A Return to Weirdness


And you imagined that our tax dollars are wasted here in the United States. Just try Pakistan, where taxes go to ensure pivotal for-the-children policies preventing people from using the word flatulence or the always-offensive Jesus Christ in their private correspondence.

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Libertarianism and the History of Violence

I have read several recent articles by Steven Pinker related to his upcoming book concerning the reduced rates of violence in human history. The title is a mouthful that no writer in his right mind would saddle a book with; I suspect that when you achieve the status of one Steven Pinker, though, the author’s name will always enjoy a larger font than anything else on the cover, and you can get away with the kind of heavy-handed titles that would embarrass the more obscure. Leaving aside the particulars of the steady reduction in rates of violence in human history, I would argue that modern libertarianism–the zero-tolerance-to-unnecessary-violence, anti-force branch of liberalism that insists on peaceful cohabitation and free trade–is a direct result of this trend.

When Cartesian dualism was in vogue in the courts, it was popular to imagine that animals were nothing more than sophisticated machines, animate matter without the benefit of the soul and the first-person intimacies that accompany it. Unsurprisingly, this school was used to justify the public torture of animals for amusement, the line of reasoning apparently being that organic machines that act as though they feel pain are 1) moral fair game and 2) more amusing to torment than those that don’t. Although soul/body dualism was an exciting development for the courts, the torture and mistreatment of domestic animals was not, as animals had always been viewed as brutes to be subdued according to the the will of man and the edicts of Genesis. It was not, in fact, until issues of inequality and injustice among humans were confronted that injustice toward animals became a point of popular concern in the 20th century. It is no coincidence that women’s suffrage preceded animal rights by several decades.

Cutting a potentially long post short, that is to say that relatively minor societal injustices such as the torture of animals become the subject of outrage only when more salient societal injustices have been dealt with and marginalized. Priorities are always paramount to human behavior, and it’s easy for us to understand why the hoi polloi of medieval Japan weren’t too upset about the exploitation of livestock when samurai possessed the legal right to test their swords on the less privileged classes. Moving up a philosophical step, modern libertarianism, well-known for its outrage toward police abuses and violations of limited-government philosophies, could never have existed in a world suffused with violence from top to bottom, violence that would have made the abuses of taser-happy police seem minor in comparison. It is the absence of widespread violence in the post-Enlightenment world and the security it has afforded us that have given rise to libertarianism/minarchism and its cousin, anarchism.

More to come when Pinker’s book hits shelves and when the clock doesn’t read 1:15 AM.

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Chertoff Grilled by the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00k0jyy/Hardtalk_Michael_Chertoff/ beginning at around 12 minutes into the audio

This gets the weekend off to a fine start.

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Outrage of the Day: Woman Removed from Plane, Detained, Allegedly Strip-Searched

The Atlantic has more. While I hope that this is an elaborate fiction created for some unknown purpose by an unassuming, educated, and established blogger, the outrageous behavior of the Executive Branch for the past two administrations gives me little reason to believe that the story is anything but true.

What good is the Fourth Amendment if it fails to prevent government agents from ignoring the natural rights of the innocent? What good is requiring reasonable suspicion when literally anything–even the unfounded suspicion of a peer–will meet meet that standard? And on what planet is it proper to conduct a warrantless strip search of a civilian who has been convicted of no crime?

When did our collective allegiance to freedom become so pointlessly theatrical that the government and many of its citizens could speak of it one moment and then openly, shamelessly destroy it the next? I will admit that I laughed when I first read of the TSA’s interest in using body scanners to view passengers’ nude bodies at airport security stations. The idea was so blatantly ignorant of the principles of liberty that it could only be parody–what American would possibly stand for a form of intrusion that even Orwell could not have imagined? I was stunned when the scanners rolled out, but I took solace in my belief that Americans would be outraged by the efforts of their government to see them nude, to strip their children and parents of their dignity and pride, to see the weak exploited and abused by the strong. It wasn’t until my countrymen responded with the yawn heard ’round the world that I realized how apathetic my nation had become and how easily its politicians could exploit their complacent constituents. It’s hard to be proud of your national identity when the government abuses its power like this, and it’s endlessly frustrating that I fully expect this young woman’s story to be verified to the last jot and tittle. I want to give you the benefit of doubt, America, but you just won’t let me.

I have invoked Arendt’s banality of evil and the Milgram Experiment more times than I would have liked, but it’s still shocking when human failings and cruelty make a home within legal and ethical systems that were expressly designed to exclude them.

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Monday Edition

Angry electorate helps sustain Tea Party,” CNN.com proclaims on its front page. I have long since accepted that the Tea Party is no true friend to libertarianism or civil liberties (TP Express co-chair Amy Kremer’s assertion that the Republican party isn’t providing its base with “true conservatives”–by which she presumably means folks like Christine O’Donnell, whom Kremer championed last year–is but the latest indicator that the Tea Party is on a bobsled to looney right-wing hell and Perot-style irrelevancy). That said, why is it only right-wing protesters who are depicted as angry and presumably emotional and prone to irrational decisions? To be clear, Kremer and co. are angry and emotional, as most leaders of political parades tend to be; I just want CNN to write the same thing about socialists or members of the Green Party for a change. Surely they can find some angry leftists somewhere on this planet.

Forever 21 is at it again. Whereas the sympathetic Barbie who proclaimed that “math class is tough” was subject to scads of illegitimate scorn (multivariable calc was tough, you preachy demagogues!), these shirts deserve every ounce of outrage they’ll receive. What sane parent would pay to have his/her daughter advertise her resignation over mathematics and reinforce misogynistic stereotypes? Next up, Little League uniforms proclaiming that the wearer is allergic to hitting a breaking ball. “Curveball, bats are afraid.”

Radley Balko out-outrages me once again with this link to a Tactical Response article  encouraging SWAT commanders to hone their team’s skills by deploying unnecessarily. “Make SWAT familiar to senior police staff,” Officer Ed Sanow writes. “Everyone fears the unknown. Don’t let SWAT be that unknown. Make deploying SWAT something that is routine, not something only done after much hand-wringing.” A glib hint for SWAT team commanders everywhere: kicking in more doors, shooting more family pets, and terrifying more children with shows of overwhelming mortal force won’t make civilians fear or hate you any less. The reader comments following Ed’s article are an excellent tonic to the cynicism he elicits.

Paul Krugman opines that we mourn not only the lives lost on 9/11, but also the subsequent actions of our government. “The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.” You won’t see these words here very often, but Krugman is right. Yesterday, for every second that I spent recalling the horror of couples leaping hand-in-hand from the WTC roof, I spent two more thinking of the lives thrown away in Iraq and the hastened erosion of our civil liberties. When I think of 9/11, I can’t contain my memories to a single surreal and terrible day, and it is as unreasonable to expect that of this generation as it was to expect our forebears to separate Pearl Harbor from the greater war. For many of us, 9/11 stands as the day that security and surveillance became watchwords within the halls of power to the detriment of all.

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Power Restored, weekend edition

Roy Zimmerman with his latest ditty. In other news, atypical interaction between incensed union member and local media. I understand Roy’s argument, as do most people who support collective bargaining, free markets, and all that goes with negotiating compensation. I also understand that when you play hardball, you’re not going to win every time you take the field. Why the government or other disinterested parties should be expected to insert themselves into compensation negotiations is beyond me.

Don Rumsfeld dislikes the monicker “War on Terror” and insists it was a Bush invention. Because when you call something a war, you shouldn’t be surprised when everyone begins acting like soldiers.

Between this and the Coulter-Welch “debate,” I’m going to grind my back teeth down to nubs.

After the power came back on (thank you, ancient power grid) Thursday night, I managed to catch up with Obama’s latest and greatest oratory delivery. In two short years we’ve transitioned from a potentially brainy, morally inclined Presidential hope to nigh-complete political resignation over a president who is in over his head in every way imaginable. I dislike Obama no more than his predecessor, but the bloom is off the rose. Time to try something new, Mr. President, preferably something that doesn’t involve shaking the confidence of our commanding heights, breaking international and federal law, and ramping up the Wars on Drugs and Terrors despite explicit campaign promises to the contrary.

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TSA, Protector of Civil Liberties and Other Fodder for Madness

Janet Napolitano reveals that the DHS and TSA “don’t do anything without kind of running it through our own civil rights and privacy office.” Thank God Janet is always on the case looking out for our civil liberties. I have asked before and I will ask again: whither reasonable suspicion, if not warrants? Or does the desire to contract with private airlines (or what passed as private before the federal government sunk its cash/tendrils into them years ago) meet the criterion in the eyes of my former governor?

Credit to Radley Balko: Grieving mom crusades to ban grain alcohol after son’s death. All of us have had righteous rage inspire us to action at some point. Some of us campaign, some lobby, some blog. What we must always remember is that the best of intentions and a dedicated insistence on what we believe to be just and good often leads to horrendous suffering and loss. Perhaps the producers of grain alcohol have been negligent in marketing their product as something other than 95% alcohol; if so, demonstrate it and take them to court. As painful as it might be for grieving relatives to admit, perhaps we should also recognize that people make foolish choices, some of which cost them their lives. Grain alcohol is dangerous, yes, and it is far from alone in this regard among consumer items. The question is whether we, as a free society, recognize the right of the individual to endanger his own life through negligence or ignorance or whether we will ignore the historical failures of prohibition and continue down the same sorry path we’re on.

On the topic of postmodern prohibition and also via Balko (my dealer of choice for my daily dose of outrage), perhaps the most telling condemnation of the Patriot Act that you’ll never, ever hear about again: 92% of sneak-and-peek warrants permitted by the Patriot Act are used in the War on Drugs. Less than 1% of such warrants are used in investigations of terrorism, the expressed purpose of the Patriot Act. Good intentions, etc.

The ACLU combats yet another attempt to ban reading material from local jails, this time in Shawnee, Kansas. At first I thought it was happening in Pawnee, but I knew that Ron Swanson would never permit such a travesty to go unpunished.

The NYTimes examines American civil liberties in the decade following 9/11. If you have liberal/libertarian leanings, don’t give up after the first page; it’s worth the read.

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