One place in which I don’t need the headphones

You will all recall my post from a few days ago about my trusty new headphones.  Well I’m happy to report that there is one place where I don’t need them.  There is a cafe not far from where I live which plays all manner of punk rock music.  I find this to be exhilarating, because it is real.  I am there now with all the grungy artsy types.  I am a nerdy artsy type, but this helps me to feel cool. 

I was having a conversation a few weeks ago with some friends about the vapid nature of pop music.  After what must have seemed like hours to them, I finally offered a concession:  I think Heavy Metal is real music, real art.  Ramstein, etc.  Great stuff.  Authenticity counts for a lot.  The same is true, I think, for punk rock.  

I suppose I’m not a simplistic curmudgeon after all.  It’s not modernity that I dislike, necessarily, but rather things that are fake, stuff white people like.   The music of Britney Spears and John Philip Sousa, the art of Thomas Kinkade, the hymnals in the Roman Catholic Church, and those fancy-sounding fast food drinks at Starbucks:  These things are all fake, and perhaps that’s why I need to use my headphones when I go to establishments that cater to the tastes of the mass man.

But here I sit in a punk rock cafe with no headphones.  This will be a great environment in which to compose some music.

Headphones as a revolt against egalitarianism

I do most of my work in isolation, which can be bad for the soul, so I tend to fill up a bag with books and various other items of paperwork and head out to a restaurant or a cafe—or a Starbucks, which qualifies as neither—to get work done.  It makes me feel a part of humanity.  

Sometimes, however, it makes me feel like a part of humanity a little too much, given the dreadful music and radio stations which are broadcast in most establishments.  Then there is the mindless chatter that passes for conversation now in post-civilization America.  With all of this going on, I find it quite difficult to concentrate, or to maintain even the slightest bit of hope for humanity, if the truth be told.

Alas, I have had a fortuitous turn of events.  Last week, in a round of shopping, I went looking for an extension cord for my headphones, which has a wire that is just too short.  I could find no extension cords.  I did, however, find noise-cancelling headphones.  They cost more than I had anticipated spending, but the more I stood there, the more tempted I was to buy them.I could get an extension cord now, but I’d still be coming back later for the headphones.  That’s how I rationalized buying them.  

After less than a week, I can say that the payoff from these things has been tremendous.  Using them transforms any environment into a work-friendly location.  I’m presently sitting in a Subway listening to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony under the innovative direction of Sergiu Celibidache.  I only hear other noise when the music is exceedingly soft.  

Some traditionalists in society complain that the advance of technology has worsened the advance of egalitarianism, and there is some truth to this.  Karaoke is evidence of this.  So is American Idol.  So is Bill O’Reilly’s no-spin zone, along with Chris Matthews’ Hardball.  The beauty of technology, however, is that it can be used by the wise to counter-act the fools.  For every stupid article there is in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, there’s a good article someplace like anti-war or Lew Rockwell.  It is the same with my headphones.  There is a speaker not far from my head pumping out audible excrement, including traffic reports that are probably already five minutes old, but I have my headphones, and I’m listening to some of the best music ever made.  

I suspect—and I do not jest—that my stress levels are going to go down thanks to this angelic innovation.

Local Polizei kill man

Police in a Philadelphia suburb killed a man on Friday night.  Admittedly, the deceased was being a violent maniac, but this doesn’t seem to add up to me.  The suspect viciously attacked a woman.  The Polizei pursued, and when the aggressor brandished a brick, they shot him three times.  Thrice.

Now, while, in my Weltanschauung, the Polizei have no actual authority, it would seem that they nevertheless have the right to protect their own persons from aggression, just as each of us has a right to do this.  All the same, one has to wonder about this situation.  News reports are always sketchy and always to be taken with a grain of salt.  But a brick vs. a gun?  Three shots?  Come on.  Honestly, this strikes me as excessive.  

Yes, I know bricks can do damage, but where is the bravery that these kops are said to have?  It seems to me that they are often quite quick to shoot.  And then bureaucrats have the guts and/or stupidity to wonder aloud why there has been a rash of incidents in which citizens kill a member of the Polizei.  I am not advocating violence against the police; I am only saying that one must take stock of all the dynamics surrounding a situation.  Police violence against the citizenry is one of them.  Philadelphia has the additional ignominy of being a city which firebombed one of its own neighborhoods.  The old-timers tell me that this event created a stifling level of racial tension.  So much for the idea that authority creates peace!

It sounds like the suspect in question in this recent incident was a dangerous man and potentially mentally disturbed as well.  But was it necessary to kill him?  Maybe it was, but situations like this deserve better than the usual banal press releases from attorney generals’ offices.

Sentiment, Logic, and the Future of Capitalism

Last night I was dining with some friends, and, given the fact that we are all interested in politics in one way or another, the conversation tended to revolve around such issues.  I had occasion to recall last night something which took place a while ago in a Starbucks close by (known to some as my office).  I struck up a conversation with an intelligent, thoughtful gentleman—after all, we can’t let the rare opportunity to speak with an intelligent person pass us by—who wondered aloud if capitalism had run its course, if it was simply inevitable that it was passing away just like other things pass away.

The idea is, on its face, horrifying, and seemingly easy enough to refute.  We are, certainly, dealing not with a collapsing capitalist economy, but rather a collapsing mercantilist or even Fascist economy.  I am not being polemical:  It is a fact that our system has absorbed aspects of Fascism.  On this point many modern Liberals and libertarians are in agreement.  Conservatives are not, but the reasons for this are by now rather obvious.  The conventional wisdom, however, is that it is capitalism that has failed us.  Capitalists can, and should, refute this until we run out of breath, but there is an important point in all this that must not be lost and that, however regrettable, is more essential to the issue, and that is the idea that could be called “societal myth.”

Richard Weaver, in his book Ideas Have Consequences, devoted  the first chapter to The Unsentimental Sentiment.  Here Weaver argues that sentiment precedes logic, that reason alone is not sufficient in dealing with the problems of human existence.  Because logic has a wax nose, as Aquinas said, there must be something that holds it up, a set of assumptions that direct the entirety of our thinking.  This is often called grand discourse.  Religion, for instance, is a grand discourse.  Besides the all-encompassing assumptions, however, there are also little myths about particular issues.  These myths are very much related to sentiment.  From the standpoint of studying human nature, the facts are not so nearly relevant as the prevailing thoughts and feelings about a given issue.  

Because of this, I must offer the assessment that the future of capitalism is very bleak.  All of the modern sentiment runs against the central ideas that must be embraced in order for a free market to work.  In today’s climate—indeed, for most of the past century—mankind simply has not embraced the values which serve as the foundation of capitalism.  The situation in which we today find ourselves is quite simply inevitable, and it should be no surprise to us that, after the disaster struck, modern thinking turned to a “worn out” idea such as capitalism as the scapegoat.  

And so, we are faced with the question, “What do we do now?”  Pragmatists usually embrace the prevailing contemporary sentiment in order to enact individual policies which they believe are good for the order of society. This is, of course, a mistake, since there is no consistent ethic present in this approach.  Modern Liberals are quite at home in all this mess and probably suffer from very few crises of conscience right now, but classical liberal thinkers are faced with a conundrum.  Do we throw up our hands and give up?  Do we keep explaining the logical reasons why capitalism is always the better choice?  The first choice invites a kind of despondency that usually leads to conservatism, and the second, as has already been said, will never work on its own.

It would seem that the best hope for capitalism will come from an appeal to the very thing that runs counter to it presently—sentiment.  We must sort out the values that people embrace and illustrate how capitalism serves the interests of those values far better than any Leviathan ever could.  I am not talking about political values; I am talking about human values.  Too many conflate these, and we must separate them.  It is irrelevant right now that capitalism works.  We must show that capitalism is good, very good.  This will require an appeal to sentiment and the right use of rhetoric.  

It sounds like it’s time to dust off the Weaver volumes.

Assorted quotes on taxation

“The politicians don’t just want your money. They want your soul. They want you to be worn down by taxes until you are dependent and helpless. When you subsidize poverty and failure, you get more of both.”
–James Dale Davison

“The mounting burden of taxation not only undermines individual incentives to increased work and earnings, but in a score of ways discourages capital accumulation and distorts, unbalances, and shrinks production. Total real wealth and income is made smaller than it would otherwise be. On net balance there is more poverty rather than less.”–Henry Hazlitt

“…every tax or rate, forcibly taken from an unwilling person, is immoral and oppressive.” 
–Auberon Herbert

“Once Confucius was walking on the mountains and he came across a woman weeping by a grave. He asked the woman what here sorrow was, and she replied, “We are a family of hunters. My father was eaten by a tiger. My husband was bitten by a tiger and died. And now my only son!” “Why don’t you move down and live in the valley? Why do you continue to live up here?” asked Confucius. And the woman replied, “But sir, there are no tax collectors here!” Confucius added to his disciples, “You see, a bad government is more to be feared than tigers.”
–Lin Yutang

“Governments last as long as the under-taxed can defend themselves against the over-taxed.”
–Bernard Berenson

“Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.”
–H.L. Mencken

“Government: If you refuse to pay unjust taxes, your property will be confiscated. If you attempt to defend your property, you will be arrested. If you resist arrest, you will be clubbed. If you defend yourself against clubbing, you will be shot dead. These procedures are known as the Rule of Law.”
–Edward Abbey

“Taxation is the price we pay for failing to build a civilized society. The higher the tax level, the greater the failure. A centrally planned totalitarian state represents a complete defeat for the civilized world, while a totally voluntary society represents its ultimate success.”
–Mark Skousen

“It is easy to be conspicuously ‘compassionate’ if others are being forced to pay the cost.”
–Murray N. Rothbard

“If we assume that the individual has an indisputable right to life, we must concede that he has a similar right to the enjoyment of the products of his labor. This we call a property right. The absolute right to property follows from the original right to life because one without the other is meaningless; the means to life must be identified with life itself. If the state has a prior right to the products of one’s labor, his right to existence is qualified . . . no such prior rights can be established, except by declaring the state the author of all rights. . . . We object to the taking of our property by organized society just as we do when a single unit of society commits the act. In the latter case we unhesitatingly call the act robbery, a malum in se. It is not the law which in the first instance defines robbery, it is an ethical principle, and this the law may violate but not supersede. If by the necessity of living we acquiesce to the force of law, if by long custom we lose sight of the immorality, has the principle been obliterated? Robbery is robbery, and no amount of words can make it anything else.”
–Frank Chodorov

Theft, Violence, and Propaganda

Thanks to LRC, I just had the pleasure (?) of watching this American tax propaganda video from the World War II era:

We hear the usual claptrap in this clip, words like “duty” and “sacrifice.”  The interesting thing about “sacrifice,” however, is that it is a lie:  When a thief breaks into your home and takes your most treasured possessions, that is not a sacrifice.  The divestment of your materials was not voluntary, so how could there be any giving or sacrifice?  In the Jewish and Christian traditions, sacrifice is voluntary.  I suppose that this means that the State is more like primordial religions, in which even human sacrifice was conducted without the consent of those whom it, well, impacted the most, if you catch my drift.

Another interesting feature of this excrement is that it glorifies violence and serving the State in the military.  What else are all those salutes and “Yes Sirs” meant to convey?  Couple this with the surprise when the talking radio reveals he’s actually discussing the income tax.  This seems to re-enforce the idea that military service is assumed to be good.  

Interestingly, however, one does wonder why the government, through its shills at Disney, felt the need to make this cartoon.  At the time the federal income tax was not a very old thing; many would have remembered much more peaceful times when they kept much more of their money.  Was there some resistance still?  How did the government prevail?  Were people as gullible then as they are now?  It would seem that tyranny benefits, if you’ll pardon my constantly bringing up this idea, from fragmentation and obsession, as Weaver called it.  This is the myopic fetish with detail that humanity has developed after it has lost sight of civilization’s founding principles.  The most obvious symptom of this is naked hostility to philosophy, most often seen in the neo-conservatives.  But the salient point here is that fragmentation and obsession keeps us from seeing the essential characteristics of a thing.  Indeed, to point out the relationship between theft and taxation is to waste one’s breath even in conversations with the “fiscally conservative.”  The government benefits from this because of the consequent stupidity which makes people more pliable to the idea that paying taxes is “different” from being robbed at gunpoint.

There is one tiny, tiny redeeming piece of this video, however.  It would seem that it shows how the tax system worked before the withholding racket got its start.  Would that each of us, every April 15, had to write a check for every cent in tax that we “owe” for the previous year.  That is to say, abolish the withholding system.  It is a nice trick the government uses, and it keeps most people, who are asleep in general as it is, from realizing just how much tax they pay every year.  It was sold to the gullible as a “convenience” but it is really a weapon:  Employers are required to withhold the money, and there is no chance for people to say to the government, “You’re not getting it.”  It makes any kind of tax revolt well impossible, doesn’t it?

For my part, I continue to pay my taxes honestly, if only out of a sense of prudence.  I value my ability to live freely over my natural right to keep the fruits of my labor.  I am like the coward who, when confronted with a gun-wielding mugger, hands over his wallet without even thinking.  Perhaps, however, the point should not be my cowardice, but rather that the government—that evil, parasitical pile of excrement in Washington—relies on such conundrums for its survival.

Remember that the next time some sports announcer asks you to stand up for the State Song.  “Deutschland ueber Alles…”  Ooops.  Wrong soundtrack.  Well, they’re all the same, though, aren’t they?

Change in Pennies: Obama’s war drums

I do not mean to say “I told you so” on this one.  After all, when I and others said, “Expect your change in pennies from Barack Obama,” it really required no prophetic capabilities whatsoever.  A simple willingness to take stock of his carefully placed loopholes on Iraq was enough, in addition to the perennial awareness that the State has interests of its own to protect and that its leaders, whoever they be, will work to protect those interests, in spite of any professed political ideology or philosophy.

Related to this, two stories this week caught my eye.  The first is from the ever clear-eyed and intrepid Justin Raimondo.  The second is from Christopher Dowd, who rightly lambastes Obama’s completely idiotic remarks in Baghad, not least of which is the claim that the Iraq War has been a success. (My own two cents:  If the Iraq War had been a success, Obama might not be president today.)  

Any observer who was really paying attention during the Democratic primary saw that, as soon as Hillary Clinton conceded the nomination to Barack Obama, he began backpedalling on all his peace promises.  In this maneuvering he is hardly alone:  Politicians routinely “move to the center”—i.e. lie to their political bases in the primary—during the general election.  Ah, lovely, the all-holy Center, the “mediocracy” where principles, originality, and creativity are vigilantly snuffed out.  I guess Mencken really wasn’t all that far from the truth when he said that in democracies, people eat all the same food, wear all the same clothes, and admire all the same mountebanks.  

Barack Obama was the peace candidate, but he’s looking more and more like the piss president.