Chilling Comments on Philly.com

Every day I check Philly.com to get a taste of the local news. Like most news sites these days, this one includes the tiresome feature of reader comments.

Today there are two stories about police violence against citizens.  The first involves an off-duty cop who shot and killed a fleeing robber.  Read the comments under this story, and you’ll be left with little wonder as to how our government gets away with so much—pardon the expression—murder.  Everyone is assuming that the cop is right.  Now, please understand me carefully.  I’m not saying that the cop is definitely wrong.  There is not enough information in the story to form much of an opinion about that.  But it does say that the robber was fleeing.  Who shot first?  Did the cop shoot at someone who was running away?  Is that right?  No one on Philly.com is being quite that thoughtful about it, however.  They’re just happy that they won’t have to pay for this robber to go through the court system and are willing to give the police a pass because of it.

As much as the previous story is still murky, another story is far more definitively outrageous. In 2008, a horde of cops beat several men as they were lying on the ground—in fact at least two of them were being held down while they were being beaten by others.  They were suspected of murder, and if my memory is serving me they were found to be innocent.  The cops bludgeoned them mercilessly to the point that the police commissioner removed them from their jobs.  Now they’ve been reinstated by an arbitration panel, and the FOP is having a party for them tonight.  Again, read the comments.  When the police commissioner is convinced that there was wrong conduct, but the peanut gallery is still cheering, you know the prospects for liberty are very small indeed.  It appears that the government has carte blanche authority, if you go by the public opinion, and in the end that’s all that matters.

Let’s assume everything the cops said about these supposedly bad guys is true:  that they were murderers, that they had seen them shooting only a few moments earlier, etc.  Does that give them the right to mete out justice right there on the street corner?  That’s what trials and judges and juries are for.  Too many people have a hero complex that seems to impair their judgement in crisis situations.  Of course, if these cops were real heroes, they wouldn’t be so quick to inflict violence on others.  Part of bravery involves treating others with the dignity that is rightfully theirs.

Back to Running

We interrupt all the bad news in the world to bring some good news:  I’m back to running.  It’s been about a month since my injury, and today I got about three and a half miles in without any problems in my heel.

I just might be returning to sanity shortly.

Private Property Rights and Human Decency

Two recent stories bring to the forefront of my mind the importance of private property rights.  Both cases involve an offense against human decency, and both cases are said to be legal morasses.  I’m not sure they’re as difficult to solve as some think.

The first situation is local to my area but has hit national news.  A family on the Main Line has alleged that the Lower Merion School District was using remote control of laptop cameras to spy on students while in the privacy of their homes.  It’s hard to know exactly what did happen, and it’s difficult to keep the various versions of the story straight.  In any case, this situation seems to be framed in terms of the “right to privacy” vs. the school’s right (and perhaps in the view of some, responsibility) to keep the students in line.

The second case involves the Westboro Baptist Church and its deplorable behavior at the funerals of American soldiers killed in warfare.  Visiting the various websites of this church makes for such absurd reading that one is lead to wonder if it isn’t all a big joke.  No one with any kind of intellect could believe even half the rhetoric they spew.  In any case, this church’s members regularly protest at soldiers’ funerals, well within sight and earshot of the grieving families, claiming all sorts of outrageous things which would understandably be hurtful to the families.  Without saying anything about the rightness of war, we must recognize the profound distaste of such actions.  This case is getting ready to be heard by yet another court, and in a news article I read it was set up as a battle of “right to privacy” vs. “freedom of speech,” creating the appearance of a conundrum.

I wonder whether these cases couldn’t be simplified by returning to an ethic based upon private property rights.  In the case with the school, the laptops they issued could themselves be inspected, since they are owned by the school, but not the student in the privacy of his home, since he does not belong to the school.  This doesn’t seem difficult.

In the situation with the Westboro Baptist Church, private property rights could again be invoked.  Churches, funeral homes, and cemeteries can expel these miscreants from their land, in addition to other local owners of land where the protesters might be standing.  Those property owners who refuse to turn these people away could be boycotted by grieving families by going to a different church, etc.  If they’re on public property, such as a street, of course, that makes things more complicated, and if you ask me it only highlights the problems with public “ownership” of things, and it begs for a fully privatized society.

Will a consistent application of private property rights create heaven on earth? Hardly, and no system can be perfect.  But it does mark off territory and authority and makes seemingly difficult situations easier to solve.  Moreover, it allows us to associate with others who treat us well and eschew those who do not, and unlike theories such as Marxism it takes human nature into account, rather than hoping that human nature will somehow change for the better.  It is a voluntary society in which people will have the incentive to be decent to each other, thanks to the freedom of dis/association.  There will be no court in which jackasses can take refuge behind the freedom of speech in order to harass people.

Of course, in such a society, public schools wouldn’t exist, and neither would standing armies.

Private Property Rights and Middle East Peace

Televangelists, for all their buffoonery, are a fascinating lot, and, as a group, possess perhaps the finest rhetorical skills of contemporary times.  They are hard to resist while channel-surfing, and I have my particular favorites.  Normally, the more crazy I think they are, the longer I will watch them.

On Sunday nights there is a particularly outrageous televangelist who is absolutely obsessed with the New World Order and the End Times.  Some of his points are intriguing; many of them are laughable; but in any case I can never bring myself to change the channel in the middle of his caterwauling. The entertainment is just too good.

Woven into the conversation about the New World Order and the End Times, is, of course, the subject of the State of Israel.  (Note well the use of the word State, not nation, which I use advisedly, since I have no qualms with the people of Israel, a point that is seemingly lost both on supporters of Israel and certain not-so-closeted anti-Semites whom I run into every now and then.)  Fundamentalist Christians are strongly supportive of Israel and seem to brook no conversation about the fact that it takes two sides to make a conflict.

My favorite Sunday night mountebank is no exception.  On a recent show, he was bemoaning Barack Obama’s intention of bringing about compromise in land disputes in the Middle East.  This idea is, of course, anathema to him.  Why?  Because it says in the Bible that Israel belongs to the Jews.  Case closed.  Palestinians get out.  Next subject.

This is the very kind of smug self-righteousness that starts wars.  Interestingly enough, when the State of Israel was re-established by do-gooders operating under the banners of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, a debate raged in the Jewish community about whether or not this was the right thing to do:  God will re-establish Israel in his own time, said many Orthodox, while more progressive Jews were in favor of using the apparatus of man-made institutions to hurry the process along.  At any rate, the Biblical case is not one of the open-and-shut variety.

There is a great danger in enacting public policy that is built on sectarian religious beliefs, since not everyone accepts those beliefs.  Far better to stick to the basics:  Don’t kill; don’t steal; don’t do anything to anyone else without their permission.  This will never satisfy those who possess theocratic inclinations, but it’s what’s necessary to promote peace, since a far larger portion of society accepts these more general tenets.

How, then, should the situation in the Middle East be handled?  It’s all about private property rights.  Before the Palestinians were forced off their land in 1948, Arabs and Jews lived near each other in relative peace.  Many Jews established themselves in Israel through the tried and true method of buying land on the free market.  Imagine that!  The Palestinians had acquired their land peacefully and cared for it faithfully, but then came the Union Jackasses, who forcibly sent them on their way—away from their homes and businesses and whatever else they had worked to build up over the years.  And Westerners have the stupidity to say that these people are “evil” because of their understandable resentment.

Fundamentally, this outrage was a violation of private property rights, and only the re-establishment of private property rights—including the restoration of confiscated properties to those dispossessed owners or their families who, at this remote date, can still be found—can solve this horrifying situation.  At the same time, this is an object lesson in how tyrannical States are born when respect for property is cast aside.  In the case of the Middle East, everything happened very suddenly, but in other places, things happen more gradually.  It starts with coercive taxation, and then repossession of homes.  The precedent is then set for forcible removal entirely from a given area.

The mere mention of the term “private property” induces much vomiting in the current public discourse.  Private property is seen as dehumanizing, materialistic, and entirely too abstract, but in truth this ideal is actually what allows us to be human.   Our properties are extensions of ourselves, of our blood, our sweat, and even of our brain power, when we make entrepreneurial decisions.  John Locke recognized this when he said that man “mixes” his labor with objects and that this makes them his property.  There seems to be an innate recognition of this in human behavior.  When my brother and I were kids, if either one of us built something with blocks, we said that we owned it and that the other one couldn’t tear it down without the other’s permission.  It’s the homesteading theory for eight-year-olds.

I should emphasize that I am not an anti-Semite; in fact I have many Jewish friends.  I do not oppose the forcible establishment of the State of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians because I’m opposed to the Jews and to humanitarian principles; rather, my concern for the good of everyone involved, including the Jews, requires me to oppose such violent means of establishing a society.  Peace cannot come from the war-making State; it cannot come from the confiscation of property; it can only come from mutual cooperation, from respecting what everyone else has worked to build up (private property), and from exchanging goods and ideas on the free market.

There is a further implication here.  The establishment of private property rights in the Middle East would require the dis-establishment of States in the Middle East.  We hear much about a two-State solution, but what the Middle East needs is a no-State solution.  Even the compromises that the American government seeks—however well-intentioned—involve the drawing of lines in the sand through arbitrary government power, and not through free exchange of property on the market.  It will only be occasion for more arguing and more wars, and probably more land confiscation, too.  But if Arabs and Jews are free to trade properties with each other on an individual basis, peace would have a much better chance of visiting this troubled part of the world.

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