Category ►►► Future of Civilization
March 24, 2013
How Is an Illegal Alien? (Part 2)
For obvious reasons, lawyers tend to be overly legalistic -- that is, substituting "legal" and "illegal" for "right" and "wrong." If a law has been adjudicated and upheld, lawyers either tend to take that as the final answer, or else they argue that it was wrongly decided; rarely do attorneys argue, even in the political arena, that law is by nature an imperfect guide, and that morality precedes and supercedes it. That's why it's so dangerous to have a Congress and presidency largely controlled by members of the bar: Too many legalistic policies.
Contrariwise, ordinary civilians (non-lawyers) look first and foremost to the issues actually at stake, and little to none at the history of litigation on some arcane point of law. Civilians understand that the right of "jury nullification" is fundamental and vital under the rule of law; most lawyers literally cannot even comprehend the concept: The law is the law!
In the real world, policy schisms must ultimately be fought and decided in the arena of culture, not in the courts (though they are of course important); the culture-war has always been, and will always be more decisive than mere legal rulings.
When I look at the mass influx of refugees from socialism, religious fanaticism, and political chaos, I see a continuity of desperation, comprising both legal and illegal immigrants. I see the great majority of them not as "alien" to us, but reflecting universal revulsion against kleptocracy and theocracy plus universal parental hope of a better life for their children.
The lawyerly mind tends to see the same mass influx as criminals who broke the law and must be severely punished, as if they were nothing but bank robbers, con men, and cutpurses. And certainly not humanized so far as to allow them ever to become citizens!
Cultural forces will decide the issue, not Congress nor the courts. That is why the "anti-legalizers" who oppose any form of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants -- even one that includes paying a fine, paying back taxes, waiting many years, and so forth -- consistently use the emotionally charged word "amnesty": The activists are trying to crush the cultural meme that says "moving your kids from cosmic horror to something approaching normalcy is a good and decent thing to do, even if it breaks somebody's law."
The anti-legalizers strive to introduce a new meme: "Illegal immigrants are a virus whose only purpose is to destroy America, steal your car, burn down your house, and rape your daughters."
It's a futile attempt; it simply won't work for one very powerful reason: There are so many illegal immigrants in America today that nearly everybody "knows" one (or a former one) within only two or three degrees of separation. And the ones they "know" don't fit the mold of parasite or vampire. Often employer or friend isn't even aware that the immigrant is actually illegal until he or she is outed. The outing rarely induces friends to turn on the illegal; far more likely that friends become allies -- and enemies of those they perceive as trying to throw their pal out of the country for no good reason.
And another conservative conversion bites the dust.
Contrariwise, nearly everybody is familiar with government intrusion, government overreach, government perversity, government theft, and government tyranny. Very few Americans like Congress or the courts, and only about half like any given president (and even that half are mostly tribalists).
Therefore, there is much more sympathy towards illegal immigrants than there is towards the Republican conference that is trying to interdict and deport them.
It's a losing battle; the only question is whether we find a functional compromise of immigration reform that makes future illegal immigration less likely... or whether we make this the last stand of republicanism, and watch ourselves go the way of the Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans, and the Whigs.
I do not want conservatives to usher in another six-decade era like Woodrow Wilson through Jimmy Carter, in which we established the permanent, floating, socialist Leviathan. But if we fight to the death for a losing cause on the wrong side of culture -- immigration is in our national blood -- we may very well live to see President Hillary, President Godfather Rahm, and ultimately President Gavin Newsom. Or we might see the repeal (or ignoring) of the 22nd Amendment, and Barack "Skeets" Obama might be elected to a third and fourth term.
We have already found a workable compromise for gays who want to have the protections of marriage: allowing for domestic partnership but not same-sex marriage, coupled with allowing some form of covenant marriage for those who wish it. It isn't perfect, and it doesn't stop either side from pushing, but that center will probably hold.
We cannot achieve total victory -- but the Left can, if we make it a steel-cage deathmatch. So now is the time for the GOP to offer a real and working compromise... because the alternative to a negotiated compromise is certain defeat.
Defeat is never glorious. Defeat is always ignominious. And defeat has very real and very harsh consequences that can long outlive both losers and victors.
June 25, 2011
Perversity's blowback as the savior of marriage
Now that New York State has approved same-sex marriage -- rather, now that the New York State legislature has done so, probably over the objections of a strong majority of its own citizen constituents -- we need a battleplan to hold the line against this becoming the norm.
Why? So what if the federal circus courts begin striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in this and that circuit, forcing states that oppose SSM nevertheless to have it de facto anyway. What's the big deal?
The "big deal" is that once same-sex marriage (SSM) has become nearly universal around the country, then we're going to see the same terrible effects on our society that we already see in Europe: diminished interest in marriage (it's no longer special), more domestic violence, even quicker divorces, a marked drop in the fertility rate, massive importation of fecund immigrants who have no loyalty whatsoever to the United States... and of course ever greater pressure to also allow polygamy and polyandry, group marriage, and so forth.
Pro-SSM people (like Patterico) are fond of making the argument that somebody else's SSM doesn't affect his own marriage; his marriage is still just as strong! Just as strong, perhaps; but not just as special as it used to be, not when any random association between two or more people of any gender can also be called a "marriage."
It's like counterfeiting money: If I print my own twenty-dollar bills, that doesn't physically change the real bills you have in your wallet at this moment; they don't magically change into newspaper, the ink doesn't turn a different color, Andy Jackson doesn't morph into George Soros. In that sense, my counterfeits don't directly affect your sawbucks... but my counterfeits indirectly devalue your real bills, creating uncertainty about which currency is real and which is fake, how much is out there, which is truly legal tender and which an ersatz copy that, if discovered, is worthless.
My counterfeit currency spreads fear, uncertainty, doubt. Private counterfeiting is as bad as rampant money-creation via the Federal Reserve; worse in the sense that at least the Fed must report on its activities from time to time.
By this analogy, traditional marriage is the currency backed by some form of specie, that which gives the institution of marriage itself the very cachet and social benefit that same-sex couples want to claim for their own. Contrariwise, any other form of union that is legally called marriage is the fiat or counterfeit currency; it piggy-backs on the real institution of marriage, hoping some of the moral, emotional, and sacred virtue rubs off.
Marriage is quite a special social institution; that's why it's the one to which we entrust child rearing. But to paraphrase Dash in the Incredibles, when everything is "special," then nothing is special.
So what to do, what to do? With the third largest state in the U.S. falling, I fear that train has left the station. Even if there is a later referendum in New York and the people reverse that decision, already hundreds of thousands of people across the nation will have flown to the Bug Apple and gotten legally married. And as we're finding out in California, you can't put the genie back in the bottle again, even if it was let out in despite of the voters.
You can't fight something with nothing; we need something positive to fight for, not just something negative to fight against; we can't allow ourselves to be put on the defensive by the Left and by libertarians who oppose legal marriage altogether. I believe there is only one answer: The Covenant marriage movement must become a popular front, just as the Tea Party movement already has.
Covenant marriage (CM) as a distinct legal institution arose comparatively recently, in response to the jump in the divorce rate in the 1980s. It differs significantly from normal legal marriage in ways that make it vastly more exclusive an institution:
- In a CM, couples must first undergo pre-nuptial counseling before they can marry.
- They agree to limit the grounds for divorce from the standard normal around the country -- if either party wants a divorce, that's grounds for divorce -- to a much narrower set of grounds, usually spousal or child abuse, felony conviction, or adultery. (If a state allows a CM couple to negotiate its own covenant, there can of course be more or fewer grounds for divorce.)
- Any CM passed by citizen demand would, by its enabling legislation, be restricted to the traditional definition of marriage -- one man, one woman. Creating a new form of marriage to exclude non-traditional groups of people being married is the only reason that CM legislation is likely to be passed in most states.
- CM is non-denominational and can be performed by civil authorities as well as religious; there's no religiosity requirement.
But how could CM become "the savior of marriage?" It's clear that the law cannot confer any greater legal status upon a couple married under CM than normal marriage confers upon the two, three, n-number of males and/or females who "marry" under that regime.
Yet that very point should make it harder for the courts to subvert CM: Same-sex couples (and later, groups of people larger than two) cannot argue that they're excluded from legal marriage, up to and including the name "marriage." They have the same legal rights and status, insofar as the secular law is concerned. Therefore, they have no legal ground to demand that Covenant marriage be forced to allow same-sex, polyamorous, group, incestuous, or under-aged marriages. The only difference between normal and Covenant marriage is that the latter has a number of restrictions not found in the former.
True, CM confers no more legal rights than normal marriage; but extra legal rights were never really the source of the specialness of marriage -- except perhaps the legal right for spouses not to testity against each other. (That last will certainly have to be revisioned when polyamorous marriages are allowed, unless we want entire Mafia families and street gangs to "marry" each other, so that nobody can squeal.)
No, the specialness of marriage has always flowed from its exclusivity and its permanence... which is why the Left has persistently attacked both those qualities by (a) twisting the definition of marriage towards making any association of any number of people a "marriage," and (b) making it easier and easier to walk away from a marriage upon the slightest pretext, provocation, or whim.
By restoring exclusivity and strengthening permanence, CM becomes the "real" marriage, and ordinary legal marriage just a trendy domestic partnership. And if that is how people begin to see it, we'll see more and more traditional couples getting married under Covenant, so they can demonstrate to the world their commitment to, and determination to work at, the union.
Ordinary legal marriage will persist, and will still confer the same legal status and rights; but it will probably fall into greater and greater disrepute among the majority: "Oh, you won't marry me with a Covenenant marriage? What, you want a back door out whenever you get bored with me? Drop dead, you creep!"
Women especially will have good reason to demand a CM or nothing: They know better than most men how vital is an intact family, with a male father and a female mother, when raising children.
A few caveats, none of which changes the basic equation:
- It's very unlikely that Congress will pass a federal version of CM. Nor should it. We have an enviable system of federalism; let it work! Each state can decide what exact kind of Covenant marriage to allow, if any, in its enabling legislation.
- Even if your state enacts a strong version of CM, it cannot make it illegal for one of the partners to move to another state, establish residency, and then get divorced under that state's no-fault divorce law that doesn't recognize the covenant. That's the price of liberty.
There will never come a time when normal marriage is abolished altogether; because if it did vanish from a state, then the Left could once again raise the spector of "unequal treatment." Specious though it is -- gays and straights alike are constrained in who they can marry; neither can marry a sibling, for example -- the judiciary has signalled that it is ready to cram SSM down our throats, and to hell with voters.
But that's a feature, not a bug; when state citizens must actually make a choice which type of marriage to enter into, they necessarily will have to think longer and harder about it that with a normal legal marriage. (As of course we all should, and do, if we believe it to be a solemn vow.)
Just as tea parties have swept the nation in a "popular front" -- and I believe I was the first person to so desribe them, back in February, 2010 -- I see Covenant marriage doing the same (with a vast overlap, most likely). And that means those of us who support traditional marriage no longer need wage a defensive war, trying to protect every state, city, village, and farm from the contagion of the "love bug," the untenable and cockamamie meme that "love is all you need" for marriage.
That bit of wrongthinking leads directly to our present discontent, the conclusion that any two or more people who "love" each other should be allowed to marry... men, women, siblings, fathers with their daughters, forty year olds with fourteen year olds, one man with eight women.
Instead, we can revert to the traditional American strategy of opening our own offensive. Rather than try to defend the status quo ante, we fight to implement a new form of marriage that is more exclusive and more permanent, bucking the leftist trend towards inclusion and impermanence. We slap both kinds of marriage on the table, then let the people choose. I predict that after an astonishingly brief time, "normal" marriage, with its unspecial universality and unserious provisional nature, will sink into desuetude, the last step before moribundity.
Americans may be many things, but not generally a mob: When the Left forces mob-rule upon us -- or more accurately, when they gin-up mobs to force tyranny upon the rest of us, with themselves as smug, self-satisfied tyrants -- we the people have a glorious history of rising up against them. This is true whether it's the tyranny of socialism, the tyranny of "diversity," or the tyranny of perversity.
As SSM spreads and infects more and more states, CM will grow alongside and surpass it in every venue. Soon the Obamunists will be fighting the defensive war, clinging to their "inclusive" definition of marriage. We achieve victory within the culture, despite -- even because of -- the Left's victory in the courts and legislatures. As an institution that is far more societal than legal, a solid victory within the culture is of much greater moment and future value than merely winning legal and legislative battles on the ground.
As the pushback becomes a wave, then a tsunami, and more and more states enact some version of Covenant marriage, then we'll once again have an exclusive and durable form of union to offer in preference to the liberals' and leftists marriage-lite. I sense that people, most especially young adults, have grown tired of weak tea and tolerance of everything, including intolerance itself. They crave something permanent, solid, bigger than themselves.
Give us Americans the choice, and I believe we will once again lead the rest of the world out of its moral morass.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
October 27, 2009
Thomas Sowell: Obama Isn't UnAmerican, He's Anti-American
During the Bush administration, liberals relentlessly equated Bush and his administration with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. It was always a ridiculous comparison of course; liberals seem to think that Hitlerism simply means militarism or conservatism or being religious (which is a joke, as Hitler was an atheist) -- but that's par for the liberal course. Dafydd calls this tactic "Argument by Tendentious Redefinition": They expand the definition of a word to include so many other unrelated situations that the original meaning of the word disappears into a black hole.
So I do not make the comparison between the Barack H. Obama administration and actual fascism lightly. Please understand, Obama is not like Hitler; nobody is, nobody else ever was. Hitler was uniquely insane and evil: others like Stalin and Mao were as evil, but they didn't have the almost inhuman hatreds that drove der Führer.
Obama is neither crazy nor evil, not in the cosmic sense of the Nazis; so by "fascism," I do not mean "Naziism." The "brilliant genius" Obamacle may in reality be as thick as a brick, but he's not clinically insane.
With that disclaimer, I look at the policies and style coming out of his administration -- its thuggish behavior, the desperate need to control everyone and everything, the demonization of a huge laundry list of "enemies," and the constant demand that everybody (except the party leaders) sacrifice for the collective -- and I cannot help but compare it to the early stages of fascism. Not Naziism, a less demonic version of fascism... the fascism of Oogo Chavez, for example, or even the original fascism of Benito Mussolini.
And now I feel justified, because one of our greatest conservative intellects, Thomas Sowell feels the same way. In a column published in Jewish World Review titled Dismantling America, Sowell criticizes the Obama administration's dismantling of American values (all emphasis added):
Just one year ago, would you have believed that an unelected government official, not even a Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate but simply one of the many "czars" appointed by the President, could arbitrarily cut the pay of executives in private businesses by 50 percent or 90 percent?
Did you think that another "czar" would be talking about restricting talk radio? That there would be plans afloat to subsidize newspapers -- that is, to create a situation where some newspapers' survival would depend on the government liking what they publish?
Did you imagine that anyone would even be talking about having a panel of so-called "experts" deciding who could and could not get life-saving medical treatments?
Does any of this sound like America...?
President Obama has already floated the idea of a national police force, something we have done without for more than two centuries.... What would be the role of a national police force created by Barack Obama, with all its leaders appointed by him? It would seem more like the brown shirts of dictators than like anything American.
Obama's repeated appointment of extremists is no accident, Sowell writes:
Nothing is more consistent with his lifelong patterns than putting such people in government -- people who reject American values, resent Americans in general and successful Americans in particular, as well as resenting America's influence in the world.
Sowell concludes with an indictment that has never been made so starkly by such a leading intellectual against a sitting president, particularly during a time of war; but I think Sowell is justified in making this accusation:
Nothing so epitomizes President Obama's own contempt for American values and traditions like trying to ram two bills through Congress in his first year -- each bill more than a thousand pages long -- too fast for either of them to be read, much less discussed. That he succeeded only the first time says that some people are starting to wake up. Whether enough people will wake up in time to keep America from being dismantled, piece by piece, is another question -- and the biggest question for this generation.
America must heed the fire alarm, get out of bed, and stop Obama from torching the America we know, so he can build on its ashes the America he and his liberal-fascist cronies long to see.
July 17, 2009
Cool Ain't Cool
Just seven years ago at this time, Sachi and I were preparing ourselves for an extensive trip hiking in the Grand Canyon. We knew it would probably be hot, so we were training ourselves by deliberately going out and hiking (here in SoCal) in July and August.
By this time, mid-July 2002, we were routinely getting temps here over 100° F, some days as high as 105° F in the shade (not that there's much shade on the ridge hike we take). We were day-hiking while wearing full-sized backpacks filled with rocks and bottled water, to simulate a full pack.
Even so, we really weren't prepared at all when we got to Grand Canyon. During one hike along Clear Creek Trail, the temperature in the sun (there is no shade on that part of the Kaibab Plateau) was more than 125° F: That's as high as our thermometer registers, and it was pegged. Sachi swore she was evaporating.
Even during the night, the temperature never dropped below 100° F until an hour or so before dawn, the coldest time of day. We should know; we got dehydrated and suffered through the night before turning back the next morning.
And this was on September 24th-25th, 2002. (This isn't my seven-years faded memory; I just now went to the file and looked it up.) I can't imagine how hellish it would have been two months earlier.
What's the point? Well, so far this year, the temperature here in Southern California has only topped 90° F once, I think. And according to the 7-day forcast by the National Weather Service for Phantom Ranch (right at the bottom of Bright Angel Trail, on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon), the highs range from 109° F to 113° F, and the overnight lows are mid to high 70s! In mid-July!
The hottest temperature ever recorded at Phantom Ranch, according to the National Park Service, was 120° F in the shade, "on several dates." Clearly, the current temperature is much lower than the maximum, and indeed, significantly lower than just seven years ago -- both in SoCal and in the Grand Canyon.
I worry a lot more about global cooling than I do about global warming; at least the latter would be accompanied by a staggering increase in crop growth. Global glaciation could well be accompanied by worldwide crop failures.
Vikings -- the sea warriors, not the football team -- called their island Greenland precisely because it was lush and burgeoning; they even grew grapes for wine there. Today it's pretty much ice-locked; but I doubt even Al Gore could find a way to blame the Mediaeval Warm Period on industrial release of carbon dioxide.
During the last actual full-blown glaciation -- which peaked about 18,000 years ago -- the ice sheets completely blanketed Canada and Alaska and came all the way down to Minneapolis. They carved out the Great Lakes, and the ice-melt filled them. Glaciers created Niagara Falls (by rerouting the river) and the Ohio River system.
Oh, and another minor side effect: Glaciation produced a land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska... which is why the Americas were already inhabited by humans (and old-world mammals) before Columbus got here... or even Vikings.
"Too hot" just means too hot. Maybe a little rise in the sea level, but nothing a good seawall can't handle; the Dutch have been reclaiming land from below sea level since the 1500s. It doesn't mean molten lava lakes in Kansas.
But "too cold" can mean "no longer human habitable," at least not without massive technological intervention, which most of the rest of the world could not possibly afford: hydroponics, animal-protein synthesis, underground raising of livestock, nuclear powered heating, environmental suits for venturing outside, transportation challenges, and so forth.
For our own sakes, let's hope that if we're destined to live to see the nightmarish predictions of a group of global alarmists come true -- it's the ones of today, not the global-cooling nuts of the 1970s!
June 1, 2009
Attacking the Foundations of Freedom
Society and the status quo are uniting as never before in America to ensure the power of equality over freedom -- and in the process attacking society’s achievers as well as the freedom of expression that defends them and our way of life. This is a form of injustice -- perhaps one of the most pernicious.
Will and Ariel Durant wrote in The Lessons of History (1968), "Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.”
America’s founders were appalled at the idea of democracy and equality; and while they gave lip service to equality in political classes, they didn’t extend that to economic results. They revered the ideal of the individual, free and owing little to his fellow man, and less to his government -- except occasionally serving temporarily in government or the military to preserve those freedoms.
Equality of opportunity, not equality of result, was their goal. While they envisioned individual liberty and private property as the ne plus ultra of a free society, they also enshrined freedom of expression (speech, press, etc.) as a means of defending those rights.
Or as John Adams wrote in “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law” (1765), “The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.”
Although George Orwell invented the term “thought crime” in his novel Nineteen-Eighty Four, the concept was well known to the founders. James Madison, who proposed the First Amendment, once wrote to Thomas Jefferson on the passage of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom: “We have in this country extinguished forever... making laws for the human mind.”
We have come a long way since those days. At his first commencement speech as president (May 13, 2009), Barack Obama told the graduating class of Arizona State University that they should not seek honors, riches, status or personal gain:
In contrast, the leaders we revere, the businesses and institutions that last -- they are not generally the result of a narrow pursuit of popularity or personal advancement, but of devotion to some bigger purpose -- the preservation of the Union or the determination to lift a country out of a depression; the creation of a quality product, a commitment to your customers, your workers, your shareholders and your community. A commitment to make sure that an institution like ASU is inclusive and diverse and giving opportunity to all. That's a hallmark of real success.
That other stuff -- that other stuff, the trappings of success may be a byproduct of this larger mission, but it can't be the central thing. Just ask Bernie Madoff. That's the first problem with the old attitude.
This is an argument Immanuel Kant -- from whom much of the Western World’s current unhappiness, at least philosophical unhappiness, can be traced -- would appreciate. The idea that we should not pursue what makes us happy, but rather what benefits society most. It “invites” us to put away the pursuit of success, of individual achievement, and seek “some bigger purpose.”
For one like the president, who in his early career was a community organizer, this seems a reasonable goal -- for him. But for the now immensely powerful president to deliver it as a goal for graduating seniors, and by extension to the nation, is alarming. Especially since he can back up his preferences for what goals individuals might choose with the full power of the federal government.
The injustice being perpetrated, in my view, is to attack society’s achievers, to attempt to level them, to defame them as being unfair and victimizing society. Going hand in hand with this attack on individual achievement is the attack on the ability of people who oppose such actions to defend themselves using the written word, TV or radio broadcasts, internet communications, and other media.
The president has also advocated limiting salaries of corporate executives, not only of companies that took TARP money, but even of banks and high profile companies that didn’t. The argument most often advanced is that it is unfair to "the poor" to allow “the rich” (a term that often means anyone who makes more than the accuser) to make so much more than they.
In promoting such a philosophy Obama is only carrying forward a tradition that goes back at least as far as President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- who, along with Abraham Lincoln, he greatly admires; Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms” speech (January 6, 1941) listed “freedom of speech and expression,” “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way,” “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.” Only two of these have a basis in our Bill of Rights, and nowhere is mentioned anything about the freedom of individual achievement or liberty. In fact, during the height of World War II, FDR proposed to Congress that it adopt a 100% tax for all incomes over $25,000.
So in today’s world, when many pundits say that the second Great Depression is upon us, it is not hard to imagine that the government that could tell a CEO of a large company how much money he might make could at some point tell a smaller fish in a smaller company how much money she might make.
In the name of equality, freedom is limited or eliminated.
Karl Marx made the case that people were equal until private property evolved, which created the class system. His philosophical descendent Vladimir Lenin, in his “To the workers, everything; to the toilers, everything!” speech (1918), asserted:
It was life itself, real, actual life, which taught the workers to understand that as long as the landholders had entrenched themselves so well in palaces and magic castles, freedom of assembly would be a mere fiction and would only perhaps be found in the other world. To promise freedom to the workers and at the same time to leave the castles, the land, the factories and all the resources in the hands of the capitalists and landowners -- that this has nothing to do with liberty and equality.
At the other end of the spectrum are President Ronald Reagan and his philosophical twin, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- who, when she ran for parliament in 1950 said:
Our policy is not built on envy or hatred but on liberty for the individual man or woman. It is not our policy to suppress success. Our policy is to encourage it, and encourage energy and initiative. In 1940 it was not the cry of nationalization that made this country rise up and fight totalitarianism. It was the cry for freedom and liberty.
Falling somewhere in between would be a political philosopher such as John Rawls, who believes that individual freedom and the capitalist system that derives from it are only moral if the poorest people benefit too. Yet a utilitarian philosopher could argue, as Adam Smith (admittedly an economist, not a philosopher) did, that individual freedom and capitalism produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number, even if it doesn’t always distribute that happiness evenly.
Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand counters that the capitalist system, and the individual who works for his own benefit and not the benefit of others, together create a result that benefits the most people... although she would hasten to add that she sees the morality of individualism and capitalism as divorced from whether they benefit the majority. In her newsletter the Objectivist (1971), Rand writes: “I shall say that I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason.”
Another modern libertarian philosopher, Robert Nozick, opposes what he calls Rawls’s “distributive justice.”
In the opening remarks of Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) Nozick writes, “Individuals have rights.... So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do,” and argues for a minimalist state that has the powers to protect private property from theft and fraud and not much else.
The president (and his electoral opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain) both would require that all adults devote some years to “community service,” which is, when all high-flown definitions are stripped away, a form of involuntary servitude. This too, can be seen as an assault on the individual’s right to dispose of his time as he sees fit.
Also in the name of equality, to combat “hate speech,” “attacks on other religions,” and to limit money’s influence on politics, freedom of expression is under assault on a variety of fronts.
McCain’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 (aka McCain-Feingold) makes it a crime to take out advertising criticizing a candidate in a federal election within a certain time prior to the election. Some federal election commissioners have tried to apply this to the internet and to commercial films (such a case is currently before the Supreme Court: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).
Earlier this year the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, about which Colorado defense attorney Robert J. Corry commented that “the state ‘hate crime’ law -- like the newly expanded House of Representatives federal bill -- ‘does not apply equally’ (as the 14th Amendment requires), essentially instead "criminalizing only politically incorrect thoughts directed against politically incorrect victim categories.”
Canadian journalist (now U.S. citizen [I believe he is still a Canadian citizen -- DaH]) Mark Steyn was brought up on charges of “Islamophobia” in 2008 before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Human Rights Commission for passages in his book America Alone that were published in the magazine Maclean's.
A previous commission case had involved a minister who attacked gays in print and from the pulpit and whose punishment was to be prevented from publishing or uttering disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals for the rest of his life. So the threat to Steyn’s freedom of expression was real, although the commissions eventually found him (and McLean's) not guity of the charges:
The Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the complaint. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal heard the complaint in June 2008 and issued a ruling on October 10, 2008 dismissing the complaint. The Canadian Human Rights Commission dismissed the federal complaint on June 26, 2008 without referring the matter to a tribunal.
One might derive comfort from the fact that there are no “human rights tribunals” in the U.S. -- except that versions do exist on university campuses. Students can face real punishments for crossing swords with them and expressing thoughts that are not tolerated.
What to do? It is problematic at best to come up with an effective set of measures that would set this situation right. Tyrannies tend to accumulate; governments tend to become more authoritarian. Rarely do they surrender power.
Nevertheless, unless we want to surrender to being "tyrannized" by incrementalism, like the proverbial trick of boiling the frog, we must try to roll back attacks on the individual and his ability to defend himself by speech and print.
At some point we must strike back by advocating laws that would remove much of government’s powers to impose “equality,” to limit its ability to “punish” achievement, and perhaps most important, to undo its attack on freedom of expression by eliminating the methods that local and federal governments use to regulate various media for the purpose of shutting down opposing views.
This would include removing the Federal Communication Commission’s authority to regulate the content of broadcast media... or better yet, to completely abolish the FCC.
This would also, by definition, require removing much of the government’s power to reward certain segments of society at others’ expense through the use of confiscatory taxation and social-engineering laws. It would also require abolishing all “hate crimes” and any other laws that take into account any aspect of a crime other than the fact that it has occurred and its severity.
Perfectly rational liberals may take the view that while individual liberty is a fine thing, there should be some compromise between the freedom of the individual, which at its core is a purely rationalist position, and the abuses that free individuals can commit against the feelings of others.
As a journalist who has been in the business for over 30 years, I see the benefits of unfettered expression. Newspapers are somewhat immune from attacks on content, because it is so obvious that the First Amendment was talking about them when it referred to “freedom of press.” So for the most part is “freedom of speech.” But other media, such as television, radio, and the internet are not specifically mentioned; so the government is more apt to try to trim their freedoms.
As a journalist I harbor an absolutist point of view when it comes to these freedoms, maintaining dogmatically that the Constitution means what it says. I’ve had discussions with some people who have argued, quite reasonably, that someone like Steyn should simply not write things that offend other religions; then there won’t be any problem of defending his right to say what he wants.
But at this possible tipping point in our culture’s existence, we cannot afford compromise.
Early on I used the quote by the Durants to note the timeless struggle between freedom and equality, where if one triumphs completely, the other dies. I am not convinced that this is so. As a country that was founded on freedom and equality, I think it can be demonstrated that equality did not die in America when freedom was at its most robust -- although it certainly took a back seat.
I do not believe that the opposite will be true if individual freedom is forced into a secondary position. Individualism can be strangled or at least deprived of enough oxygen that it will take many years to recover its vitality.
That is the danger of attacking the very foundations of freedom.
May 26, 2009
Supremes Do the Right Thing
The California Supreme Court has handed down its decision on Proposition 8, the citizen initiative constitutional amendment that overturned a previous California Supreme Court decision, In re Marriage Cases (2008) 43 Cal.4th 757; Marriage Cases had held that the state's restriction of marriage to a union between one man and one woman -- as embodied by an earlier initiative enacted in 2000 (Proposition 22), by a previous 1977 law, and by law as commonly understood from the state's incorporation as a state in the United States in 1850 -- was nevertheless unconstitutional under the equal protection clause.
The court did not reverse that decision today; none of the justices voted that the ruling in Marriage Cases was wrong. But the court did find that Proposition 8 was likewise a valid state constitutional amendment, not a "revision" of the constitution, which would have required legislative approval before being placed upon the ballot. The vote was a healthy 6 to 1.
The net effect is that California is now firmly back in the traditional marriage camp -- except for the roughly 18,000 marriages that occurred in the brief window after the ruling in Marriage Cases took effect but before Proposition 8 was passed.
Chief Justice Ronald George wrote the opinion, which was joined by Justices Joyce Kennard, Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin, and Carol Corrigan. Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote her own opinion concurring in the judgment that Proposition 8 was a valid amendment, but "dissenting" (so to speak) from the reasoning: She held that the majority was wrong to restrict the definition of constitutional revision to a change that fundamentally altered the way the state governed, as opposed to impinging only upon an individual right.
Werdegar held that an impingement upon an individual right, were it substantial enough, could still constitute a "revision" that requires legislative approval before it can be placed before voters. But she held as a substantive matter that Proposition 8 did not impinge in such a manner upon the fundamental right of equal protection under the law, hence was a valid amendment that required only a petition circulated among voters to qualify for the ballot.
(Interestingly, Werdegar was among the majority in Marriage Cases that held that same-sex marriage was required by the fundamental right of equal protection. I strongly disagree with her on that point; but I'm closer to agreement with her on the procedural question of what can constitute a constitutional "revision" than I am with the rest of the majority.)
The only complete dissent came from Justice Carlos Moreno (who was also, like Werdegar, in the pro-same-sex marriage majority on Marriage Cases). By a most curious coincidence, Moreno also happens to be the only justice on the court appointed by a Democrat, Gray Davis. The other six were all appointed by Republicans: George, Werdegar, and Chin by Pete Wilson; Kennard and Baxter by George Deukmeijian; and Corrigan by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ergo, the six justices appointed by Republican governors had great deference for the right of the people of the state of California to enact and amend their own constitution, while the sole justice appointed by a Democrat thought that his interpretation of newly minted "fundamental" rights (which no justice before that day had dreamt existed) trumped the right of the people to determine their own style of government.
Please bear that distinction in mind the next time you are confronted with a vote for chief executive in your state or for President of the United States: Not only do words have meanings and actions have consequences, but so too do political parties.
Now let the leftist circus begin!
April 20, 2009
On Feudalism, Capitalism, and "American Chopper"
I have been watching "American Chopper," a real reality show on the Learning Channel (formerly on its sister station, the Discovery Channel), since the show began several years ago. It follows the adventures of a real company, Orange County Choppers (Orange County, New York), which builds choppers... in this case, the word doesn't mean helicopters but rather heavily customized motorcycles.
The company, Orange County Choppers (OCC), is a family business; it's majority-owned by the father, Paul Teutul, Sr.. (or usually just "Senior"); I believe the middle son, Paul jr. -- "Junior," or just "Paulie" -- is a partner, but I don't know how much of the company he owns (if any). As this is a multi-million dollar manufacturing business -- started from scratch in a garage -- it's a perfect symbol of the American dream: achieving almost miraculous success from ingenuity, determination, skill, and the freedom to succeed (or fail). In other words, OCC is a paean to Capitalism.
From a small genesis, they have managed to expand from hand-building custom-designed choppers for a handful of fairly wealthy clients -- which they still do, though mostly for corporate clients -- to include a product line of already assembled bikes ready for sale to those of more moderate means who still want a cool chopper. They recently constructed their own huge building for fabrication, display, and sales; and they're now sailing the tricky waters of selling their products throughout the EU, navigating the dangerous coral reefs of European environmental and labor regulations.
But recently, a catastrophe befell them... one which is part of the implicate order of contemporary corporate culture in the world today -- per David Bohm, I mean it is inherent within the corporation even before being realized, much as an oak tree is part of the implicate order of an acorn. And the solution to this inherent dilemma/contradiction is frightening, awesome (in the sense of inspiring awe), and exhilarating in its implications for the future of the GOP, of America, for the completion of Western civilization, and for the expansion of the vistas of Capitalism.
This post is quite long, so I'm putting the rest into the "Slither on." I urge you to read it because the concept (not necessarily my discussion of it) is vital to the future of, well, everything.
So let's jump right in...
Like many family businesses, there is a growing disruptive rivalry between Senior and Junior at OCC. They sometimes have terrible arguments... not as often as they used to, in the beginning of the series; but while fewer in number they seem to have grown in intensity. That's hardly surprising; as Paulie has grown into his thirties, he naturally chafes under the total control of his father; and as Junior rebels, Senior clamps down ever harder, wanting to hold onto the company that he built.
But Paulie has a huge claim to the success as well, for two reasons:
- It was Paulie who persuaded his father, over a long period of time, to allow the Discovery Channel to create a reality show around their then-small company. It was the visibility gained from that very popular cable-TV show that led to their tremendous international success today.
- And more important, it was Paulie who designed and built the spectacular choppers that repeatedly won awards, nabbed the cover of any number of motorcycle magazines, and in fact, attracted the attention of the Discovery Channel in the first place. Without Junior's creative vision and amazing ability to fabricate sheets of metal into works of art in the medium of "motorcycles," the business would still just be a tiny wart on the nose of the custom-chopper industry.
At the beginning of this season, Junior and Senior got into a horrible screaming match (over nothing, as usual)... but this time it culminated in Paul, sr., firing his son: Paulie is terminated and no longer works for OCC.
I expect that in a few more episodes, Senior (who wants his son back) and Junior (who is going crazy doing nothing) will find some way to get back together in some fashion; in the meanwhile, they are going through terrible angst that may well end up destroying their family business, flinging their success to date into the dustbin of startup history, and even tearing them apart as a family.
The builds they have finished since Paulie was fired have been uninspired at best; they produced a bike for the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, for example, that was a fairly standard chopper with a circus-like paint job. Wow. They also finished a build for the 20th anniversary of the B-2 stealth bomber; but in my opinion, the bike was a near ringer for the bike that Paulie designed and built several seasons ago for the Apache helicopter.
Compared to what Junior has been doing since the show began, this is junk. Not only that, but employees of OCC have admitted on camera (in the show) that with Paulie gone, all the builds are "taking twice as long as they should," and that they've fallen behind on other builds -- presumably the stock bikes that are almost certainly the bread and butter of Orange County Chopper. The company is being damaged and its reputation shredded, all because it's guiding spirit -- Junior, not Senior, even though the latter founded the company -- was unceremoniously ousted by his old-guard pop.
They're in serious trouble. If they don't soon come up with a workable solution to bring Paulie back, OCC will collapse under the weight of its own financial obligations, undertaken in the flush years... yet the "status quo ante" is unacceptable to both parties: Senior demands that his employees all follow certain standards, including his son; and Paulie is being driven mad by the increasingly autocratic demands of his father. What to do, what to do?
The real cause of the split is so painfully obvious to me that I wonder they didn't see it coming years ago; and to me, the solution is equally clear. The problem is that Senior runs his company like most corporations are run: as a feudal kingdom:
- The CEO is the king;
- He has his vassal lords -- his dukes, counts, and barons, the senior corporate officers;
- He has his parliament -- the board of directors, on which he may or may not sit, and which more or less controls the purse strings but not the company itself (unless the CEO is also the majority stockholder, as in this case);
- He has his sheriffs -- the managers, group leaders, and shop foremen;
- And the rest of the workers are basically serfs... they have no authority, generally no input, and like mushrooms, are kept in the dark and fed fertilizer.
This organization model works no better in a corporation than its counterpart did in national government. If you have a really good king, he can overcome the inherent inefficiency and inevitable scheming and backstabbing; if you have a mediocre to poor monarch, the company settles, collapses, and dies an ignominious death.
But long ago, we found a much better way to organize society's resources, human capital, ingenuity, energy, and time; we call that new model Capitalism.
Enter the Mises ex machina
This is a true anecdote. No, really. I remembered an article I read many years ago about the feudal structure of most corporations; it advocated extending the principles of Capitalism into the workplace itself... but I couldn't quite remember exactly what the author suggested.
But then, while putting things into storage, I opened a box stored in our linen closet, and behold! There was the very article I'd been trying to resurrect in my memory. It's titled "New Work for Invisible Hands," by Richard Cornuelle (born 1927), and it appeared in the Times Literary Supplement almost exactly 18 years ago (April 5th, 1991). It was supposedly reprinted by the Cato Institute, but I can't find it online. (If somebody can, please let me know the URL in comments, and I'll include it here. Note that the TLS online archives only date back to 1994.)
The piece galvanized me as nothing on the subject had before. For years, I had struggled in the workforce, aware that something was terrible awry but not really knowing what to do about it. Rereading the piece today, I found the exact paragraph that made me leap to my feet back in 1991. (Remember, this was in the age of Papa Bush; the very idea of the piece was revolutionary):
Libertarian thought is wonderfully sound as far as it goes, but there are two gaping holes in it that now gravely threaten its relevance. For one thing, there is no very distinct libertarian vision of community -- of social as opposed to economic process -- outside the state: The alluring libertarian contention that society would probably work better if the state could somehow be limited to keeping the peace and enforcing contracts has to be taken largely on faith. Nor have libertarians confronted the disabling hypocrisy of the capitalist rationale which insists that while the capitalists themselves must have extensive freedom of action, their employees may have much less. Their explanation of how an invisible hand arranges economic resources rationally without authoritarian direction stops short at the factory gate. Inside factories and offices, the heavy, visible hand of management continues to rule with only token opposition. [All emphasis added.]
Mises! That point, which seems so obvious once stated, lit so many intellectual fires in my cerebral cortex that I'm still steaming.
Through much of the article, Cornuelle concerns himself with describing a culture of "imaginative voluntary action" (service organizations, churches and synagogues, private charities, and other forms of volunteerism) to take the place of government social action on poverty; disease control; illiteracy, innumeracy, and miseducation; environmental pollution; crime; drug addiction; cultural isolation; and so forth. This section is fascinating, but much work on this subject has already been published in the intervening two decades, so I won't go into it.
I'm more interested in the area that has been virtually bereft of creative, innovative libertarian and free-market thought before and after Cornuelle's article... and that is where the author truly illuminates the path forward.
This little piggie goes to market
The first task before creating the future is to describe the now, and Cornuelle does this beautifully; it's virtually impossible to argue with any sentence in this complex yet crystaline paragraph, as true today as in 1991:
When freemen went to work in factories, their status was not unlike that of the iron-collared serfs who had preceded them. Their employment was a kind of voluntary indenture, tacitly renewed each day, in which the worker agreed to submit to supervision for a certain number of hours for an agreed-to amount of pay. Workers were free in one sense, but painfully unfree in another. Feudalism had only moved indoors. The movement to civilize this relationship has been more or less continuous. Workplaces have been made safer, lighter, warmer and more agreeable. Wages are higher, hours shorter, and an accumulation of law and custom has elaborated the rights of employees and put limits on the prerogatives of employers. But the system has yet to be altered elementally. Working people are far, far freer than slaves or indentured servants, but they are not as free as their bosses and not nearly as free as they might be.
The economic and spiritual consequences of such "wage slavery" (to liberate a term from the Marxists) are devastating, not only to workplace productivity but to the soul of the employee... particularly in the case of what the Japanese call the "salaryman."
If you are employed by someone else, the odds are high that when you come home from work you are drained mentally and emotionally, which manifests physically as well (falling asleep in front of the TV at 9:00 pm). You often miss milestones in your children's development, much of your social life revolves around co-workers, you find it hard to talk about anything other than work at parties and other social gatherings; your life revolves around Work, and a terrible temptation arises to begin defining yourself in terms of your Work: "What are you?" Not "I'm a father of three," or "I'm a writer," or "I'm a Hasidic Jew," or "My husband and I are adventure racers;" but "I work for Lockheed."
There is little time to see a play, sing-along with your family, go hunting, read a book, or wrestle with your kids. And on the week-ends, you cram every chore that had to be postponed during the week-days into the few hours you have away from Work... so even that precious time is sucked dry by the corporation, like a fat, gouty aristo Hoovering the marrow from a pork bone.
Worse is the psychological effect: Saluting and obeying become the essential thread of your personality; you internalize the military-like regimentation of Work; you begin to think of yourself as a servant, not a free human with the capacity and potential to rise above your lot.
Thus does Work prime you for socialism; as Cornuelle puts it, paraphrasing Friedrich Hayek:
Employed people can scarcely be expected to revere qualities they have been carefully instructed to repress. Instead, they tend to become what the way they work requires: politicized, unimaginative, unenterprising, petty, security-obsessed, and passive.
These are not qualities that can sustain the American experiment of individual liberty and self-government.
Cornuelle gets a bit cryptic when he discusses practical treatments for the social disease he diagnoses; but I think I can flesh it out somewhat. He writes:
[N]ow there is a movement toward more elemental reform which would de-politicize workplaces entirely, make each worker self-supervising, and base compensation on some credible estimate of the value each person adds to whatever product or service the firm produces, in effect bringing the principle of the free market into the plant. But without a legitimatizing rationale, something the libertarians are best equipped to provide, this is bound to be a confused and halting process.
Alas, that is all the guidance he gives us; nevertheless, let's extrapolate that out to a workable, practical reform and see what it looks like.
The military model of decentralization (?!)
Here I'll drag Donald Rumsfeld, willy-nilly, into the debate (probably against his will). Besides winning two wars (and almost losing two peaces), Rumsfeld will be best remembered, at least by military historians, for his reform of the American military. Boiled down to its essentials, he sought to do three things:
- Decentralize control of the troops to put as much responsibility and accountability as possible in the smallest units -- squads -- shifting power from the standard divisional structure to men with stripes on their sleeves, the actual war-fighters. Officers would set the goals, keep track of progress, and ensure that the units in contact with the enemy (or containing the enemy) have all the resources they needed to do their jobs.
- Break down the barriers between types of units, so that small, almost voluntary collectives of soldiers (I'm using the word "soldier" generically) with disparate specialities can integrate into a powerful, self-sustaining, and self-directed team. Thus, instead of having an infantry unit that depends upon a separate and not-very-well coordinated artillery unit -- controlled by a colonel "somewhere else" who is not necessarily even in communication with the general in command of the infantry brigade -- to bombard the enemy prior to a firefight, under the Rumsfeld reforms, small units could themselves call in airstrikes or artillery as needed from individual air-support or artillery squads, without waiting for the bird and the star to have a sit-down with each other.
- Uplink each soldier (ideally), or at least each squad-level unit, with a coordinated, networked virtual battlefield, allowing the brass to follow the entire conflict in a way that Napoleon could only dream of doing. As in Robert A. Heinlein's seminal novel Starship Troopers, the battle can now be mapped almost as a problem in fluid-flow. Commanders can zoom in on hot spots or widen the view to catch opportunities missed by the men on the ground -- or catch potential threats before they coalesce into devastation.
The decentralized, integrated, coordinated battlefield of today and tomorrow revolutionizes warfare as thoroughly as did air power, repeating arms, or even gunpowder itself. And this same model can revolutionize Work -- to the point where it may become unrecognizable.
Free the human 200 million!
We're already seeing the beginnings of decentralization in the increasing use of independent contractors in large businesses -- non-employees who pay their own medical insurance, retirement (including paying self-employment tax instead of having FICA contributions deducted), and other benefits in exchange for a higher rate of payment. But we'll cross a more vital threshold when companies cease paying contractors by the hour worked, and begin paying instead for projects completed.
Whenever a person is paid on the basis of time spent with butt in chair, he is an employee even if he is an ostensibly independent contractor: The client has every right and every motivation to clock the worker's every working moment, to ensure the client is not being cheated. After all, if he's being paid by the hour, the incentive is to take as long as he can possibly justify... the opposite of productivity. If he finishes your project early, his reward is to be paid less!
But if the contractor is paid according to what he produces, then his time is his own: So long as he finishes the project on time and within the budget (or can make a convincing case why he and the client had underestimated the original schedule and budget), the client has neither right nor reason to inquire about how the contractor spends his time... any more than you have reason to interrogate your dentist about how long a lunch break he takes or when he knocks off for the day.
Not only that, but the quicker he finished the first project (in a manner that the client approves), the quicker he can move to the next; being more productive means he makes more money, incentivizing productivity. This is a huge economic boost for the client as well as the contractor.
Of course it's important to recognize the most intractible limitation to Capitalism: Most people don't really want to be capitalists. They want to be told what to do and supervised closely; most folks really do want to be "wage slaves," because they enjoy the security they fancy it supplies.
Of course, after getting laid off a few times, they may change their minds; but as even Ayn Rand understood and depicted in Atlas Shrugged, for every independent, fully self-actualized Dagny Taggart, there are a thousand Eddie Willers -- competent, loyal followers who simply lack either the creative capacity or the will to become independent, fully-realized human beings.
In spite of that dreary reality, however, there are many more budding capitalists than the contemporary fascist structure of corporations allows to bloom; and even for the Eddie Willers, increasing the scope of Capitalism will benefit them indirectly by increasing the wealth of society and making the workplace more livable. But potential capitalists cannot truly revolutionize the workplace, let alone Work, without the next phase: integrating Capitalism into that corporate structure itself.
Just as the armed forces are moving rapidly towards small, self-contained military units that have all the capacity they need to independently accomplish their missions, corporations can move away from discrete and disconnected, overly specialized corporate departments to integrated business units or cells organized around products or projects. As Heinlein said, "specialization is for insects."
Why should Accounting, Personnel, Legal, Sales, Marketing, Operations, and Management all be separated from the productive departments? It may have made sense in the early days of industrialization, as perhaps did unions; but like unions, the time for a wall of separation between "creation" and "control" has passed.
A new, post-modern corporate structure would be organized into business units around the various products -- that which customers want to buy. A big company would have many business units; a small might have only one. Each business unit or cell would comprise an array of contractors (and some Eddie Willers-type employees) who are all assigned to the same project, which provides the organizing reason for the business unit itself.
Consider, for instance, a software company, and imagine this integrated work environment:
- One of the major product lines is an accounting application called Mercury. The Mercury team comprises software engineers, accountants, marketers, and salespeople.
- Each element has a team lead (an engineering team lead, an accounting team lead, and so forth). The team leads keep track of the progress of their piece of the project and the needs of their people, and they coordinate with each other to set schedules and allocate resources.
- The accountants actually use the Mercury application to do their accounting; they're usually a version behind, because they need it to work. But they regularly alpha-test the current software.
- The engineers work closely with the accountants, ensuring that the product is oriented around what accountants actually do, rather than around the software modules that make up the application code: That is, the program menus and functions reflect the real-world work of accountants... not the way the code happens to be divided up and distributed for purposes of efficient program design.
- The marketing people within the Mercury team have input into the product design; they too consult with the accountants, so they can more effectively find out what the target market wants to see in the product.
- The sales people use the product in their own work (updating their sales targets and such), so they too can better sell the product to the target market.
- Lawyer members of the Mercury legal team would focus on the project's legal issues, whether it's software compliance with the tax code (a product issue) or collections, lawsuits anent the application, team-member disputes, and so forth (corporate issues).
- More important, the entire team (as a unit) must "buy" its resources -- manpower, computers, packaging, printing, and even utilities and office supplies -- from the parent company, using company scrip; but they keep a royalty (in scrip) from the product sales, which is used to pay for these resources... and leftover scrip becomes real money, paid to the team members as bonuses.
(Note another important point: A single person can be assigned to multiple projects... and he gets paid for each. Thus, an engineer might work on the Mercury project, but he might also write code for a tax-filing application, a workflow application, or a customer sales-contact application. Each contractor must manage his own time to ensure timely completion of all the projects to which he's attached. The current corporate structure tends to infantalize employees; a more internally capitalist structure matures and expands the abilities of its independent contractors.)
You see the point? We need to create little mini-companies within the parent corporation to institutionalize Capitalism in the belly of the beast; and each independent contractor team member has a monetary incentive to maximize sales (by making the best possible product) and minimize cost (because bonuses are paid based upon the "profit" earned by the team).
"The part that they forgot to kill went on to organize!"
Finally, the project officers who "run" the Mercury project are actually clients of the team member contractors... and their incentive is to get the best application out the fastest they can to be as profitable as possible -- not to waste time supervising every minute of every "employee's" day, attending endless (and useless) meetings, or writing detailed reports of everything the vice president demands to justify his own phony-baloney job.
Similarly, the higher-up corporate officers have the same incentive: Their only bonuses, perhaps their only income, would come from direct ownership (stock holdings in the company) or profit-based bonuses; no more question about whether they truly "earned" their money... if they don't, they don't get any.
And the best part, from my perspective, is that independent contractors, being their own bosses, don't need industrial unions; in fact, the very idea of an involuntary union of independents is self contradictory. Thus the only "union" possible would in fact be the very type of voluntary organization that we want to train people to accept and rely upon, in order to wean our larger society away from government control of every social issue towards a more robust volunteerism and self-help. Capitalism leads directly to more social interaction between people -- and more volunteerism.
Enchained of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your Work
You may have noticed that I use the word Work, capitalized; this signifies what I think it means to most people in the country: the central component of their lives. They spend more time at Work than anywhere else. Work supplies the lion's share of their human relationships; and many bosses believe Work should take precedence over everything else in their employees' lives -- over recreation, over sleep, even over their families.
In Judeo-Christian (and probably Islamic) cultures, Work is penance, a punishment assumed to atone for the original sin of disobeying God's order not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Tanakh, the Jewish bible, Genesis 3:19 covers it pretty well: "By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground -- for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return." The King James and Catholic bibles are equally grim.
(I believe the whole problem stems from mistaking the natural consequences of maturity for a curse. As a child, your parents do everything for you; the price of growing up is that you must scratch for your own seed. In fact, I see the entire Old Testament as a parable of this same dynamic, applied to human civilization as a whole... but developing this theme further is beyond the scope of this post.)
Work becomes a God to be worshipped; to speak against "hard work" (meaning Work) is blasphemy. To reject Work is heresy that is punished by casting out the heretic. That is why so many people routinely refer to the self-employed as "lazy bums," even if they in fact work (small-w) harder than an employee would: The fact that they work for themselves, are not employed by a boss-man, means that they don't really Work... so the time they spend and the products they create are meaningless. How can they be productive? They don't suffered the way I do!
Capitalism is pro-work, but it is inherently anti-Work; Work is a remnant from the early days of modern industrialization in the heavily repressed Victorian era. Pleasure is the opposite of Work; but work (small-w) can and should be a pleasure, and it can and will happily co-exist with non-work related pleasures, strengthening family ties and mentally heathful recreation away from the workplace and one's co-workers.
Ideally, increasing automation will drastically reduce the amount of time we must spend at work -- which violates a central tenet of Work-as-God. At the event horizon, we would need to spend only a few minutes per day doing things to create wealth, and the rest of our time we will spend enjoying that wealth.
But first, we must eliminate Work in favor of work; that is the first step. We must rise up as a culture and abolish Work, at least for anyone who aspires to be more than an Eddie Willers.
Chopping the chopper
But in case you've forgotten in all the excitement of Capitalist revolution, this has all been a tangent; we were really talking about Orange County Choppers, Paul Sr., and his son Paulie... remember?
Senior is the boss, and he sets very strict rules for his employees. He monitors their movements like a hawk monitors the movements of mice. Every employee must show up at 7:00 am on the dot; lunch and other breaks are short and strictly enforced; I believe they work 10-hour days.
Worse, if Senior looks out the glass wall of his office and sees people talking or walking around instead of actually banging metal, he comes storming out to scream at them in front of everybody... and he doesn't even accept the defense that such non-physical activities as thinking, designing, sketching, and communicating with other employees can also constitute Work. It was only with a lot of tooth-pulling that Paulie got his father to hire a computer graphic designer, Jason Pohl; and even now, Senior treats Jason as a bad joke -- except when he forces him to bend metal, a task for which he really is not suited.
But when Paulie was there, he would spend many hours conversing with Jason before even touching any tools, coming up with increasingly fantastic designs as the seasons passed. And a lot of times, Paulie comes in late, leaves early, and takes long lunches. Bad "employee," right? But his father also berates him for taking too long thinking about the build before starting to hammer out gas tanks or bend tubing for handlebars.
To me, the solution is so obvious, it's actually frustrating that neither Senior nor Junior gets it... so much so that if this Hamlet-like indecision continues much longer, I may cease watching the show: Paulie is simply not meant to be an employee; he is a Capitalist at heart.
Paulie should come back to OCC -- as an independent contractor. He should incorporate himself, and Senior (his father) should contract with that company to design and build the special bikes, plus the stock bikes when there is time. In other words, he should do the same job he was doing as an employee, but as a non-employee.
OCC would not pay him a salary, nor would it pay any benefits at all. Instead, it would pay a contracting fee, and Paulie would pay all those other things himself -- for himself, and also for his employees. Yes, OCC should let other employees go; they already realize they must lay people off, due to the bad financial times (which curtail both corporate sponsorship of elaborate motorcycles and also ordinary people buying the stock choppers, which are after all luxuries). Paulie's design company should hire some of these laid-off employees -- especially including Jason Pohl.
The benefits to OCC are obvious: They don't have all the overhead of so many employees, and they only have to pay Paulie when he's actually working for them. They pay a lump sum, which is just as deductable as a business expense as were Paulie's salary and bennies when he was an employee. And most important, Senior can relax, because Junior's work habits are no longer his business -- literally.
The benefits to Paulie are equally clear: He can come and go as he pleases, work however he wants in order to create the build, and isn't under the thumb of his father. But at the same time, since he doesn't want his business to fail, he has a gigantic incentive to ensure that come what may, the build is completed on time, within budget, and to the customer's satisfaction... because if he doesn't, Senior can easily contract with a different bike designer for the same product.
In addition, Paulie can use all the machines at OCC -- from lifts and compressed air for power tools to the FlowJet and its five-axis bigger cousin to the CAD setup for Jason -- to design and create his choppers, along with the actual physical space; Paulie doesn't have to buy all those things for himself. In fact, even if he contracts with some other company in the future, if it doesn't interfere with OCC's own work, he might be able to lease access to OCC's infrastructure; again, everybody benefits.
Having his own employees will force Junior to start understanding and confronting the same pressures that his father has to deal with, which will probably bring them closer together as a family (a serendipitous effect of the market). But since his will be a much, much smaller company, his employees -- the Eddie Willers who really do want and need to be told what to do -- will have much more input, responsibilty, accountability, and access than they would as employees of the larger company as a whole. They will be happier and will have a financial incentive to be more innovative and creative; they will likely be paid with both straight compensation and with company stock, as most startups do, so Paulie's success is the employees' success in a very direct way.
Then in the future, when even Paulie's company gets too big and begins to emulate a government (and a feudal one at that!), key employees of Paulie can split off and become independent contractors to him, just as he did with OCC.
Back to the future
This corporate reform would introduce a dose of real Capitalism into the work relationship... which is exactly what has been missing from the Mediaeval structure of nearly every corporation in America (and the world). A number of companies have in fact been experimenting with just such an arrangement of business units, with varying success. (Contrary to libertarian rhetoric, freedom does not come naturally to people: One must command them to be free.)
But once people get a taste for liberty, you cannot take it away without a fight. As that is our greatest strength as a country and society, it makes sense for us to incorporate it into every facet of America that we can... and most especially, we must ditch the "command economy," at all levels, in favor of economic freedom, Capitalism, and the ownership society.
Else we will end up in just as dire a straite as Orange County Chopper, as our most creative minds will simply pack up and find somewhere more congenial to work -- small-w.
December 21, 2008
Found: Source of All Those New Democrats
We've all been wondering -- oh, all right... I've been wondering -- whence came all those gazillions of Democratic voters who propelled the over-the-top Barack H. Obama over the top. Well, it appears that a new survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics may have found part of the answer:
Teenagers lie. They cheat and steal, too. And they are doing it more often and more easily than ever.
That is the conclusion of the latest “Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth”, released this week by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a partnership of educational and youth organizations. The institute conducted a random survey of 29,760 high school students earlier this year (as they have every two years since 1992) and found that the next generation of leaders have a somewhat casual relationship with the truth.
Among the findings:
- 30% of teenagers (35% of boys, 26% of girls) claim to have stolen something from a store in the past year.
- 42% (49% M, 36% F) said "they sometimes lie to save money;" I'm envisioning 14 year olds crouching down in front of the Mann theaters ticket office, and in a squeaky voice, insisting they're only 12. But in addition, 83% told their parents a lie about "something significant;" again I'm guessing, but I'd say about smoking, drinking, toking, or, er, going a little too far with their boyfriends or girlfriends.
- 64% -- nearly two-thirds! -- cheated on a test; 36% let their mice do the writing, turning in papers they downloaded off the internet. (Perhaps these are the future Joe Biden voters?)
- And to make things worse (and even more confusing), a quarter of respondents confessed that they lied about "one or two" of the questions on this very survey! Of course, that begs the question: lied which way, to make themselves sound more honest and trustworthy, or more wicked cool?
What this survey, which shows a growing trend of falsity, cheating, and amorality, tells us is that we are not only raising yet another generation of kids without a functioning moral compass, but more threateningly, a generation of kids who haven't the slightest idea that there is a real world out there where lying, cheating, and stealing not only won't get you anywhere, it can destroy your life.
I wonder how this recklessness with the truth -- heck, recklessness even with the things they make up -- affects their romantic relationships, their friendships, their own self respect? How can a person honestly, deep down, respect himself if he knows he's a lying sack of offal?
Of course such truth-challenged, reality-denying kids would be much more likely to grow into Democrat-voting young adults; the Democratic Party is the party of fantasy, denial, and situational ethics. Naturally, not every Democrat is dishonest... but the contemporary Democratic Party rewards brazen dishonesty in a way that I don't believe any previous political party in the United States has done.
Heck, look who just got elected president... and how he did it.
I firmly believe this is the result of leftist government schools (followed, after a while, by secular private and even religious schools) ceasing to teach ethics, civics, or even basic right and wrong, for fear of trampling on some kid's "right" to choose his own "values." (For that matter, even the substitution of "values," a content-neutral term, for "virtues," which implies a fixed moral code, is a terrible symptom of the disease of nihilism.)
My worthy co-conspirator in a number of projects, Brad Linaweaver, has recently coined a neologism to describe another aspect of this; he refers to members of ELF, ALF, PETA, and other such eco-nut radical activist groups as "econihilists;" I believe he defines the term to mean self-identified ecologists who are so anti-human and pro-nature that they actually ache to see the entire human race destroyed, to make room for the more "moral" species -- spotted owls, blue whales, blue-green algae, Ebola viruses, and the like. I don't think they would put it exactly that way, but that's the gist of their practical philosophy, such as it is.
Both the econihilists and the teens in the Josephson Institute's survey seem to share a deep loathing of the human race... which I can only conclude comes from a deep inner loathing of themselves. Paradoxically, I believe this self-loathing stems from the self-inflicted soul-wound of lying, cheating, and stealing; it is both cause and effect.
By being afraid to tell kids that there is a real right and a real wrong -- that some moral codes are absolute, not subject to the whim of the actor -- we may be sowing the seeds of our species' own destruction.
Perhaps it's time to tell the leftists running the nation's schools to go take a long walk on a short shrift. In my political manifesto, I shall declare that it's time for the GOP, marginally better on absolute morality than the Democrats, to seize the schools back from the dark side... "for the sake of the children." It's one of several strategic goals that the Republicans must pursue with vigor, making the case without compromise, now that we're completely cut out of the legislative and executive power.
To paraphrase Janis Joplin, "Political freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
August 1, 2008
Democrats to Drivers (Bus Riders, Truckers, etc): Drop Dead
A most extraordinary exchange occurred yesterday in the august halls (thought it was still July) of the United States Senate. (Hat tip to Hugh Hewitt, who played this on his show today.)
It shows the Democrat in his natural environment: Complete disdain for working Americans, and utter indifference to their problems... but slavishly doting upon the various interlocking special interests that prop up the Democratic Party, like creeping vines holding a crumbling facade in precarious balance.
Just take a look-see:
Sen. Ken Salazar's (D-CO, 85%) message is stark: There is no gasoline price level, no matter how dear, beyond which Democrats will actually support drilling for more domestic oil. None. It could go to $100 a gallon, and they would still fold their arms and, like Khrushchev at the U.N., bark "Nyet!
Current projections from the "pundants" (as President George W. Bush calls them) are that Republicans will be slaughtered in November. Democrats are still talking about a "filibuster-proof majority" in the Senate, or even "veto-proof" majorities in one or both houses.
I say that's nonsense: If we can focus like a laser beam on issues like energy, taxes, the economy, jobs, winning the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, reforming immigration (including legal immigration), and confirming judges who won't rewrite the Constitution to fit the current fashion trend... then I say we can reduce the loses to negligible -- and maybe even nab a net seat in the Senate, if we can hold our own and pick off Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA, 80%). So far, the GOP is running a terrific campaign for the congressional races, and John S. McCain is running a pretty good campaign for president (still room for improvement there).
It's time, time for conservatives to come back and put country ahead of their own power within the party; it's time to come together, fight to take back Congress and retain la Casa Blanca -- then all Republicans must make reparations for their complete meltdown from 2004-2006, when they became as corrupt as the Democrats.
A good start would be for the GOP, either overtly or covertly, to support some other candidate other than incrumbent Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK, 64% -- poster-boy for the corruption of the flesh of swine) in the Alaska primary later this month.
June 8, 2008
Jimmy Obama, Meet Barack Carter
Thanks to long-time caller, first-time listener KarmiCommunist -- wait, I think I mean long-time reader and commenter -- we have a thought-provoking window into the heart of Barack H. Obama. Who would have guessed that he turns out to loath the military and dismiss the necessity of defense?
On Friday, the Investor's Business Daily published an editorial that recalled this pledge that Obama made, way back before the Iowa caucus propelled him into the front ranks of the Democratic nomination army... and began the long, slow, humiliating collapse of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Before reading further, please watch this video; it's about a minute and a half long:
Here is how the IBD responds:
The Obamatons of the mainstream media have failed to report one of the most chilling campaign promises thus far uttered by the presumptive Democrat nominee for president.
He made it before the Iowa caucus to a left-wing pacifist group that seeks to reallocate defense dollars to welfare programs. The lobbying group, Caucus for Priorities, was so impressed by Obama's anti-military offering that it steered its 10,000 devotees his way.
In a 132-word videotaped pledge (still viewable on YouTube [but maybe not for long! -- the Mgt.]), Obama agreed to hollow out the U.S. military by slashing both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The scope of his planned defense cuts, combined with his angry tone, is breathtaking. He sounds as if the military is the enemy, not the bad guys it's fighting.
In the speech, Obama pledged to...
- Slash "tens of billions of dollars" of "wasteful" defense spending;
- Eliminate "investments in unproven [!] missile defense systems;"
Set a "goal" of "a world without nuclear weapons." He promises to first cease all development of nuclear weapons in this country, and then to go to Russia, hat in hand, to beg them to follow suit (presumably without preconditions). A strong bargaining position, Mr. O!
Will he also then go to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-Il, Hu Jintao -- or even our nuclear-armed allies? Or does this unilateral disarmament apply only to the United States?
- He also wants a "global ban" on fissile materials. I wonder what President Obama will accept as evidence of such destruction... the Supreme Leader of Iran's absolute oral assurance?
I actually know somebody who works on ballistic missile defense (BMD); and I can tell you, without revealing any classified information, that missile defense is not only proven, it has already been implemented on many Navy cruisers and destroyers, and even on ships in the navies of our allies, such as Japan. Does President Obama plan to order all those ships to drydock to have their BMD and Aegis systems ripped out with a clawhammer?
Channeling Jimmy Carter's vice president, Obama made a solemn promise to the Caucus for Priorities -- which the Communist magazine the Nation awarded the title, "Most Valuable Progressive Activist Group of 2007," according to the Caucus' website. Obama swore, "I will not weaponize space." I guess by "space," he means he will remove all those weapons we have in Earth orbit.
Is Obama using cocaine again? There are no orbital weapons. We have done hardly any work outside the laboratory -- decades ago -- on orbital weapons.
I can only conclude that Barack H. Obama is so clueless, he thinks that our current BMD programs include orbital nukes. It's a sobering thought that the man who is only a vote away from becoming the Commander in Chief could display such an astonishing ignorance about basic defense policies that are not even classified.
Our Aegis systems (to defend against short-range missiles) and BMD systems (to defend against longer-range missiles, including ballistic missiles) comprise completely conventional missiles, not nuclear: SM-2 (Standard Missile) for Aegis, SM-3 for BMD. They're fired from ships floating (we hope) on the sea, not from Imperial Star Destoyers in deep space, as Obama evidently fantasizes.
If they "weaponize" anything, it's the ocean... on which, I am reliably informed, there may already have been some weapons, even before we deployed Aegis.
I hate to judge before all the facts are in, but it appears the Democrats have nominated Chance the gardener to be president.
Barack "Chance" Obama ends his spiel saying that his sole priority will be "protecting the American people." Unless, of course, such protection requires a weapons system to which he has taken a dislike (that would be all of them, it appears).
The IBD editorial ends its own, more considered offering with this chilling reminder:
Like the Ben & Jerry's crowd that supports him, Obama believes "real" national security is "humanitarian foreign aid" -- essentially using our troops as international meals-on-wheels in Africa.
We've been down that road before, too, in Somalia and elsewhere. Thanks, but we don't need a third Clinton, or a second Carter, term.
Or even a first Walter Mondale term.
May 21, 2008
Marriage, Money, and Ursus Maritimus
I have in my pocket three horrible court decisions: One is a state supreme-court decision from California; another is a decision by a panel of the D.C. Circus Court; and the third is an initial court order followed by further action now pending before U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken, based in Oakland, California.
What do these three decisions have in common? Let's get you some particulars...
California Supreme Court to California Voters: Drop Dead
In a previous post here (Californichusetts), we discussed the demerits of the underlying policy of same-sex marriage. Today, we're more concerned with how the court reached its decision -- the process -- and the implications of such a process for the future of democracy.
A liberal on a bulletin-board I frequent chastised me; "a court would never" -- I paraphase him -- "pull a claim of unconstitutionality out of hat!"
Oh yes they did, sez I; this is easily seen by anyone who actually reads California Chief Justice Ronald George's appalling opinion. But it's even more obvious when reading the magnificent and stunning dissent by Justice Marvin Baxter, which begins on page 128 of the pdf linked above. Baxter wrote perhaps the most devastating dissenting opinion since Hugo Black's dissent on Griswold.
In this case, the court admitted that there was no history at all, none whatsoever, of same-sex marriage even being contemplated in the writing of the California constitution. So how on earth could the court be "in accordance with the constitution" when they say -- and this really is their reasoning -- that the fact that the legislature has passed some legislative relief for gays that does not include marriage means the legislature has inadvertently given "exlicit official recognition" (George's words) to the putative right of persons of the same sex to marry?
It's completely loony. From Baxter (pp. 5-7, 132-134 of the pdf -- the italics are Baxter's):
But a bare majority of this court, not satisfied with the pace of democratic change, now abruptly forestalls that process and substitutes, by judicial fiat, its own social policy views for those expressed by the People themselves. Undeterred by the strong weight of state and federal law and authority, the majority invents a new constitutional right, immune from the ordinary process of legislative consideration. The majority finds that our Constitution suddenly demands no less than a permanent redefinition of marriage, regardless of the popular will.
In doing so, the majority holds, in effect, that the Legislature has done indirectly what the Constitution prohibits it from doing directly. Under article II, section 10, subdivision (c), that body cannot unilaterally repeal an initiative statute, such as Family Code section 308.5, unless the initiative measure itself so provides. Section 308.5 contains no such provision. Yet the majority suggests that, by enacting other statutes which do provide substantial rights to gays and lesbians -- including domestic partnership rights which, under section 308.5, the Legislature could not call "marriage" -- the Legislature has given "explicit official recognition" (maj. opn., ante, at pp. 68, 69) to a California right of equal treatment which, because it includes the right to marry, thereby invalidates section 308.5.
I cannot join this exercise in legal jujitsu, by which the Legislature’s own weight is used against it to create a constitutional right from whole cloth, defeat the People’s will, and invalidate a statute otherwise immune from legislative interference. Though the majority insists otherwise, its pronouncement seriously oversteps the judicial power. The majority purports to apply certain fundamental provisions of the state Constitution, but it runs afoul of another just as fundamental -- article III, section 3, the separation of powers clause. This clause declares that "[t]he powers of state government are legislative, executive, and judicial," and that "[p]ersons charged with the exercise of one power may not exercise either of the others" except as the Constitution itself specifically provides.
The rest is equally brutal.
This decision was a pure power-play: Four members of the court wrestled the other three to the ground, declaring a brand, new right to marry a person of the same sex... and at the same time, declared homosexuality to be a "suspect class," like race, requiring "strict scrutiny" to be applied to any law that affects disparately those with different sexual preferences.
Who needs a legislature, an executive, democracy, or the people themselves, when we have black-robed masters who will so kindly tell us what to do?
But worse even than the policy is the usurpation of the will of the people. The people are striking back now: More than 1.2 million Californios signed a petition to place upon the November ballot a state constitutional amendment that has the exact wording of Proposition 22, which passed in 2000 by 61.4% -- and which the court just struck down. The idea is that if the constitution itself is amended to restrict marriage to one man, one woman, then clearly the court cannot continue to find that same-sex marriage is required by the very constitution that forbids it.
But of course, that assumes at least a faint, embryonic heartbeat of judicial dignity and humility in the breasts of the four members of the majority. If the citizen initiative constitutional amendment passes, but the justices in fact defy the will of the people and double down on same-sex marriage... well, we'll have a full-scale revolt in the Golden State, like the one that led to three California Supreme Court justices being recalled by the people (for persistently preventing the death penalty from being executed).
Democracy only works, and only serves to fuse individuals into a society, when voters have reason to believe their votes actually count. That allows us to accept defeat graciously, because we know that if in the future, we managed to get a majority to see it our way, we can reopen the policy in question.
But if the judiciary only supports democracy so long as the judges agree with the vote, then citizens will have no choice but to seize jurisdiction from the courts. And that could signal the beginning of the end of Western Civ. So let us hope the court accepts passage of the amendment with the same grace that those of us who support it would accept the will of the people should it lose.
Pawing the money
The next case takes place across the country, in the District of Columbia; the Treasury Department is in a lather after a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circus ruled today that folding money "discriminates" against the blind.
And why is that? Because blind people cannot see what denomination bill they have in their wallets! AP takes up the trail of tears:
The U.S. acknowledges the current design hinders blind people, but it argues that they have adapted. Some rely on store clerks to help, some use credit cards and others fold certain corners to help distinguish between bills....
The court ruled 2-1 that such adaptations were insufficient under the Rehabilitation Act. The government might as well argue that there's no need to make buildings accessible to wheelchairs because handicapped people can crawl on all fours or ask passers-by for help, the court said.
"Even the most searching tactile examination will reveal no difference between a $100 bill and a $1 bill. The secretary has identified no reason that requires paper currency to be uniform to the touch," Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for the majority.
Courts don't decide how to design currency. That's up to the Treasury Department [well... it used to be!], and the ruling forces the department to address what the court called a discriminatory problem.
This is absurd, of course. Recorded phone-help systems at government offices ("Push 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, 64 for Serbo-Croatian...") discriminate against the deaf, because they cannot access that information without "adaptations," like a texting phone. (The recorders of these phone-help trees "might as well argue that there's no need to make buildings accessible to wheelchairs because handicapped people can crawl on all fours or ask passers-by for help.")
Elevator buttons in tall buildings discriminate against the vertically challenged, because they cannot reach the top buttons. Police discriminate against schizophrenics who want to live on the streets, because the cops continually arrest them for sleeping on the sidewalk.
Everybody has some inconvenience in life, and especially so when he has a disability. But failure to create a landscape with no sharp edges -- "Nerfworld," I dubbed it in a story anthologized here -- is not automatically unlawful discrimination.
One blind man makes exactly that point:
Not all blind people agree that U.S. money should be changed. The National Federation of the Blind sided with the government and told the appeals court that no changes were needed.
Charlie Richardson, the legally blind manager of Charlie's Express Stop inside the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., said he doesn't oppose changing the money but disagrees with the ruling.
"To actually be discriminated against is to have something denied to you," Richardson said. "We're not denied the use of money."
But the court did not agree; it has ordered Treasury to redesign all American currency, without regard to what Congress and the President have already decided.
Polar bear on a stick
Finally, recall that a few days ago, some environmental extremists won a court ruling from federal Judge Claudia Wilken, forcing the Department of the Interior to immediately rule whether the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) falls under the Endangered Species Act. As we all expected, this was simply Phase One of a deep plan.
The plaintiffs dropped the other shoe yesterday -- Phase Two of the judicial coup d'état: The enviro-mentally challenged loons have gone back to court to abuse the judicially forced listing of polar bears as "threatened" by "global warming" (which supposedly causes the Arctic ice to melt): They demand a judicial order forcing the Bush administration to implement the Kyoto Protocol, or some similar regulatory regime to combat Anthropogenic Global Climate Change (AGCC) -- a.k.a. Globaloney.
Judge Wilken issued her ruling in spite of (possibly in complete ignorance of) the fact that there is a raging conflagration within the atmospheric sciences community on whether global temperatures are still warming now, whether they will warm in the near future, whether it has anything significantly to do with human activity, and whether we can do anything about it anyway. I doubt she even cared... some scientists said Globaloney would kill the polar bears, and her heart simply bled at the thought.
Thus, she flexed her judicial muscles and forced Interior to dance to her tune. And now the same plaintiffs that she favored once want her to use her robe to force an anti-climate-change policy upon the entire United States, outside the democratic system:
[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne, echoing President Bush, said last week the Endangered Species Act was the wrong tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kempthorne that he would propose "common sense modifications" to make sure the polar bear listing would not set backdoor climate policy outside the normal system of political accountability.
The conservation groups said Kempthorne acted improperly.
"On the one hand, he's acknowledging that global warming is impacting polar bears," said Melanie Duchin of Greenpeace in Alaska. "On the other hand, he's not willing to do anything about it. We're asking the administration to uphold the spirit and intent of the Endangered Species Act."
Since when was the "spirit and intent" of the ESA to completely bypass Congress and the President to allow judges to enact sweeping changes to our energy, economic, and pollution regulations, all ordered by an unelected person who holds her appointment for life? I reckon I missed that part of the debate over passage of the Endangered Species Act.
In this case, it's clear that the polar bears don't even enter into the affair, except as hairy, white bludgeons by which leftist enviromentalists hope to pound the Bush administration into combating AGCC -- no matter how many scientists doubt the connection between human activity and global warming, and no matter what it does to the economy. They want to bypass not only the democratic process but also the normal scientific vetting process; instead, they would use the courts to render a final verdict on the issue... quickly, before somebody discovers something contrary!
That last line is not a joke; I believe some of the activists are actually aware of the rising chorus of well-credentialed scientific naysayers, and they want to cut them off at the knees. Once the Judiciary has decided, how could mere research undo that judicial decision? The colossal edifice of Globaloney would stand thus in perpetuity, unaffected by the tides and vagaries of honest scientific theory.
The leaden thread
In the brilliant "Rumpole" stories by John Mortimer, British barrister Horace Rumpole often argues in the Old Bailey that British justice hangs by a "golden thread," the principle that the crown must prove a man guilty before he can be punished, that he starts out with the presumption of innocence. But in America's courtrooms today, we have a new principle -- the leaden thread of judicial activism: This is the presumption by an increasing number of judges that, by virtue of the very robes they wear, they know best how to govern society.
In his column yesterday on the same-sex marriage decision by the California Supreme Court, Dennis Prager nailed the "hubris" -- I would say narcissism -- that applies to all the judges discussed above:
Another reason for this decision is arrogance. First, the arrogance of four individuals to impose their understanding of what is right and wrong on the rest of society. And second is the arrogance of the four compassionate ones in assuming that all thinkers, theologians, philosophers, religions and moral systems in history were wrong, while they and their supporters have seen a moral light never seen before. Not a single religion or moral philosophical system -- East or West -- since antiquity ever defined marriage as between members of the same sex.
That is one reason the argument that this decision is the same as courts undoing legal bans on marriages between races is false. No major religion -- not Judaism, not Christianity, not Islam, not Buddhism -- ever banned interracial marriage. Some religions have banned marriages with members of other religions. But since these religions allowed anyone of any race to convert, i.e., become a member of that religion, the race or ethnicity of individuals never mattered with regard to marriage. American bans on interracial marriages were not supported by any major religious or moral system; those bans were immoral aberrations, no matter how many religious individuals may have supported them. Justices who overthrew bans on interracial marriages, therefore, had virtually every moral and religious value system since ancient times on their side. But justices who overthrow the ban on same-sex marriage have nothing other their hubris and their notions of compassion on their side.
These undemocratic judges ride high above the fray on great, white stallions, passing lordly judgment -- immune from being gainsayed, corrected, or even criticized:
- Four (out of seven) justices on the California Supreme Court know better than the legislature, the governor, even the people themselves; they know better than thousands of years of religious and philsophical systems how to organize society. And by golly, these Anointed -- with their Vision of the perfectability of society -- will fix all our problems for us.
- The D.C. Circus (well, two out of a three-judge panel of the appellate court) feel great compassion for the blind -- itself a noble emotion; so to assuage their feelings of pity and sympathy (and perhaps guilt at being sighted), they order the Treasury Department to implement the judges' own personal solution to the problem they themselves defined. (The decisions of the democratic branches of government which normally have jurisdiction over printing and engraving are irrelevant; those folks just don't share the Vision.)
- And lone Judge Wilken -- I know you're shocked to discover that she is a Clinton appointee, confirmed by the Democratic Senate of 1993 -- decides all by herself that polar bears must be designated as "threatened" (the plaintiffs now demand that be changed to "endangered," the stronger classification)... and she will decide, again all by herself, whether that means we must implement a drastic curtailing of energy usage, costing us hundreds of billions of dollars every year (irrelevant as an issue in the case) and damaging our ability to generate energy for generations to come (equally irrelevant... the poor, suffering polar bears!), all to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that may or may not have anything to do with Arctic sea ice that may or may not be melting in temperatures that may or may not still be rising.
Three cases; three separate jurisdictions; one leaden thread: "benevolent" judicial tyranny... for our own good. And one presidential candidate who promises to appoint that exact kind of judge, and only that kind, in every federal judicial opening he is allowed to fill. Judges who will rule for life, with no realistic way to get them out of office, no matter how egregiously they rule. (Thelton Henderson was never impeached, despite his ghastly ruling that refusing to discriminate on the basis of race constitutes discrimination on the basis of race.)
All right, conservatives... still think there's "not a dime's worth of difference" between John McCain and Barack H. Obama?
It's well at this point to recall Auric Goldfinger's great rule of threes; it was only alluded to in the Ian Fleming "James Bond" novel Goldfinger, I believe, but stated explicitly in the movie: "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action."
Just so long as we all know what's going on here.
December 11, 2007
Read This Column!
I rarely do this. You know I rarely do this, and you know why: I'm far too enamored of the sound of my own typing to spend my time hyping someone else's griping.
But I have to say, just click here and read this splendid piece by Dennis Prager... and I don't say this just because I'm trying to suck up to the man (not just because).
Just a para or three, for the flavor:
It is not for this Jew to define a Christian. I only explain evangelical Christian opposition to Mormons calling themselves Christians to make the point that even as I understand their opposition to Mormons calling themselves Christian, I equally oppose voting for anyone based on his theology. Evangelicals have the right to proclaim Mormons as non-Christians, but they hurt themselves and their country if they measure a candidate's theology. They should concern themselves with a man's theology only when choosing a religious leader. When choosing a political leader, theology should not count.
The reason is -- and I have come to this conclusion after a lifetime of interaction with people of almost all faiths and writing about and studying religion -- theology does not appear to have much impact on people's values. Liberal Christians and Jews share virtually no theological beliefs yet think alike about virtually every important social value. So, too, conservative Christians and conservative Jews share virtually no theological beliefs, yet they think alike about virtually every important social value.
Meanwhile liberal and conservative Protestants are in agreement on theological matters -- both believe in the Trinity, in the Messiahship of Jesus, on Jesus being the Son of God, on salvation through faith rather than through works, and more -- yet they differ about virtually every social value. Obviously, shared theology doesn't create shared moral or social values.
It is, of course, a meditation on those evangelicals and others who call themselves Christian but don't appear to practice much Christian charity... on those men who wear their religion on their ballots, and who loudly proclaim they can never vote for Mitt Romney because Mormonism is "a cult." (What do they think Christianity started out as, during the days of imperial Rome?)
It's a fine, fine hymn which every him and her should hear.
January 20, 2007
Into the Gap, Dear Friends!
UPDATED with a correction; see below.
In the comments section of an earlier post, a commenter took exception, rather testily, to my point that none of the dissenting generals summoned to testify before Sen. Joseph Biden's Foreign Relations Committee hearings -- the generals summoned by Biden to oppose our strategic change of course in Iraq -- had any post-9/11 military experience (in fact one of them, Gen. Odom, didn't even have any post-Soviet Union military experience... he's two paradigm shifts behind the power curve!)
The commenter responded,
What the hell does that have to do with anything? What exactly changed in military sciences since 911?
Pretty much our entire military strategy. It was a seminal event, like 1917 or the dropping of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What the commenter was asking was akin to asking, in 1950, 'What the hell does the atomic bomb have to do with anything? What exactly changed in military sciences since Hiroshima?'
9/11 was not the first indication that our entire military posture was out of whack with the world; but the earlier warnings were polite wake-up calls from the front desk at the hotel: 9/11 was the drill instructor bursting into the barracks and flipping your bed over (with you in it).
From the end of the Cold War until to the attack of 9/11, we more or less ignored the "lesser includeds" until they actually did something; and we gave no thought whatsoever to transnational non-state groups, thinking them only a "police problem." Osama bin Laden declared war on us in 1998 or so... and most Americans (including the top brass in the 5-sided triangle) just laughed. What could some bearded cave-hermit do to the mighty United States of America?
("Lesser includeds": during the Cold War, we focused entirely on fighting the Soviets... believing that if we had an army capable of handling Moscow, it could surely handle any smaller, more primitive country that threatened us, or whom it was in our national interest to attack. Hence, such countries were called "lesser includeds."
(1965-1974 demonstrated that the theory did not always work. The Soviets learned the same lesson during their occupation of Afghanistan a few years later.)
We kept an eye on some about the lesser included states -- Iraq and Iran, North Korea, the former Yugoslavia, etc. -- but we thought about them purely in nation-state terms, and more or less as a nuisance, not a threat: they might invade their neighbors, and we might have to respond, e.g., to push Iraq out of Kuwait. But they couldn't do anything to us; we were the lone superpower, the hyperpower! We would strike at our leisure, using some variation of the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming military force.
I have called that doctrine "refighting World War II;" we fought WWII six times from 1941 to 1999: Kosovo, Bosnia, the Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, and of course the original itself. We used the same tactics and had more or less the same military understanding in each conflict.
But two years after the sixth WWII, after the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon itself (and the White House, if not for the courageous sacrifice of the passengers of United flight 93), Donald Rumsfeld realized that we had three terrible military dillemmas:
- We had the wrong military;
- We had the wrong strategy;
- We had the wrong political understanding of the threat matrix -- were were looking all the wrong directions.
Nothing was right; Rumsfeld's greatest contribution to American security was not fighting and winning two major wars... his greatest feat was the complete transformation of the American military: force structure, grand strategy, and political theory. This is something which has only been done a few times in the history of the Republic, and even more rarely so much by the efforts of one man.
Rumsfeld is certainly cognizant of the ideas of Thomas P.M. Barnett. While I don't agree with everything Barnett says, the central thesis of his seminal book, the Pentagon's New Map (2004) is bang-on.
What follows is my understanding and analysis of his points; I may not completely get it, but this is more or less what he is saying -- and especially my own thoughts on this profound subject.
Turning on a paradigm
In the early days of our military, our paradigm was that we were a struggling, young nation trying to exert some influence on a world that largely ignored us. Then we became one among many powerful nations that had to be taken into account.
World War I was a singularity point: the relationship of the United States to the rest of the world changed completely with our entry into World War I; from that point on, we were a "superpower" compared to old Europe. This understanding lasted right up through the rise of Germany and Japan: if you wanted to dominate the world, you would eventually have to conquer the United States... something Germany was loath to do, and something Japan thought they could prevent by a swift, unexpected blow in 1941.
Militarily, from 1917 through World War II, we completely altered our force structure and our grand strategy. Consider the changes in the United States Navy: we had already recognized the need for a modern, blue-water navy as early as the 1880s; in 1907, we sent a flotilla to circumnavigate the world. But the most profound changes occurred after WWI, with the rise of battleships, cruisers, submarines, and aircraft carriers -- despite periodic (and absurdly ineffectual) attempts to limit navies worldwide.
Air power was introduced in WWI, and it became a vital part of our force structure in the 1930s and especially during WWII. Armored vehicles (tanks and APCs), machine guns, jeeps and trucks, and self-propelled field artillery did not even exist in the 19th century.
[UPDATE: Commenter visarionvich points out that hand-cranked machine guns -- e.g., Gatling guns -- existed in Civil War days, and even the Maxim automatic machine gun debuted in the 1880s; it appears to have first been used in combat by the Brits in the 1890s, after the development of smokeless powder made it more effective in combat (that is, less obviously visible to enemy forces). So let's say that militarily useful machine guns did not exist until the tail end of the 19th century. The underlying point is intact, I believe.]
During WWII, we fielded armies whose size dwarfed not only the armies of earlier centuries but even our army of today.
And it was also during the period of 1917 through WWII that we first began to appreciate the power and danger of WMD -- weapons of mass destruction; in particular, poison gas and nuclear weapons. (Biowar had been practiced in primative form for centuries.)
On the strategic political front, this was the period of the League of Nations. Our first groping attempt to construct a platform for integrating all nations into modernity, where they could settle their grievances by means other than warfare, was a dismal failure -- as was our second attempt, the United Nations; but the idea was planted and began to take hold in many nations. Today, it appears our best shot at this will be through free-trade agreements that will eventually spread, we hope, to encompass all countries. To paraphrase a pop song, "trade... trade will keep us together!"
(Modernity is here defined as the particular understanding of culture, nationalism, and civilization that developed in Europe and America following the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, which ended the War of 1812 at status-quo ante.)
Our entire concept of warfare was reborn during this period, from the structure of our military forces, to the strategies we employed or anticipated from our enemies, to the uses, abuses, and prevention of warfare itself: war in 1935 was a completely different creature from war in Napoleon's day.
The end of World War II (the original) ended the era of major nation-states in the "Functioning Core" attacking one another; there has been no such attack since 1945. Rather, all state combat has included a state within the "Non-Integrating Gap" as one or both of the combatants: northern Korea invading southern Korea; U.N. forces invading northern Korea; France in Vietnam; America in Vietnam; Iraq invading Kuwait; and so forth... and at this point, I had better define those two terms, the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap.
The Core and the Gap defined
In my opinion (not Barnett's), the globalization of modernity began in the 1850s, with the opening of Japan by America.
Britain's seizure of Hong Kong in the 1840s had been a classic colonial grab: not only did they make no effort to "modernize" the Chinese, they forced them to buy opium at the point of a gun. They wanted the Chinese to remain ignorant, isolated, primitive, and ruled over by Henry Unwin Addington's Foreign Office.
But when America's Commodore Perry steamed into Uraga Harbor near modern Tokyo (then Edo), refusing to go instead to the southern port of Nagasaki (until then, the only port where foreigners were allowed), he forced the end of the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate -- which had taken the entire "empire" of Japan "offline," closing it to the rest of the world, from 1616 to 1639 under Iyeyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, and his grandson, Iyemitsu. (Interestingly, the closing of Japan began as an attempt to ban Christianity from the islands.)
Perry integrated Japan into the Functioning Core of modern, liberal, democratic states; the Japanese expanded their horizons, educated themselves about the outside world, and took their place among the community of nations.
Post-Perry, the Shogunate collapses into the Meiji restoration; and unlike China under the British, the Japanese eagerly embraced Western modernity, becoming the first non-European nation to do so.
This begins what Barnett calls the Functioning Core, which comprises those nations and regions that integrate themselves into the various waves of globalization that have swept across, well, the globe; those nations that interconnect and interact with each other, sharing culture and sharing a "rule-set" that determines behavior, both between different states and within a state. Japan, Great Britain, Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, modern Germany, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, post-Soviet Russia, post-Mao China, Argentina, and Israel, are (or were) all examples of countries inside the Functioning Core.
The Non-Integrating Gap comprises all states or regions that remain outside globalization's reach: all of Africa (except for South Africa), Indonesia, Malaysia, Arabia, the 'Stans, and large parts of Central and South America reside inside the Non-Integrating Gap; these are all countries or areas that remain isolated, sometimes by sheer poverty, but often because iron-fisted dictators forbid all contact with the outside world.
A bipolar world
With the end of World War II and the dawn of the nuclear age, the second great world paradigm shift occurred. The first, recall, was when the United States entered WWI in 1917 and broke the multi-year stalemate, crushing the original "axis" of Berlin-Vienna-Budapest. When Great Britain and the United States annihilated Nazi Germany, and America alone simlutaneously broke Japan, that ended the era in which Core states would directly fight one another. Since 1945, none has done so. When they do battle, they fight in the arenas of politics and economics.
Instead, we see wars of Core vs. Gap (the United States in Vietnam) and Gap vs. Gap (Vietnam vs. Cambodia, to stick with that neck of the jungle). We also saw the rise, after WWII, of the Bipolar World: the West vs. the Soviets. We fought the Soviets many times, but always via proxies among Gap nations. (During this period, China went Communist under Mao; but it wasn't until Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, that China transitioned from Gap to Core state.)
Our military transitioned during this period to fit the grand strategies of "détente" and "containment." Missiles and strategic aviation became the dominating factors. The purpose of ground armies shifted from fighting war to threatening to fight war -- from combat to the prevention of combat. Think of the vast armored divisions squaring off against each other at the border of West and East Germany -- forces whose only "use" was to prevent the enemy from using his own forces.
The doctrine of MAD -- mutual assured destruction -- was wholly different from any military strategy in the history of the world: it was the theory that no nation could launch a nuclear attack against any other, because the victim would launch a retaliatory strike that, in the ensuing exchange, would utterly destroy both attacker and attacked (the theory was proven correct). One of the greatest analogies in military history perfectly describes MAD: two men locked in a room, standing ankle-deep in gasoline, each holding a lit match.
So the politico-strategic concept of containment -- allowing the expansionist Soviets to do what they wanted within their sphere, but preventing them from extending outside their sphere -- was perfectly reflected in a static military grand strategy that ended direct warfare between Core states, instead fighting entirely within the Gap.
The great (internal) divide
The next paradigm shift came with the final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. President Ronald Reagan's genius was to recognize as early as the 1970s that the USSR had become like a "blown egg," a hollowed out eggshell that could be shattered simpy by poking it; but he was unable to deliver that poke until he became president. By the time he left office in 1989, the breach had already occurred, though the final collapse took another couple of years.
Then came the interregnum of the 1990s, when we did not know what was coming next. This led to complete chaos in our military force structure and strategic planning: we were all set up to defend against an Evil Empire that no longer existed. Barnett describes how the Navy especially, but the entire Pentagon, broke into three main groups that fought among each other:
- The Transitioneers: "They saw a world minus the Soviets as quite chaotic, and so they believed U.S. forces needed to be out in the world, dealing with as many of those lesser includes as possible so as to assure the transition to a safer era;"
- The Big Sticks: "They were not interested in trying to manage the world, because they saw that as a drain on much-needed warfighting assets. Instead, they wanted to gear up for the next Desert Storm, figuring the Persian Gulf tussle with Saddam would prove the template for future regional conflicts."
- The Cold Worriers: "They effectively rejected any focus on the lesser includeds, preferring instead to wait for signs of the Big One -- no matter how long that took.... [T]heir real argument was that America needed to keep its powder dry and stay technologically ahead of any great power that might sneak up on us in coming decades."
(Barnett, the Pentagon's New Map, 69-70.)
This hodgepodge of grand strategies, none of which could overcome the others, played against the backdrop of the Clinton administration's military fecklessness:
- They began an 8-year program to slash the military to the bone; this pitted each service, and each group above within each service, against the others in an internecine war over funding;
- They deployed American military forces all around the world, based not on any coherent vision of national security, but rather in a higgledy-piggledy bid for popularity and the attempt to help the Democratic Party (or Bill Clinton) politically;
- Finally, after a brief and disasterous flirtation with military reform under Les Aspin, Clinton's first secretary of defense, the administration shifted to a completely "hands-off" posture... leaving the dogs of the Pentagon to war with each other for the alpha-male slot without any civilian supervision whatsoever. Barnett calls William Perry and William Cohen "two of the quietest secretaries the Pentagon has ever had"... and that's not a compliment.
We were drifting; the Pentagon was consumed by FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt); we had no idea who the next big enemy would be. Little did we know that all these debates were about to be OBE: overtaken by events.
The great (internal) uniting
On September 11th, 2001, the DI burst into the barracks and flipped all our beds over, jolting us awake in the most abrupt and alarming way.
We realized that we'd been hunting the enemy in all the wrong places: the real danger was not the rise of a new "superpower" to take the place of the Soviet Union, nor from a lesser included like Iraq or North Korea directly attacking us or our assets abroad. The real danger, which everybody had missed (yes, even the godlike Richard Clark himself), was that we would be attacked by transnational third-party terrorist groups, funded and trained by the lesser includeds, but driven by their own ideological demons.
I've come to the conclusion that Iran qua Iran will never attack us; they won't even attack Israel. Oh, Ahmadinejad may order such an attack; but if he did, the mullahs and their generals would simply remove him.
They're content instead to play the role of a mini-Soviet Union, in response to us treating them to a heaping does of "containment." Instead of attacking directly, Iran will send Hezbollah and Hamas to attack Israel, or the United States, or some other Western nation (as the Soviets used Cuba, Angola, Nicaragua, or Vietnam as proxies to attack the West). Hussein's Iraq will eager to train al-Qaeda; anti-Western elements within Saudi Arabia, acting against the express policy of the government of Saudi Arabia, are happy fund al-Qaeda; and radical elements within Pakistan, in direct defiance of President Pervez Musharaff, gleefully offer safe haven to al-Qaeda.
This is the new military paradigm of the post-Soviet, "monocular" era: no direct attack by nations in the Functioning Core against each other; no direct attack by lesser includeds in the Non-Integrating Gap against Core states; but rather attack by subnational-transnational networked armies of terrorists. And the paradigm shift has provoked just as profound an reorganization of our entire military as the other two paradigm shifts (1917 and 1945): not just force structure alone but our grand strategy -- "closing the gap" -- and the very politics of warfare.
Integration: the most urgent mission
After a decade of foundering under first Bush-41 then Clinton, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld developed our first Grand Military Strategy since containment ended; he did this by pushing his aides and the brass until they were ready to strangle him; by plaguing the Pentagon with his interminable "snowflakes," Post-It notes stuck onto computer screens, refrigerators, and memos, containing difficult questions that demanded answers before planning could proceed; and (to be perfectly blunt) by firing or retiring everyone who couldn't adjust.
I'm quite certain that Rumsfeld has read the Barnett book; certainly he is aware of the ideas: Barnett personally briefed all the deputy assistant secretaries of defense in 2002. I doubt the secretary would use Barnettian language; but various contacts Barnett reports with the Office of the Secretary of Defense's "policy shop" make it clear that Rumsfeld "gets" the point.
Our primary military and political mission now is to close the Non-Integrating Gap as much as humanly possible. Not for humanitarian reasons, though certainly that will be a stunning serendipitous benefit. Rather, we must close the Gap because its existence -- its isolation, poverty, violence, and hysterical extremism -- is a critical factor in allowing wealthy, educated terrorist masterminds to transform disgruntled, uneducated, impoverished thugs into transnational terrorist armies that existentially threaten the West.
Close the Gap, and the Osamas of the world will have nowhere to recruit.
Consider all the places where the threat posed by the funding and support of terrorism rises to existential levels: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Chechnya, the 'Stans, Africa, Yemen, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria, North Korea, Southeast Asia. What do these countries and regions have in common?
- They're not all Arabs;
- They're not all Moslems;
- They're not connected by geography;
- They are all, however, contained with the Non-Integrating Gap.
Typically, we don't close the Gap in as dramatic a fashion as we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq; but that must always remain an option, until globalization becomes truly global, when America has successfully exported modernity to the entire world.
One of the best ways to close the Gap is via free trade and Capitalism; thus, NAFTA and GATT are actually agents of our Grand Strategy... as Gap nations begin trading with the West, they must of necessity open themselves up to the rest of the world -- which is the essence of integrating themselves into the Functioning Core.
Another element of the Grand Strategy is to enter into security arrangements with countries in the Gap, such as Pakistan, Kuwait, and Ethiopia. Look how well that worked just a few weeks ago, as Ethiopian troops -- with U.S. cooperation, planning, and air support -- drove the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Courts Union out of Somalia, a task that we ourselves, plus the U.N., failed to do to extremist warlords (such as Colonel Mohammed Aidid) in the 1990s. Ethiopia was much more effective in Somalia than we because it was fighting in its own backyard.
Another is classic containment, as we're doing at the moment to Iran: isolating the worst offenders and blockading them, so they cannot exploit the Gap to expand their power or sponsor terrorist attacks against the Core.
Finally, we retain the ultimate Weapon of Mass Integration: regime change by force. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, at times it becomes a vital American national interest to remove a particularly dangerous regime within the Gap -- the Taliban, the Baathists, and perhaps the Iranian mullahs, if containment fails -- and replace it with a functioning, modern, integrated democratic state. Sometimes we will succeed; sometimes we will fail... but when we fail, it only means we must try again later; we will never be safe from transnational terrorism until we completely close the Non-Integrated Gap, bringing globalization to everyone... whether by cajoling, bribery, or force of arms.
This is America's most vital mission, for our own survival: to close the Gap. It's wonderful that it will have the extra benefit of relieving pandemic misery and terror that infects those who have the misfortune to live "off the grid" of the world; but, like true Capitalists, we must ultimately function according to "the virtue of selfishness."
Then, when we succeed -- and we must not fail -- we'll be ready for the next great paradigm shift. And who knows what that will be?
January 18, 2007
Foxhogs and Hedgebirds
Since I'm reading Thomas P.M. Barnett's fascinating book the Pentagon's New Map, I decided to peruse his website -- which ironically enough is titled thomaspmbarnett.com. Surfing his site (when my wife thought I was beavering away at rewriting the new novel), I stumbled across Barnett's columns for the Knoxville News Sentinel. And -- hot dog! -- I found a piece I can really light into.
See, I've been itching to find something to complain about ever since he dissed naval air on Hugh Hewitt's show, implying that we ought to do away with carriers (if they weren't so "cool"). So this is it: his column of January 6th, Enough of the Hedgehog. (Is that the most long-winded introduction you've ever seen in a blogpost?)
In the piece, Barnett divides all presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush into either "foxes" or "hedgehogs." He takes the terms from an aphorism attributed to "the ancient Greek poet Archilochus," who allegedly said (I wasn't there, and neither was Barnett) "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." (Actually, he said it in ancient Greek, if he said it at all. So we're all wrong.)
What does this mean in practice? Barnett uses the terms thus: a "hedgehog" president has one big idea; he puts his head down and charges after that one idea, come hell or spilled milk. But a "fox" president has wide-ranging interests and engages on many fronts at once:
Our democracy regularly requires painful compromises to balance the extremes against the large, mushy middle that encompasses most American voters. After all, this republic is ruled by the majority, which sometimes craves the hedgehog's unwavering consistency and at other times welcomes the fox's intellectual agility.
At the end, Barnett bemoans our sorry state, having a (by definition) monomaniacal hedgehog as president right now... and yearns for a brilliant, young fox to come along and rescue us from Bush's tunnel-vision.
The first problem should be readily apparent: since no president has exactly one idea, and none has an infinite number of ideas, where exactly does one draw the line between a hedgehog and a fox? Barnett might argue this is a trivial objection, but I demur: his main thrust is that Bush is a hedgehog, when what we need now is a fox... but taking his taxonomy seriously, he's saying that Bush is more like Ronald Reagan ("a quintessential hedgehog"), when what we really need is the foxy Richard Nixon!
Barnett evidenly believes that Bush thinks only and always about Iraq; but in fact, he also thinks about tax cuts, restructuring the military, comprehensive immigration reform, stem-cell research, a return to the Moon followed by a manned mission to Mars, integrating China into the global economy (which an earlier Barnett would have applauded as shifting China more firmly into the "Functioning Core" of nations integrated into the world economic and social system), privatizing Social Security as much as possible -- how many more "big things" does it take to move Bush from hedgehog to fox status? Is there a pamphlet somewhere that explains the exact division?
The second problem is that Barnett appears more or less to equate clever and intellectually curious "foxes" with presidents willing to flirt with Socialism. Here are Barnett's foxes over the last 75 years of presidents:
- Franklin Roosevelt: His flirtation with statism and Socialism -- at times even Communism, as his ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies, so ably testified in Mission to Moscow -- did absolutely nothing to alleviate the Great Depression... until he got us into World War II. At that point, Americans were just as deprived as before; but it wasn't poverty -- it was patriotic rationing!
- John F. Kennedy: Definitely not a Socialist, the only exception to the rule. He was a social liberal, however, breaking with his party to champion racial equality -- the pre-eminent social issue of the day.
- Lyndon B. Johnson: The "Great Society." 'Nuff said.
- Richard Milhouse Nixon: Wage and price controls, revenue sharing, affirmative action, "we're all Keynesians on this bus."
- George H.W. Bush (Bush-41): Massive tax increases.
- Bill Clinton: His first two years, when he had a Democratic Congress... need I say more?
By contrast, the hedgehogs in Barnett's taxonomy are mostly a bunch of capitalists: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan (!), and George W. Bush (Bush-43). (One exception here too: Jimmy Carter.)
I suppose it may only be coincidence that Barnett generally equates intellectual "nimbleness" with Socialism and single-minded predestinarianism with Capitalism, but it still makes me mutter "hm" out loud (thereby making my wife think I've fumbling for exactly the right way to rephrase a paragraph in the novel... hey, this is cool!)
In fact, some of Barnett's "hedgehogs" seem more like hummingbirds, sipping first from one flower then another without any rhyme or reason: Bill Clinton springs to mind, as he hovered from gays in the military to dot-com mania to Paula to Somalia to Haiti to Monica to collapsing our military to impeachment to Kathleen to Camp David to Hugh to Marc. Intellectually (and physically) curious he may be; but his curiosity was of the fleeting, infantile-oral kind.
Near as I can figure, Barnett believes hedgehogs see everything in black and white, while foxes see nothing in black and white -- everything is vibrant, 32-bit color. This may be a useful characteristic for a Grand Vizier... but not necessarily for the Sultan, who must make real-world decisions -- collapsing Schrödinger's wave equation of all possible choices down to a single state. This becomes a binary operation: the choice the president chose becomes a 1, while all possible contrary choices become 0s: once you have chosen to invade Afghanistan, you cannot also choose not to invade Afghanistan.
Thus, any effective president must see not only the rainbow but also pure blacks and whites... and be able to shift between them at will. I actually use a different taxonomy (never having studied my "ancient Greek poet Archilochus"). Rather than hedgehogs and foxes, I sort people along a scale that runs from Spockian to Bonesian: all the way Spockian is pure logic; all the way Bonesian is pure sentiment.
Of course, nobody is all the way one or the other. In fact, the ideal state is the Kirkian Mean, whence the person can move either in the Spockian or Bonesian direction at will, depending on circumstances: when planning a military invasion, he should be much closer to Mr. Spock; but after a terrible disaster (natural or anthropogenic), he should veer much more towards Dr. McCoy, to try to heal the nation.
Barnett more or less has Spockians and Bonesians -- but where is the Kirkian Mean in his taxonomy?
The trouble with a two-category taxonomy is that everybody must be divided into one of two categories. In the real world, there are two types of people: those who can be neatly divided into one of two categories -- and those who cannot.
(Hm. I may have to rethink this...)
In any event, it is clearly tempting for an analyst -- the quintessential foxian job, to borrow an adjective from Barnett's column -- to envision a fox as the best person to lead us to the promised land of a Functioning Core that encompasses the entire world, and a Non-Integrating Gap that has shrunk down to encompass only the Secretary of Jungle's swimming pool in Dar es Salaam. But the more likely reality is that we need a person who can be either fox or hedgehog as the circumstances demand... which is actually a much better description of Ronald Reagan than simply calling him a hedgehog because he liked Capitalism (which, by the way, is a much more "foxish" economic theory than the "hedgehoggish" Socialism).
Alas, I think I heard somewhere that Reagan is no longer with us, so we'll have to find somebody else. In the meantime, we'll interview bushels of Spockians and Bonesians alike, thankyouverymuch, looking for the elusive Captain Kirk hiding among them.
But I still highly recommend Thomas P.M. Barnett's book -- even if you're a fretful porpentine.
December 5, 2006
In the last two posts on Big Lizards, we discussed demography, democracy, and Americanism:
- Reading Between the Steyns: Little Endians and Big Endians
Regardless of the Realists and liberals at the Iraq Study Group -- and the forest-missing microwarriors and isolationists now populating the conservative movement -- defeating al-Qaeda is an important but very minor goal. The true war for survival of the West, the GWOT, will be vision battling vision for the soul of Mankind: and either Islam or Individualism will win.
- Borg Culture: Steyn, Jihad, and the End of Predestinarianism:
Americanism, by whatever name, is the only ideology ready to hand that we can export to counter the death-cult of militant jihadism and win the war for the soul of the world. We mustn't be afraid to shove raw, naked Americanism down the throats of the rest of the world... it's the physic for the pathogen of jihad.
All right, we know what to do and why we need to do it; but how do we do it? How can we "shove raw, naked Americanism down the throats of the rest of the world?"
Let's start with the fundamentals. I have always thought that the best way to teach any subject, from civics to calculus, is to take a historical approach: things happen for reasons; seeing the historical progression makes it a lot easier to understand what we do and why it works (or doesn't work).
Take affirmative action. You can't understand why it's a controversy, why we're even talking about it, without knowing about Jim Crow laws; and you can't understand those without first learning about Reconstruction; and for that, you need to know about the Civil War; and understanding the Civil War requires an examination of slavery; and that takes us all the way back to the Constitutional Convention and the great compromise.
What do foreigners learn about us by this? They learn that we really take seriously the concept of all people being equal under the law; that we have struggled to lift everyone up; that sometimes we go to far trying to help the underdog and need to get back to first principles. And in subtext, it shows how freedom of speech really works, that we're free to criticize the government, and how a real dialog can develop because of this freedom.
In other words, to show the truth about America -- hence Americanism -- we must teach American history to the rest of the world... most of which is woefully ignorant of the subject. (So are most Americans; but believe me, as little as our citizens know about our own history, people in Japan and Italy -- let alone in Iraq and Yemen -- know even less.)
But how can we teach American history to people who live in foreign countries? Must we invade and conquer their school systems, assuming they even have any? Fortunately, there is an easier way...
Television has become the universal language of the world. Even villages in remote locations often have access to a television (perhaps only one in the chief's hut); and certainly most people who live in cities, even in Islamic countries, have TVs. So the idea here would be for the United States to disseminate programming that teaches American history.
Often, the real history is very much at odds with what jihadist or totalitarian governments tell their people about the "Great Satan;" so why would any of these countries allow such broadcasts? The answer is that they wouldn't... so we do it without their consent -- and if they don't like it, too damn bad. Part of fighting a war of ideas is that we cannot be fastidious about the "sovereign right" of nations to malign us and suppress the truth about America's astonishing contribution to the world.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, a reader of the Anniston Star wrote this in a letter to the editor:
The next time you feel doubts about the direction of this country, remember this:
The only two defining forces that have ever been willing to die for you are: (1) Jesus Christ and (2) the American soldier! One died for your soul and the other for your freedom -- even to read this!
I don't know if this is original with James W. Anderson from Talladega, Alabama (Vietnam 1967-68), or if he heard or read it somewhere; but I'm happy to give him credit until another claimant comes along. It's an amazing insight, no matter who originated it... and one that virtually nobody outside the United States really understands. So no pussyfooting.
There are several nuts-and-bolts considerations for this project:
- The shows themselves cannot be dry, academic productions; we can make a signal available, but we obviously cannot force people to watch it.
Now, there's no way that a documentary produced by the State Department could be anything but video death... so we need to hire real professional writers, directors, and producers instead. Better yet, a wealth of such shows has already been produced, from documentaries like the Day the Universe Changed and the Adams Chronicles to movies like Gettysburg and the Patriot. We could go a long way just broadcasting these excellent productions.
- We cannot rely on people speaking English well enough to be able to follow such movies and television series; they must be translated and dubbed.
And by translated, I mean into every language necessary to spread Americanism throughout the world, from Polish to Croatian to Arabic to Pashtun to Farsi to Nubian, and so forth. This must be treated as a major national-security program -- with money and manpower to match. I'd like to see the XVOA (eXtreme Voice of America) funded as well as NASA is ($20 billion), or at least the National Science Foundation ($5½ billion).
In addition, we need to find native speakers of each of these languages, preferably with acting experience, for dubbing. For obscure languages that are hard to find here (not that many, with the number of immigrants we have from everywhere!) we may need to find native speakers and train them to act. As with Bullwinkle and Rocky, each actor may need to play multiple voices.
And we need to pay top dollar... so that aspiring actors are attracted to this project even with the competition.
- We need to put people on the task of finding every possible way to disseminate these dubbed programs everywhere in the world.
Buying a channel (or several) on every satellite TV system is just the beginning; we also need to find a way around governments that go around smashing satellite receivers and jamming transmissions. If necessary (and I think it often is), we should take out jamming stations in enemy countries with cruise missiles. Let 'em scream... what are they going to do about it, declare war on us?
What we're talking about is not just Voice of America, but a super-sized, hyperthyroid, 24/7 American history and propaganda machine. Our biggest worry is the Democrats, who may decide this is the perfect venue to spread anti-Americanism faster than ever before; for this reason, I suggest keeping the XVOA in the hands of the Administration, which is much less likely than Congress to be overtly hostile to the country, even if a Democrat is elected.
Every aspect of American history illuminates one or more elements of Americanism, showing where we came from, what we've gone through, and who we really are. This would do far more for our image in the world (including the ummah) than sending billions to Bangladesh the next time they have a flood (that would be next rainy season) or to Thailand the next time they have a Tsunami (that would be next earthquake season): even when we do that, the local governments lie to the people and tell them all the rescue efforts and food and medical aid came from themselves, not from us.
It would do much more to spread Americanism than would tens of billions spent on foreign aid -- nearly all of which goes to dictators who, again, disburse it as if it came from their own pockets.
And it would be far more effective countering jihadism than the haphazard mix of "American" soft-core porn movies and TV jiggle shows -- from American Pie to Baywatch to Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold -- that inundate the world, showing the worst aspects of America exaggerated beyond all reason by Hollywood's addiction to sensationalism. (At least, it would show them that we have a better side.)
Visual imagery is powerful, and movies already influence people everywhere. Why shouldn't America, which invented motion pictures and is the most relentless purveyor of them, be able to use them more effectively than jihadis to "sell" our ideology?
This is just the first cut; does any of you have other ideas for spreading the ideology of individualism, freedom, and capitalism?
March 11, 2006
Wafa Wafting Into View
Sachi and I followed the Power Line link a few days ago and very much enjoyed watching MEMRI's video of Dr. Wafa Sultan -- a psychiatrist, but don't hold that against her -- rip apart some hapless Imam somewhere in debate.
It was carried on al-Jazeera, and MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) added English subtitles.
Well, "debate" is somewhat misleading. The Moslem cleric simply stood there, opening and closing his mouth like a turbaned carp, while Dr. Sultan danced up and down his spine in hobnailed pumps. (If you dislike watching online verbal dissections -- or you have a dial-up connection -- you can read a partial transcript here to whet your appetite. But the video is fuller and much funner!)
The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists.
15 million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.
The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies.
This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.
Now she's hit the "big time," being profiled by a two-pager in the New York Times. And it's even a sympathetic story! I find that amazing, considering that she compared the battle between Islam and the West to "a clash between... barbarity and rationality." I would have thought the Times would do one of its patented hatchet jobs, perhaps implying she had helped George Bush drag James Byrd behind that pickup truck.
If you haven't checked these out yet, it's time.
February 16, 2006
The limitation of demography is that it's almost by definition a form of static analysis: it cannot take into account significant changes that the demographics themselves may cause in demography's own predictions.
Thus, when Mark Steyn remarks that China will never be a superpower because "its population will get old before it gets rich," he is including a hidden assumption: that they will not notice what is happening and respond in any way to mitigate the danger.
What is the underlying science behind this claim, and how might a nation avoid Economic Progeria Syndrome?
Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics blog links not only to the Steyn column but also to Andy Mukherjee at Bloomberg (they seem to like Bloomberg at RCP); Mukherjee explains it all for you (longish quote, but you should read it all):
Helen Qiao, an economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Hong Kong, posed an interesting question this week: "Will China grow old before getting rich?"
Qiao's research shows that China's dependency ratio -- the number of people too young and too old to work divided by the working-age population -- will start rising at the end of this decade and approach 50 percent in 2030, from less than 40 percent at present, making China as gray as Japan was last year.
By 2050, every 10 Chinese workers in the age group of 15 to 64 will support a total of seven younger and older people -- a dependency ratio of 70 percent.
An aging society may be an inevitable part of demographic transition, though "what makes China's case unique is that the sharp rise in dependency ratio will arrive earlier in terms of per capita income level relative to other countries,'' Qiao says in her report.
In 2030, China's annual per capita income will be a little more than $11,000 measured in current prices, compared with almost $36,000 in Japan last year, according to Goldman Sachs's estimates. South Korea's dependency ratio will approach 50 percent in 2025, with its citizens earning $52,000 a year.
Does it matter if China gets old before it gets rich? It does, for a number of reasons. First, economic growth rates taper off with aging: It's difficult for a developing nation to get rich after its population has already grown old.
Of course, the increase in China's "dependency ratio" doesn't come from a bunch of extra children being born; the real increase, not only for China but for the United States, Japan, South Korea, and every other country as it develops, comes from people living longer. (Considering the alternative, we should hope this is a "ratchet" effect that will never go backwards.)
It's fairly well known that when FDR pushed Social Security through Congress in 1935, the life expectancy of a white male who lived to twenty years old (entering the workplace) was only about 66-67 years, meaning the typical person would only receive four or five years of "old-age" benefits before conveniently dying. But a twenty year old white male today can expect to live at least ten years longer -- more, much more, if we factor in likely breakthroughs in medical science and life extension.
But note the important point, what makes the dependency ratio static analysis: all such projections assume that at a certain set age, each person retires and ceases earning income, therefore becoming dependent upon a "worker" to support him.
The first step in recovery is to admit you have a problem. The first step in making static analysis dynamic is to identify the hidden assumptions of stasis. The question is, if people are aging and retaining mental and physical health longer... why shouldn't they continue earning money longer?
The typical economist's answer is that if old people don't retire, there will be no jobs available for younger workers. Therefore, they conclude (with a patronizing flourish), you have simply moved the dependency from the end to the beginning of the work career.
But of course, this argument is just as static: the hidden assumption of stasis this time is that the old model of big corporations that hire X number of human robots to produce Y number of widgets will continue unto the era of our children's children's children.
In reality, we are already seeing a massive shift in the earning model, and have been for decades: more and more entrepreneurs are starting up their own businesses, then hiring some small number of people. This is not a trivial component of the economy of an advanced nation like the United States; about 75% percent of all new job growth is due to more and more small business (fewer than 500 employees) hiring more and more people. In fact, 20 million Americans work for companies that employ fewer than twenty workers each... almost half as many workers as are employed by large companies (> 500 employees), 47 million.
Small businesses are more concerned with the individual than with demographics, and they are far more likely to employ older workers. And of course, there is no age limit at all to starting your own business, as (Honorary) Col. Harland Sanders proved as long ago as 1952, when he used his Social Security check to open a restaurant called Kentucky Fried Chicken.
This, then, is the dynamic solution to the static problem of the dependency ratio: there is no economic danger in an earner "living too long" if he continues to earn money as an entrepreneur (or working for one). Note the change in nomenclature: we should call productive people earners, not "workers," because it's irrelevant how they earn money: by employment, by investment, or by royalties.
Additionally, consider that the damage wrought by too much dependency occurs when the government is forced to support older and older retirees via Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs. There are far more rational policies that a country can adopt: for example, an earner's Social-Security tax can actually be privately invested on his behalf, owned and controlled by the earner (with limits), and paid out after "retirement" to supplement whatever other money he continues to earn... as opposed to the current American model, where the tax is taken by the government and spent on current budget items, leaving it up to future Congresses to find the money to pay retirees. In a privatized system, much of a senior citizen's income would simply be interest, dividends, and growth from his own investments. This, too, reduces dependency, working hand-in-glove with his own entrepreneurship.
A country can likewise mitigate the damage caused by the dependency ratio by switching entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid towards "defined contribution," where the program pays a fixed amount towards a benefit, and away from "defined benefit," where the program guarantees certain specific benefits, no matter what the cost.
The solutions to a rising dependency ratio are out there; but Mark Steyn is inadvertently right on one point: China, because of its Communist history, is very unlikely to embrace these free-market solutions to their crisis until it becomes too late. But then again, so are we... as the privatization wars of 2005 make pretty plain.
If we want to survive as a hyperpower throughout the 21st century, it's time to kick butt and take names in Congress, cramming economic salvation down the Democrats' throats whether they want it or not.
January 4, 2006
Steyn On Ice
I have just finished reading Mark Steyn's lengthy but fascinating essay, carried in OpinionJournal.com: It's the Demography, Stupid; the real reason the West is in danger of extinction. (It was flagged by Hugh Hewitt, fortunately.)
Steyn argues that the demographics of population growth heavily favor the Moslem cultures over the secular, "post-Christian civilizations" of Europe; the EU's population shrinks as the ummah's population rises. At the same time, post-Christian secularists in the West are increasingly unwilling to physically (or even verbally) defend their culture. As a result, concludes Steyn, most of Western Civilization -- at least in Europe -- will inevitably collapse, to be supplanted by a resurgent Islamic funamentalist one:
Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries. There'll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands--probably--just as in Istanbul there's still a building called St. Sophia's Cathedral. But it's not a cathedral; it's merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate. The challenge for those who reckon Western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the West.
The essay is brilliant, persuasively argued, and displays the passion Steyn has for Western Civ. Fortunately, it suffers from one terrible flaw that spoils everything: it is a classic example of discredited static analysis.
Oh, I suppose I must detour into a brief explanation. Dynamics is the mathematical study of things that move (calculus and related modes of analysis); by extension, statics is the study of things that are immobile, such as geometry, trigonometry, and algebra. Generalizing, analysis is dynamic if it presumes that events will interact with -- and alter -- each other; it is static if it assumes that each event is discrete and does not significantly alter other events.
In the real world, the distinction most often arises in economics. Imagine you have a marginal income tax of 40% above a certain level of income; assume this brings in $600 billion in revenue. Now suppose the government is experiencing a bad budget deficit of (by coincidence) exactly $600 billion.
Under static economic analysis, the obvious "solution" is to double the marginal tax rate to 80%... which, by this reasoning, should bring in an extra $600 billion dollars, saving the day.
In reality, of course, we all know that a marginal income-tax rate of 80% would not bring in double the tax revenue; in fact, it would be a miracle if it generated even as much revenue as the earlier, 40% tax: such an incentive-killer would result in a massive change in behavior away from productive (taxable) investment. In other words, we instinctively understand that such a huge change in the tax rate will cause a correspondingly huge change in behavior; this, as you likely already know, is an example of dynamic economic analysis.
So too with Steyn's analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations. His analysis depends upon the West not reacting at all to its own collapse, even when that collapse manifests itself in macroscopic changes. For example, Steyn notes that the replacement-rate for population is about 2.1 live births per woman (the extra .1 makes up for children who sadly die before having their own children, or who decide never to have children, or who cannot for medical reasons do so). Without at least 2.1 kids per mother, population declines, not taking immigration into account.
Then he notes that Spain's birthrate is only half that level:
But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation.
(This is faulty math, by the way, since folks live longer than a single generation. Spain's population is 40 million, and there are about 400,000 live births per year; so let's assume there are 800,000 deaths per year (twice the birthrate). That's a deficit of 400,000 per year; in a twenty-five year generation, this amounts to a loss of 10 million -- which would not cut Spain's population in half but rather by one quarter. Still bad, but not as catastrophic as Steyn's claim.)
He reasons from this drop in population to the conclusion that Spain, along with other EU countries, will eventually be overwhelmed by Moslem cultures... this is particularly vivid in the case of Spain, because Moslems do indeed consider it still part of the ummah: Spain was once largely conquered by the Moors, who called it al-Andaluz; and once in the ummah, always in the ummah... thus, Osama bin Laden whined at one point about the "crusaders" who had stolen Spain from the Moslems (disregarding the fact that the Moslems stole it from the Christians). So it's at least plausible that Spain could be reconquered.
But what would be the effect on Europe and America were Spain actually to be taken over by Islamic fundamentalists, who would institute sharia law and rule it as the Taliban ruled Afghanistan? Steyn must assume there would be no impact at all; by contrast, I believe the effect would be galvanizing... just as was the conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century, which sparked the crusades.
- Spain was eventually liberated from the Moors by King Ferdinand and Queel Isabella in 1492 (it's no coincidence that Columbus was financed by the royal pair that same year).
- Thirty-seven years later, in 1529, the mighty Ottoman Empire besieged Vienna and was turned back, the first time that had happened. They tried again in 1683, and this time the Turks were catastrophically defeated. They fled back around the Mediterranean, and their empire began to collapse.
- The Barbary pirates had plagued shipping in the Med for centuries, starting in the late Middle Ages; operating from their bases in Tripoli, Algiers, and Morocco, they raided European Christian nations, hauling off loot and slaves. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, American and European (mostly British and Dutch) forces rallied and sacked and looted the Barbary coast, destroying the pirates by about 1815.
What do these histories have in common? They are all examples of the Western world rallying itself, fighting back against the Moslems, and defeating them -- for only a short time in the case of the crusades, but permanently (or at least until the present day) in the other three illustrations.
Note the point: for centuries, Western Civilization has reacted to Moslem conquest by waking up from its lethargy, fighting back, and eventually winning. There is no reason to assume, as Steyn necessarily does to reach his thesis, that this history abruptly ends now, with this particular demographic conquest... that this will be the one incursion that will spark no social survival sense, no pushback, and will be permanent.
Too, Steyn seems to assume that demographics, in the sense of sheer numbers, is by itself dispositive of civilization. But the time is long past where the biggest army necessarily wins; intel, technology, strategy, and training -- intelligence, that is, in the broad sense of "smartness" -- act as force multipliers to make scientifically advanced Western nations far more powerful than numerically superior but technologically inferior Islamic nations. This is why Israel has been attacked again and again, yet always prevailed against seemingly overwhelming odds.
Even in pure economics, Steyn's analysis is strongly static:
What will London--or Paris, or Amsterdam--be like in the mid-'30s? If European politicians make no serious attempt this decade to wean the populace off their unsustainable 35-hour weeks, retirement at 60, etc., then to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035.
What astonishes me is that Mark Steyn -- who writes his columns using a word-processing program on a laptop or desktop computer, I presume -- would have so little expectation of technological improvement -- over thirty years! Is it really too difficult to imagine human labor being supplanted by automation, such that national wealth does not suffer from a reduced population?
Is it really hard to envision a time when improving technology makes the 35-hour work week and retirement at 60 as commonplace as 40-hour work weeks and retirement at 67 today? Recall that not too long ago, people routinely worked all day, every day, excepting only Sunday during church, and "retired" when they became too sick (or too dead) to continue slaving away. In many parts of the world (including most Moslem countries), this is still the norm.
Do we really agree with Steyn that --
[D]emographics is a game of last man standing. The groups that succumb to demographic apathy last will have a huge advantage. [Emphasis added]
Do we really agree that our only route to economic success is to have more babies, so we'll have more worker-bees to labor at mind-numbing assembly-line jobs and stoop labor? That we'll always need those "hewers of wood and drawers of water" on which to build the prosperity of the elites?
I choose not to believe that scientific progress is an illusion, or that life is static, except to the extent that it all goes to hell. The material world may not be perfectable (we cannot immanentize the Eschaton), but that doesn't mean it's not improvable, and drastically so: after all, haven't we drastically improved life since the Middle Ages? "What Man has done, Man can aspire to do."
Mind, I do think Steyn makes a great many good and valuable points in this essay; for example, his clarion call for the EU to realize, however belatedly, that they cannot simpy continue to import labor from cultures fundamentally at odds with theirs, refuse to assimilate or acculturate them -- and expect that they will remain content to be the modern equivalents of indentured servants. The riots in France should be the first alarm of that pending conflagration. But the solution isn't to stop immigration... it is to assimilate each new generation of immigrants, or at least their children, into thinking of themselves first as citizens of their new nation, not the old.
I will not accept any macro-analysis of civilization that fails to take technological innovation into account. It's like a teenager trying to predict his income in ten years by a straight-line projection of how much he earns working at McDonalds today. Nor will I sit still for futurism that assumes Western decadence and suicidal social policies a priori.
It is Mark Steyn's despair I reject. I have seen nothing to make me believe that the most powerful culture ever invented by humans, Western liberal democracy, having risen up and defeated the Moslem jihadists the first five hundred times, will simply roll over and die on the five hundred and first. And that is the crack in the marble that splinters the beautiful edifice of Mark Steyn's thesis: Western Civ will survive because we have been socially evolved as winners and survivors for millennia; we will prevail because we refuse, in the end, to accept any other result.
And even the Europeans will awaken from their slumber of multi-culti "tolerance" when they realize that a dhimmi must work even longer than 35 hours in a week... and doesn't even get August off!
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