Just another Monday

Each year, I go out to the office supply store and get a day planner.  Yes, I still use old-fashioned paper for such things.  It’s an old habit I can’t let go of.  Once I get the calendar home, the first thing I do is sit down and scratch out the names of all the holidays which I do not recognize.  This consists of  almost all Hallmark- and government-created holidays, including Memorial Day.

As a kid in the marching band, I was required to be at the local Memorial Day parade every year, where I got to see and hear dreadful displays of narcissistic nationalism.  Long before I was old enough to vote, I was calling this “World War II Veterans are Better than Everyone Else Day.”  I developed that attitude from listening to the ridiculous speeches that were delivered during the post-parade memorial service from a platform in the middle of the largest cemetery in town.   This is such a popular event that the town built a permanent platform that remains in the cemetery year-round.  At any rate, listening to war veterans congratulate themselves was quite the turnoff, and perhaps a distraction as well.  The dead were not mentioned so much; rather, “heroism” was discussed.  Is this the nervous chatter that fills the silent void that might prompt us to ask, “Why did these men have to die?”  

I am presently on a short break from the big, noisy city, and the people where I’m staying had the evening news on.  Almost the entire show was spent on Memorial Day and on lauding the troops.  Heroism this and heroism that.  More of the same narcissistic nationalism.  Years ago—unless I’m sorely mistaken—the news spent perhaps five minutes on some patriotic pablum, but tonight was ridiculous.  Are we repeating these things to ourselves in an attempt to be convinced that the religion of Americanism is true?  As it is written in the sacred scrolls of conventional wisdom, “The lady doth protest too much.”

No one likes to admit that some people die in vain, or that they died working as an accessory to evil (however much they might not have realized nor had a say in it), and we human beings will go a very long way to avoid coming to that conclusion.  We will even resort to lauding the State.  Even Masses in the Catholic Church on this day, which arguably should make use of the Office of the Dead, have in most places deteriorated into an excuse to sing Battle Hymn of the Republic and make the organist work during yet another family gathering.   This seems to be what Memorial Day is about:  we shut our eyes and ears, wave flags and sing patriotic songs while the truth of our foreign military adventures gets lost in the frenzy.

But, my friends, I have hope that the seeds of a reasonable outlook are in the hearts of most men, and that while a proper mindset has yet to be fully realized, there is great potential for it to happen.  I find these signs of hope in everything that the angry veteran rails against on patriotic holidays—people drinking and frolicking, people not “pausing to remember,” and those who just go about their business, like the hard-working truck driver that I followed through central Pennsylvania today.  To some militarists these people are just thankless, but it seems that they deserve more credit than that.  Perhaps they just have a good sense for what is real and what is rubbish. 

The U.S. government went into World War I to make the world safe for the false idol of democracy, and today we are still living with the consequences of many of the results of that war and our alliance with a British government whose blockade of the North Sea caused mass starvation in Germany—and an appetite for the fascist Hitler.   Don’t forget the Versaille Treaty, either, which was one of the biggest rackets in human history.  We went to Vietnam and Korea to prevent communism from spreading, our experts having envisioned doomsday scenarios thought up by proponents of the “domino theory,” though peninsulas would hardly seem to be the kinds of places where the domino effect could produce much disaster.  In both cases the wars were failures, and our present policies regarding North Korea continue to lend instability to the safety of the world.

After all of this bumbling around, the VFW marches down Main Street on the last Monday of every May and talks about the efficacy of the sacrifices of the boys who lie in their graves, killed in action.  The truth is that the great majority of them died in vain, that they did not need to die.  They should never have been taken from their mothers and wives and children to run errands for the tin foil heads in Washington who think that militarism is the way to solve problems, even though history proves that it has never worked.  I think this idea—even if only in the form of  a faint doubt—lurks in the minds of most Americans, and that is probably why there is so much nervous chatter on Decoration Day.

Lest anyone think otherwise, however, I am open, under certain conditions, to restoring Memorial Day to my calendar.  When Memorial Day is about the dangers of the State and its tendency to send young men into battle to be killed for no good reason, I’ll restore my observance of it.  When Memorial Day is used as a time to consider the real causes of these wars (which is usually money) and how they’re related not to altruism but to greed, I’ll restore my observance of it.  When mountebanks stop congratulating themselves amidst the weeping willows of the local veterans cemetery, and when Americanism is no longer the official religion used to commemorate these dead, as though their dignity is preserved by the State, then I will observe Memorial Day.  

Until then, I will continue to drink beer, eat ice cream, and read my Murray Rothbard books.

Twenty-four years ago today in Philadelphia

Many poor decisions are made by using an argument from circumstance:  “What else are we going to do given the situation we face?”  This kind of approach invites the thinker to forget the hierarchical order of goods.  One of the arguments in favor of using the atomic bomb on Japan was one of circumstance:  What else are we going to do, allow our soldiers to die in a land invasion?  (This leaves aside certain inconvenient facts which render the typical American paradigm of this issue useless.)  This argument passes over moral considerations in an eerie silence.  Is it right to kill civilians?  When such questions are pressed upon utilitarians, they often scoff rather than engage in a real debate.  

On a much smaller scale, something happened here in Philadelphia on May 13, 1985 which approximates these lines of argument.  After a lengthy standoff with an extremist group known as MOVE, Mayor Wilson Goode ordered police to raid the group’s headquarters.  A Polizei helicopter dropped a bomb on the row house, and a fire ensued, consuming 61 homes.  Five children and six adults were killed.

From all appearances, MOVE was quite a troublesome organization.  The back story seems to be, at best, complicated.  Here’s one take that seems to be only half the story.  All this, however, is ultimately irrelevant for the point about which I am concerned:  Is it right for the Polizei to endanger an entire neighborhood with a bomb in order to get rid of one house full of presumed menaces?  Of course it isn’t, and a commission charged with investigating this aggression said the same.  But what accounts for the decision of the Philadelphia overlords to use such deadly force in the face of obvious moral problems?  Besides the usual haughtiness endemic in the law enforcement industry, it would seem that the argument from circumstance is to blame.  “We had to do it; it’s all we could do.  The consequences don’t matter when you have to get something done.”

Many look at incidents like this and say that they are temporary lapses in judgment by the government.  This is to miss the essence of the matter.  The government claims for itself a monopoly on coercion and violence, and this incident in Philadelphia is exactly the sort of thing that our society asks for when we give such a small number of people the overwhelming share of the authority.  It is not that corrupt governments are bad; all governments are bad, because they rob and kill without consequence, clear violations of the moral law which everyone else is expected to follow.  The government is a parasite; it lives on the fruits of its crime.

One does not need to condone MOVE to understand the grave evil that took place on this day twenty-four years ago, nor, for that matter, does one need to ally himself with extremist groups in order to appreciate the disgusting racism and hatred that runs deep in the veins of many in the Philadelphia Machine, a factor which laid the foundation for this calamity.  Individual haters are bad enough, but when a bunch of them get together to form a “band of thieves,” i.e., a government, then everyone is in danger.

Bathroom “privileges”

I don’t watch much television, but one of the few exceptions to this rule is the famous cartoon “South Park,” which most seem to have mistaken for little more than fart humor, but which is actually quite incisive as regards various relevant issues.  Tonight’s episode combines two plots:  one which involves the whole 9/11 truth thing (on which question I’m agnostic), and the other a prank performed in the boys’ bathroom.  

As I write, Mr. Mackey, the school guidance counselor, is in a feverish search for the prankster.  “The boys bathroom is closed until further notice,” he announced on the school intercom.  This reminds me of something that happened when I was in fifth grade.  Someone—I don’t know if they ever figured out who—vandalized one of the school bathrooms.  The vice-principal, in one of his typical rages, threatened to revoke bathroom “privileges.”  Laughter ensued in the halls when this tirade concluded.  There was an intuition amongst the students that this statement was ridiculous.

This little episode seems to me to highlight, in its own way, the tyrannical nature of the public school system.  First, they hijack children each day under compulsory education laws.  Then, when the students get there, they treat them as prisoners.  The idea that going to the bathroom is a “privilege” does not comport with common decency.  But, as we’ve seen over and over again, the State does not hold itself to such standards of morality.

In spite of all the encroachments of the government, however, perhaps there is one glimmer of hope in this story:  the laughter.  Laughter is such a powerful tool of humanity.  We have used it not only to gain relief from the difficulties in life (precisely by making fun of them), but also to take power away from bullies.  No one likes to be laughed at, least of all when they’re trying to be serious.  In such a situation, the laughter says, “You are irrelevant to us.”  Laughter is power, it is liberation.  So I think about the laughter of those students that day, when they mocked their vice-principal for being an officious idiot, and it gives me hope that some day, they will wake up and laugh in the face of the State, and say, “You are irrelevant to us.  We do not need you; we can manage our lives on our own.”

The Obama Administration: Change in pennies, part 6,437

“This time, it’s different.”

How many times have we heard this before?  Oh yes, the mainstreamers say, all those other decisions—Vietnam, Korea, the Bay of Pigs, Iraq II, etc.—were mistakes, and the United States should never have stuck its nose into those situations.  But this time, it’s different.

In the video below, Congressman Ron Paul explodes U.S. foreign policy in front of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who, having listened—or at least remained silent—during Paul’s remarks, says, “Afghanistan is not Iraq.”  Then he pulls one of Dick Cheney’s rabbits out of his hat:  “September 11, 2001…..”

This man works for the administration of Barack Obama, the candidate of “change.”  Before the election, I warned people not to expect any real change from Obama.  “Oh, you’re being pessimistic,” I was told.  “Yes, every other president in the past two generations has backed away from his campaign promises, but…….(drumroll, please)……this time, it’s different.”

So much for that.  

Such lunacy will continue to the end of the world, so long as people allow themselves to be hypnotized by these mountebanks each time the olympiad rolls around.  It could change, but I doubt it ever will.  Human nature is flawed, and one of those flaws is gullibility.  One of the evils of the State is that the gullible, who elect these clowns, bring down the rest of us with them.  Maybe someday this will be different, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Hat tip to LRC.

The good shepherd, the sheep, and the government

“I am the good shepherd……the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…”  

These are some of the most popular words in the Christian Gospels. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who cares for the sheep.  He describes himself in contradistinction to the hireling, who does not care as well for the sheep since they are not his own.  This is a really wonderful passage that describes a heroic devotion, a love to the end.  

Unfortunately, this passage is used in modern exegesis more often to expound upon not the selfless love of Jesus but rather the legendary stupidity and herd mentality of sheep.  The lesson, most clergymen go on to say in rather unmitigated tones, is that we men are helpless and stupid just like sheep.  To me this destroys the beauty of the Gospel passage and is yet another example of what can go wrong when we push metaphors just one step too far, when we think too much.  

Yes, mankind is stupid, and we often give in to the herd mentality.  The popularity of socialism is a good exhibit in this tragedy.  But unlike sheep, man operates on more than just instinct.  He has a will and an intellect that can be used to refine his behavior.  Why should we, then, accept the sheep metaphor?  It really is not all that useful.

How much has this whole shepherd and sheep thing influenced our attitudes about government?  There seems to be an assumption in our society that we cannot manage our lives on our own, that we are incapable of making our own decisions, that left to our own devices we would be dumb as sheep.  Government therefore becomes  a necessary evil.  I submit, however, that nothing promotes stupidity more than the popular belief that if I screw up, the government will be there to help me.  The incentive for responsibility is removed.  Then there is the self-fulfilling prophecy:  The institutions in our society say to people, “You are stupid,” and most are docile enough to say, “Yes, you’re right.”

One of the greatest tools of any tyrant—whether it be a Medieval ecclesiastical office-holder or a modern politician in a nation-state—is to make people think that they need such authority.  To break this spell, we must stop thinking of ourselves as sheep.  It wouldn’t hurt either to draw another distinction, one between the good shepherd who lays down his own life, and the tyrant, who demands that we lay down ours on behalf of the State.