina de los diarios, y bastaría a la Prensa abandonarse a su propia misión para pintar el mundo del revés. No poco del vuelco grotesco que hoy padecen las cosas -Europa camina desde hace tiempo con la cabeza para abajo y los pies pirueteando en lo alto- se debe a ese imperio indiviso de la Prensa, único “poder espiritual”. Es, pues, cuestión de vida o muerte para Europa rectificar tan ridícula situación. Para ello tiene la Universidad que intervenir en la actualidad como tal Universidad, tratando los grandes temas del día desde su punto de vista propio -cultural, profesional o científico.
[T]oday, there is no “spiritual power” in public life, other than the press. Public life, which is the truly historical life, always needs to be governed, like it or not. It is, in itself, anonymous and blind, without autonomous direction. Well, then, in these days the old “spiritual powers” have disappeared: the Church, because it has abandoned the present, and public life is always superlatively current; the State, because, with democracy triumphant, the state does not direct it, but the reverse, as the state is governed by the opinions of the public. In such a situation, public life has handed itself over to the only spiritual power still functioning at present: the press.
I have no great desire to abuse the journalists. Among other reasons, there is the possibility that I am no more than a journalist myself. But to close oneself off to the obvious fact that the spiritual powers present themselves as a hierarchy is to delude oneself. In this hierarchy, journalism occupies the lowest rank. And so it comes to pass that the public consciousness today receives no other pressure nor command than those that arrive from that debased spirituality that drips from the columns of newspapers.
So degraded is it that it often does not attain the level of spirituality at all, being in a certain manner a form of anti-spirituality. Due to the abdication of the other powers, the one left with the charge to nourish and direct the public spirit is the journalist, who is not only one of the least cultivated classes that society presents, but who, for reasons I hope are transitory, admits to his profession unkempt pseudo-intellectuals full of resentment and hatred for the true realm of the spirit. With no sense of perspective or architecture, they take for the reality of the times whatever makes a momentary noise.
Real life is characterized by a certain pure currentness. But journalistic vision deforms this truth, reducing the current to the instantaneous, and the instantaneous to the sensational. Hence the world appears to public consciousness by way of an image rigorously inverted. The more substantial and enduring importance a thing has, the less they speak of it in the press while, on the other hand, they highlight in their pages whatever will be a “success” and bring notoriety. Even if they were freed from motives that in many cases are unspeakable, even if money to remain chastely aloof from infuencing the opinions of the dailies, they would nonetheless pursue their mission of depicting the world inside-out. No little of the grotesque inversion we see today – for some time now, Europe has been going along with its head below and its feet pirouetting above – is owing to the undivided power of the press, the sole “spiritual power.” It is a matter of life and death that Europe should rectify such an absurd situation. To that end, the uiversity must intervene in current affairs. It must do so as the university, treating the great themes of the day from its proper points of view, cultural, professional, or scientific.
This is a very interesting article on the OWS movement by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
[I]f the protesters continue to focus on the gross inequality of outcomes in America, they will get nowhere. There is no equality foundation. Fairness means proportionality, and if Americans generally think that the rich got rich by working harder or by providing goods and services that were valued in a free market, they won’t support redistributionist policies. But if the OWS protesters can better articulate their case that “the 1 percent” got its riches by cheating, rather than by providing something valuable, or that “the 1 percent” abuses its power and oppresses “the 99 percent,” then Occupy Wall Street will find itself standing on a very secure pair of moral
foundations.When I read this I realized that, by George, equality is not to be found in his six "clusters." What you see is fairness, which (pace Rawls) is not the same thing. Haidt thinks of fairness as a matter of proportionality, not equality. Equality means treating everyone the same. Proportionality means treating people in appropriately different ways.
I should add the it is also clear that the academics and scientists that these people know are very different from the ones that I have known.
In response to the new load of 5,000 emails from warmist climatologists that were dumped on the public last week, I am reposting the post I did in 2009, when Climategate itself first broke out, with an update.
I've noticed a couple of libertarian economists who have said that the CRU scandal is no big deal. "Nothing much here," says Tyler Cowan. Robin Hanson says "this behavior has long been typical when academics form competing groups, whether the public hears about such groups or not," and that "academia works this way."
I think this last is, quite literally, a bizarre thing to say. (I gather that one of Hanson's projects is the idea of "prediction markets," which is a way of compelling people who opine to be careful and honest—so he may have a professional reason to think that academics are generally sloppy and dishonest. I don't know what Cowan's problem is.*)
First, let's remember what the "this way" is, in which academia is supposed to work. It includes trying to get a journal editor fired who approves the publication of views with which one disagrees. and trying to accomplish this end by threatening to withhold one's own publications from the journal, as well as organizing a boycott (presumably secret a one) of the journal. (See this.)
One possible objection to what I just said: The evidence I discuss below only shows someone declaring an intention to carry out these abuses, and does not show that he actually did them. My reply: Since these actions would be carried out in secret, we may have no way of knowing whether they have been carried out or not. What we do have is evidence that in a very important section of the pro-AGW (anthropogenic global warming) scientific community such behavior is not considered to be beyond the pale, across the line, off the menu, etc. etc.
There is a very, very good reason why such behavior has to be regarded as beyond the pale. Take a look at the diagram at the top of this page (hat-tip to Watt's Up With That). Do you see a box labeled "make threats" or "organize boycotts"? I don't. Why do you suppose these boxes have been omitted from the diagram?
Short answer: Scientific method is biased in favor of the truth. It cannot be used to support ust anything. Threats are biased in favor of the powerful, they cannot be used by ust anybody. And if you are powerful, they can be used to support just about anything, true or not.
If the scientific community is to arrive at reliably true results, it is vitally important that this sort of behavior be regarded as off the menu. As far as we can see, when Michael E. Mann (allegedly) wrote the offending email, no one said "Frankly, and with all due respect, what you are proposing would be improper." And that is a real scandal.
*Update: On second thought, I do have a theory about what Cowan's problem is. Econ and climatology have something in common: both have huge political implications and trillions of dollars and enormous amounts of sheer power are at stake. As a result of this both disciplines have been corrupted. For that reason, there probably are economists who behave in the deplorable way in which these climatologists are behaving. This is not a fact about academics, but about money and power. Number theorists do not behave that way, nor do
There is something here that I've never understood. How can conservatives say they are anti-government, or at least skeptical of government, and yet love the police and the military? What could be more government-y than the police and the military? They are where the government rubber hits the road. They are the hands-on part of the government.
I just got involved in an internet freeforall on this issue, which I've wondered about over the years. Do you say "eggs, toast, and orange juice" or "eggs, toast and orange juice"? I have always put in the "extra" comma, as did Robert Nozick, author of Anarchy, State,[sic] and Utopia.
One commenter spoke of being surprised when the last comma "came into use." Actually, I'm pretty sure The Oxford comma was the original system, gradually it has been disappearing. Take a look at any eighteenth century author, such as David Hume or Dr. Johnson. It's commas all the way down! Over the years, language tends to become simpler. People are "economical." When the process goes too far, we say "lazy. In this case, I think its laziness.
I see two reasons for the Oxford comma: 1) consistency - why should the last two elements of a series be different from the others? 2) the breath rule - commas represent pauses.
Well, should we? I just want to make one point that hasn't been made yet in the discussions I have seen.
A lot of the discussion has been about how "wacky" the religious or supernaturalist beliefs of Cain and Romney supposedly are. My point is this: I don't think that the "wackiness" of a religious belief matters at all. The simple reason is that, in my experience, it does not correlate with anything else, including wackiness of non-religious beliefs.
As a senior in high school, I lived in a town (Santa Rosa, CA) that had a substantial Mormon community. I knew several Mormon teenagers and though I was already an atheist I even attended services in their church a couple of times. (No, I wasn't flirting with Mormon beliefs. I was flirting with a Mormon girl.)
These people, one and all, were as industrious, rational, well-adjusted and decent as anyone you would hope to meet. On the one hand. On the other hand, they believed things like -- that (some) people become gods when they die, that Satan is the estranged brother of Jesus, and that American Indians are descended from the lost tribes of Israel.
Facts of the latter sort seemed to have no effect on facts of the former sort -- unless it was a beneficial effect! .
I see a much more general phenomenon here. I have often noticed that distinctively religious belief, in general, not just the "wackiness" of such beliefs, is curiously insulated from the rest of life, and in particular from beliefs about other things. (This is one of the things that inspired philosopher Georges Rey to write brilliant paper, Meta-Atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-Deception.)
Consider a third case, the secret legal hearing associated with the World War II era Supreme Court decision of ex parte Quirin. Eight German spies (including two American citizens) landed in the US on a mission to commit sabotage against military plants and facilities. Some were immediately spotted by a Coast Guard patrol, who sounded the alarm. This apparently had no effect whatsoever. Two of them, Ernest Burger and George Dasch (pictured above), turned themselves in and informed on the other six. They had considerable difficulty in doing so, however, as the still clueless FBI thought their story was some kink of hoax.
President Roosevelt convened a secret tribunal that, incredibly, sentenced all eight to death. Prompted by appeals from the Attorney General and the FBI Director, FDR commuted the sentences of Burger and Dasch, the two informers, to life and thirty years respectively. This was their reward for taking some trouble to spare the US from a potential disaster -- a result the American law enforcement and counterespionage aparatus probably would have been unable to achieve without their help. (To his credit, Harry Truman had the two men freed and deported after the war was over).
Surely, this tribunal's stunningly unjust treatment of two men who had probably delivered American lives and military resources from destruction had a lot to do with the fact that it was conducted in secret.
Part of the problem is that people tend to behave better when they think that they are being watched, or at least that outsiders will eventually find out what they did and how they did it.
But there is a deeper problem. The system in which Americans live was altered by Quirin the case and the killing of Aulaqi, both of which, as I understand it, were legal innovations. It is part of the democratic conception of justice that such changes be justified to these people.
Indeed, a secret justification has some of the inherent absurdity of a secret rule. The administration has justified killing this man -- to whom? It looks like the answer is: to the people who wanted to kill him. They are not the primary ones who are owed a justification.
One great lesson learned is the value of capitalism and its ability to enforce good behavior. Accenture and Gillette are cutting Tiger's pay over this. The supposedly"immoral" free markets are speaking louder and with more reprisal than anyone
He's got a point there. Woods' commercial endorsement contracts are melting away like dew upon a sunny morn as news of his compulsive philanderies grows and spreads. But is it really true that markets punish bad behavior?
Here is a parallel case: The Hollywood blacklist of the late 'forties and early 'fifties. It is usually presented as a case of government oppression, and to some extent it was. A notorious congressional committee played a role in encouraging it. But it was also a market phenomenon. Why did the moguls who ran the studios dispense with the services of proven earners like Howard Koch and the Hollywood Ten? There were a few hard anti-Communists among the studio tycoons, like Jack Warner, men who would be willing to lose income in order to impose their own political opinions -- but surely most were too interested in making as much money as possible to want to do such a thing. No, they were worried about ticket sales. They knew that the millions of Americans who hated and feared Stalin would also hate and fear people who were trying to bring Stalin's system to America. They did not want that kind of animosity associated with their commercial products. Communism, Schmommunism. What they really wanted to avoid was anything controversial or unpopular. That is what they had always wanted.
I have never seen anyone on the front of a box of Wheaties who suffered from unsightly deformities, be they physical or moral. To be exact: what the market punishes (in the sense that it fails to reward it) is behavior that arouses popular anger and disgust. It punishes unpopular behavior.
Sometimes this is a good thing, because among the things that are unpopular are a lot of behaviors that are really bad. But it does have a down side as well. Ironically, markets do not encourage extremely individualistic behavior. Corporate board rooms are not the place to look for audacious Randian heroes and brooding Walden Pond hermits.
Markets impose a cost on extreme vice, and on extreme virtue as well. The very simple reason is that markets, as Ludwig von Mises pointed out many times, are true economic democracy: rule by the people. Rule by the people is rule by l'homme moyen sensuel, the middling man, the man in the middle.
This was also posted on my personal blog, "E Pur Si Muove!"
As I was sitting through its 162 minutes, my mind began to wander from the vulgarly eye-popping sights on the screen: Gee, I thought, I can’t think of a single business corporation that engages in those particular practices. Office Depot doesn't, and I'm pretty sure Mircrosoft and Dell Inc don't either. Still, such behavior has been far from uncommon throughout history. I can think of any number of corporate bodies that have, to one extent or another, engaged in these very practices.
When I got home, I consulted my research assistant, Ms. Google, for some examples. What we came up with includes, to give a woefully truncated list: the Kingdom of England, the Mongols, the Russians, the Spanish, Umayyads, the French, the Abbasids, the the Almoravids, Portuguese, the Achaemenids, the Sassanids, the Japanese, the Romans, the Uyghurs, the Macedonians, the Ottomans, the Italians, the Dutch, the Germans, the Shaybanids, the Byzantines, the Khazars, the Bactrians, the Belgians, the Assyrians, the Malians, the the Carolingians, the Merovingian, the Thais, the Swedes, the Khmer, the Avars, the Kanems, the Bulgars, the Akkadians, the Ghanians, the Bagans, the Hyksos, the Visigoths, the the Lydians, the the Ostrogoths, the Hittites, the Armenians, the Carthaginians, the Babylonians, the Aztecs, and the Incas. This is not to mention whole series of Chinese states, Indian states, Persian states, and Egyptian states too numerous to mention. Last, but hardly least, there is of course the United States of America.
These corporate bodies are, of course, all states, or proto-states, or markedly state-like entities. These practices are the sorts of things that states do, and have done for thousands of years, going back almost to the beginning of the neolithic (about 12,000 years ago).
This is a phenomenon I've noticed many times. In trying to express in a satisfying way their hatred of business corporations, in conveying their extreme moral indignation against them, storytellers like Cameron often end up making them sound government-like. Why would that be, I wonder?
This was also posted on my personal blog, "E Pur Si Muove!"
Dear Republicans,Do you regret creating the Department of Homeland Security yet? Are you ready to apologize?
That's the first thing I thought when I read that DHS report. Like an earlier report from the Missouri Information Analysis Center report that instructed law enforcement personnel to watch for cars with Ron Paul or Libertarian Party stickers, it has the right in something of an uproar.
As you may know, the report warns law enforcement agencies that there"may" be a rebirth of right wing violence. It warns, among other things, that returning veterans could be turning violent. Another passage that has attracted unfavorable notice is this one:
Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
As others have said, this means there are an awful lot of potential terrorists out there. Aside from the fact that these people are casting their net way too widely, I am not as stunned by this development as many others are, for two reasons.
First, I hate to say this, but the general idea behind the report -- that there is a substantial possibility of right-wing violence in our future -- is probably true. I predicted it almost half a year ago:
Obama's party will not only control the White House but both houses of Congress. I don't expect them to be magnanimous in victory. They have suffered (how they have suffered!) eight years of not getting their way, and they won't have to take it any more. This will make a lot of others feel helpless and unrepresented by the system.
This of course is exactly how Obama's party has acted since re-taking power. In fact, they have been quite a bit more in-your-face than I thought they would be. I see no outreach there at all, and a lot of slash, burn, and trample. As I pointed out in these earlier comments, there are some people on the right who, when they feel that the political system has made them powerless, are apt to exert their power in brutal ways. The notion that violent rightwing extremists are a myth is itself a myth. Law enforcement people should indeed be on the lookout for it. I hope they are.
Second, it is true that the Democrats are probably going too far in this direction, but who gave them the opportunity to do so? When the Republicans created this new"security" apparatus, especially the DHS itself, there were plenty of us to predict that, when the Democrats eventually return, they will use it in ways that the Republicans do not approve of. This was a good reason to not make these changes in the first place.
Democrats and Republicans are both similar and different. If you give them an apparatus for snooping and spying, Republicans will sneak around looking for"Islamofascists." Democrats are also willing to sneak around -- they are similar in that way -- but they will be looking for"right wing extremists" instead of"Islamofascists." During the first Islamist attack on American soil -- the original bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 -- the attention of the Clinton Administration was completely absorbed in what they thought was the real threat to America -- those scary gun-toting Christians in Waco TX.
Now that the Republicans have given them the gift of an improved apparatus for living out one's favorite paranoid narrative, we should not be surprised if they once again pursue a narrative that is not the conservative one. We saw this coming years ago. It will not do to start sniveling and whining about it now. Instead of complaining about the people who are using the apparatus, we should look at the apparatus itself.
This article is cross-posted at my personal blog, "E pur si muove!"
If I sound a little reluctant, it's because I see a problem here.
However, I think we already have a solution to this problem.
I think of it as"the Fail Safe problem." At the end of the book and film of that name, the President of the United States (Henry Fonda in the movie) faces the possibility of the destruction of civilization as we know it. Due to a series of human and comuter errors, the US has dropped a hydrogen bomb on Moscow, destroying it. The Soviets are poised to retaliate with an all-out nuclear attack on the US. After exhausting all available alternatives, the president convinces the Soviets that the bombing was an accident by ordering another bomb to be dropped on Manhattan. The pilot who drops the bomb knows that his own wife and children are below him as he drops it. He then commits suicide. End of story.
My point is that you cannot prejudge for all time what you would or should do to prevent unthinkable horrors. Here the cliche example is very much to the point: Wouldn't we torture a terrorist who knows where a ticking H-bomb is? Sure. I would pull a few fingernails myself.
There is no need to legalize torture -- law or no law, we know it will be used in such unthinkably extreme circumstances, and so do our enemies.
But, you may say, if we don't change the law and allow torture, aren't we ensuring that people who are doing things -- thing that are horrible and perhaps even unjust, are nonetheless necessary things -- will be punished for trying to protect us?
No, we aren't. If I commit torture and am exposed and prosecuted, I could argue that though I broke the law, nonetheless, due to horrific circumstances, I had a justification or excuse for doing so. I would be arguing that though I broke the letter of the law, I am not guilty of doing so. Even if I were still found culpable, these same arguments can figure as"extenuating circumstances" in sentencing (perhaps resulting in a suspended sentence).
Indeed, if my torture is successful and is known to have prevented the ticking-bomb disaster from ocurring, the public prosecutor would surely not prosecute at all and the government will try to keep my crime a secret.
People who want to legalize torture want the legal system to be flexible and adapt to changing times and circumstances. There is no need to abandon some of the most fundamental values of our system in order to be rationally flexible. Time-honored legal concepts like"justification,""excuse," and"extenuating circumstances" already give the system the flexibility it needs. Changing the law in light of these" changing times" would be a disaster. As they say,"hard cases make bad law."
[This has been cross-posted on my personal blog, "E pur si muove!"
One blogger has asserted that, however obnoxious his behavior might be, it has nothing to do, as some have claimed it does, with free speech:
Miss Prejean has as much free speech as anyone else in America. She was asked for her opinion, and she gave it. Live on television. If asked again, she could say the same thing. She could sing it from the rooftops, provided she stop before 11pm, lest she cause a noise violation. No one is restricting her speech in any way.I think this reflects two sorts of confusion. First, free speech in our culture is generally not understood as a matter of being able to speak (positive freedom) but of not being punished or penalized if you do (negative freedom). By this blogger's logic, the only penalty that would abridge my freedom of speech would be execution. After all, as long as I am left alive, I am able (though perhaps in a prison cell and under the threat of further punishments) to shout out my opinion. Free speech, I say, is a matter of speaking without fear of being punished. It is not about whether I have the capacity to speak if I don't mind paying the penalty.
The question of whether or not she lost the crown for her remarks isn't the same as the question of free speech. The Miss USA pageant is an enterprise, not a government body. They may choose whomever they wish. It is up to the judges to decide, on whatever arbitrary grounds they see fit to apply, who wears the Miss USA crown for a year.
The second confusion is in assuming that free speech is a mere matter of governmental arrangements. Arguably, this is true of the right of free speech, but free speech and speaking freely are broader than that. Indeed, free speech probably cannot survive in a society in which people think of it in such a narrow way.
As John Stuart Mill pointed out in 1859, free speech advances our understanding of the world and constantly improves our ideas about it. Governmental arrangements like the First Amendment serve these vital functions as part of a wider social system of ideas and practices that protect speech. Mill went so far as to say that we ought never to judge the content of what someone says as immoral unless it is directly harmful to someone else. He reasoned that the threat of the sting of our disapproval penalizes expression in fundamentally the same way that legal punishments do. This may be going too far, but I would say that at least we should not go out of our way to penalize someone for the offense that Orwell called" crimethink." This ought to me mere good manners.
Without such standards of civility, the narrowly legal institutions of free speech will not really do what they are supposed to do. In fact, without and the appreciation for liberty that supports such standards, the legal arrangements may not even be around much longer.
[This is cross-posted in my personal blog,"E pur si muove!"
What did the captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama have in common with the victims of the Binghamton murders?
Both were unarmed and defenseless against evil.
In the Binghamton case, this probably had to do with the fact that government offices, such as immigration services centers, tend to be no-gun zones. In the case of the commercial ship, the reasons are more complex.
Jane Jacobs told a story in a brilliant book years ago that is very much to the point here.
During the Middle Ages, she says, the rising merchant class of the island nation of England found that to really prosper they had to cross the seas to conduct trade in other lands. But the seas were swarming with pirates, and they lost ships and treasure. But they found a solution. Pooling their resources, they built a flotilla of armed ships. Then they gave the ships as a gift to the king, with the request that his men go out and clear the seas of pirates.
Why, having the resources and the ships, didn't they themselves go out and kick pirate butt?
There are at least two sorts of reasons. First, trading and fighting force with force are two very different skill sets. The solution to the problem of the Maersk Alabama is not to say to the crew,"Here, have some guns!" They are not trained in their safe and effective use. There are indeed a number of reasons why they don't want to be so trained.
As Jacobs points out, traders and professionals in the use of deadly force follow moral codes that are profoundly different, and they generally do not mix very well. Trade is based on on a respect for human rights -- the main ones involved admittedly are property rights, but they are rights nonetheless. To trade valuable goods with a complete stranger who is armed would mean worrying about whether he might just kill you and take your goods for free. If the Maersk Alabama had been armed, there are ports in the world that would not have allowed it to dock. Its mere presence would constitute a security risk.
What is the alternative to do-it-yourself security? There are plenty of people who are saying that the only long-range solution is to go in and"fix" Somalia. I think these are the same people who"fixed" Iraq, Afganistan, and Vietnam. Remember them? They are much, much more dangerous than the pirates. If they have their way, they will take far more lives and destroy far more treasure. Come to think of it, they already have.
But there is a third way. For a fee, private firms who specialize in protective services, will protect your ship. Depending on the policy you purchase, they may put armed guards on your ship or, if for any number of reasons you don't want to do that, you can take out a fancier and more expensive policy and they will escort you with a convoy of armed boats through pirate infested waters. The latter sort of policy would solve the unable-to-dock problem. You can rendezvous with your guard boats at a pre-arranged point and part with them after passing through the dangerous waters, at which point their check will presumably be in the mail.
Like everything else in life, the third-party security alternative has both positive and negative aspects. But with time it may prove far preferrable to both alternatives: either continuing to count ransom and pirate violence as an expense of doing business, or allowing liberal imperialism to shove us into yet another political black hole in the Middle East.
Either one of the main free market solutions have one big advantage over any government solution: They will be paid for by the people who benefit the most from them. And they will be paid for if, and only if, they are worth the cost.
There are a couple of things that are disturbing about this clip, taken at one of the nation's many Tea (="taxed enough already") Party protests today (Wednesday).
As a political philosopher, I suppose my reaction might seem eccentric. -- What disturbs me is:"liberty ... what does that have to do with taxes?"
Paying taxes is not the same thing as giving gifts. Nor are taxes membership fees. I cannot resign from the USA, as I can from a club. A tax is an coerced payment, extracted via the threat of a prison sentence and, unlike a membership fee, it is unconditional. There is no good or service that I get if I pay my tax but otherwise not. My government will not withhold from me protection against invasion by the Canadians or the Mexicans if I don't pay my tax, as a club would withhold the privileges of membership were I to fail to pay my dues. No, I am forced to pay, whether I want to or not, and whether the benefits are worth the expense or not.
The only way I can avoid a tax is to leave family, friends, and home to travel to a land where ... I will also have to pay taxes.
If you think that freedom is abridged when I am coerced ("negative freedom"), then every increase of taxes is a reduction of freedom.
Of course, you may think of freedom as the capacity to choose between options ("positive freedom"), but in that case the same result follows. Before my money is taken from me by the government, I have the power to choose how it is spent. After it is taken, the government makes that choice. Now, some of the things it chooses to spend my money on are in my interests, so I don't perceive these choices of theirs as a reduction of my positive freedom: things like punishing violent criminals, building roads, or maintaining the air traffic control system. These are things that I would choose to spend my money on if I could. But, as far as I can tell, by far most of the things the government throws my money at are not like this at all. They include:
- Maintaining a national"defense" establishment larger than those of the entire rest of the world combined.
- Maintaining a government schooling gulag that my wife and I tried to escape from by sending our son to private schools that better suit our educational philosophy, while being forced through taxes to pay for the government system at the same time. After three years and a second mortgage on our house, we ran out of money.
- Keeping over half a million people in prison (mainly for possession of marijuana) to make sure that I don't take any drugs the government doesn't like.
Kelly and her guest from the Heritage Foundation made some alarmed sounds about threats to religion, displaying this recent Newsweek cover. My first thought was"32-to-14? Don't these people have a quorum rule?" My second was surprise that they still had a graduation prayer. U. of Maryland is obviously a government-funded institution. That was why own university dropped the prayer in 1976, as a result of a complaint from then-student Annie Laurie Gaylor.
A quick search revealed something that the beautiful and brilliant Kelly, who also happens to be an attorney, failed to mention: the legal argument for the move, which had nothing to do with whether America is a Christian civilization, was the separation of church and state.
One opponent of the vote argued that rescinding the practice could"send the message" that secular speech is superior and religious speech is inferior. Ah, yes. That argument. It really brought back some memories for me. I recalled that, during the tumultuous discussion leading to my own university rescinding the last of its speech codes a few years ago, one opponent argued that it will be difficult to abolish the code without"sending the message" to students of color that we don't care about them and might event think that racist speech is acceptable. I think this is a very common sort of concern. I am sure that one of the main reasons why we do not end the War on Drugs, despite its horrific expense in terms of the liberty, property, even the very lives of so many people, because ending it would"send the message" that drugs are okay and possibly even a good idea.
As it turned out, ending our censorship code did not send a racist message at all. The reason is that the discussion that led up to it made it perfectly clear what the reasons for the move were. This is one of the reasons why democracy is better than dictatorship: there is always a discussion in which reasons are given and explained. Rulers can't just do things and let people guess what the reasons are (except of course when we can't have a rational discussion because it's an"emergency"). As long as there are not too many haters around who attribute dishonorable motives to their opponents, the principled grounds for policy changes can come clearly through.
Liberals and conservatives are united in trying to use institutional arrangements and coercive rules to send messages about their preferred values. I say, in the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, if you want to send a message, go to Western Union. Do it at your own expense.