Monday, July 28, 2014

Conceptions Of Freedom Part 2: For Some End Or For Its Own Sake?

The previous essay concerned itself principally with differentiating the original American conception of political freedom (a.k.a. liberty) from the fascist and socialist bilge being vended today under that label. The distinctions should be clear, which is what makes it so puzzling that so many can't see the gulf between them. But were everyone in the nation to embrace the original conception once again, there would still be questions to ponder. The one of greatest interest is:

Why do you want to be free?

No, it's not new. Nevertheless, it's troubling, for two reasons. Let's tackle the lesser one first.

"Why do you want [insert item or condition here]?" is a question that can confound anyone, on any subject, for a simple reason: There are only two answers, and one of them is transitory:

  • "To get [some other thing]."
  • "It will make me happy."

The first of those answers merely provokes a second iteration of the question. The second does not, for no one can rationally ask another "Why do you want to be happy?" When the condition under scrutiny is freedom, the implication behind the question is that the answer must be of the first sort: Smith wants to be free because it will enable him to get something else. In that view, freedom is merely a means to an end, nothing more.

This opens an ominous door: the divergence of the argument over freedom into other channels that have nothing to do with freedom per se. He who succumbs to the lure will thereafter find himself parrying questions about the worthiness of his ends, about whether there are other and better ways to pursue them, and once he has revealed his other goals, whether his priorities are "good." For example:

Questioner: Why do you want to be free?
Respondent: Because free societies are more prosperous.
Questioner: But you're already prosperous. What do you want that you don't have?
Respondent: Oh, nothing specific. I'd just like to be able to keep more of what I earn.
Questioner: But why, if there's nothing in particular that you want?


Questioner: Why do you want to be free?
Respondent: So I can make more money.
Questioner: But you could do that by changing trades! By becoming a lawyer, for instance.
Respondent: But I don't want to be a lawyer!
Questioner: Well, what about becoming a doctor, then?


Questioner: Why do you want to be free?
Respondent: So I can ride rollercoasters all day and get legal access to ABCD [a drug not yet invented -- FWP]
Questioner: What? That's all you want? What a waste of your talents!

Freedom itself ceases to be the subject under discussion once Respondent's answer allows Questioner to address his "real goal." The importance of freedom is thus postulated from the start as instrumental only. As it is given no inherent value of its own, the shift of focus to Respondent's other interests is automatic.

But there's no need to allow ourselves to be channeled into such courses.

The "Why freedom?" question has confounded many able minds. It's that seductive, to say nothing of the tendency of the intelligent to over-analyze even the simplest questions as a way of displaying the power of one's intellect. Writers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, John Stuart Mill notable among them, fell into the trap in a subtle way. All men must seek the good, they said. But we cannot resolve, once and for all, what "the good" is or must be. Therefore, men must be free to pursue "the good" as they conceive it.

See the hidden snare in there? No? Give it a moment; it will come to you.

Of course! There's no shortage of persons who will claim, with varying degrees of plausibility, that they have determined what "the good" is, for any and every individual. And as freedom is merely an instrumental value, important only for seeking the good, we can do away with it now, and simply impose the good by the force of law!

Many, many peoples have succumbed to such nonsense. Some survivors of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Maoist China, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and other examples are still around to tell you about it.

Part of the "Camelot myth" that surrounds the "New Frontier" of John F. Kennedy involved just such notions. Kennedy opened his administration to suggestions from an unprecedentedly wide variety of would-be advisors. Indeed, he often sought them out actively, perhaps in the hope that in doing so he would discover previously hidden or ignored fountains of wisdom about the human condition and the proper ends of Man:

"One could not deny a sense of New Frontier autointoxication; one felt it oneself. The pleasures of power, so long untasted, were now being happily devoured -- the chauffeur-driven limousines, the special telephones, the top-secret documents, the personal aides, the meetings in the Cabinet Room, the phone calls from the president....The currents of vitality radiated out of the White House, flowed through the government and created a sense of vast possibility....Above all, Kennedy held out such promise of hope. Intelligence at last was being applied to public affairs. Euphoria reigned; we thought for a moment that the world was plastic and the future unlimited. " -- Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days.

Those savants presumed to eliminate all "need" for freedom.

It's insufficiently clear to far too many, including many in the liberty movement, that "Why do you want to be free?" is a trick question. In nearly all cases, the questioner is hostile to freedom and would like to see it reduced or expunged altogether. He wants to lure you down some secondary rhetorical path, specifically so you'll stop promoting and defending freedom itself. This is the second and infinitely more important reason the question is of importance.

If each of us has a natural, God-given right to be free -- i.e., to suffer neither coercion nor intimidation in any matter that doesn't involve aggression or fraud -- then there is only one appropriate response:

Questioner: Why do you want to be free?
Respondent: Why do you want me to be unfree?

In applying that riposte, Gentle Reader, do take care to stand well back. Spittle can fly father than most of us might think!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Recourse To Fundamentals

It happens, from time to time, that I am reminded of the fundamental, unbridgeable disjunction between the Left and the Right: the one that argument can never resolve and which renders all our attempts to reason with them utterly insane. The personal tragedy in such a reminder is that I should ever need it; the greater tragedy is that so many others cannot grasp the lesson at all.

In a lesser irony, today's reminder comes from a Liberty's Torch reader. Peruse my brief exchange with "Bob R" and give it a few moments' thought.

Perhaps the most important essay of our time is C. S. Lewis's masterpiece The Abolition Of Man. The great Christian polemicist says so much, of such importance, in so few pages that I often despair of ever producing anything of equal power. Indeed, that essay is the major reason I've occasionally expressed an ambition to become known as "the C. S. Lewis of the 21st Century," as hopeless as such an aspiration may be.

Lewis's key point in the second segment of this mighty work is one that should be indelibly imprinted on every thinking mind:

From propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn. This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preserved. This will cost you your life cannot lead directly to do not do this: it can lead to it only through a felt desire or an acknowledged duty of self-preservation. The Innovator is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premisses in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible. We must therefore either extend the word Reason to include what our ancestors called Practical Reason and confess that judgements such as society ought to be preserved (though they can support themselves by no reason of the sort that Gaius and Titius demand) are not mere sentiments but are rationality itself; or else we must give up at once, and for ever, the attempt to find a core of 'rational' value behind all the sentiments we have debunked.

"Practical conclusion." "Imperative mood." "Practical Reason!" What innocent phrases Lewis employs to illuminate the heart of human experience! How much metaphysics, how much insight into human nature, lurks behind each one! Just a few days ago, I blathered about the importance of using words according to their exact, publicly acknowledged meanings. Quite a few persons wrote that I must be joking -- that the meaning of a word is necessarily a relative, receiver-centered phenomenon that no one can cement down. For my rebuttal, ponder Lewis's use of the word "practical" in the above and tell me what you think he meant.

Yes, context matters. Doesn't it always?

The "language corruption" essay addressed a political subject: the deliberate distortion or misapplication of words to serve a covert political purpose. However, the overarching subject is much larger. Indeed, it goes all the way to the core of Lewis's intent in his argument about "Practical Reason."

Nor is Lewis the only writer to address it:

    "Are you going to be as impractical as that?"
    "The evaluation of an action as 'practical,' Dr. Ferris, depends upon what it is that one wishes to practice."

You know where that comes from, don't you? If not, relax; here's another citation from the same book, from one of the most powerful soliloquies ever to appear in a work of fiction:

    “It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own – I would refuse. I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!”

Only Man, among all God's creatures, has conscious intentions he seeks to serve. Many of those intentions are instrumental only: do this to get that, where that will serve some other purpose. But some are linked to the cores of our souls, wherein lives the conscience:

    “Christine, I’m a priest. I have to work from certain postulates. According to those postulates, the soul is the seat of conscience, of an individual’s real and unalterable identity. Creatures without souls are also without moral choice. They act strictly from innate drives, motivations built right into their flesh. You can’t have a moral nature, the ability to know right from wrong, unless you have a soul. You can’t love, or be grateful, or understand loyalty or duty or justice. So either those postulates are wrong, or your soul is as real and valuable as mine.”

(If you don't recognize that book, I have no sympathy for you.)

My point, just in case even the citations above haven't clarified it adequately, is a simple one:

Moral premises underpin all reasoning.
They are Reason's indispensable foundation.
Therefore, you cannot support or refute them by reasoning.

A brief but relevant digression: Quite a number of religiously inclined persons react to any citation of Ayn Rand the way a vampire would react to a crucifix, except with increased anger and disgust. That's not wholly incomprehensible, considering Rand's open, repeated condemnations of religious faith. Needless to say (for anyone who's been reading Liberty's Torch for a while, at least), I consider Rand to have been misguided on this subject. However, I find her aversion to religion comprehensible as well, for it's the same sort of error as that of those who reject all she ever wrote: a discarding of the baby with the bathwater.

I must have written a thousand times by now that positions from which authority can be exercised will sooner or later be occupied by persons whose highest priority is the acquisition of authority. This Iron Law of Power will eventually corrupt any and every sort of hierarchy. Nor is it restricted to the political (i.e., coercive) forms of authority. It's done quite a number on every religious hierarchy Man has ever experienced. This is made clear by even the most cursory study of the history of religious institutions.

Here's an illustration of that tendency about one of the oldest religious systems, from the great Paul Johnson:

Moses is the fulcrum-figure in Jewish history, the hinge around which it all turns....He was a Jewish archetype, like Joseph, but quite different and far more formidable. He was a prophet and a leader; a man of decisive actions and electric presence, capable of huge wrath and ruthless resolve; but also a man of intense spirituality, loving solitary communion with himself and God in the remote countryside, seeing visions and epiphanies and apocalypses; and yet not a hermit nor an anchorite but an active spiritual force in the world, hating injustice, fervently seeking to create a Utopia, a man who acted not only as an intermediary between God and man but sought to translate the most intense idealism into practical statesmanship, and noble concepts into details of everyday life. Above all, he was a lawmaker and a judge, the engineer of a mighty framework to enclose in a structure of rectitude every aspect of public and private conduct -- a totalitarian of the spirit.

[Emphasis added by FWP.]

Rand's reaction against religion because of the Ultra Vires tendencies within religious hierarchies is nicely symmetrical to religious persons' wholesale reaction against Rand's thought because of her rejection of religious faith.

There is no salvation in human authorities. He who claims to stand as "an intermediary between God and man" is quite as dangerous as any coercive institution. Note the frequency of religiously animated injustices and atrocities throughout human history. Note that they continue in our time, though they're concentrated among devotees of a single "faith." Thus, when Rand writes in Atlas Shrugged:

"Dagny, how did you do it? How did you manage to remain unmangled?"
"By holding to just one rule."
"To place nothing--nothing--above the verdict of my own mind."

...she speaks tellingly of the pretensions of both secular and religious authorities. So! You claim to be in possession of a revelation? Show me. Show me how it accords with my moral precepts, my sense of the laws of Nature, my conscience. I shan't let you get away with saying "God told me so," for that's an attempt to borrow an authority that doesn't belong to any individual man. What you proclaim must be consistent with what I know of how the world observably works; it cannot rest upon preference, intention, or wishful thinking.

Which is why of all the moral creeds ever dispensed unto Man, only the simplest of them:

Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." [Matthew 22:37-40]
Now a man came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew, 19:16-19.] worth more than the breath with which its Founder expressed it.

To sum up: You cannot argue moral premises. Either they express the natural law, or they are irrelevant or contradictory to it. In the first case, their adoption will conduce to health, flourishing, and an increase in human happiness; in the second and third, the consequences will be dire. Only actual practice -- Lewis's "Practical Reason," rather than any abstraction from it -- will tell the tale.

So when Bob R -- or anyone else -- declaims about rights, he's either talking to a fellow fish about water, or he's making incomprehensible mouth noises at someone predisposed to rape him the moment his back is turned. Indeed, whenever I do it, its impact is no greater. At best, to declare one's stance on rights constitutes the donning of an emblem by which those who share those premises will recognize a compatible mind.

Though the Right is a fairly diverse community of thought, among whose allegiants many detail differences of reasoning and position can be identified, we tend to agree on our moral premises: i.e., the Rights of Man. The Left has no moral premises to which it will hold fast; their sole touchstone, as with the villains of Atlas Shrugged, is "Can we get away with it?" Which is, of course, entirely consistent with their drive for power over all persons and things. Once more, with trumpets:

Morally different is a synonym for evil.

Don't bother arguing about rights with the Left. Save your breath and keep your powder dry. The hour of decision will soon be upon us.

Friday, July 25, 2014

For My Fiction Readers: Near Miss

Love and money aren’t always compatible. Romeo and Juliet suffered some grave obstacles to their romance, but at least both their families were rich. Some star-crossed lovers have it much rougher. When family and careers are stirred into the brew, few teapots can contain the tempest that results.

Near Miss is a segment from my novel-in-progress Polymath. Sorry, folks, but I want $0.99 for this one. I hope you’ll agree that it’s worthwhile.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The True History of the Southwest.

In summary, no current inhabitants of Mexico (or Guatemala, etc.) have a claim on even one single inch of the American Southwest. Not one single citizen of Mexico is sneaking into the United States to reclaim property their ancestors were deprived of. Not one. They are criminal invaders and colonizers, pure and simple.

It’s time Americans learned the true history of our Southwest, as a counter to the currently prevalent "Aztlan" fairy tales put out by "La Raza" (The Race), “the Brown Berets of Aztlan,” "MEChA" (the Student Movement for Aztlan, whose very symbol is a lit “mecha” or fuse on a dynamite bomb), and other radical (and usually openly communist) anti-American groups.

"The True History of the Southwest." By Matt Bracken, Resister in the Rockies, 7/3/14.

H/t: Gates of Vienna.

Some Thoughts On Sex And The Bonded Couple

[This article also appears in PJ Media's Lifestyle section. As I've seen nothing else to spur an essay this morning, and I've just discovered the true inner meaning of exhaustion, I've decided to repost it here. -- FWP]

"How times have changed!" rises the cry of every generation. At least, it can seem that way to one unfamiliar with the course of things over time.

I have in mind the recent exchange of thoughts between psychologist Dr. Helen Smith and PJ Media Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle, germinated by the recently publicized case of a man who, feeling that his wife had cut him off sexually, presented her with a spreadsheet detailing their recent encounters. Dr. Helen was sympathetic toward the man: seemed she was confused about his behavior, and said the lack of sex was unusual and that it was because she was just busy with work. From what I remember, she is in her 20s and the couple have been together around five years and married for two and have no kids.

And she seriously wonders why the guy is mad? She has sex three times in seven weeks and he has probably been angry and boiling for some time before that. Why is she posting their problems on Reddit? She mentions his immature behavior; is hers any better? She says he wouldn’t talk to her about the chart etc., so maybe during this quiet time, she should stop and think about her behavior.

But more importantly, the husband should reflect on his marriage and ask himself a few questions. So far, there are no kids. If she lets her job interfere with her sex life, what about the kids? Will he have an eighteen year chart of excuses and pain? If kids are involved and he wants to get out of the marriage then, he is going to have a much harder time. Perhaps he simply needs some quiet time to reflect on what to do, whether this is going to work in the long run and why his wife would turn to strangers on the internet and post his chart on a Reddit site instead of sitting back and giving him some breathing room. This does not reflect well on how things will go for him in the future if they stay married.

...while Dave Swindle was not:

I’m actually going to take the wife’s side in this dispute. I have absolutely ZERO SYMPATHY WHATSOEVER for this loser. Why?

Because it’s not a wife’s responsibility to be her husband’s happy whore, eagerly providing him with his orgasms on demand.

Dissatisfied husbands, want to know the secret to having sex with your wife whenever you want? It is not your wife’s responsibility to be ready to go on command, it’s YOUR responsibility to know your wife so well that you are capable of seducing her anytime. When you want to have sex with her you don’t ask her, you put her in the mood yourself. It’s really that simple: know you wife well enough so you can push the right buttons, say the right things, and create an environment where sex just naturally happens.

Unfortunately, that’s more work than most men are used to for getting orgasms.

The frequency with which the unnamed subjects of the exchange actually "have sex" -- Lord, how I detest that phrase! -- strikes me as irrelevant. He feels she's cut him off; she claims to be too busy and tired. Neither mentions whether the lovemaking they actually manage to do is pleasant or fulfilling, whether physically or emotionally. The conflict doesn't involve sexual satisfaction, but rather sexual receptivity.

The questions that should follow aren't being explicitly addressed.

Dave Swindle's original reply to Dr. Helen emphasized orgasm: "[I]t’s not a wife’s responsibility to be her husband’s happy whore, eagerly providing him with his orgasms on demand." Yet Dr. Helen didn't speak of orgasm, or any of the other physical aspects of the sex act. She concentrates on emotion: "[I]t is a good example of how many women (and men too, given some of the comments) don’t think men have any feelings when it comes to what they need in marriage."

Dr. Helen's perspective is closer to mine. As I wrote in a recent novel:

"I know he still loves me," Marilyn said, "and of course I still love him. It's just that --"

"'Of course'? 'Of course'?" Helen's smile vanished and her face darkened. "You deny him all enjoyment of your body, you make him feel a churl even for thinking about it, you reave him of one of the essential achievements of manhood, but that's all right because you still love him?"

Marilyn gaped. "What achievement do you mean?"

"Do you have any idea," Helen said, "how radically different a man's experience of sex is from a woman's, dear?"


Helen sat back and folded her arms over her breasts. She looked at Marilyn as a teacher might an underachieving pupil, one who had more than adequate ability but refused to apply himself.

"We hold the veto power. We compel them to woo us, seduce us, cater to us. When we oh-so-generously let them near, they do almost all of the work, yet their orgasms involve only a tiny portion of their bodies and last a mere second or two. Ours are incomparably fuller and longer -- and at so much smaller a cost that it doesn't bear comparison." She shook her head. "We get so much more out of it than they do, it's a wonder they bother with us at all. So why do they bother with us, Marilyn?"

Helen's silent glare accused her of having missed something critical, something she ought to have known without needing to be told.

"I don't know. I...never thought about it."

The reproof in Helen's eyes remained strong, but something else entered to temper it, something wryly amused.

"You ought to have thought about it. But you're not the only one. Harridans all across this land have been telling women like you that you're owed, that men's desire for you is barely a hair's breadth from chattel slavery, that 'a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.' And you're too afraid to contradict them, or too proud to ask your mothers whether it might just possibly be some other way. So they go on to catechize the men, telling them what oppressors they are, and how awful the burdens of womanhood are, and how unfair it is that they should get to exhaust their bodies and erode their spirits with wage labor while women sit in the safety and comfort of their homes, being most oppressively provided for." Helen shook her head. "If a hundredth of that were true, the race would have died out thousands of years ago. It's we who owe them, Marilyn. Without them, we would still be cowering in caves. They have made us a world where we can be whatever we please."

My character Helen poses the essential question -- " So why do they bother with us, Marilyn?" -- though she never answers it explicitly. Male orgasm -- his spasmodic release of tension and seminal fluid -- is not the reason a decent man cherishes his lover's body and access to it. That there are a fair number of "indecent" men roaming about need not cloud the central issue.

Her sexual receptivity is his prize for being the man she loves. It tells him two things of inestimable value:

  1. That she has deemed him worthy above any of her other suitors;
  2. That he can make the effort, complications, and potential consequences of sex worth her while.

This aspect of sexual congress is so frequently dismissed that it approaches a kind of censorship. There are reasons for that, of course: the gender-war feminist movement treats men as "the enemy," to whom nothing should be granted except on terms profitable to her, while the "Game" movement among men resentful of feminism's representations and determined to assert sexual dominance are inclined to view contemporary women's exploitative attitude toward men as a license to think and behave in a complementary fashion. In effect, each views the other as a means to an end, which demeans and shortchanges both.

I've said it before: The fulfillments of sexual intercourse don't end with physical pleasure. They don't begin there, either. Though the language seems brusque, even a bit savage, the principal fulfillment to the man is that of victory: winning access to the body of his beloved. The principal fulfillment to the woman is that of agreeable surrender: the cession of her body to his, not merely for immediate pleasure but also in hope of a union that eclipses the physical connection. These satisfactions greatly overshadow the pleasures of the body, as does their continuation over time.

Indeed, a mature, self-assured man, properly reared and past the urgings of adolescence, is less concerned with his own physical pleasure than with bringing pleasure to her. Her desire for his desire, with all that follows from that, gives him what he most wants: the opportunity to bring her pleasure, even if he gets little or none for himself. This has often been dismissed as merely a form of politeness, but in fact it's the source of his greatest sexual fulfillment and, apart from progeny, his principal reason for wanting her to want him.

The comprehension of this point is so vital to the long-term maintenance of a successful marriage that no heap of adjectives could do it justice. Yet from the evidence we may conclude that millions of couples fail to grasp it at all, and suffer terribly thereby.

Yes, there are men so self-absorbed that a woman's sexual desire is merely an opening through which to seek their own fulfillment, including the evanescent and essentially trivial pleasure of orgasm. Yes, there are men who never bother to learn "what she likes." But in any decent society these will be a minority. The great danger to marital relations arises from the accelerating tendency among women to view sex as an imposition, a venue for negotiation, even an unpleasant duty to be minimized. It's not avoiding "being too tired" from one's daily labors that's central, but attaining and maintaining the variety of love that sees the couple as a transcendent entity, greater than the sum of its parts, that deserves every available opportunity to be more than two individuals obsessed with their own prerogatives.

His "spreadsheet approach" does seem misguided; at any rate, he could have been subtler. But far greater demerit attaches to her demotion of their coupling to a status below that of an after-dinner drink. Where's the love that caused them to become husband and wife? Where did they leave it behind? And why on Earth did they replace it with swivel chairs and a conference room table?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Behind The Camera:" Conceptions Of Freedom

I will never cease to be amazed at the power of memory: how it can rise up from nowhere, intrude irresistibly into one's thoughts, and assert itself against all attempts to deflect it.

Some years ago, it was my pleasure to encounter, at Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope writers' forum, a writer named Kerrigan Philip Coles. (His novels appear under the nom de plume "Philip Kerrigan.") We lavished a bit of praise upon one another's short stories; it was what we were both concentrating on at the time. One of his stories surged to mind this morning as I was preparing for the daily ordeal of my commute to work.

Kerrigan's story concerned a young woman whose father has abused and exploited her sexually, not merely for his own pleasure but as a source of profit, in pornographic films. She breaks away from him as an adult, but in the wake of his later, disabling stroke, is called upon to take him under her care. The story concludes in a horrifically brilliant fashion: she uses her helpless father as the object of abuse in a porn film that she composes and directs.

The conclusion is unforgettable: the protagonist luxuriates in being "behind the camera" and "in control of her own life" at long last.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

One of the recently reported trends I find most disturbing is the sharp diminution of interest among teenaged Americans in acquiring drivers' licenses and cars. I made mention of this to a colleague just yesterday; he replied that his sixteen-year-old son evinced the same disinclination -- that it took paternal pressure to get him behind the wheel for a driving lesson. It's the sort of contrast with the attitudes of young Americans in my age bracket that illuminates what's being done to us, slice by thin slice, by the encroachments of the Omnipotent State.

As a young adult, what being able and equipped to drive meant to me was freedom: a significant increase in my ability to control my own affairs. Indeed, to be unable or unequipped to drive struck me as pitiable, a state well below that which was proper to an American. It didn't occur to me until the rising of the leftist political wave against the personal automobile, some time in the Seventies, how important the auto is as an emblem of personal independence.

There are a few ironies buried in there, of course. Driving isn't a right but a government-licensed privilege. Car ownership is itself regulated by a registration regime that demands periodic (and often quite expensive) renewal. One's car will occasionally fail to cooperate with one's desire to be on the move, requiring expensive propitiation before it will comply. And of course, most of us can only drive where and how the government's roads will allow it.

All the same: To a teen of the Sixties, the first jalopy and the driver's license that allowed him to operate it constituted a giant step toward freedom, the ideal of these United States for which a bloody revolution was fought. That teens and young adults of this age should display such disinterest in acquiring independent mobility speaks volumes about the transformation in the priorities of the young, over the years since my own rite of automotive passage.

It often seems as if the original American conception of freedom -- the absence of coercion or constraint from all matters that don't involve aggression or fraud -- has given way to a welfarist conception, in which what the individual is supposed to prize most highly is "freedom from want:" i.e., the absence of significant unsatisfied desires for material things. Note that "freedom from want" was one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's quartet, by which he hoped to deflect the attention of those who cried out against his New Deal interventions. The Great Depression had created enough of a constituency for government largesse to gain FDR's "Four Freedoms" gambit a respect it has never deserved.

Clarence Carson, in his masterpiece The American Tradition, made plain just how thoroughly the original conception of freedom has been displaced by the Marxist conception of freedom as "an absence of tension or conflict." That didn't happen all by itself; it was pressed upon us by the Progressive political movement, which began with Jeremy Bentham and Edward Bellamy and continues, unchanged in its premises, to this day. That Marx's fatuous economic notions would give rise to "superabundance" of material goods and an eventual "withering away of the State" has never made good on its promises, no matter where or how it's been tried. The Progressives dangled a shiny bauble before the American people...and a heartbreaking number of them released their grip on their freedom to grab for it.

Hearken to Dr. Carson's peroration:

Effective disagreement means not doing what one does not want to do as well as saying what he wants to say. What is from one angle the welfare state is from another the compulsory state. Let me submit a bill of particulars. Children are forced to go to school. Americans are forced to pay taxes to support foreign aid, forced to support the Peace Corps, forced to make loans to the United Nations, forced to contribute to the building of hospitals, forced to serve in the armed forces. Employers are forced to submit to arbitration with labor leaders. Laborers are forced to accept the majority decision. Employers are forced to pay minimum wages, or go out of business. But it is not even certain that they will be permitted by the courts to go out of business. Railroads are forced to charge established rates and to continue services which may have become uneconomical. Many Americans are forced to pay Social Security. Farmers are forced to operate according to the restrictions voted by a majority of those involved. The list could be extended, but surely the point has been made.

As bad as that is, there's more and worse.

Part of the Progressive agenda was to conflate freedom with power, in such a fashion as to efface all distinctions between the original conception of freedom as decision-making free from coercion or constraint and the power to dictate the course of events. John Dewey, perhaps the most potent Progressive evangelist of the Twentieth Century, blatantly wrote that liberty -- political freedom -- is "power, effective power to do specific things:"

"Liberty is not just an idea, an abstract principle. It is power, effective power to do specific things. There is no such thing as liberty in general; liberty, so to speak, at large."

Dewey thus discards freedom of choice in favor of control over outcomes. In his conception, you are not free unless you have or can get what you want: a perfect complement to the Marxian and Rooseveltian formulations. As the premier proponent of government-controlled education, he promulgated this conception to tens of thousands of acolytes: persons who would go on to become teachers themselves.

Those currents have swelled into a fearsome tide. That tide has borne up the specious causes of all the gimme-groups in the country. It has injected the Democrat Party with the greater part of the 1928 Socialist Party platform. It has allowed "constitutional lawyer" Barack Hussein Obama to deride the Constitution as insufficient because it effectuates only "negative liberties," and makes no provision for "positive" ones. It's at the heart of United States Senator Elizabeth Warren's supposedly non-presidential campaign for every leftist wish in their very large wish book.

The original conception of freedom might not be wholly lost, but it is gravely imperiled. Remember the woman who supported Obama because "he gonna pay my mortgage." Remember the one who preened about her "Obama phone." And remember the two, on their way to get some "Obama money," who when asked where Obama would get it, shrugged and said "From his stash."

We return to Kerrigan's story at last. His protagonist, reaved of freedom by her predatory father, sought -- and believed she attained -- "freedom" by reversing their roles: putting him under her control and subjecting him to the very vilenesses he had inflicted on her. That is the nadir of thought, the conflation of untrammeled dictatorial power, the power of life and death and all that lies between them, with personal independence from another's control. That Dad might have deserved no better is utterly irrelevant. The tragedy occurs in the mind of the daughter. By adopting power and seeing it as freedom, she attains revenge but loses all hope of any freedom to come. That very same disease of the mind is steadily becoming epidemic in these United States.

Kerrigan, wherever you are, I hope you're well and happy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fourfer Tuesday

1. Barefaced Shamelessness.

You'd think, given the current white-hot scandal in which it's embroiled, the IRS would put this on hold for the moment:

Days after IRS officials said in a sworn statement that former top agency employee Lois G. Lerner’s computer memory had been wiped clean, the agency put out word to contractors Monday that it needs help to destroy at least another 3,200 hard drives.

The Internal Revenue Service solicitation for “media destruction” services reflects an otherwise routine job to protect sensitive taxpayer information, but it was made while the agency’s record destruction practices remain under a sharp congressional spotlight.

Congressional investigators of the IRS targeting of conservative groups have been hampered by the unexplained destruction of emails and other records of Ms. Lerner, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division and a central figure in the scandal.

The loss of Ms. Lerner’s hard drive also raised broader questions about why the tax agency never reported the missing records to the National Archives and Records Administration, as required by the Federal Records Act....

Dan Epstein, executive director of the watchdog group Cause of Action, said rules require the archivist to sign off on the destruction of federal records.

“This solicitation, combined with the failure of the IRS to consult the Archivist about Lois Lerner’s hard drive, should put hesitation into any assumption that consultation with the Archivist is happening and prompt a thorough assessment of record retention at the IRS,” Mr. Epstein said Monday.

The only conclusion I can draw from the above is that the IRS, and whoever in the White House has been tasked with protecting Obama from it, have assessed the consequences of blatantly violating the Federal Records Act as less painful for the IRS and the Obama Administration than the consequences of allowing any detailed records of Lerner's communications to come to light. Given the toothlessness of Congress and the nature of the Justice Department at this time, that could well be true.

2. The Wiggle Room That Yet Remains To American Medicine.

I find this development heartening, though because of its cost it won't be available to everyone:

[Dr. Frederick] Becker is shifting to a new style of practice, sometimes called concierge or retainer medicine. With the help of a company that has been helping physicians make such shifts for over 13 years, he will cease caring for a total of 2,500 patients and instead cut back to about 600. These patients will pay an annual fee of $1,650. In exchange, they will receive a two-hour annual visit with a complete physical exam, same-day appointments, 24-hour physician phone access, and personalized, web-based resources to promote wellness.

When patients get admitted to the hospital, Becker will remain their physician, and their health insurance will still pay for much of their care. Will it make more money for physicians? Becker doubts it, but if it does, he plans to plow any additional income he might derive back into his group practice, helping to lessen the economic pressures on his colleagues.

The concierge model of practice is growing, and it is estimated that more than 4,000 U.S. physicians have adopted some variation of it. Most are general internists, with family practitioners second. It is attractive to physicians because they are relieved of much of the pressure to move patients through quickly, and they can devote more time to prevention and wellness.

As an end-run around the ongoing bureaucratization of medical practice, this is highly attractive to physicians and patients both. The downside, of course, is that those who can't afford to pay such an annual fee will have increasing difficulty finding a primary care physician, owing to the accelerating retirement of currently practicing doctors and the dwindling supply of new doctors. Perhaps the "doc in a box" phenomenon will fill the gap, but it will be a while before the results of the new incentive structures become clear -- and you may be very sure that the federal government will stick its fingers into the works whenever a mascot-group screeches about "a right to affordable care."

3. Our Tranquil World.

It sometimes appears that the entire Obama Administration has been dosed with something that numbs one to reality:

Barack Obama’s team recently took credit for improving the “tranquility of the global community,” and the president made it clear just what a calm place the world has become during his tenure.

But this summer Obama’s tranquil world has descended into medieval barbarism in a way scarcely seen in decades.

The justly celebrated Victor Davis Hanson gives us a compact yet comprehensive rundown. Please read it all.

The central question, of course, is how anyone could sincerely maintain that the world is a more tranquil -- i.e., peaceful -- place owing to the efforts of Barack Hussein Obama and his lieutenants. Press secretaries, of course, are liars for pay, who are required to say what they've been instructed to say, and to deflect inquiries that might rip the cover off the administration's representations. Adroitness of rhetoric and tactical insincerity are written into the job description. But is it even conceivable that any official inside the foreign-policy apparatus of the Obama Administration has ever believed that Obamunist foreign policy has made the world a more tranquil place?

The silver lining is that should she gain the Democrats' presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton will be required to defend the mess she helped to make. Whatever she might think of herself, her abilities don't extend to using black paint to paint in white.

4. For Readers.

A pleasant recent discovery is urban fantasist Seanan McGuire. I recently finished her three-book "Incryptid" series, and was enthralled throughout by her freewheeling imagination and her facility for combining exciting action with good characterization and gentle humor. I've just begun her "October Daye" series, and so far it's equally captivating. Fans of contemporary fantasy hungry for something other than the ubiquitous vampire, werewolf, and zombie crap might want to give her a look.

Along with the pleasures of the stories themselves, Miss McGuire's Kindle-edition books are modestly priced -- and good reading in ebook format that's less expensive than the paperback edition is getting to be harder and harder to find.

I have a deadline to meet, so that will be all for today, Gentle Reader. If you'd like, you can help me to stay focused by going to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords and buying a few of my deathless masterpieces. Hint, hint!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Decreeing Utopia

It didn't work for Lenin.
It worked even more poorly for Stalin.
Mao killed sixty million Chinese and it still didn't work.
Pol Pot? Are you BLEEP!ing kidding me?
The Eurocrats have failed as well.
Who's left?

Perhaps that last should have been "Who's Left?" But I digress.

These clowns are left:

End global hunger and all forms of malnutrition and poverty by 2030, along with all urban slums around the world. Halve the number of deaths from road traffic accidents globally (an estimated 1.24 million in 2010, according to the World Health Organization) by the same date—and “reduce levels of violence and halve related death rates everywhere” by then too. Make sure that the income of the bottom 40 percent of the population in all countries grows faster than the national average. Achieve “global resource efficiency,” and try to separate economic growth from “environmental degradation and resource use” everywhere over the next decade and a half.

All of those lofty, ambitious –and for critics, improbable and not-very-closely-linked—objectives, as well as many more, are currently being bundled, massaged and repackaged at the United Nations, to be formally unveiled in September as the ”sustainable development goals,” the centerpiece of the latest multi-trillion-dollar U.N. bid to reshape the planet along largely socialist or progressive lines.

Are you surprised in the slightest, Gentle Reader, to learn that Obama supports this "initiative" -- or that his envoy to the soiree is John Podesta?

Well, it does keep them off the street, at least. And inasmuch as U.N. types contribute mightily to downtown Manhattan traffic and parking problems, that's no small thing. But should the Obamunists manage to commit us to this "big container of verbal fudge" (William Easterly, formerly an economist at the World Bank), it will be the end of anything even resembling a free market in these United States.

I've argued before that smart people have no place in government. It's always smart people who chisel around the edges of their authority when in office. It's always smart people who "baffle 'em with bullshit." And it's always smart people, when their houses of straw catch fire, who mutter to themselves that "nobody understands or appreciates me." Unwillingness to accept his limitations -- or limitations that arise from the nature of Mankind, for that matter -- is the hallmark of the "intellectual" in office.

Please don't misunderstand me. There are plenty of smart people who are humble enough to stick to what they truly know and can do well. But he who seeks a public position of authority has two strikes against him for that reason alone. An intellect significantly above the norm adds a million more. Worst of all is the man who believes himself both above average in intelligence and ethically qualified for a position of power, and is wrong on both counts. I could make a good case for immuring such individuals in lifelong solitary confinement as soon as they display their plumage.

Time was, there was a common rejoinder to the man with too many opinions and too little sense of his limitations: "If yer so smart, why ain'tcha rich?" It was far better aimed than many of its wielders knew. The typical aspirant to political power has never achieved anything on his own hook. That's part of why he wants his hands on the levers of power.

But should he get there, this supposed intellectual will believe himself capable of re-engineering Mankind. He'll craft "policies" that directly contradict the most basic drives of a sentient creature. When his schemes fail in practice, he'll call for immense enforcement mechanisms with draconian powers. He'll blink in incredulity when black markets arise to countervail his intentions. He'll bellow in rage when he discovers that such markets are ineradicable...and that among the most enthusiastic participants in those markets can be found some of his closest, most trusted lieutenants.

The United Nations regularly convokes such intellectuals and asks them to redesign human society. There's never a shortage of eager attendees. There's usually a lot of crisis-shouting and mutual genital fondling. There's often a complete lack of hard sense.

This latest gathering appears to be aiming for some sort of ultimate grand prize. As columnist George Russell notes, everything from the elimination of poverty to the reduction of traffic fatalities appears in the "zero draft." No one's pet peeve has been omitted. Nothing is said about costs or the implied incursions into individuals' rights. Evidence of logical coherence is entirely absent. Yet the draft claims as its overarching principle..."sustainability."

The one and only thing the United Nations could do for the people of the United States is to relieve Manhattan of its load on the borough's streets. I shan't hold my breath waiting for them to do so.