10/09/2015

In Defense of Common Sense Gun Control


In the wake of the latest mass shooting tragedy in a gun-free zone by yet another anti-depressant popping psychopath, we see two responses that have become just as linked as night following day.  First comes grand-standing by the politicians and media to push the idea of "common sense" gun laws, a.k.a. total confiscation through the Australian model, despite the inconvenient fact that gun violence has been cut in half in the last 20 years.  This action, designed to lower the number of guns in America, instead provides a delightful Newtonian equal and opposite reaction that makes September, 2015 the 5th month in a row to set all-time record-high gun sales.

Whether these new guns are purchased for stock-piling, profit-making, or preparing for the 5th "easy" step to create a Gun Free America, there is one form of gun control that even the most radical supporter of the 2nd amendment can and should get behind, and that is self-control.

This is not a push for state-mandated licensing, education, or any other type of governmental restriction on the natural right to protect oneself.  Instead, this is an example of the radical libertarian tactic of persuasion, a plea for a voluntary application of common sense.  If you're going to take on the awesome responsibility of gun ownership, it is in your own best interest that you train both mind and body to prevent a senseless tragedy, whether through a negligent discharge or by having the mental acumen and tactical skills required to respond to an active shooter.

Having not grown up with guns, taking a basic firearms safety class was the first step I took before assuming the responsibility of firearms ownership.  Since then, I have taken multiple safety and training classes for both the handgun and the rifle.  For those that have not expended the time or money in such training, this post will review the key mental and tactical concepts that I have learned, not at all meant to serve as a substitute for such training, but to pique your interest and convincingly prove it to be a worthwhile investment, one that could even save your life.

The Mindset

All the background checks, mandatory classes, and child safety locks in the world will not prevent an accidental injury or death from a firearm from a reckless and indifferent gun owner.  On the flip side, every conceivable disaster that resulted from a negligent discharge of a firearm could have been prevented if the participants had adopted a religious adherence to the principles of gun safety.

While different organizations have their own flavor of gun safety rules, by far the most adopted, simple, and comprehensive are Jeff Cooper's four rules:
  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.
These rules should not merely be read over once, reflected on for a moment, and then discarded in the excitement of gun ownership.  Every member of the family in a gun-owning household should know these rules backwards and forwards.  While rule #1 may be the hardest to adopt for the uninitiated, it is by far the most important.  Just like mindful repetition is practiced so that the desired behavior becomes automatic, rule #1 should be so ingrained that one would cringe upon seeing a child's brightly-painted toy gun pointed in an unsafe direction.  A dedication to rule #1 should provoke a sense of unease when looking at a mere picture of the muzzle of the gun as evidence that the cameraman practiced unsafe behavior.  With this level of determination to consistently follow the four gun safety rules, even to the point of these extreme measures for safety, you greatly reduce the likelihood of you or your family befalling an avoidable firearms accident.

You - or your family - those additional three words add another level of sobriety to the equation that need to be considered.  While most states have passed legislation to make it illegal to have firearms unlocked or otherwise accessible to children, we need to remember the determination each child has when searching for birthday or Christmas presents when the parents are out of the home.  Merely hiding and locking the guns aren't enough, all members of the family, including children, should be inducted into the seriousness and responsibility of firearms ownership.

Consider two homes that contain firearms and children.  In the first house, the child is taught the rules of firearms safety and made to memorize them before they are allowed to use a gun under adult supervision.  In turn, they are taught how to shoot as early as the parents think their maturity allows, perhaps starting with a BB or pellet gun first, but moving to the 22 LR caliber as quickly as possible.  After all, a BB or pellet gun may not even break the skin, and you risk setting an example counter to the rules of gun safety to teach a child that some guns can be shot without serious consequences.  The children will feel the pride and maturity that comes with the trust and responsibility expected by the parents, and while the guns are locked up, the parents are more than happy to take the children out shooting to reinforce their skills as often as possible.  These children don't have an interest in toy guns, they have the real thing.

In our second house, all state and local laws are followed to a T, and that's about it.  The guns are stored behind child safety locks, and all the children know about guns are what they see in movies and video games - point it and go bang!  This ostrich with his head in the sand approach may work fine, that is, until the day the child is rummaging through the closet, looking for Christmas presents.  Maybe that day passes without incident, but what about when a friend is over, and the child wants to show off what he found?  In which house is a tragedy more likely to occur?  The question should answer itself.  To reemphasize the point, if you're going to own firearms, it's not just you that needs to be educated and responsible - everyone in the house needs to take on the same mentality.  Firearms ownership is truly a family affair.

The Art of the Handgun

Between firearms introduction & safety classes, basic & advanced handgun classes, and the legally required concealed carry course, I'd probably gone through six separate 1-2 day training sessions before going to the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute's 4-day defensive handgun course.  While the four stages of competence is generically used to describe the progress that a student makes through any discipline, the trainers at Front Sight described a fifth stage applicable to firearms, which is that of the student who is "Intentionally Incompetent".  This type of firearms owner knows he is incompetent, but chooses not to do anything about it either through laziness or fear.  From there we move on to the traditional categories of the Unconsciously Incompetent, the Consciously Incompetent, The Consciously Competent, and the Unconsciously Competent student.

Going into Front Sight, I knew I didn't fall into the Intentionally Incompetent, as by definition, I was trying to do something about my skill level.  I thought I'd humbly rank in the "Consciously Incompetent" category, so I was very surprised to hear the Front Sight instructors claim that 95% of all gun owners, including those in the police and military, should be regarded as Unconsciously Incompetent.  How could that be?  After all, I competed monthly in IDPA matches and had earned the rank of "marksman" - how could I simultaneously be unconsciously incompetent with my firearm?  Needless to say, I was very skeptical of the claim, but amazingly, by the end of the training I became a believer.

The former training had been given by state-licensed professionals that included former police and military, and while I had been taught how to load the weapon, how to hold it, how to align the sights, and how to fire - I came to find that just about every technique I had learned was either incomplete or inadequate for a truly tactical situation.  It's one thing to shoot paper targets with all the time in the world, but not only will a "bad guy" not bless you with that luxury, but your own skills seriously degrade when your heart beat is accelerating, your palms are sweaty, and your mind is racing with adrenaline and fear.

HARD focus on the front sight… Pressssssss

So while I learned many new techniques, such as changing my stance to use isometric pressure to "push" my firearm with my trigger hand while "pulling" the firearm with my secondary hand, how to apply a consistent squeeze for a surprise break and slowly releasing the trigger until it resets, a 7 step draw from concealment, and to always aim for a fist sized pattern from any distance (if your pattern is larger, slow down, but if you're too accurate, speed up!); the most valuable lesson I gained from Front Sight is the realization of how much I didn't know.

While it was rewarding to learn how to consistently put two shots to the thoracic cavity from concealment in 2 seconds, the most impactful lesson is to find out what it's like to be in a life or death scenario, both from the perspective of staying alive, and the consequences of having to take a life in defense of your own.  Through discussions you play through several scenarios: if you hear a window crashing in your house at 2:00 A.M., what do you do?  Perhaps some would say to lock n' load and search the house, but after going through a live-fire drill in a Front Sight house, you come to a different perspective after you see how your hands shake, your heart beats through your chest and your accuracy degrades.  Now the option of barricading yourself in your room and call 9-1-1 seems a little more appealing.  That is, unless you hear the cry of a loved one somewhere in the house and you have no other choice - at that point the police are minutes away and seconds count.  In this case the house scenario provides the jolt of reality of how little prepared you really are to deal with such a scenario, and just how critical it is to regularly partake in serious tactical training.

The Rifleman: an American tradition

While I have not yet had the opportunity to attend Front Sight's practical or precision rifle course, and therefore recognizing that I am likely an "Unconscious Incompetent" in the rifle in the same way that I was for the handgun, nevertheless I highly recommend the training I received from the Appleseed Project.  Volunteer run, only charging $30 a day or less for ladies and minors, the Appleseed Project seeks to pass on the heritage of the American rifleman by teaching 1-3 day classes on the fundamentals of precision rifle shooting while mixing in stories of the revolutionary war and Paul Revere's ride.  By teaching the techniques necessary to match the Revolutionary War rifleman's precision of head shots at 250 yards, the Appleseed Project scales back the size of the targets in order to shoot at 25 yards, making it an accessible class that can be offered everywhere in the country.

Going into that class my groups were the size of a basketball, and by the time I left I was overjoyed to hit the 1 inch square / 250 yard "head shot" in a timed shooting drill.  In order to achieve this feat in just 3 days of training, we focused on proper shoulder and cheek placement, trigger control, the rifleman's cadence, and the natural point of aim, all the while learning how to properly use the sling to stabilize the prone, sitting, and standing positions.

The Sling: Who knew it wasn't just for carrying your rifle?

However, it wasn't until taking a Barrett long range rifle class that I saw how these techniques that can accomplish a great deal at 25 yards require some refining at long distances.  While short distances can be forgiving of the occasional slip-up, those little things add up in a big way when going out to distances of 600, 800, and 1,000 yards.  If every component of every shot isn't perfect, then it's immediately obvious at those distances.

For instance, rifles with a pistol grip stock are generally held with the trigger finger wrapping the thumb around the stock.  The Barrett instructors suggested that we defy common sense and instead keep our thumb aligned with the rest of our hand, such that the rest of our hand is pushing the stock into our shoulder, and avoiding the slightest pressure from the thumb to squeeze the opposite side of the stock as the trigger finger executes it's slow squeeze.  Sure enough, we saw one shooter was able to adjust his grouping by a few inches from right to left merely by making this adjustment.

In another case, we saw how the prone position traditionally taught needed some adjustment as well.  Instead of adopting an off-center relationship between the body and the rifle, they recommended that we ensure our body is center of mass is perfectly perpendicular to the plane of the rifle.  In other words, as you watch the reticle of your scope rhythmically move to your breathing when timing your rifleman's cadence, you must ensure that the path of the reticle is exactly up and down.  If there is any left-to-right movement, then your body needs to be adjusted to correct this, as otherwise it is going to show up down range.

Speaking of the scope reticle, a proper understanding of the scope was the biggest lesson learned from long range rifle training.  While we were taught the calculations for target size, distance, and adjustments for both the MIL and MOA style reticle and adjustments knobs, the lesson begged the question, why on earth do nearly all scopes have MIL style reticles but MOA adjustment knobs!  Ok, it's good to know that 1 MIL is roughly 0.3 MOA, but why force these rough calculations, especially if you actually had to make that determination when it counts.  Instead, wouldn't it make sense to be consistent and get a MIL-MIL or a MOA-MOA scope, where the dots on the reticle perfectly align with the adjustment knobs, removing the need for rough math and rounding errors?

However, even this solution isn't complete for variable power scopes.  Again, most traditional scopes are "Second focal plane", meaning that the reticle stays the same size as the sight picture shrinks and grows according to the power setting.  The problem then, is that the MOA or MIL reticles are only accurate at one particular setting, usually the highest magnification.  If you are at a lower setting to acquire your target, you'd have to again resort to quick math to make a shooting opportunity.  Instead, one could look into "First Focal Plane" scopes, where the reticle grows and shrinks in relation to the target, such that the markings of the reticle are always constant.  With 1 MIL always equaling 1 MIL, the shooter can make distance adjustments or hold-over at any magnification on the fly.  While these scopes are generally more expensive, the price might just be worth it.

The final lesson was the importance of data sheets.  The combination of a unique gun, a precise brand of ammunition, as well as the elevation, pressure, and temperature all come into play for long distance shooting.  On the one hand, trial and error could slowly but surely achieve precise data sheets that can be collected and used in the future.  On the other hand, spending $15 on the "Ballistics AE" smart phone app paid for itself many times over within an hour of shooting match grade ammunition.  After entering the temperature, elevation, pressure, information on my rifle, and selecting my ammunition, it presented a data sheet that made me feel like I was cheating.  All the way out to 900 yards I could rely on the elevation adjustments to be perfectly spot on, allowing me to focus only on wind adjustments.  Never having shot farther than 200 yards prior to this experience, it was incredibly rewarding to learn the techniques required to hit a 12" target at 700 yards and a 24" target at 1,000 yards.  It may not be a skill likely to come into play in a life or death situation, but it's definitely rewarding in it's own right!

Who cares if it's practical?  Long range shooting is just plain cool.

Conclusion

For the principled libertarian, the right to firearms is absolute.  There are no misguided arguments of practicality, history, or statistics that can override my right to life and property, with the logical implication that I can protect them from deadly force, with deadly force.  Anything less denies my self-ownership and makes me a slave to those who would disarm me - but all that aside - these principles, admirable as they are, will not prevent a negligent discharge or win a single gun fight.

Yet, as important as it is to have a quality weapon and be properly trained in its use, we must conclude by going back to the great Jeff Cooper, who argued that the most important tool for surviving a lethal confrontation is not the weapon or the martial skills, but the combat mindset.

Especially with the introduction of smart phones and the walking-zombie effect it brings, nearly the entire nation spends its time in condition "White", completely unaware and unprepared.  By taking on the responsibility of firearms ownership, and especially for those that decide to conceal carry, you must be willing to make the conscious effort to live in condition "Yellow".  To be "Yellow" is to be relaxed but alert, aware of the world around you.  From condition "Yellow" you are capable of identifying a specific threat and moving into condition "Orange", and if need be, to condition "Red".  Hopefully, if you are ever faced with a harrowing situation that requires a fight to save your own life or the life of another, you will be able to rely on a solid investment of mental and tactical training.  It may not be the "law" to take such training, but ultimately, it's just common sense gun control.

6/29/2015

Should Libertarians Celebrate the SCOTUS Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage?

The Supreme Court of the United States has made several headline-generating decisions in the last week.  In a 5-4 ruling, this august body of the country's premiere jurists issued an irrevocable command to 13 states that banned same-sex marriage.  Going forward, all states will be required to license same-sex marriages and recognize those marriages entered into from other states.

The Libertarian Party has used this opportunity to showcase how forward-thinking and ahead of the times they are, publishing the headline "Libertarian Party's 40-yr marriage equality advocacy pays off with US Supreme Court decision".  Nicholas Sarwark, Chair of the Libertarian National Committee, said "we applaud and celebrate this victory" and that he's "glad to see the Supreme Court has upheld the equal rights of all Americans."

Certainly, libertarians can be happy at the outcome of the SCOTUS decision.  Unjust laws that forcibly prevented consenting adults from engaging in voluntary contracts have been reversed.  What's not to like?  Perhaps the optimum libertarian solution would have been to remove the violence of government from the marriage business completely, leaving it to churches and individuals to create their own contracts as they see fit.  Nevertheless, individuals are freer than they were before.  How could this not be a clear-cut win for liberty?

Libertarian Means and Ends

This question brings us to examine the means and ends of this event.  We might be happy with the outcome, but should we be wary of how it came about?  For the constitutionalist, this is likely to be no time for celebration.  Under an intellectually honest view of the constitution, there is no language that gives the federal government the power to infringe on state legislation in this way.  As one dissenting judge wrote,
“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision…  Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal.  Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner.  Celebrate the availability of new benefits.  But do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.”
But of course, being a libertarian does not make one a constitutionalist.  We have a much brighter lantern to guide our way than our weak and powerless constitution.  Using the dual lens of self-ownership and the non-aggression principle, it is clear that consenting individuals have the right to enter into whatever sort of contract among themselves that they'd like.  On the flip side, individuals do not have the right to force their contract onto others, which is why getting government out of the marriage businesses would be the ideal solution.

In a free market of marriage that respected the property rights of everyone, perhaps some religions would offer same-sex marriage contracts while others would not.  Maybe new institutions would offer this service completely outside the religious temple.  From there, various voluntary solutions and market-based incentives would meet everyone's preference accordingly.  If some don't like it, there are plenty of non-violent options available that don't infringe on the rights of others.  Certainly this would be the outcome most aligned with each individual's rights being respected.  "Live and let live", it's a beautiful mantra.

In lieu of this optimum scenario, the question is again asked, should libertarians celebrate a ruling from the Supreme Court of the federal government that forces the states to license and recognize same sex marriage?  Without any regard to the merits of the constitution, the answer would be a qualified no.  The SCOTUS ruling brings about a libertarian end, but the means involved is quite counter to our long term goals.  Ultimately, this deference to 9 black-robed individuals governing 318 million people from D.C. is just one more precedent that is sure to be harmful to the long-run prospects of a free society.

Beware the Hand that Feeds You

Despite the LP's celebratory announcement, we should be hesitant to shout hosannas when a Supreme Court ruling dictates law to the states.  Every decision from that unelected and virtually unaccountable group that gives the federal government greater power is a net loss for liberty - even when libertarians are happy at the particular outcome.

Today, the SCOTUS issues a decree that happens to be consistent with libertarian principles, but literally the day before it issued a ruling that the federal government can pass laws requiring citizens of the 50 states to purchase a product from a private company.  How can we celebrate any decision passed down from such a bold and audacious body?  Why give any respectability to their decisions?  We are just shooting ourselves in the foot.  What happens to our credibility if we say that a supreme court decision "paid off" when they will not doubt issue 99 rulings that violate libertarian principles to every 1 decision that goes in our favor?

We can't just celebrate the outcome of this decision in a vacuum; all the factors must be examined before popping the champagne.  In a world where virtually every square inch is claimed to be the domain of one evil government or the other, in most territorial battles between rival gangs of costumed officials we are safe to say "a pox on both their houses".  But when one of those gangs is infinitely more powerful, more ruthless, and more arrogant than the other, we should seriously consider rooting for the underdog.  In other words, if we are stuck in a world of governments, the greater good is federalism.  I would rather have 50 separate rulers that each have a kingdom of 500 thousand to 38 million people than one supreme ruler that dictates the lives of 318 million people.

As much as I'd like to just ignore the evil doings of the criminals who presume to rule over me, I do so at my own peril.  If we want to fight back in the political arena, let's choose our battles wisely.  Individual libertarians can actually do something at the local level, whereas we have virtually zero control over what happens in the district of criminals.  So if we want to fight for marriage equality, or more precisely, the right of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts, then let's fight those laws where they exist.  If we find them at the city level, fight them there.  If they are at the county or state level, then bravely go forward into battle.  But if the struggle seems insurmountable, don't be so foolish as to celebrate when an even greater threat to liberty takes on your foe.  That hand may feed you today, but it will certainly strike you tomorrow.

A Dream for Soundbites

Do things have to always be so damn complicated?  It seems the prudent and principled libertarian is doomed to never accept simple, one word answers.  We can never say just "yes" or "no", it's always followed by a "but".  This isn't the result of a complex philosophy - what could be simpler than the self-evident proposition that individuals should control their own lives as long as they respect the rights of others?  Unfortunately, it's a result of the statist climate we live in, where every question seems to presuppose a government answer.  We're constantly asked the no-win question, "have you stopped beating your wife?"  While we carefully explain our position with logic and attention to detail, our opponents keep things simple by playing on the ignorance and desire for immediate gratification of the American boobousie.

As the nation collectively knee-jerks into total insanity by banning the confederate flag, even at relevant historic sites, we find ourselves in the same nuanced situation.  Libertarianism is the foremost philosophy against the evils of slavery and we obviously condemn the Confederacy for their crimes.  But the Civil War wasn't a fight over slavery, it was about secession.  The North invaded the South to prevent their independence, and we can only speculate into the realms of alternative history as to how things would have turned out if the slaves were freed at a different time and under different circumstances with the noble right of secession left unscathed.  Instead of an easy question such as, "are you against slavery", we ask the more complex question, "did the happy outcome of freeing the slaves outweigh losing the right to secession?"

There was a day when the phrase "I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it" was pure Americana.  Now things aren't so clear.  Rather than wanting to be free to exercise one's rights while respecting the rights of others, now serious talk is made of putting limitations on our rights to prevent hurt feelings of self-worth or entitlement.  In the era of victimhood, the desire for privileges to remedy some real or imagined inequity trumps all.

How ironic that during these side-show events with the SCOTUS ruling for same-sex marriage and the extreme PC battle against the confederate flag, the main event is getting the faintest attention.  Of course the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be passed by the Senate while the legacy media covers such critical news as the defacement of statues and changing the names of lakes.  After all, it's just a secret treaty that that will create an international governing body that, once created, will be a living thing - dictating laws to contracting nations just as the European Union forces policy on the nations of Europe.

Just as there was once a day long past when state sovereignty was respected and the constitution was a real barrier to the inclination to power in Washington, we may quickly be coming to a time when we will fondly remember the days when the Supreme Court made the laws for our nation - at least they claim to be American!  If our cries of righteous indignation barely register a whisper to our elected representatives at the federal level, what hope do we have as we transition to a regional government, let alone a world government?

Conclusion

As much as I'd be delighted to celebrate a victory without reservation, we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture.  It's not enough to simply support every event that claims to be a win for liberty, we must ensure that the means by which it is achieved is also aligned with our best interest.  If given a devil's choice between a world government with a "libertarian" dictator and what we have today, I'd begrudgingly but wisely side with the latter.  Hayek showed us why "the worst get on top", and once a governmental mechanism is created it is nearly impossible to dismantle.  Like some suicidal robot programmed for destruction, the benevolent dictatorship will attract every form of sociopath who will attempt to seize those reigns of power.  If history is to be our guide, whenever this happens hundreds of millions die as a result.

Let's be smarter than that.  We cannot accept the easy victory on a minor battle when it ensures that we will lose the war.  In a world full of competing states, the crafty libertarian learns to pit his enemies against each other.  While we unambiguously denounce all forms of force and violence against the innocent, we learn to make unlikely alliances to fight the greatest evil: the nation over the world government, the state over the nation, the city over the state, and most importantly, the individual over them all.

5/28/2015

In Defense of the Worst Libertarians


Search for the "worst types" of conservatives or liberals and you'll find just what you expect, the blue team attacking the red team, and vice versa.  It makes logical sense, likely born out of an instinct to distrust and fight the neighboring tribe.  Rather than look for complex answers to the question of why a world with such technological wonders can be so screwed up, it's easier to blame the other team for not voting the right way.

Alas, libertarians don't have it so easy.  We lack a consistent 49% to 51% voting bloc, creating a constant tug-of-war with friends and family split evenly down the middle.  Libertarians see the rulers, the ones who weld a monopoly of violence, against everyone else.  It's not the left vs. the right; it's all of us vs. the State.

But the State is so abstract, so far way.  Few of us have the opportunity to be in contact with a real "enemy" - a Bush or a Clinton or a Rockefeller.  We need closer, more tangible enemies to explain our own shortcomings.  So maybe that explains articles like this, The Top 10 Worst Kinds of Libertarians, written by a libertarian who purports to examine our faults as a movement so that we can be more successful.  If our enemies are ignoring us, we might as well attack each other.

Full disclosure: I identify with more than half of these categories, so I must be the worst of the worst.  I was hoping for a perfect 10, but I don't consider myself to be a creeper, a jerk, or a bigot - so that knocks me down to 7.  When it comes to smoking pot, I abstain not because "libertarians must point out the negatives of drugs", but because drugs are a trap set by the government to make you a slave, so that puts me at a solid 6.

There are two ways to respond to this article.  The first is by dismissal by pointing out what libertarianism is: a philosophy concerned with the permissible use of violence.  While some believe that social contracts or special costumes grant the ability to initiate violent acts against the innocent, libertarians believe that all such aggressions are illegitimate.  As Lysander Spooner wrote, the government is worse than a highwayman. Rothbard identified the State as a gang of thieves writ large.  So what is the point of calling out those of us that are jerks, pot-smokers, or "anti-science"?  These attributes have nothing to do with our core philosophy.  A libertarian can be a church-going social conservative or a drug addicted atheist philanderer; abide by the Non-Aggression Principle and both are equally libertarian.

However, I find myself in the unique position to relish scoring a 6 out of 10, so rather than dismiss the article, I'll defend the "worst libertarians".  While these are characteristics that have nothing to do with being a libertarian, I wear them like a badge of honor.  Not only that, but it's not often that I find so many of my favorite fallacies contained in a single article, so for that alone I am grateful to the author.

In Defense of Conspiracy Theorists


Starting at the very top, the #1 worst kind of libertarian is the "conspiracy theorist".  We can answer this charge merely by defining our terms.  A conspiracy theory is a hypothesis that two or more people secretly did something illegal.  Unbelievable!  Yes, libertarians may believe that aggressive violence is impermissible, thereby relegating all coercive acts of government as illegitimate, but accuse them of secretly doing something illegal?  What kind of monster are you?

In all seriousness, it's one thing to use the term "conspiracy theory" in a derogatory way when the CIA first "weaponized" the term in the 1960's.  There is no excuse when it is 50 years later and there are dozens of declassified, main line "conspiracy theories", from the Gulf of Tonkin attack that never happened to the NSA's illegal spying which continues to this day.  A person who is awake to libertarianism but brushes off conspiracy theories as preposterous must be pitied; the mental gymnastics required to hold such contradictory views must cause the most painful cognitive dissonance.

With all due sympathy to the author, let's review the patently lame arguments he presents against conspiracies:
"It is truly amazing that the same types of people who believe that the government is far too inept to plan a central economic structure think highly enough of that same bureaucracy to surmise that state actors could orchestrate a full-scale ruse upon the public.  There is a simple line of thought that destroys nearly every conspiracy theory ever to exist: if this were ever to happen, it would necessitate the involvement of hundreds, if not thousands of individuals; for the conspiracy to go unnoticed, not one of those parties involved could ever reveal the slightest hint.  Furthermore, there would be millions, if not billions of dollars in media waiting for someone who would break such a story."
There are three false arguments here, and unfortunately, they are the same ones I've seen countless times before.  The first, however, is unique in that you only hear it from fellow libertarians and fiscal conservatives.  It comes down to this: how can the government be incompetent in one area (central planning), but clever in another area (conspiracies).

However, this question just highlights a subtle but important point in the case against central economic planning.  The problem is not that the individuals attempting to orchestrate the central plan aren't clever - the problem is they are trying to make decisions without the benefit of the pricing system.  No individual, group of individuals, or even a super computer could direct scarce goods and resources to their optimum place in space and time as well as the pricing system, which coordinates all mankind's true preferences as expressed by their choice to buy or not buy in a global marketplace.

This is really the same fallacy that Hayek describes in Chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom, "Why the Worst Get on Top".  Hayek's point is that whatever the character of the dictator, angelic or demonic, incompetent or clever, the mission of central planning is doomed from the start.  Hayek's great insight is that when the carefully laid plans of the czars inevitably result in shortages and surpluses, shoes without laces and cars without wheels, the economic dictator will come to a decision point: "assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans", such that "the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure".

The reason the government cannot plan a central economic structure also explains why we can expect increasingly immoral and corrupt individuals to be the ones governing.  While those in the market economy are busy specializing in their profession, be it art, athletics, or business, those in government are specializing in how to govern: how to achieve power and stay in power through whatever means necessary.  They specialize in the art of blackmail, bribes, back-room deals, insider trading, and all forms of violence and corruption.  Do not confuse the State's inability to centrally plan the economy with inexperience in orchestrating a "full-scale ruse", several wars founded on lies that have killed millions of innocents and continue to this day should be evidence enough of this fact.

The second fallacy comes straight from talking point number 4 part C of the declassified CIA Dispatch 1035-960: a conspiracy would require too many people, and someone would talk.  But even since the 1960s the answer to this misbelief hasn't changed: it's called compartmentalization and the most obvious example is the Manhattan Project.  It was October 9th of 1941 when President Roosevelt approved the atomic program, and it wasn't until the bombings of 1945 that the 100,000 people involved in the program even knew what they were a part of.  As written in a 1945 Life article, "[p]robably no more than a few dozen men in the entire country knew the full meaning of the Manhattan Project, and perhaps only a thousand others even were aware that work on atoms was involved."

However, compartmentalization only answers the question of how hundreds or thousands of people could work on something "like moles in the dark" and not be aware of the end result, there would still be some people that would know the truth.  The answer to this belief that "someone would talk" is to point out… people have talked!  One doesn't have to look any farther than Sibel Edmonds, the "most gagged person in American history".  But she's just one notable example in the 9/11 Truth Movement.  There are hundreds of professionals in the military, intelligence service, and the government, as well as architects, engineers, and pilots who question the "conspiracy theory" put out by the government in favor of a different conspiracy - and that includes the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission Report!

Ah, but what about the millions and billions of dollars in media just waiting for the right gumshoe reporter to break the story?  Again, maybe this type of argument would work for mainline republicans or democrats who religiously watch MSNBC or Fox News, but is this really supposed to speak to libertarians?  In a world where all major media outlets are owned by 6 corporations with intimate ties to the military industrial complex, does this argument even deserve a response?  Perhaps the author just recently became a libertarian and is unfamiliar with the media's coordinated treatment of a certain libertarian congressman from Texas during his presidential runs of 2008 and 2012.  Ultimately, the best person to respond to this would be Gary Webb, who was a true believer in the media until his exposé of CIA drug running caused his entire profession to turn against him.  He realized his prior success was an illusion, because in all his previous works he "hadn't written anything important enough to suppress".

In Defense of Purists


More horrifying than creepers, jerks and even bigots is the dreaded "purist", coming in as the #2 worst kind of libertarian.  According to the author, the libertarian purist drops a turd in the punch bowl just to ruin the party.  This contrarian by nature compares libertarian credentials as an "artificial contest" simply for the perverse goal of sabotaging the movement.  There is no "perfect libertarian", so the author says we should welcome a broad group of individuals as long as they are "willing to lessen the size and scope of government", "willing to defeat government overreach", "reduce taxes and keep government accountable", or have the correct positions on spending and surveillance.

Interesting that when offering various criteria that could be used to judge one's libertarian credentials the author never speaks the words of the twin pillars supporting our entire philosophy: Self-Ownership and the Non-Aggression Principle.  Reducing taxes and the scope of government may be positions compatible with libertarianism, but they certainly do not define it.  Our philosophy is not a random hodgepodge of political issues that change with the wind.  We have something much stronger, much more beautiful than that.

So what would a "perfect libertarian" be in theory?  Here's an answer: someone who believes in these two foundational principles and uses perfect logic to apply them to every issue pertaining to the use of violence in society.  This person may have unimpeachable libertarian credentials and yet could be a far stretch from being a perfect human being.  This duality of being a perfect libertarian but a flawed person is entirely consistent when libertarianism is defined within its proper scope.  It has nothing to say about whether people should be charitable or stingy, accepting or intolerant, egalitarian or elitist.  This is the heart of why libertarianism can reach such a diversity of people: refrain from initiating violence against the innocent and you can live your life as you see fit.

So there you have it, three cheers for the purists!  It is a title to which we should all aspire.  It is especially important when all kinds of bizarre distinctions are being thrown around which try to expand libertarianism beyond its function.  "Thick vs Thin", "sophists vs brutalists", there are even those who purport to combine libertarianism with goals of social justice and somehow arrive at supporting a government mandated minimum wage!  For those that have such goals, fine, let's form alliances and work together on issues with which we find common agreement, but the purists must ensure those individuals do not abuse the term libertarian and distort our message.  Someone must be the vanguard against those that are hopelessly confused or actively trying to subvert our cause.

In reality, there are very few issues that cause serious disagreement among libertarians.  Every Libertarian Party national convention highlights the two biggest ones: minarchism vs. anarchism and abortion.  The LP's model for handling this difference of opinion is one that should be followed.  Whether one wishes for a night-watchman state limited to purely defensive services or goes bravely forward to a full-blown anarcho-capitalist utopia free from any organization with a monopoly of violence, both sides can agree that we are so radically far from both of those end-states that we might as well work together and settle our differences once we're there.  Hence, the Dallas Accord is a tacit agreement from the LP's founding that all statements in our platform will be sufficiently vague to satisfy both anarchists and minarchists.  For instance, we may say there is a maximum role for government in offering defensive services, which logically allows for a minimum role of government that does not exist.  The LP platform makes the same principled compromise on abortion, simply stating that since libertarians of good faith will forever disagree on this issue, we can at least agree that government should be kept out of the matter and move forward from there.

Stick to the Non-Aggression Principle and keep an open mind to those rare cases where libertarians can make passionate arguments on both sides.  For those that hold positions totally inimical to the N.A.P, then let's enlist them in our "liberty friendly" alliance and make progress towards common goals.  That is a recipe for big-tent libertarianism and success.

In Defense of the Hard Core


Using terminology straight from the lexicon of what Tom Woods would call the gate-keepers of allowable opinion, "Neo-Confederates" are listed as the fourth worst type of libertarian, and "civil disobedience warriors" take the #7 slot.  The author states that there is no libertarian reason to defend the confederacy because the CSA was not itself libertarian.  When it comes to those that "endanger one’s own life and liberty to protest" minor laws that appear to be just, those that are sent to jail are " being in fact not principled, but selfish in their pursuits of liberty and justice".

How could a libertarian defend the wicked "neo-confederates"?  Simple, first unask the leading question and examine what libertarians are really supporting: the right of secession.  After we abandon the convenient myth that the Civil War was fought over slavery and accept that the southerners and northerners were both guilty of many crimes, first of those being slavery, we have a simple decision to make.  Can you defend the right of secession even if you don't agree with the culture of the seceding group, or do you throw your lot in with the invading army?  Put another way, do you have the courage to defend the freedom of speech from a group who has terribly nasty things to say, even if they are racist or sexist? Do you have the conviction to defend the rights of religious fundamentalists not to bake a cake, even if their refusal is based on homophobia?

These are serious questions.  It's easy to talk about standing up for people's rights when everyone agrees with how they are exercised; it's much harder to defend unpopular speech and politically incorrect decisions.  This is the difficult but logical consequence of the Non-Aggression Principle.  We libertarians have plenty of potential responses to vices, but violence isn't one of them.  If the author of the "worst libertarians" list can't even muster the imagination to foresee this argument, then no wonder he takes such a bizarre stance as to call the "civil disobedience warriors" selfish for sacrificing their liberty in defiance of unjust laws, or as he would smugly call it, "rabble-rousing".

Just think of how far we've come, from a nation of rugged individualists who were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for their cause, to these nervous nellies that are terrified to plainly state their beliefs in the fear of hurting someone's feelings. Lysander Spooner showed the way: he wrote and spoke and used every medium he could to spread a bold and unflinching libertarian message, he engaged in civil disobedience to the point of conspiring in support of slave rebellions, and he was one of the strongest supporters for the south's right to secede.

The fact of the matter is that we need libertarians of all kinds, armchair intellectuals and hard-core activists.  Some people just don't find the same pleasure in debating the exotic cases of libertarian thought as others do, they want to see action, to feel like they are doing something to make a difference.  Someone who is ready to "walk the walk" will do far more to get people out of their comfort zones and motivate the kind of action we need than those that just talk.  After all, our great conclusion is that the State is nothing more than a gang of thieves, so what better way to teach this lesson than to show that all of its dictates, even the most minor infractions, are ultimately backed up by the real threat of kidnapping, imprisonment, and death.  This is the bizarre "social contract" we've signed, and we owe a debt to the "civil disobedience warriors" for reminding us of this unfortunate fact.

Conclusion

Should libertarians be conspiracy theorists, purists, or civil disobedience warriors?  There is a time and place for everything.  When running as a candidate for the Libertarian Party, one is there to represent libertarianism, not to promote 9/11 truth, the benefits of a Paleo Diet, or a love of juggling because libertarianism, as rightly defined, is neither here nor there on these issues.  So while libertarianism has nothing to say as to whether or not you should subscribe to conspiracy theories, question government funded science, or long for a world where the noble right of secession was not cursed with the connection of slavery, I for one think libertarians would benefit from being open to these ideas.

Just as conspiracy theorists that don't have an understanding of libertarianism and Austrian economics could be led down the false path of the Zeitgeist movement, those that are confined within a "range of allowable opinion" that stops thought like a shock collar whenever terms like "conspiracy theory", "anti-science", "neo-confederates", or other derogative terms are used will not appreciate the full scope of the challenge we face.  If you can be scared out of these opinions, you can be scared out of any principled libertarian stance, and we desperately need those brave enough to defend the undefendable.

It comes down to this; people are not the same and will respond to different messages.  For many, an unapologetic and fiery defense of freedom will inspire hearts and minds where a half-measured wet-noodle libertarianism will fail.  Some may first start down the rabbit hole via research into a particular conspiracy theory, and when confronted with a problem without a solution, will then stumble upon the glories of libertarianism.  Thus, we need libertarians well versed in conspiracy research just as we need purists and "civil disobedience warriors" that will energize our movement with the boldness of their words and deeds.  We probably even need those like the author who sit safely in the camp of government-approved libertarians, as people like him may spark a small flame in the minds of those who would otherwise be quickly scared off from a libertarian message revealed too boldly in all its consistency and implications.  But if that flame is to grow, than we must be open to the full expression of the libertarian message, not spending time writing half of us off on "the worst" lists.

3/31/2015

A Private Murder and a Public Genocide


A multi-millionaire, New York City real estate mogul's wife goes missing.  Friends and family suspect foul play, but the case gathers dust as a missing person mystery never to be solved.  Twenty years later, a stool pigeon reignites the authorities' interest in the disappearance, this time setting their eyes on the husband who just might have gotten away with murder.  The couple's former house is swept for clues, divers search the lake for a body, and just days before the primary person of interest can be interviewed for the first time - unbelievably - she is executed at point blank range in her home at the opposite end of the country.

Less than a year later, the man that was suspected but never charged with committing two murders is arrested for dismembering his elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas.  He's caught red-handed, with knives and saws in the back seat of his car.  Without realizing the true identity of their suspect, the police grant him a $250,000 bail, which is promptly paid the next day.  He goes on the run, a nationwide man-hunt is issued, and he's busted for stealing a chicken salad sandwich with $500 cash in his pocket.

This is story of Robert Durst - so sensational, so bizarre, that it proves the idiom "truth is stranger than fiction".  Of course it became the subject of a major motion picture, and that's when things took another unexpected turn.  Apparently Durst was so moved by the film that he contacted the director, Andrew Jarecki, and asked him if he'd be interested in interviewing him and working together on another project.  That was the beginning of The Jinx, which was a word Durst used to describe himself when asked why he was adamant about not having children, and in retrospect of his perfectly timed arrest on the eve of the season finale, it's a fitting title for many of his inexplicable actions.

For countless viewers, The Jinx has set a new standard in the young genre of confronting suspected killers in the documentary form.  For many, there's nothing like it: a chronicle of 3 murders over 4 decades with the assistance of the suspect himself.  Key information is revealed throughout each episode, culminating in a shocking pseudo-admission when Durst forgets about his microphone while in the bathroom.  "What the hell did I do?  Killed them all, of course."  Jaws drop, ratings soar!  It's received coverage on every major publication, and undoubtedly, the trial will consume media attention for months to come.

While there are plenty of haters, kudos to director Andrew Jarecki and producer Marc Smerling.  They smelled their rat and followed it through, potentially bringing a murderer to justice while creating a truly engaging and unforgettable television experience in the process.  They couldn't have invented a more perfect villain: a guy that was born into millions of dollars and got away with admittedly chopping up his neighbor into little pieces.  In the era of the 99% and an unhealthy focus on income inequality, it's hard to say which is the bigger crime - but with Durst we get the perfect combination of both.

However, for all the press this event is receiving, and giving fair credit to The Jinx for a job well done, this reminds me of another documentary that exposed crimes far greater by orders of magnitude, and yet, got a fraction of the coverage.  Not only that, but while Mr. Durst was accidentally recorded while talking to himself in the privacy of a bathroom, which is hardly equivalent to a true confession, this other documentary is overflowing with footage of individuals bragging about killing hundreds of people.  In one case, a triple homicide suspect is swiftly brought to trial, but in the other, the criminals continue to not just roam, but rule the streets with impunity.  Why the double standard?  What's the lesson to be learned?  Perhaps Mr. Durst's real crime was murdering without a government uniform.

The Act of Killing

"In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military.
Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese.

In less than a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million "communists" were murdered.
The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings.
These men have been in power - and have persecuted their opponents - ever since.

When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did.
To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever ways they wished.
This film follows that process, and documents its consequences."
These are the opening words to The Act of Killing, the only historical background we are given to a genocide that claimed 500,000 to 3 million lives in a single year.  With the most widely accepted estimate at half a million deaths, it didn't pass the threshold to be included in Rummel's catalog of democides, Death By Government.  With the United States merely supporting the Indonesian government with money and weapons as part of its overall anti-communist policy, but not actively orchestrating the overthrow of their government, the military counter-coup did not make Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow.  Not only has this event gone down the memory hole in the western world, but the events of 1965-1966 are a forgotten page in the Indonesian history books as well.  This is the reason Joshua Oppenheimer went to Indonesia - to meet with the survivors and document the genocide so that it can be rightly included with the other great sins of the 21st century.  However, there was one problem with this approach: the people that committed the genocide are still in power, ruling their victims by fear and terrorizing them from speaking out.  When it seemed that the government would be successful in preventing their story from being told, the survivors gave Oppenheimer one last request: go interview the killers and the executioners, see if they will talk to you.  He did so, and it resulted in arguably the most unique, powerful, and universally important documentary… ever.


Ever?  A case could be made, not because of the importance of the genocide itself, but because Oppenheimer has done something totally unprecedented and amazing in the history of film.  He was able to capture government murderers bragging about their horrendous crimes while still in power.  It's like a real-life House of Cards; like footage from a Man in the High Castle parallel-world with Nazi's bragging about carrying out the holocaust with the smug assurance that nothing will ever be done about it because they won the war.

These people are free, heroes in their country, totally sanctioned by their government, media, and history books - and yet they brutally killed hundreds of people by their own hands.  It can't be overstated enough - they were complicit in the murders of thousands, tens of thousands, likely over 2 million collectively, and they brag about it!  With the innocence and naiveté of a child, the leading subject of the film, executioner Anwar Congo, will demonstrate how he was inspired by American gangster movies to pioneer a cleaner and more efficient way of killing people by strangling them with wire, and in the next moment he'll show off his dancing ability with the cha-cha-cha.  It's absolutely surreal, and Anwar's Jekyll / Hyde persona is perfectly contrasted with fellow executioner Adi Zulkadry, who, rather than being a strange and inexplicable figure, is someone we know all too well.


Anwar and Adi: Reflections of the Statist Mind

As Oppenheimer has explained in several interviews, The Act of Killing is made possible by Anwar Congo's willingness to explore the crimes of his past to satisfy his conscience.  Anwar suffers from nightmares; he sees the open eyes of the people he killed, their ghosts haunting his dreams.  If Anwar can create a "beautiful family film", then maybe he can finally justify his actions and bring closure to his guilt and suffering.  It's a logical goal, as there are dozens of films that try to paint the ugly truths of war and violence as beautiful and heroic every year, some of them winning prestigious awards.

Anwar ultimately expresses guilt and takes some responsibility for his actions while simultaneously maintaining that "he did what he had to do", but fellow executioner Adi Zulkadry holds no such incompatible delusions.  If Anwar represents the American vet suffering from PTSD, ashamed and conflicted with the crimes he committed while "serving his country", then Adi is the stalwart officer of the law, 100% committed to his justifications and convinced that he was "only doing his job".  Combined, they represent the range of the statist mindset.  Neither of them can ever truly face the reality of their crimes: the fact that a government uniform did not alter the morality of their acts by one iota.  But on one extreme, Anwar is at least conflicted and suffers guilt, even although he does not understand it.  On the other end, Adi is a Javert like character that has accepted every statist lie and has nowhere else to go in this life.

The interplay between Anwar and Adi makes for some of the most memorable moments in the film.  When Anwar discusses his nightmares, suggesting that they are caused by the people he strangled, Adi will hear none of it.  "You feel haunted because your mind is weak", he tells Anwar.  According to Adi, they have nothing to feel sorry about, so all he needs to do is meet with a neurologist, get a prescription for "nerve vitamins", and he'll be a true believer once again.  Adi explains his ability to accept his acts without remorse or regret in a chillingly straightforward way:
"Killing is the worst crime you can do.  So the key is to find a way not to feel guilty.  It's all about finding the right excuse.

For example, if I'm asked to kill someone, if the compensation is right, then of course I'll do it, and from one perspective it's not wrong.  That's the perspective we must make ourselves believe.  After all, morality is relative."
Throughout the film, Anwar demonstrates that he does not agree with Adi's belief in relative morality.  When visiting the site where he tortured and killed hundreds of people, he is overcome with emotion, saying, "I know it was wrong - but I had to do it." He has a physical reaction, throwing up a little, and continues, "Why did I have to kill them?  I had to kill… My conscience told me they had to be killed."  In this instance he confuses his conscience with his friends in government and the Pancasila Youth - they were the ones that painted the "communists" as savages and sub-humans that deserved torture and death.  However, it is his recognition of the inherent immorality of his acts that allow him to identify the defining characteristic of government on par with the great Lysander Spooner:
"...Parliament should be the most noble place in society, but if we see what they do there, they're really just robbers with ties."
Yet again, Adi has a different perspective that reflects an attitude that is all too common in the west.  In one of Oppenheimer's most confrontational moments in the film, he asks Adi what he'd do if he was sent to the Hague and charged with war crimes.  The executioner responds indignantly:
"I don't necessarily agree with those international laws.  When Bush was in power, Guantanamo was right.  Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  That was right according to Bush, but now it's wrong.

The Geneva Convention may be today's morality, but tomorrow - we'll have the Jakarta Conventions and dump the Geneva Conventions.

'War Crimes' are defined by the winners.  I'm a winner.  So I can make my own definitions.  I needn't follow the international definitions."
When John Oliver interviewed Oppenheimer on the Daily Show, he specifically referred to this scene, saying, "You can't argue with him".  Well of course you can!  But if you did, you'd be forced to confront Adi's ugly truth.  A more honest statement from Oliver would be that you can't logically denounce the mass killings in Indonesia while justifying the crimes of other nations like the United States, such as dropping atomic bombs on civilian cities, killing 500,000 children through sanctions, or torturing sheepherders in Guantanmo Bay.  In both instances, actions that would be deemed as wrong by an objective moral code are dressed in the cloak of "authority" and magically change their moral status.  The only difference is that we can't accept the authority of the Indonesian government when viewed through Oppenheimer's lens.  Lucky for the libertarian viewer, there are several other learning opportunities in The Act of Killing that demonstrate the true nature of government.

A Look Behind the Curtain: The Nature of Government

One of the most eccentric characters in The Act of Killing is Herman Koto, a gangster who spent his entire life in the ranks of the Pancasila Youth paramilitary organization.  A large man with a simple mind and a penchant for cross-dressing, Herman is as brutal of a killer as any and takes his directorial duties very seriously, second only to Anwar.  So it seemed too good to be true when Herman Koto decided to run for parliament because he's "well known".  Three cheers to Oppenheimer, the few minutes of the film covering Herman's campaign didn't move the story of the 1965 genocide, but it does offer the clearest and most honest insight into the mind of a politician outside of the fictional series House of Cards.


Once Herman dresses up for campaign photos and plasters his image all over his campaign car, he's ready to shake hands and kiss babies.  After practicing his best Obama impression, he rides down the street, yelling "Long live the Businessmen and Workers Party!  I am Herman - ready to fight for worker's rights!"  But in the next scene he reveals his real ambitions for elected office.  Herman explains:
"If I get elected and get on the Building Commission - I can get money from everyone.  For example, if a building is 10 cm too small, I can demand "Tear down the building!"

They'll say, "Please don't report us, Here's your money"

Even if nothing's wrong with the building, if I threaten them they'll give me money anyway.

Not just a little money, in a block of 10 buildings if each pays $10,000, just do the math - that's already $100,000.  That's only one neighborhood!"
The Act of Killing doesn't just show the true motivation behind code enforcement, it also tackles eminent domain.  Haji Anif, a paramilitary leaders and businessmen, looks across his vast acreage of land and explains that he gave it to the birds because it makes him happy.  To show what a clever and powerful man he is, he explains how he got the land:
"Everybody's terrified of the paramilitaries… When a businessman wants land where people are living , if he just pays for it, it's expensive.  But we can solve his problem.  Because people are terrified of us, when we show up - they say, 'just take the land.  Pay what you like.'"
What refreshing honesty!  Who needs libertarian class analysis with such candid political elites?  For all the horror and the trauma that the Indonesian people have been through, at least they can clearly identify their enemies.  In these moments, The Act of Killing highlights many of Hoppe's arguments in Democracy: The God that Failed, as a government this openly corrupt doesn't suffer from the army of useful idiots parroting "we are the government".  That said, there is at least one moment in the film when a government official thinks he may have gone too far and considers his public image.  Before filming the attack on Kampung Kolam, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sport Sakhyan Asmara makes a special appearance to give the actors a pep talk, and before long he's in the middle of a foaming-at-the-mouth blood rage.  "Crush the comments!  Wipe them out!  Slaughter them!  Kill them all!  Don't let any escape!  Take no prisoners!  Destroy them all!  Burn down their houses!  Kill the communists!  Chop them up!  Burn them!  Kill them all!"  It's pretty intense, so Sakhyan Asmara decides to give a disclaimer:
"Now I'm speaking as a leader of Pancasila Youth.  What we've just shown is not characteristic of our organization.  We shouldn't look brutal, like we want to drink people's blood.  That's dangerous for our organization's image.  But we must exterminate the communists.  We must totally wipe them out - but in a more humane way."
So there we have it.  When it comes to official government policy, it's important to be humane when you kill a million or so people.  This is the primary reason why the Indonesian government requires paramilitaries like Pancasila Youth.  By all objective accounts they certainly meet the criteria of the state; they are an integral part of the "monopoly of violence".  They kill, rob, shake-down, and commit all sorts of other crimes with total impunity.  Not only do they receive privileges usually reserved for government enforcers, but top members of the government are also members of Pancasila Youth!  But just in case any "uncharacteristic" event spins out of control they always have plausible deniability.  Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla, explains the importance of Pancasila Youth this way:
"The spirit of Pancasila Youth, which people accuse of being gangsters...  Gangsters are people who work outside the system - not for the government.

The word 'gangster' comes from 'free men'.  This nation needs 'free men'!

If everyone worked for the government - we'd be a nation of bureaucrats, we'd get nothing done.  We need gangsters to get things done."
If there was ever a reason to take a step back and consider the pros and cons of Obama's call for a civilian security force, this would probably be it.


Conclusion

The Act of Killing brings about such a sense of unease in the viewer because it goes to the heart of a commonly promoted superstition: that the human species is going ever onward and upwards - righting wrongs, learning from mistakes, and making progress.  Footage of Nazi's bragging about their crimes wouldn't elicit the same reaction, the take away would be that they lost the war because they were evil and got what they deserved in Nuremburg.  But here you have to contend with an unjust world, one where a group of mass-murdering gangsters won control over their government, put down their opposition, controls the masses through fear and propaganda, and are still in charge today.  It is a film that shows that crime pays - only if the crime is big enough.

Inevitably, having to contend with this reality begs the question - if the Indonesians still live in a country ruled by mass-murderers and brainwashed with a corrupt media that portrays villains as heroes - what can I say for sure about my own government?  Is it possible my "duly elected leaders" have the same contempt for me?  In this way Oppenheimer is able to open a window into the true nature of government for anyone watching it - regardless of what country they come from.  A Stockholm Syndrome defense mechanism would kick in if you showed someone a film attacking his own government; all the years of childhood indoctrination ensures that one can always double-think out of any unpatriotic thought.  But the Act of Killing lowers those defenses, it captures the imagination by showing a world far removed from our day to day life, and the anxiety we feel when watching it is a long-dormant moral compass awakening and challenging the inherent illogic of living in a modern state.

The Jinx may be a ratings success for HBO, and undoubtedly the trial of Robert Durst will receive significant airplay for months to come, but in the end, Durst is a sloppy piker compared to the likes of Anwar Congo.  Sure he's got millions of dollars, but what is that compared to the power of government?  What are 3 murders compared to a genocide of 3 million?  If the answer is "a million times worse", then shouldn't Oppenheimer's masterpiece still be receiving the attention it deserves?  Unfortunately, The Act of Killing's temporary rise and fall just goes to show that when it comes to judging the importance of a murder, the most important criteria is whether or not it was done with the authority of the state.

2/02/2015

Secession, Slavery and the Civil War: Causation, Correlation or Mass Confusion?


The Ludwig von Mises Institute recently hosted their annual get together in Houston on the heroically controversial theme of secession.  Mises Institute President Jeff Deist opened the morning with a speech advising us to secede in our local capacity, starting at the individual level.  Dr. Brian McClanahan detailed America's rich history of secession, from the 13 colonies' war of secession from Great Britain to Texas' war of secession against Mexico.  Lew Rockwell contrasted the rich libertarian history of secession to the regime libertarians' knee-jerk reaction to such an unapproved opinion.  After lunch, New York Times best-selling author Tom Woods highlighted the absurdity of viewing secession as blasphemous while the decision to kill half a million children is a matter of public policy.  Finally, Dr. Ron Paul closed out the afternoon by speaking of secession as just one tool to be used in the greater contest for liberty.

It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with so many like-minded people from all over the country that chose to travel long distances for a one-day seminar on a topic that is viewed by the mainstream as antiquated and unorthodox at best.  In retrospect, the most amazing part of the event is how we were able to have a rational, thoughtful dialogue on this topic without ever bringing up the elephant in the room: slavery and the civil war.  It's like we all took it for granted that everyone was familiar with the works of authors like DiLorenzo and didn't need to rehash the history taught in public schools that Lincoln heroically fought the civil war to free the slaves and save the Union against the traitorous secessionists of the South.  We didn't need to waste time analyzing that myth; we could immediately jump to more productive and enlightening dialogue.

However, the sad reality many of us faced traveling home was that it is nearly impossible to continue that rational conversation on the merits and challenges of secession with most of our coworkers, friends and family.  Raise the specter of secession and the Pavlovian responses of "racism", "slavery" and even "neo-confederate" predictably follow.  But what else should we expect in a society with 12+ years of government indoctrination and a mainstream media that foams at the mouth and is undeniably dishonest when someone has the gall to question the necessity of the war considering that slavery was peaceably ended in every other country without requiring the loss of 620,000 lives and billions in damages and debt.

The civil war was fought to free the slaves.  The secessionists were traitors.  These are the commonly held myths we must dismantle before the rest of society can join us in a reasonable and common-sense discussion on the right of secession.

Why was the Civil War fought?

The government-approved history of the Civil War goes something like this: the Southern states illegally seceded from the United States to protect their institution of slavery.  This prompted a Civil War, causing a tremendous loss of life and property on both sides, but ultimately ending with Lincoln fulfilling his quest by preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.

This narrative may seem undisputable but it suffers from fatal errors once you scratch the surface.  On the first point concerning the cause of secession there is no major disagreement.  While the Southern states did have grievances against the Federal Government like protective tariffs that unfairly benefited the North at the expense of the South, the major reason cited in the state's secession documents was the issue of slavery.  Thomas Fleming's A Disease in the Public Mind points to the colliding forces of unrelenting abolitionism in the North and the South's fear of a race war which made it impossible to find an agreeable end to the system of slavery.

So while seven of the Southern states seceded over the slavery issue, the reason for the war given by Lincoln himself was not slavery, but to prevent secession.  As Lincoln repeatedly said,
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."
Lincoln made this point numerous times such that it cannot be directly challenged by regime historians, but what happens instead is a logical fallacy built under the guise of the familiar mathematical axiom that if a = b and b = c, then a = c.  In other words, "if the cause of secession was slavery, and to prevent secession was the reason for the war, then the reason for the war was slavery".  This may seem a trivial point, but it is imperative that the undisputed good of ending slavery is not used to cloud our judgment when considering the true motivations for the ugly and brutal war that preceded it.  Any fantasy that the North was fighting a war of racial justice must be dismantled so that we can objectively look at the agreed upon reason for the war, secession, in an unbiased light.

First of all, if the Civil War was about slavery, why would there have been 7 slave states that stayed loyal to the Union while the Confederacy was formed?  The fact is, the people of the North were largely no better or even worse than the southerners when it came to racial equality.  The Northerners enforced fugitive slave laws, kept child slaves for 25+ years during manumission, denied free blacks suffrage, and generally did all they could to make their states white only.  Conversely, Fleming noted that only a small minority of Southern men owned slaves or otherwise had a direct financial incentive in the practice - so why would they fight over it and risk their lives and everything they owned?  The simple answer is they wouldn't.  So what would they fight for?  Of the seven slave states that originally stayed in the Union, four of those states only seceded after Lincoln had put out calls to raise an army of invasion and the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter.  If it war was over slavery, can we imagine that Lincoln would have called it quits if the seceded states had freed their slaves?  Of course not!  It wasn't slavery that drove Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee out; Lincoln made it clear he had no quarrel with that institution in any loyal state.  They joined the confederacy and fought out of disbelief that Lincoln would declare war and invade the southern states which they believed had every right to peaceably withdraw from their government, just as their great-grandfathers had done 90 years earlier from King George III.  It might have been slavery that prompted the first 7 states to leave, but that's not why 11 states fought a long and brutal war - they fought for self-government.

Unbelievably, it is the fine print of the Emancipation Proclamation itself that best shines a light on the dubious claim that Lincoln freed the slaves.  Proving Lincoln to be the master politician, that document only applied to the states in rebellion, specifically exempting the states that had stayed loyal! So the slaves that Lincoln had the power to free were to remain slaves, but he supposedly freed the slaves in states that had already left the Union and formed their own country.  H.L. Mencken said it best,
"Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah... An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run.  But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable - until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely running his way.  Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven."
Ultimately, there are many contending theories of precisely why the Federal government invaded the Confederacy.  While Thomas Fleming discusses the "diseases in the public mind" that fueled the Civil War, Thomas DiLorenzo unmasks the real Lincoln, showing how his ideology favoring a strong central state led him to launch an unnecessary and illegal war to destroy the doctrine of state's rights.  John Avery Emison takes just about everything we were taught about the Civil War and turns it on its head, first showing us that it would be more accurate to call it America's second war of secession, and from there demonstrating how our first "total war" paved the way for the horrors of the 20th century's world wars and set the precedent for the most egregious violations of federal power today.  As if it couldn't get any worse, John Graham makes the case that it wasn't historical accidents that caused the War for Southern Independence, but "antagonisms… deliberately agitated during the 1850s by great international banking houses with a preconceived motive of provoking secession" to generate unpayable debts and establish the financial empire that still rules this country.  Regardless of these various theories, we should all be able to agree with Walter Williams when he unequivocally states, the Civil War wasn't about slavery.

Were the Secessionists traitors?


With the end of slavery properly understood as a happy by-product of the Civil War, but not at all the reason that 620,000 fought and died, we can examine the legitimacy of the war through fresh eyes.  Was Lincoln justified in waging a war against the Confederacy to preserve the Union, and just what did he preserve?

First, it might be instructive to take a step back and examine the points made by Emison concerning just what we should call this decisive event in American history.  Unlike the civil war in Spain, the American Civil War was not a battle of two competing factions fighting for control over a common central government.  The Southern states had no dictates to the North, no terms other than to be left alone.  Jefferson Davis even sent a peace delegation to promote friendly ties between the two countries, which Lincoln refused to see.  So what do we call a war when one side has formally withdrawn and entered into a state of self-government and the other side invades that country to bring it into submission?  A war of independence or a war for secession certainly fits the historical circumstances better than a civil war.

At this point our government indoctrination might be kicking in - am I possibly making the argument that the traitorous South had the moral high ground in this war, the exact opposite of what the victorious Federal Government has led us to believe?  Indeed, Murray Rothbard concluded that there are only two American wars that have met the criteria for a "just war", that being the first war of secession against Great Britain, and the second war of secession of the Southern states.

But how could this be?  The Southern states seceded for slavery, the act of depriving individuals from exercising their free will, one of the greatest crimes that man can commit.  Doesn't this fact tarnish secession?  But consider the reverse scenario.  If secession is to be judged by the worst vices of those that endorsed it, shouldn’t we also look at the crimes of those that did not believe in secession but instead in an all-powerful central government?  Adolf Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf that secession was illegal because "it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states."  Similarly, the violence wrecked by omnipotent central governments that were no fans of secession counts some 200 million dead in the 20th century alone.


Rather than only focusing on the worst qualities of those that believed in secession, let's recall that one of our most famous founding fathers was explicitly in favor of secession and nullification to combat the growth of centralized government in the Principles of '98.  Thomas Jefferson postulated that it was "not very important to the happiness of either part" of the country if the United States broke up.  In a live and let live fashion, he said that in separation "God bless them both, and keep them in the union if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better".

At the time Lincoln invaded the South there were five living ex-presidents, every one of which opposed the war in one way or another.  Some did not agree with the decision to secede and did their best to convince the Southern states to remain in the Union, but they ultimately believed in the right of secession.  After all, Vermont seceded from New York, Texas seceded from Mexico, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War itself.  And as previously mentioned, the United States itself seceded from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.  You'd think that would count for something.

Historical precedents aside, we can also look at this logically and constitutionally.  An established precedent of law is known as legislative entrenchment, meaning that what one legislative body has the power to do, another can do or undo.  A prior legislative body cannot rule from the grave and if the state legislature of 1787 has the power to ratify the constitution, so then can the state legislature of 1861 choose to repeal that ratification.  Indeed, Virginia's secession document explicitly stated it was a lawful repeal of the ratification of the Constitution.  Can we imagine that the 13 colonies, having just had their full sovereign nature individually acknowledged by Great Britain, really joined a union that they could never leave?  Every historical precedent from the federalist papers to the state ratifying conventions says otherwise.

The Southern states were not traitorous when they seceded; they had every right to do so.  The only traitor was Lincoln, who declared war without congressional approval and violated a hundred other constitutional provisions and laws of human decency in his battle to "preserve the Union".  He may have reclaimed the Southern states as captured provinces, but he certainly didn't preserve our republic.  What we had was a voluntary association of independent states united under the contract of the Constitution.  Lincoln's war of aggression most assuredly killed that system of government for all the states, replacing it with the federal leviathan that knows no boundaries and gives no thought to the consent of the governed.  He won the war and we still suffer the losses.

What is Secession?

Secession - it was the foundation of the American Revolution against King George III.  Even today, it is the most radical concept of the last 500 years.  As stated in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, when a government is destructive to the ends of the people that created it, it is their duty to institute a new government.  That wasn't an idle threat; secession is the means to do so.  It is the true enforcement mechanism to ensure that we have government by consent.

Just think of what a glorious preventative check the threat of secession is to the limitless goals of our federal masters.  Imagine the contrast with a "marriage union".  Even though it is a document signed "till death do us part", all modern states recognize the right of divorce, the equivalent of secession.  As Emison questioned, would an abusive husband treat his wife better or worse in a society where divorce was legal or illegal?  The question answers itself, and it also explains why the federal government is able to propose increasingly egregious legislation on battered, defenseless states that have nowhere to run and no hope of retaliation.

How bizarre that in a country founded on the principle of secession time has allowed this cornerstone of liberty and bedrock of freedom to be marginalized and disgraced.  After all, as Tom Woods noted in his speech at the Mises Circle, its practical effect is nothing more than to say, "maybe this imaginary line should be drawn up here instead of over there."

Lew Rockwell defined secession in more human terms, reminding us of the moral obligation we have to our fellow men and the responsibility we carry when we endorse our political agents to carry out violence in our name.  He summed up the the libertarian perspective this way:
"It is morally illegitimate to employ state violence against individuals who choose to group themselves differently from how the existing regime chooses to group them. They prefer to live under a different jurisdiction. Libertarians consider it unacceptable to aggress against them for this."
View the right of secession as a moral imperative to not aggress against others that want to go in peace.  Recognize the arbitrary nature of all government boundaries and the absurdity in going into hysterics if one of those lines should change.  Acknowledge secession as the foundation of this very country and think of how it could be a very realistic solution to the issues we face today.  But above all, rescue secession from the dustbin of history that ignorance has placed it.  Secession is a noble, practical and moral idea that deserves our attention and respect.

Conclusion


Around the world people want freedom and if they can't have that, a more representative government will do.  The CIA and military industrial complex provides us with all kinds of "approved" secessions and revolutions around the world from despots who have inexplicably leaped from the ally to the enemy category - but dare suggest that Texas may be better of seceding if the federal government continues its unsustainable path, or that the citizens of California would be better represented if certain counties seceded to create new states - well you must be a closet racist!  This hypocrisy and doublethink can’t go on forever.

As Thomas DiLorenzo recently documented, secession is a global phenomenon that isn't going away:
"There are 32 secessionist movements in Africa; 114 secessionist movements in Europe; 20 secessionist movements in North America; 83 secessionist movements in Asia; 11 secessionist movements in South America; and 26 secessionist movements in Oceania.  Neo-Confederates are everywhere!"
However, the most exciting thing about secession isn't just the prospect of replacing one government with another one, but the larger philosophical impact for the libertarian movement.  Followed to its logical conclusion, when the state can secede from the country, and the county from the state, and the town from the county, we can envision a practical path to our anarcho-capitalist utopia.  But ultimately, if the right of secession is accepted and respected, we could imagine a government that has an actual incentive to stay within its delegated boundaries, a government that actually serves its supposed purpose of contributing to the happiness of the people instead of to their destruction.  It may be impossible to keep the state with its monopoly on violence within the boundaries set by those that consented to its jurisdiction, but if it were to be possible, it is certainly only so in a society where the right of secession is alive and well.  Let us fight to create such a society, not through violence - that is the government’s specialty, but in the war of ideas.

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