Population Boom or Bust?

Since 1798 when Thomas Malthus published "An Essay on the Principle of Population", the causes and consequences of a steadily increasing human population have been studied by society's elite and have influenced government policies, cultural institutions, and family norms.  During his time the debate waged between whether or not we had a population problem.  Does human population really grow geometrically while food production grows arithmetically, leading to inevitable starvations, wars for scarce resources, and other sources of misery?  Or is this an imaginary problem?  Can technological advances in agriculture keep pace with human population growth?  If not, can individuals limit their collective growth to not exceed the scarce resources on this planet without the heavy hand of government?  Or why look to this planet as the limit, is exponential growth our glorious destiny, with this planet just being the first stop to Alpha Centauri and beyond?

Today the general consensus to these latter questions is no.  There are too many people, and those people can't be counted on to live sustainable lives on their own accord.  For every thousand specialists combating the social problems of crime, poverty, drug addiction, mental illness, suicide, and child abuse, you have one that sees these symptoms as branches, and unsustainable population growth as the root.  But a tree needs soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight to live - so what feeds this tree of misery?  Is it the human condition itself?  Are we destined to breed beyond the earth's capacity to sustain us, always resulting in a society of haves and have-nots?  Or is there something else feeding this problem?  If so, what?

Human Beings as the Problem

In the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith says that human beings are a disease.  Many of our intellectual and government elite share that sentiment.  They say we are a plague.  Prince Henry fantasizes about being reincarnated as a deadly virus to thin the human population.  Are they right?  Does the earth have a bad case of the "humans"?  If so, then blasting off to other galaxies would just delay the inevitable.  Einstein called compound interest the most powerful force in the universe, and we've all heard the legend of the mathematician's challenge to the king concerning rice and a chessboard.  Starting with 1 grain of rice and doubling it for every square on a chessboard results in 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains - a heap the size of Mount Everest.  So if humans cannot live any way but through perpetual, exponential growth, assuming we live in a finite universe, then we would end up filling the stars until we've consumed every last resource - and then we'd all die.

If human populations grow exponentially in a finite universe, then the anti-humanists are right.  Let's hope we can challenge one of those assumptions.

This is a pretty grim picture, and there are only two answers to this scenario.  The first is to challenge the assumption of living in a finite universe.  If we could create free, limitless energy through cold fusion, taping into the zero-point field or other methods, then perhaps the next advance in technology right around the corner will solve this seemingly insurmountable problem.  Or do we live in a far uglier world, where free-energy devices have been suppressed by shadowy conspiracies as described in the documentary Thrive?

If we discount free-energy and assume that humans cannot naturally limit their growth through voluntary means, then an ends-justifies-the-means argument that most would find abhorrent becomes debatable.  Should powerful governments use their monopoly on violence to force their captive citizens to limit their growth?  Starting with the least objectionable means, governments could use "soft power" to promote zero-growth behaviors by offering free contraceptives and education to those that would otherwise go without.  In the novel The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess, the governments in a world plagued by overpopulation resort to similar means, such as promoting homosexuality and sterilization while criminalizing families that have more than one child.

Unfortunately, we don’t need to look to fiction to find examples of the "hard power" available to governments in their fight against population growth, and China's one-child policy is not the only illustration.  The United States of America was the first country to forcibly sterilize tens of thousands of people when pursuing the pseudo-science of eugenics.  As documented in Edwin Black's scholarly work, War Against the Weak, Hitler wrote love letters to American eugenicists while he sat in jail for the Beer Haul Putsch.  And the praise went both ways.  American eugenicists wrote letters to each other describing their mutual admiration of Nazi Germany for taking the necessary steps that Americans were just not ready for.  Needless to say, they kept their mouths shut when their dream of eugenics was exposed as a nightmare of crematoriums and concentration camps to the horror of the American public.  As Michael Crichton writes in his essay Why Politicized Science is Dangerous, all of a sudden "nobody was a eugenicist, and nobody had ever been a eugenicist."

When governments get in the business of managing human  populations they may have noble sounding reasons.  Whether it's for improving the genetics of the human race or saving the earth, the ends do not justify the means.

Reflecting on this example, we know the evils that governments are capable of when pursuing eugenics and its seemingly noble goal of "improving the qualities of future generations either physically or mentally".  Given this recent history, it's not without precedent to suppose that future governments could resort to similarly genocidal means in the equally serious fight against overpopulation.  Some will argue that it's already happening right before our eyes, the only difference being the transition from Hitler's iron fist to a technocratic elite's velvet glove.  Is this the Brave New World we have to look forward to?  Is this truly our predicament?

One Culture as the Problem

At least one man says no: Humans qua humans are not the problem.  Instead, it is only one human culture that is inherently unstable and plunging towards disaster.  Unfortunately, that is the dominant culture compromising 99.99% of the people on planet earth.  The man identified by this lone voice is Daniel Quinn, and he calls this a positive message.  From his unique perspective it is very positive.  After all, if human beings are truly the problem then the only solution to saving the planet consists of submitting to a scientific dictatorship, killing ourselves, and seeking happiness in the afterlife.  But if it is just one culture that is the culprit, one particular set of rules, customs and way of thinking, just one culture out of the tens of thousands that have existed, then at least this can be changed.  There is at least the possibility of hope.

Quinn's worldview is explored in a quasi-trilogy consisting of three philosophical novels: Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael.  All three are sub-titled "An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit" and they truly meet the definition of adventure as each book leads the unsuspecting reader through completely unknown territory via a Socratic dialogue that challenges our holiest beliefs and our most sacred cows.  Whether or not you walk away converted by his message you will be changed.  Unable to view our institutions and cultural norms through the same unquestioning eyes, you will hear the voice of Ishmael challenging you and pointing out the other way.

So what is this new way of looking at the world, and how does it relate to the cause of our assumed population problem?  The basis of this vision is the relatively new but seemingly unremarkable fact that the history of humans on this planet is not 10,000 years old, but approximately 3 million years old.  This claim is considered uncontroversial stuff for everyone except the most die-hard bible thumpers, those who would claim that the earth itself is only a few thousand years old and dinosaur bones were placed by the devil to test our faith.

8,000 B.C. does not mark the creation of the earth or the birth of humans, but it does approximate the event we call the Agricultural Revolution, which is the primary factor that unites our superficially different cultures both east and west.  We are taught to view the Agricultural Revolution as the zeitgeist that lifted humanity out of the mud and set us on a journey that would eventually put us on the moon.  Our evolutionary story is progressive and linear, always moving forward, never backward.  From single-celled organisms that evolved into human's prehistoric ancestors, it was all leading up to the discovery of agriculture so that man could leave his animal brethren behind and take his rightful place with the gods as master of all he surveyed.  It was only with the Agricultural Revolution that we started truly being human.  Only with this milestone could we realize our vision that "the World was made for Man, and Man was made to conquer and rule it."

Quinn's revolutionary doctrine posits the existence of a contrary world vision, one that is out of fashion today, but prior to the agricultural revolution was the world vision shared by the thousands of distinct human cultures that had spread to every continent on the earth at that time.  This 3 million year old vision, still held by the 0.01% of the population that haven't joined us, like the Bushmen of Africa or the Alawa of Australia, says "the world is a sacred place and a sacred process, and we are a part of it."

Leavers vs. Takers: not as a linear and evolutionary progression, but as a short-term deviation from a stable way of living that served us for millions of years.  Will we survive it?

For lack of a better term, Quinn calls the peoples that lived and still live by this radically different world view as "Leavers" while the rest of us are categorized as "Takers".  The takers believe that humans own the world, while the leavers believe humans are part of the world.  The takers live by the same law that regulates every other creature that we share this planet with, what Quinn calls the law of limited competition.  This law says, "You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war."

For Quinn, this law of limited competition regulates the lives of lions, toads, and wombats.  Indeed, all creatures that fly in the air, swim in the sea or slither on the ground must obey this law or face extinction, and the great folly of our culture is that we do not believe this law applies to us.  If Quinn is correct, and humans aren't exempt from this law, then we may be in the same situation as the would-be pilot who is pushed off a cliff and trying to operate a flying machine that was not built according to the laws of aerodynamics.  As our delusional pilot plummets to the ground he may believe he is flying, but that fantasy will be short lived as he rapidly approaches the consequences of disobeying a natural law.  Similarly, since our culture does not obey the natural law that allowed our ancestors to live in harmony with the world for 3 million years, our last 10,000 years of history is a mere blink of the eye in the proper perspective.  We may think we're flying, but we're really accelerating towards the destruction of all life on this planet, or at least the destruction of our own lives.

Agriculture as the Problem

Now that the necessary background of leavers vs. takers has been introduced, we can visit Quinn's ideas concerning how agriculture contributes to the population problem.

In Ishmael, Quinn seemed to argue that the Taker worldview is directly manifested through their form of agriculture.  If man's destiny is to conquer and rule the world, then man's duty is to decide what lives and what dies.  So we kill the wolves and the lions because they eat our sheep.  We kill the grasshoppers and other insects that eat our crops.  The Takers decided that rather than eating from the Garden of Eden like their Leaver brothers they would only dine on their most favorite foods and declare war on anything that got in their way.

While it is much harder work to toil in the fields than to live as hunter-gatherers (Kalahari Bushman worked 12-19 hours a week for food, Tanzania Hadz nomads about 14 hours), it does create greater food surpluses than any other method.  And here we come to Quinn's next radical claim: the food surpluses caused by adopting agriculture will result in a population increase, which will require more forests to be plowed over to plant our favorite foods, which will always lead to a further increase in population, which will require more land put to the plow, which will yet again enable an increased population, ad infinitum.

In The Story of B, Quinn calls this an inevitable consequence of the ABCs of Ecology, where "A" represents "food" in its most general context.  Food includes every creature in the community of life.  Plant food, swimming food, flying food, crawling food, even humans - we are all food.  The "B" represents how populations rise and fall depending on food availability, and he states this as a unbreakable law.  "There is no species that dwindles in the midst of abundance, no species that thrives on nothing."  It's hard to argue with that logic.

The ABC's of Ecology: As food populations increase, feeder populations increase. As feeder populations increase, food populations decrease. As food populations decrease, feeder populations decrease. As feeder populations decrease, food populations increase.

Not only is this law of ecology plausible on the surface, but it seems to have some empirical evidence behind it as well.  In Ishmael, Quinn walks us through our forgotten history as he plots the estimated human population from 3,000,000 B.C. to today.  His point seems inescapable.  For 3 million years man and his ancestors spread to every continent on the globe and developed a stable population with their environment.  Even going from 200,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. gives us an estimated doubling rate of once every 19,000 years.  But once you hit that 8,000 B.C. mark everything changes.  All of a sudden that stable and slow growth starts looking exponential.  The doubling takes 5,000 years, then 2,000 years, then 1,600.  1,400 years later we're at 1 B.C. and the human population has reached 200 million.  It took us 1,200 years to reach 400 million, then just 500 years for 800 million.  By 1900, 200 years later, we're at 1.5 billion.  1960 takes us to 3 billion, and by 1998 we've reached 6 billion - a doubling in just 36 years.

For Quinn, these data points are fundamentally no different than what you'd see running an experiment with a population of rats as you increase their food supply and widen their cage.  Our species is governed by the same laws as rats and deer and mountain lions, and we ignore this at our own peril.  Our form of agriculture is unsustainable.  We will never feed the whole world.  For those in the 3rd world, their bellies will forever be empty.  Any increase in food production will not feed them, it will just result in more damn people.  It is was a losing battle before it ever began.

Libido Dominandi as the Problem

After reading Ishmael I estimated that I was about 90% supportive of what he had to say.  I enjoyed looking through his unique worldview.  I found his arguments interesting and his Socratic dialogue engaging, but I wasn't ready to jump on the blame-agriculture bandwagon.  I definitely agreed that our world is headed for disaster and that our culture as opposed to humans themselves require some major changes - but putting it all on agriculture didn't make sense.  There were too many counter-arguments and counter-examples, some of which admitted by Quinn himself.

In the first place, Quinn gives examples of Leaver cultures that practiced agriculture in various degrees.  Some, like the Plains Indians, just devoted a fraction of their time to promoting the crops they enjoyed while still using the majority of their time to hunt and forage.  He gives other examples of Leaver cultures that seemed to have experimented with heavy-duty agriculture but then apparently decided to abandon the practice and return to an easier way of life.  If just one Leaver culture can practice agriculture without turning Taker, then clearly agriculture cannot be the defining characteristic of Takers nor the sine qua non of our population dilemma.

In The Story of B Quinn introduces the term Totalitarian Agriculture, and defines it as "the style of agriculture whereby its practitioners destroy all competition and assume all resources are made only for their own use".  But again, this is a matter of degrees.  At what point are you merely promoting the crops you enjoy most versus declaring war on all life?  That line is too fuzzy.

In my mind, the key to what defines the Taker culture is revealed by Quinn himself as he describes how the Agricultural Revolution started in the fertile crescent and from there expanded until it eventually filled the world.  The key is that the Takers would not let the Leavers live as they wanted to.  The Takers either exterminated their Leaver competitors through war or assimilated them.  The Takers did not agree with the philosophy of "live and let live".  This is what puts the Totalitarian in Totalitarian Agriculture.  The Taker's lust to dominate their fellow men is the key to this puzzle.  Their insatiable desire to rule others is the real culprit, not agriculture.

To be fair, this does introduce a chicken or egg scenario.  Did the use of agriculture and the concomitant increase in population necessitate the conquering of neighboring tribes to capture their land?  Or did the lust to dominate and rule other tribes give the first Taker the idea to put their captured slaves to work in the fields in order to feed this new ruling class?  Where is the original sin?  And just because one came first, does that make it the true cause of our problem?

At the risk of appearing as one that sees a world of nails because all he has is a hammer, I believe libido dominandi, the lust to dominate, is the true issue.  Agriculture can be practiced sustainably and with respect to the environment without introducing the spiraling chain of events that have led us to this unenviable position.  The problem is not agriculture, but the desire to rule others, i.e. government.  If the culture of governing is the problem, then a new culture of anarchism is the solution.

Even the population problem?  That's the way it looks...

Although he never says it, Quinn gives plenty of supporting evidence to this claim.  In My Ishmael, Quinn focuses mainly on our social institutions - how we raise our children, how we educate them, how we deal with conflicts, how we live as people.  He compares our current methods with those employed by Leaver cultures, and points out that humans had ways of living peaceably for 3 million years, but we lost that knowledge over the last 10,000 years during "the Great Forgetting".  The point that seemed obvious to me was that every leaver culture he described operated in a state of anarchy - there were no rulers.  Now there were leaders to be sure, people voluntarily followed because of their wisdom or other qualities, but you never found a separate class of individuals with a monopoly on violence that lorded over everyone else.

But more important than who started this fight, the question we must answer is how to fix it.  Again, for every problem we currently face that Quinn described across his trilogy, I could always think of a government intervention as the cause.  We're producing too much food? Look at the government subsidies to agriculture that distort market signals and cause entrepreneurs to grow more food then they otherwise would.  Too many people?  Look at the government programs that incentivize the very people that can least afford to have more children.

Let's revisit the ABC's of Ecology through a more critical lens.  The first challenge is against the claim that humans follow this law just like all other creatures on this planet.  All of Austrian Economics is predicated on the action acxiom.  The defining characteristic of human beings is that they act, they engage in purposeful behavior.  We are not billiard balls in an physics experiment that always act predictably given certain stimuli, we have the capacity to choose one thing over the other.  And this choice could include the decision of whether to have children or to abstain from procreation.

Quinn addresses this challenge by arguing that even though you don't see the population increase in the same vicinity as the over-production of food, that food still causes the increase in population in other countries.  It's like a steam valve that must find some place to let loose the excess pressure, and in this case the North American bread basket is responsible for the population nightmare in the 3rd world.  But there seems to be a much more obvious cause for these high birth rates.

Look at the birth rates by country rankings compiled by the CIA.  Now take a look at one of the freedom indexes available.  A sub-replacement fertility rate is anything lower than 2.1, and in the 3rd world countries of Africa you see the highest birth rates of 4, 5, 6 and as high as 7.03 in Niger.  Western European countries have rates between 1.4 and 1.7 while America is just below the sub-replacement fertility rate at 2.06 and the UK is at 1.9.  The countries with the lowest birth rates are the Asian countries with Japan at 1.39, South Korea at 1.24, Hong Kong at 1.11, and Singapore at 0.79.  Notice that the two countries with the lowest birth rates are ranked as the #1 and #2 positions on the freedom index?  Is it a coincidence that the countries with the least amount of freedom have the highest birth rates?

Here's a theory: The freer a country is, the more prosperous it is.  With a more prosperous country, the people of that country have a higher propensity to plan out their lives and choose to postpone or completely abstain from life decisions like marriage and/or children.  As standards of living improve, people have a wider range of options for taking advantage of all the opportunities that capitalism provides with respect to both time and money.  The pursuit of things like higher-education, a fulfilling career, personal interests, and travel necessitate having fewer children than a person otherwise would.  But it doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision.  Merely postponing a family to enjoy the luxuries of life leave fewer child-bearing years for mothers, so instead of starting at 20 and having 5 kids, they may start at 35 and have 1-2.  This seems like a much more plausible explanation for the birth-rate difference while acknowledging that human beings have the power to choose their procreation plans.

The governments of the world are holding the people of the 3rd world hostage.  By oppressing them and denying them the benefits of private property and voluntary trade these governments keep the standard of living abysmally low and the population rate ridiculously unsustainable.  Humans do not have to follow the ABCs of Ecology like garter snakes, dolphins and wildebeests.  If the people in the freest countries can collectively choose to have a sub-replacement fertility rate and stabilize their population, then so can the people most oppressed in the 3rd world.  We don't have to submit to a scientific dictatorship, kill each other, or resort to hunter-gatherer lifestyles to save the planet, we just need to be free.


When trying to arrive at any serious concluding remarks on a topic like this, the term "pretense of knowledge" comes to mind.  Writing a post that contains everything I have to say about guns and gun rights is a pretty straightforward task: assemble all of the known view points, categorize them, and support or attack the various arguments in a logical flow.

But where do we start with the topic of our population problem?  Maybe half the people believe we have a population problem and have already concluded that it is up to the government to stop it, the other half have either not heard of this problem or deny it exists, and virtually no one is even familiar with Daniel Quinn's perspective on this issue.  Rather than claiming to write the definitive conclusion on the population problem, it seems much more honest to be one that merely spreads awareness that this topic exists and humbly attempts to add something of value to the ongoing conversation.

While I might disagree with the final conclusions that Quinn draws, assuming I have correctly understood his position, I still can't recommend his books enough.  I'm generally satisfied with a book if it teaches me something new, perhaps a re-branding of an old but forgotten insight, or a new argument that I hadn't considered before but am happy to add to my intellectual tool-belt.  Based on that criteria, this Ishmael trilogy should be at the top of everyone's reading list, as it is so rare to come across a book or any form of media that exposes you to a completely new world view - to ways of thinking that you've never come across your whole life.

Daniel Quinn explores the most important questions that we could possibly ponder, and we should all be exposed to his valuable perspective.  What I have covered here is just the tip of the iceberg.  His insights into our philosophies, myths, religions and social institutions are equally interesting.  But if you choose not to expose yourself to these books and some potentially uncomfortable truths, then I at least hope you'll give it a second thought the next time someone boldly states as unquestionable fact that we have too many people and governments must be responsible for bringing us in check.  Remember the following quote from Ismael, and challenge this very dangerous claim.  The consequences of remaining silent and allowing this myth to spread from common-sense "fact" to government policy could be very dangerous for all of us.
"There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people.  Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world.  But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world.  Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world.  And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now."
Seriously, read these books.  Look - here's a guy in a gorilla suit.  He can't be wrong.


The Libertarian Debate: Principled or Practical?

The big and powerful political parties must always guard themselves from being taken over by hostile elements.  Decades ago, small "s" socialists had a strategic decision to make: do we work to build the Socialist Party of America, or do we infiltrate the Democratic Party and take it over?  They made their decision.  Similarly, many small "l" libertarians have chosen to work with Dr. Paul on an outright takeover of the Republican Party.  Time will tell whether the Ron Paul Republicans will be as successful as the socialists have been.

Within the Libertarian Party we don't have as much to worry about from coup d'états and power grabs, but rather our infighting is like an honest and good-faith difference of opinion amongst old friends.  We don't like to air our dirty laundry to the public, but within the "big tent" Libertarian Party, where we may agree on 95% of everything worth talking about, that last 5% is a doozy.  Minarchism vs. Anarchism.

As I first found out at the 2012 LP National Convention in Las Vegas, an understanding was reached at the 1974 Libertarian National Convention regarding this divisive issue.  Known as the Dallas Accord, it was a agreement that would satisfy both the minarchist and anarchist factions within the LP by keeping the platform purposefully vague as to whether a state should exist at all.  The thinking behind the truce was that all libertarians can agree our present government needs to get dramatically smaller, so let's join together in that common goal where we have that 95% agreement.  Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.  With a slogan like "Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom", each libertarian can define that minimum in his own mind, whether it be the minarchist "night watchmen state" or the true minimum of zero, a society that lacks an institution with a monopoly on aggressive violence.  As more conservative and constitutional leaning libertarians have joined the party in the last decade, 2006 and 2008 saw a swing in the LP power structure in favor of the minarchists, where our choice of candidates and changes to our platform disenchanted many an-cap libertarians.

The 2012 national convention saw a partial reversal of this power swing, making it an excellent time for the party to have an honest conversation with itself and revisit the reasons the Dallas Accord was made in the first place.  The Libertarian Party of Texas decided to host such a conversation in the form of a 2 on 2 debate this summer titled "The Ultimate Debate: Low Tax versus No Tax".  Since there are some that don't want libertarians to say the word "anarchism", let alone acknowledge such forces exist within the party, "no taxes" was chosen as a suitable marketing substitute for the "A" word.

One of the participants on the "No Tax" side could not attend due to a family emergency, and I was asked to take his place 2 hours before the debate.  "The show must go on".

Going into the debate I planned to focus on three lines of attack: the moral argument against taxation, the economic argument against taxation, and the naiveté of expecting "low taxes" to stay low in the long run.  My opponents were very clever.  They didn't challenge me that taxation was theft - they agreed.  They didn't challenge me that our ultimate aim should be to get rid of taxes altogether, they agreed that was a worthwhile goal.  One of my opponents didn't even resort to the "what about the roads" argument, he acknowledged that services like roads, defense, and arbitration could be supplied in a free and voluntary market.

So where did they get me?  The real debate came down to this: do we take the principled or the practical route on this journey to freedom?  A "no taxes" / anarcho-capitalist platform is not currently practical.  Can I get elected on this platform?  Could I get any bills passed?  Are the American people ready to entertain these ideas, let alone vote for someone openly advocating them?  I admit the answer is "no".  This is not a question of beliefs, but one of tactics and strategy.  More or less, the debate came down to, "Yes, I agree that "no taxes" is the correct moral choice, and I may even acknowledge it could work economically, but the people just aren't ready for it, so let's be reasonable or they won't take us seriously."

I didn't have a satisfactory answer to that line of attack during the debate, but now I offer a story followed by a few arguments for why libertarians should stick to our principled beliefs rather than water-down our platform or message to what is expedient or currently practical.  In short, why we should live up to the name "The Party of Principle".

The Story of the Practical Abolitionist

It's pre-civil war America, and a small minority of people have come to a radical conclusion: the institution of slavery is wretched, indefensible, and morally wrong.  They call themselves abolitionists, and their common goal is to end slavery.  They have quite an uphill battle.  Most of their countrymen do not agree with the abolitionists, either believing that slavery is a good thing (at least for the non-slaves) or that slavery is a necessary feature of this imperfect life.  Like death and taxes, you may not like it, but there is no escaping it.  The best you can hope for is to be on the right side of the whip.

We have established the abolitionist's common purpose, their goal, the vision that unites them and defines them as "abolitionists": the end of slavery.  Now comes the question of tactics and strategy, which is a topic that divides the abolitionists into different camps.  Some believe that education and persuasion is the right course of action.  Abolitionists should write letters, give speeches, and utilize every non-coercive means available to spread their message and change the hearts of their brethren one at a time.

Other abolitionists are not patient enough for this line of thinking.  Slavery is horrible, and people are suffering every day.  There is simply no time to wait for a slow conversion of hearts and minds.  Direct action must be taken to show these slave masters that we mean business.  Run-away slaves should be protected and transported to free lands.  Slave insurrections should be encouraged and nurtured.  Every law that protects this evil institution should be resisted and openly broken.  Anything less makes you nothing but an "Ivory Tower Abolitionist".

The abolitionists have a wide range of options in pursuit of their common goal.  Everything from peaceful persuasion to violent rebellion is a conceivable option in the fight against slavery.  But what is the right strategy in the short term vs. the long term?  The two may not be the same.

Another group of abolitionists recognize that their government's policy is a major contributor to the institution of slavery.  Fugitive slave laws make it a crime to assist run-away slaves, even when their masters are in far away states.  Since none of the major parties would risk going against the majority of the voters by taking a principled stand against slavery, this group wants to use the political mechanisms available to them to promote their cause.  By creating the "Abolitionist Party" they can not only use this vehicle to educate their countrymen when they go to the polls, but it is conceivable that they could influence other parties as they take away votes, and perhaps even someday win and implement abolitionist policies to end slavery.

Within this politically oriented group there is another question that divides them: how do we craft our message?  The "hardcore" and "radical" elements of the Abolitionist Party want to openly promote the complete end of slavery.  They boldly proclaim, "No man should be owned as the property of another.  The way to interact with each other is through commerce and voluntary association, not with chains and whips."

But another faction thinks otherwise.  The people will never take our party seriously if we advocate completely ending slavery over-night.  Yes, it's a worthwhile goal in the long run, but for the next election it would be disastrous!  Number one, it would destroy the economy that is built upon the institution of slavery.  Second, these slaves are not equipped with the responsibilities that freedom requires; who would take care of them?  Or maybe taking care of them is the last thing to be worried about, maybe some will be angry and we'll have violent riots on our hands!  "Don't get me wrong", says the practical abolitionist, "I'm with you on ending slavery, but let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  How about we endorse a measure to decrease slavery by 29%?  Today we have slavery 7 days a week, so if we grant 2 days of freedom a week, say on Saturday and Sunday, then that would certainly be an improvement over current conditions.  Once we have 2 days of freedom, we can work on a 3rd, 4th, etc.  That is certainly a more practical strategy given current conditions, right?"

Lessons from the Practical Abolitionist

How do we respond to the practical abolitionist?  With knowledge of how the past played itself out we can easily point out the error of his ways.  In fact, knowing that the abolitionist cause ultimately succeeds makes this story a little silly.  But the point isn't whether it's silly or not from our vantage point, but whether the parallel is a valid one.  If so, then perhaps the practical elements of our own party will seem silly to our descendants in the utopic libertarian future.

With 20/20 hindsight vision, it's clear that the "practical abolitionist" is his own worst enemy by endorsing a goal of "reducing slavery by 29%".  Given the conditions of that time, it may be more realistic to reduce slavery then to end it, but he is making the mistake of sacrificing the integrity of his long-term goal for a short-term win.  He is playing into the hands of his opponents.  Why should anyone else adopt the long term goal of "ending slavery completely" when even the so-called abolitionists seem to endorse slavery for 5 days a week? If slavery is a moral outrage, a crime against humanity, and a sin under god, then it must be totally wiped out.  But if the group that is most publicly denouncing slavery is satisfied with a mere reduction in this great sin, then there must be some flaw in the arguments.  Now the abolitionist brand has been compromised.  As "purists" in the Libertarian Party have been known to point out, when we water down our message we lose twice, first by not winning the election, and second because we didn't even get our message out.  By focusing too much on short-term wins in the political arena we forget about the long term goal of education and spreading the message.  Without that the big political wins can never be accomplished.

While it might bring charges ranging from rudeness to being a proponent of "abolition purity tests", the impact of the "practical abolitionist" is so disastrous to the Abolitionist Party that it may be prudent to question the sincerity of his beliefs.  After all, the practical abolitionist is confusing the abolitionist message in the minds of the voter, he is giving his opponents an easy line of attack with charges of hypocrisy and insincerity, and in some cases he even gives lip service to his enemy's propaganda rather than combating it when he uses it as the excuse for why people aren't ready for the "hard-core" message.

We should always advocate breaking the chains of slavery, never to make the chains more comfortable.  When we take the practical route we inadvertently advocate the very system we claim to fight.

It gets even worse than this.  If slavery is the evil that the abolitionists claim, why would they support any goal that would make slavery more tolerable to live under?  The more obvious the evil is, the easier it will be to recruit new abolitionists to combat it.  But if they are successful at "reducing slavery" then they will also be taking the wind out of the sails of their movement.  Those that were at the edge of pledging their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" will now be placated with this bone thrown at them.  From this perspective, the message of the practical abolitionist isn't so different from the deviously clever strategy of "Mr. Smith" in Larken Rose's parable of "The Jones Plantation".

This brings up the next point, what inspires people to join a movement?  When you're up against the odds and looking to change hearts and minds, it's not prudency or the ability to compromise that converts people to your cause.  From my own perspective I can say with confidence it was the opposite; I fell in love with the logical consistency and principled stance of the libertarian message.  Here are people that when they say something, they really mean it.  But beyond my personal anecdote, which may be a fluke, we can look to the man who has undoubtedly turned more people onto the libertarian message than anyone else, Dr. Ron Paul.  When new converts speak of him, they don't get into the details of the libertarian message, they talk about his consistency.  Here is a man that I can trust because he stands for something; he says what he believes and he believes what he says.

Back to the abolitionist analogy, we see the same respect for the man of principle and disgust with the compromisers and hypocrites.  Say anything positive about the constitution or the libertarian beliefs of the founding fathers and the msm talking point is immediately relayed like a dog salivating to the ring of a bell: "The founders were hypocrites!  A bunch of white men that talked about freedom and equality but owned slaves, why should I trust anything they said?"

And the worst part is… they are right.  It was hypocritical to talk about freedom being an unalienable right granted by a creator from one side of your mouth while defending the ownership of slaves with the other.  It is cognitive dissonance, doublethink, and schizophrenic thinking at its worst.  Now the opponents of freedom can denigrate the idea completely.  If these so-called founders didn't even believe in freedom, then surely no one did… well, except for someone named Lysander Spooner.

A tribute to this heroic man deserves its own post, but long story short, here is an abolitionist that walked the walk.  He used every action available to him to further the abolitionist cause.  He wrote pamphlets and books to spread the message, including the very influential "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery."  He promoted plans for guerrilla warfare against slave holders and conspired with the "activist" members of his group to plot insurrections, even participating in one himself to free a fellow abolitionist.  And most obviously, he didn't own any slaves.  Today Lysander is a hero to principled libertarians.  His writings did not debate the petty issues of his day, instead he wrote about broad principles of liberty and justice that transcend space and time; hence his legacy will live on forever.  We want to be the Lysander Spooners of the freedom movement, not the "practical abolitionists".

No one remembers the practical abolitionists, but Lysander's memes will live in the internet forever.


The most compelling part of the practical argument for low taxes is painting the picture of what would happen to the less fortunate if we ended taxation tomorrow.  Most obviously, goods and services that have been monopolized by the government would take time to transition to being run by the private sector.  So think of all of the people dependent on these government services, including welfare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  These programs are paid via taxation, so what happens to them if that revenue stream no longer has a gun to keep it flowing?

Going back to the slavery / abolitionist theme, it reminds me of the following quote from the great British abolitionist Thomas Macaulay:
"There is only one cure for evils which newly acquired freedom produces, and that cure is freedom.  When a prisoner first leaves his cell, he cannot bear the light of day, he is unable to discriminate colors, or recognize faces.  The remedy is to accustom him to the rays of the sun.

The blaze of truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become half blind in the house of bondage.  But let them gaze on, and they will soon be able to bear it,…

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people out to be free till they are fit to use their freedom.  The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim.  If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever."
This quote is the ultimate answer to the "practical abolitionist" of the 19th century and to his descendants within the Libertarian Party today.  The flip side to freedom is responsibility, and the ability to take responsibility for your actions is a muscle that must be flexed from regular use or it will atrophy and decay to a shadow of its potential.  The "practical abolitionist" says the people aren't ready for freedom, so let's be reasonable and promote practical measures.  History tells us he was wrong.  If Dr. Martin Luther King was correct, and “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, then we should look to the optimist within and have confidence that in time our message will succeed.  And when that day comes, we want to be standing on the right side of history.  The next viral video shouldn't be "Ron Paul was Right" or "Peter Schiff was Right", but "The Libertarians were Right!"


Our Most Shameful Holiday

Today is the 4th of July.  It is a little known fact that we get off work not because it's the 4th day of the 7th month, or because the government declared this holiday to stimulate the boating, fireworks, and alcohol industries, but because it commemorates Independence Day.  If you know this refers to the year 1776 when the delegates of the 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence to formally break their ties with Great Britain and kick-start the American Revolution, then good for you.  Your neck must hurt from carrying around your giant brain.  It's painful to watch, but man on the street interviews like this show just how clueless the average person is when it comes to basic American history.  We declared independence from China in 1976 when Jesse Ventura signed the Declaration of Independence?  Sure, why not?

However, it is not just the gross ignorance of the American booboisie that makes me ashamed to celebrate the 4th of July.  Indeed, no matter how educated you are or what you believe, I don't think anyone can be proud of this holiday.  No celebration should be had.  Take the day off, drink some beer, eat some hot dogs, but don't salute the flag, shed a tear at the national anthem, or speak fondly of the freest country on Earth.  The most appropriate action would be one of mourning, like pouring out a beer for a dead homie.

Proud of our Government?

Proud of our "democracy"?  We're spreading freedom throughout the globe after all.  Are you one of the 56% of Americans that think NSA spying is a good thing if it keeps us safe?  Do you thank your TSA officer after he gives you a thorough pat-down?  It must be a hard job to have to touch people like that, but good for them, our security is their priority.  And 4 out of 10 Americans agree: giving up some of our liberties is a good thing if it makes us safer.  Are you one of the 66% of Americans that approve of our use of drone strikes across the globe?  Hey, Obama didn't start the war, but he's got to finish it, right?  What else is a Nobel Peace Prize winner to do?

Do you feel that justice is served when drug dealers, prostitutes, tax-evaders, gun nuts, and other breakers of law and order are arrested and go to jail?  When Randy Weaver's son was gunned down and his wife executed while holding her infant baby in her arms at Ruby Ridge, did you comfort yourself by reflecting that anyone that breaks a gun law and resists arrest gets what is coming to him?  When Delta Force and Bradley tanks ended the siege in Waco, Texas and 76 Branch Davidians were burned alive, did you shrug off this event as they were nothing but cultists?  Do you think Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden are spies, terrorists, or otherwise enemies of America that should be locked up without a trial?  When martial law, I mean, shelter-in-place, was declared in Boston and the suspected teenage terrorists were killed and brought to justice, did you cheer "USA, USA, USA"?

Alright then.  You have no business celebrating the 4th of July.

After all, just what exactly are you celebrating?  Who were these founding fathers and what was the Declaration of Independence?

Even if we celebrate the actions of terrorists, at least our children will know better.

Ask this FEMA trainer, and he'll tell you that the founders were America's first home-grown terrorists.  The Declaration of Independence was a traitorous, secessionist document.  The first shots at Lexington and Concord were those of criminals murdering the police and soldiers of their lawful government!  Thankfully, our public schools are beginning to identify these domestic extremist's actions, like the Boston Tea Party, as acts of terrorism.  And there is no debating it, they are correct.

As Larken Rose eloquently spoke of the so-called founding fathers in front of Independence Hall on July 4th, 2009:
"In short, they committed treason.  They broke the law.  They disobeyed their government.  They were traitors, criminals and tax cheats.  The Boston Tea Party was not merely a tax protest, but open lawlessness.  Furthermore, truth be told, some of the colonists were even cop-killers.  At Lexington, when King George's "law enforcers" told the colonists to lay down their guns, the colonists responded with, "No, you're not the boss of us!"  And so we had "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," widely regarded as the beginning of the American Revolution.

Looking back now, we know the outcome.  We know who eventually won, and we don't mind cheering for the rebels.  But make no mistake: when you cheer for the founders of this country, you are cheering for law-breakers and traitors.


Suppose a group in this country today did what the founders did 233 years ago?  Suppose they wrote a letter to the United States government, a letter to Congress and the President, and said "We will not pay your taxes ever again.  We will not obey your laws ever again.  We do not acknowledge your right to rule us at all ever again, and when you send your thugs to enforce your will on us we will resist".

How many Americans dare to even think that?  And what would most Americans think of any group that did that?  Horrible criminals and traitors and fringe lunatics and we can't have that!  Why do we have this double standard?  Why does the whole country have these huge celebrations over Independence Day when a bunch of criminals broke the law, committed treason, and resisted authority?"
Indeed, why celebrate the 4th of July at all?  For someone that is pleased with the American government, celebrating Independence Day is as grotesque and inappropriate as celebrating the anniversary of the Trail of Tears, the Tuskegee Experiments, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and other blemishes on our country's history.  Have we no shame?

Proud of the Founders?

So let's look at the other side of this coin.  Are you a conservative that admires the founding fathers?  Do you consider yourself a constitutionalist and think it was a document inspired by God?  Even without going to that extreme, do you like the idea of limited government, free markets, and the rule of law?  Do you think taxes are too high or regulations too tight?  Do you think you have natural rights as opposed to privileges conferred by government?  Do you feel we have moved away from principles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to our own detriment and peril?

If that's the case, then you should celebrate the 4th of July like you would celebrate the funeral of your mother.

Read Gary North's article "Tricked on the Fourth of July".  Did you ever realize how good the British people had it?  1% - 2.5% of the national income went to taxes, that's all?  No income tax?  No property or sales taxes, just a measly excise tax on tea?  I can only dream of being as free as an American colonist under the "tyranny" of King George!

Read Jacob G. Hornberger's article "The Real Meaning of the fourth of July".  How quaint.  So you're telling me this holiday is about all men having fundamental and unalienable rights, with a lawful government's only role as the protection of those inherent rights?  And if the government becomes destructive towards those rights, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it?  Pure treason and lunacy in this day and age.  The real kicker is when he speaks of a limited government which only has the powers enumerated within the Constitution.  Apparently he's never heard of "Necessary and Proper", the "General Welfare", or "Interstate Commerce".  Everyone knows that the government can pass any law that can command us to do, not do, buy or not buy, just about anything under these provisions.  The gods in black robes called the Supreme Court said so!

In all seriousness, for anyone that cherishes the principles that America was founded on, it is a daily exercise to keep from sinking into depression, let alone on a day meant to celebrate those principles.

In Eric Peter's article "The fourth of July: Why Bother?", he touches on just a few of the freedoms this day is supposed to celebrate, and contrasts them with our grim reality.  Since analyzing the supposedly constitutionally protected rights that are violated daily is a child's exercise, he looks at rights not enumerated in the Bill of Rights that would fall under the 9th Amendment such as the right to travel, the right to associate, the right to own property and the right to buy or not buy health insurance.  But the list could go on and on, so why not?  A disease cannot be treated until it is diagnosed, and we don’t do ourselves any favors by wearing rose-colored glasses to disguise just how far we've fallen from the founder's America.

Not codified in any founding documents, but an American principle nonetheless, was America's attitude towards foreign wars.  In George Washington's farewell address, he warned against the "insidious wiles of foreign influence" and to "steer clear of permanent alliances", as our true rule of conduct with foreign nations is in "extending our commercial relations" and "to have with them as little political connection as possible".  On July 4th, 1821 John Quincy Adams spoke to the U.S. House of Representatives and said:
"Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....
She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....
[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice."
So much for all that.  America has 700 military bases in 120 different foreign countries, and our troops are involved in 74 different wars.  And yet, with as many troops as we have fighting "terrorists" in other countries, we are losing more troops to suicide then to combat, some 22 a day, just about 1 an hour.

So when we're asked to support our troops this Independence Day, as false analogies compare our murderous adventures abroad to a defensive war at home, remember the suicide letter of Daniel Summers, a veteran of the Iraq war:
"The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe.  War crimes, crimes against humanity.  Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from.  I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind.  These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.

To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand.


The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand.  How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle?  If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so."
This July 4th support the troops and their innocent victims at the same time: protest our wars.

 It's bad enough that our young pups are turned into vicious dogs of war to commit "crimes against humanity" in the words of the late Mr. Summers, but if that was the end of our descent then at least we could still selfishly get by while the consequences of our actions are a world away.  But what goes around comes around.  The founders were very fearful and distrustful of a standing army.  Jefferson said that a central bank is more injurious to the liberties of the people than a standing army, and now we have both!  However, even with our standing army, Posse Comitatus was supposed to ensure that our military would never be used to enforce state law or police the American people.

Soldiers are trained to kill enemies at any cost.  Peace officers are supposed to protect the rights of Americans and… keep the peace.  The two professions are mutually exclusive and the training one receives in the military cultivates the exact opposite traits one would like to see in an Andy Griffith peace officer.  Yet not only do we have our PTSD-ridden soldiers coming back from foreign wars to primarily serve as police, but the last bits of respect for Posse Comitatus have finally gone out the window with the passage of anti-terrorism bills such as the Patriot Act, NDAA, and the Military Commissions Act.  However, it's one thing to see it on paper, it's another to see full-blown martial law declared in an American city, let alone the city famous for the revolutionary Boston Tea Party.

Attention Boston: Stockholm called, it wants its syndrome back.

If there was ever a time and place to be ashamed, it is this day in the city of Boston.  The American revolutionaries were hard-core.  So convinced in the rightness of their cause, they were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor by openly declaring war against their lawful government.  When the British imposed excise taxes so small it would be a rounding error on our current tax burden, those men did everything from tar and feather the tax collectors to raiding British ships and throwing their tea into the ocean.  Finally, when the British said lay down your arms, they gave them to them, one bullet at a time.  These were men that would rather die on their feet then live on their knees, and the most powerful military on earth couldn't weaken their resolve to fight till the end.

The American revolutionaries, including many Bostonians, knew their rights, were willing to vigorously defend them, and could tell when someone pissed on their leg and told them it was raining.  And what do we see in Boston today?  A home-made explosive kills and injures some people, 2 teenagers are on the loose, and somehow we've gotten to the point where the proper response is for the government to forcibly and completely shut down a city of 1 million people.  The word martial law was avoided as much as possible, but it's hard to find a difference between martial law and "shelter-in-place" when no one is allowed out of their homes or offices while tanks and soldiers in Darth Vader costumes with fully automatic weapons are patrolling the streets going door-to-door.  Was there outrage at this ridiculous display of bravado and hubris by the part of our government masters?  Did the invaded home owners say "Wait here dammit, this is my private property, and you're not allowed here without a warrant specifically describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized!"  No, the Bostonians meekly emerged from hiding readily equipped with American flags and eager to chant "USA! USA! USA !"

If you don’t fall into one of the above categories, then congratulations.  You're unburdened by the dilemma of thinking through the consequences of the 4th of July.  You don't need to worry about sticking out by abstaining from the festivities while everyone else enjoys their day off work.  Eat your hot dogs, drink till you're stupid, and enjoy the fireworks.  If some blame-America-firster gets in your face, tell them "God Bless 'Merica, and if you don't like it, you can geeet out".  You have no reason to feel ashamed by celebrating Independence Day.  The only thing you have to be ashamed of is yourself.


Oblivion: Pro-Humanity, Anti-Illuminati

At first glance Oblivion is just another post-apocalyptic science fiction film that is strong in the special effects department but weak in the storyline.  Rotten Tomatoes gave Oblivion 55% with a consensus of "Visually striking but thinly scripted".  The professional reviews more or less agreed, with CNN declaring "Oblivion shoots for the moon and falls short", and Breitbart feeling that awkward questions were left unanswered.  NPR was particularly nasty, saying Oblivion is the "most incoherent piece of storytelling since John Travolta's Battlefield Earth" before wondering if "Cruise was trying to beat out fellow Scientologist John Travolta for the worst plotted sci-fi movie ever".

Like every other conceivable topic, radio-host Alex Jones had a radically different take on Oblivion.  When I heard him praise the movie and call it an anti-illuminati tour de force, I decided to give it a shot despite the unimpressive previews and the mixed reviews.  I'm certainly glad I did, as Oblivion is the only movie I can remember seeing twice in the theaters.  It now ranks amongst my all-time favorite "everything is a lie" movies where the protagonist wakes up to an earth-shattering paradigm-shift such as They Live, Solyent Green, and The Matrix.  Oblivion is an amazingly profound movie with a plot that is air tight as long as you understand the symbolism and the messages it is promoting.  Unfortunately, I think that was lost on most viewers, but I'm happy to explain in the hopes that Oblivion receives the credit it deserves.

Symbolism - Jack Harper and the Tet

The year is 2077, and Tech 49 Jack Harper believes he is one of the last humans on planet Earth.  Sixty years ago an alien attack destroyed the moon causing cataclysmic events on Earth, which was followed by a ground invasion by the "Scavs".  The surviving humans were able to defeat the aliens using nuclear weapons, but at the cost of making the earth mostly inhospitable for human life.  The humans built a giant tetrahedral space station called the Tet and migrated to Titan, a moon of Saturn.  Jack is a member of the "mop-up crew" on planet Earth, watching over flying power stations that create fusion energy from sea water.  His mission is to protect these power stations from the remaining Scavs by repairing the autonomous, weaponized drones, which protect the power stations and hunt down Scavs.  Due to the criticality of his mission, Jack's memory was wiped out 5 years ago, but in two short weeks he will go with his partner Victoria to reunite with his human brethren on Titan.  At least, that's what he thinks.

As Jack Harper discovers during the course of the film, the reality concerning his own identity, the Scavs, and the Tet is the opposite of what he was lead to believe.  The Scavs are not the alien menace he thought, but are the tattered remains of human civilization that live underground and disguise their appearance to avoid the murderous drones.  The Tet is not of human creation, but is itself the source of the alien attack that destroyed the moon and most of the life on planet Earth.  And finally, Jack Harper is not a man with a mere 5 year memory wipe, but is one of countless clones of a NASA pilot who was captured by the Tet 60 years ago.  The first wave of the Tet's ground invasion consisted of armies of Jack Harpers programmed to destroy their own kind.  Now in the next phase, the Jack Harper clones serve the more efficient role of repairmen, delegating the job of hunting and killing to the drones.

So what does the Tet symbolize?  When Jack has his final confrontation with the Tet he encounters a sentient, upside-down pyramid with an all-seeing eye that says "I am your God!".  The Tet exists to destroy humanity while controlling them like cattle when they can serve its purpose.  The Tet has perfected the art of concealing the truth and programing human beings with a false reality so that these "useful idiots" may assist in the fulfillment of its master plan.  The Tet is the Illuminati.

The final villain is a pyramid with an all-seeing eye, could the symbolism be more obvious?  Like Brave New Bookstore, Oblivion inverts the Illuminati symbol as a sign of resistance and disrespect to their top-down power structure.

For those only familiar with the Illuminati and its symbolic all-seeing eye pyramid through Dan Brown novels, the National Treasure movies, or the back of the $1 bill, the historical Illuminati was a secret society founded by Adam Weishaupt on May 1st, 1776 in Bavaria.  The ruler of Bavaria later banned all secret societies, including the Order of the Illuminati, and this resulted in many of their secret documents being seized and published in 1787 as their members fled and disbanded.

While no one denies that the Bavarian Illuminati existed, any reference to such a group after their suppression in Bavaria is pure conjecture and the object of ridicule.  Various conspiracy theorists will point to the hand of the Illuminati pulling strings and planning events ranging from the French Revolution, the Federal Reserve System, JFK's assassination, and the various maneuverings towards a one-world government, or a New World Order, up to this day.

Take a close look at a $1 bill and ask yourself, when did an all-seeing eye pyramid become an American symbol?

Whether or not the Illuminati exists a la Eyes Wide Shut, the prevalence of its concept and symbolism is hard to deny.  Consider the pyramid and the all-seeing eye.  The bottom of the pyramid is the foundation and the widest part of the structure.  Here lie the masses that prop the power structure up and are in turn dominated by those above them.  Each succeeding level of the pyramid represents fewer people with a higher level of understanding and greater power over those below them.  At the very top of the pyramid you reach "illumination" with god-like power and knowledge.  This symbol would accurately represent the functioning of any secret society, such as the Masons, where it is argued that "porch Masons" at the bottom think their organization is all about charity and fraternity, but only select members that advance through the ranks to ultimately reach the status of the 33rd degree would be made privy to the true secrets and goals of their organization.  This compartmentalized structure common in all secret societies makes plausible the claim that the Illuminati did not disband after Bavaria, but merely infiltrated other shadowy organizations.

With a secret society being, by definition, officially non-existent, the same group may be referred to by various names such as the Illuminati, the New World Order, or the Insiders.  Call it what you will.  However, credibility becomes an issue when you cannot point to anything more concrete than a hypothetical shadowy group, so it is important to note these claims are not only found on obscure websites where people can say anything.  Dr. Carroll Quigley of Georgetown University wrote Tragedy and Hope, which exposed the true role that elite secret societies have played in the historical events of the last 100 years.  He also wrote The Anglo-American Establishment, which documented how Cecil Rhodes used his fortune to set up secret societies known by various names, including the "Round Table Group" and the "Milner Group", which in turn created front organizations including the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the Institute of Pacific Relations, and the Council on Foreign Relations.  In his books Quigley made it clear that he was aligned with this nameless secret society, he agreed with their methods and goals, he just believed that their true role in history is too important to be left in the shadows.  And the shadows is exactly where they would prefer to stay.

So if the Tet represents the Illuminati, what does Jack Harper represent?  The original NASA pilot Jack Harper was captured by the Tet, with his last memory being engulfed (illuminated?) in a bright white light.  Fast forward 60 years, and Tech 49 Jack Harper is one of countless clones created, grown, and programmed by the Tet.  Jack Harper has been taught an official story to explain his surroundings, and as long as he obeys authority and doesn't go outside of his prescribed boundaries his reality is mostly coherent.  Day by day he wakes up, puts his pants on one leg at a time, and does his job of repairing drones and killing Scavs, waiting to be rewarded for his service with his retirement on Titan.  Jack Harper has no idea that his actions are serving a sinister agenda that he would take no part in if he understood the full truth.

Jack Harper could be generally thought of as the American booboisie.  He is a man born in America, numbered and tracked from birth, raised in a government school that teaches him that everything good in the world comes from government and that it is perfectly normal to have every activity he wants to engage in licensed, regulated, and dictated by his superiors.  Jack Harper is the man who is taught that the highest form of morality is to obey authority, whether that is the teacher, the drill Sargent, or the President.  Jack Harper is the American who swears an oath to protect and defend the constitution, but has no idea what it means.  He is the man that sheds a tear at the pledge of allegiance, but has no concept of the principles that America was founded upon.  Jack Harper is the 18-year old high school senior that wants to serve his country, puts trust in the authority of those around him, and ends up massacring innocent people in 3rd world countries.  Perhaps the closest comparison is to the 22 year-old serial-killer drone pilot, as he, like Jack, doesn't get up close and personal to the Scavs he believes are his enemies, and is thus prevented from recognizing their common humanity.  It's hard to be angry at a Jack Harper, pity is the most appropriate response.  All you can try to do is wake him up, and if that fails, forgive him because "he knows not what he does".

The Implications of Serving the Tet

Recognizing the Tet as the Illuminati, or whatever name you choose to give the power behind the throne, and Jack Harper as the useful idiot who serves them, several powerful messages are readily apparent.  The first is to recognize that Jack Harper and those like him that serve evil usually think they are doing good.  Creating such a person is accomplished through instilling the belief in obeying authority rather than thinking for oneself, being brainwashed with a false history, and staying within very narrow confines of reality that constitute one's compartmentalization.

For Tech 49 Jack Harper, the compartmentalization couldn't be more obvious.  Jack is told that the whole world is radioactive and inhospitable, such that he never leaves the designated area that he is assigned to monitor.  Whenever his spacecraft approaches the edge of the box that he is confined in, flashing lights warn him to turn around before he enters the deadly radiation zone.  As long as he stays within the boundaries of his pre-approved reality he will continue to be a trusting and obedient servant to his masters.  But the moment he breaks out of the radiation zone and comes face to face with Tech 52, a clone of himself, he realizes that his entire life is based on lies.

Drones aren't so cool when they're pointed at you.  As Tech 49 Jack Harper says, "It's just a machine, I'm the weapon."

Another of Oblivion's messages is that you can't join evil.  You may serve it, but you are still the enemy.  Jack Harper and Victoria of station 49 believe that their 5 year duty is almost up and they'll finally get their just rewards on Titan.  But that's not the way the Tet works.  If they continued to serve the Tet then they'd only have 2 weeks left before they would be liquidated and replaced with new clones off the factory line.  The odds of beating the Tet may seem insurmountable to Jack, but at least by facing reality and turning against his true enemy he has a fighting chance, and more importantly, is not willfully working towards his own destruction.

While Tech 49 Jack Harper at least shows curiosity and a willingness to disobey authority, his partner Victoria represents the willfully ignorant.  She never questions authority, and she never disobeys.  Jack sees beauty in a flower and brings it to her, but all she sees is a violation of their regulations such that she quickly throws it away under the excuse that "it could have germs".  When Jack commits an offense against authority so severe in her eyes she betrays him and turns him in to the Tet, it's not only Jack that the drone turns against, but it actually kills Victoria first.  Thus, there is no winning when serving evil.  You can, like Victoria, turn away from the awful truth and say, "I don't want to know!" while sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich.  But that's what the evil wants, it depends on your naiveté, your inability to comprehend the darkness in the heart of man.  When your head is in the sand you are a much easier target.

A Message of Hope: Wake up and Fight!

The most uplifting message in Oblivion is that it's never too late to wake up, regain your humanity, and join in the fight against evil.  Many complain, myself included, about the dangerous tyranny that seems to be accelerating towards our front door, but what do we face compared to the living nightmare of Oblivion?  And yet there is hope.  No matter how much propaganda and disinformation the system puts out, all it takes is someone with a little curiosity and love in their hearts to recognize the lies for what they are and break out of their conditioning.

Jack is curious, but he is also courageous.  He is irrevocably changed when he witnesses a drone killing human beings in sleep pods that crash-landed in his sector.  When he interposes himself between a total stranger and the drone that he was responsible for fixing, totally willing to die in order to save the life of another, he has crossed the tipping point.  Morgan Freeman's character is a leader of the Scavs / Humans, and he remarks that he first thought Tech 49 Jack Harper was different when he saw him pick up a book and display curiosity, but when he saw Jack risk his life to save another from the drone, he knew Jack was the one he was looking for.

Mentioning the Illuminati requires a reference to numerology: note that Tech 49 Jack Harper and the main drone he fights, #166, both add up to 13, which is supposedly a sacred number to the Illuminati, referring to their 13 bloodlines.

Once Jack Harper obeys a moral law rather than the law of authority, once he chooses to protect a stranger against the drone that he is ordered to serve, not only does the system turn against him, but he finally sees the truth of the world around him.  His entire paradigm is turned upside down in a moment.  This is the symbolic death of Tech 49 drone-repairman Jack Harper and the rebirth of someone new, someone like the NASA pilot captured 60 years before.  As bad as things are, the system always has a weak spot because it is built on a foundation of lies and it completely depends on the Jack Harpers of the world to follow orders and never cross outside of their designated zone.  But all it takes is a little curiosity, a willingness to disobey authority, to ask "why?" rather than to say "yes, sir", and the whole evil system can be brought down in the blink of an eye.

Conclusion: Recognize the reborn Jack Harpers all around us

When Jack Harper sees the drone that he is ordered to serve murder innocent people in front of his eyes, all of his training, programming, and brainwashing goes out the window.  He risks his very life to stand up against a gross injustice, even though it goes against everything he was taught to believe.  He is a hero, and we should learn to recognize the heroes around us that answer to a higher morality than that of blindly obeying authority.  When our overseers call them traitors, we need to ask just what have they committed treason against - good or evil?

They called him a traitor, now we call him a hero.
Think of Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot that stopped the My Lai Massacre when he flew his helicopter between the fleeing civilians and his own troops and ordered them to stop massacring women and children or he would open fire.  Though he was trained to see the Vietnamese as sub-human Scavs, he broke out of his conditioning to stand up for what was right.

Think of Bradley Manning as he rots in a secret prison somewhere.  He too saw that his supposed enemies did not deserve to be shot like dogs in the street, and he risked everything, his very freedom, to expose the "collateral murder" that occurred in his name.

Today the cries of treason are being launched against Edward Snowden.  He has risked everything he is and has to expose the blatantly unconstitutional violations committed by our government, explaining that he doesn't want to live in a world where everything he says and does is recorded.  The question is the title of a hundred articles, is he a traitor or a hero?

Whether you decide traitor or hero for a particular circumstance, at least we still live in a world where human beings have the capacity to choose whether to follow orders or obey a higher law.  As is made terrifyingly clear in Oblivion, weaponized, autonomous drones will not question orders.  They will obey their masters, always.  We're not there yet, and we should make every effort to keep it that way.
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