Occasionally, a Gentle Reader will write to ask why I haven't yet written on some topic of current interest, and whether I plan to address it in the foreseeable future. Such notes are flattering, as they imply that my correspondent values my take on such things. I try not to disappoint such persons by dismissing the subject of their interest as outside my sphere of concern or expertise, even if that's exactly the way I view it. But now and then, a recent event that's elicited copious commentary from other sources will lie on my thoughts for some time before a pattern emerges that allows me to write something about it that strikes me as worth anyone's reading time.
The Washington Navy Yard massacre is one such event.
Aaron Alexis, the gunman who ended the lives of twelve innocents a few days ago, was insane -- psychotic; delusional; unpredictably violent. Because he had never come sufficiently "into the system" for constraining such persons, he was able to acquire a pump shotgun and access to the Washington Navy Yard, and express his psychosis with flying lead. Twelve persons died before a policeman could end Alexis's own life with a round from an AR-15, currently America's most popular rifle.
And of course, the gun controllers and their Main Stream Media sycophants immediately revived their campaign against "assault weapons," by which they meant the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Lunacy? Of course. The gun controllers have always been lunatics. As some wag said, every time some sort of atrocity is committed with a firearm, the politicians try to take the guns away from everyone who didn't do it. Nothing could possibly make less sense, right?
Wrong. We're looking squarely at the political disease that best characterizes America today: agendaism.
Agendaism is an ideology, but not one of the sort with which most persons are familiar. It consists of two parts:
- A firm and unchanging agenda: i.e., a set of goals to be pursued thought political mechanisms;
- A collection of context-specific tactics oriented toward achieving that agenda.
The overarching principle of agendaism is that with the right tactics, the right publicity, and the right "slant," an event can be made to serve any agenda whatsoever, as long as the tactics are properly fitted to the event.
There are numerous agendaists in public life today. Broadly speaking, any politically active person, whether he's a public official or a private citizen, who is indissolubly attached to his agenda, such that neither reason nor evidence could possibly sway him from it, is an agendaist. Some, of course, are more effective than others, but the defining characteristic is that unbreakable attachment to a set of unchanging political goals.
Why would anyone be so fixated on a specific set of goals, even in the teeth of contrary reasoning and evidence? Unclear. Perhaps the only answer available is Aristotelian: action to advance those goals is what makes him happy, or what he thinks will make him happy. Always remember The Algorithm:
- Select a technique that you think will get you what you think you want.
- Will this technique require you to lose body parts, go to jail, or burn in Hell?
- If so, return to step 1.
- If not, proceed to step 3.
- Do a little of it.
- Are you at your goal, approaching it, or receding from it?
- If at your goal, stop.
- If approaching, return to step 3.
- If receding, return to step 1.
...and bear in mind that "what you think you want" is not covered by the above; it's beyond all rational investigation.
Gun control is an important item on many agendaists' agendas. Never mind that criminals are the least likely persons on Earth to comply with a gun ban or gun registration law. Never mind that removing weapons from the hands of the peaceable and law-abiding cannot possibly bring about a reduction in violent crimes or crimes against property. Never mind that disarming a man renders him helpless before an armed predator. A gun-control agendaist seeks to disarm us peones because he thinks it will make him happy to have done so. You cannot persuade him otherwise.
Agendaists are like that.
I swiped the title of this piece from a Theodore Sturgeon short story. In the story, an unidentified spacecraft has entered the Solar System and has begun randomly and lethally attacking population centers and other spacecraft. Nothing seems able to stop it. It appears unwilling to communicate. Solar System authorities have one untried weapon: The Death, a radiation field that liquefies living tissue, against which there is no defense. However, its use has been forbidden since its one and only employment in war. After a great deal of bickering, the supreme council decides to authorize its use against the invader...and finds that it has no effect. Pandemonium ensues.
Ultimately, it's discovered that the invader craft is unmanned. At one time it possessed a living (nonhuman) crew, but that crew was killed by its enemies, by using The Death. However, its builders had arranged that the craft should fly on, wreaking death and destruction even once its crew had been eliminated, as an Ultimate Revenge against their supremely vicious blood enemies. They had anticipated that those enemies would succeed in exterminating their entire species, and were determined to strike at them even from beyond the grave.
As the protagonist of Sturgeon's story says in its last paragraph, "There is a defense against The Death. You can't kill a dead man."
Let that sink in for a moment or two.
One of our current subjects of public debate is how best to "prevent" outbreaks of mass murder such as those of Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Jared Loughner, Nidal Malik Hassan, Anders Breivik, Adam Lanza, Aaron Alexis, and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Note that none of the approaches suggested or tried have had perfect success, for a simple reason.
The reason? You can't deter a man who has already decided that the loss of his life is a worthwhile price to pay for what he wants. If there is such a man in your society, and if he decides that what he wants is to kill a lot of people, sooner or later he'll try to do so, even knowing that it will cost him his life.
Some years ago, I wrote on this subject in a more political context:
Conflict-resolution analysts have always based their approaches on the classic, game-theoretic approaches pioneered by John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. These men, themselves mighty geniuses, built atop the economic understandings of David Ricardo and Vilfredo Pareto. The thinking of Ricardo, Pareto, and the rest of the scholium of classical economics took its founding insights from the father of all rational economic reasoning, Adam Smith.
From Smith to the great thinkers of RAND and Hudson, we can trace an unbroken chain of calm, reasoned analysis, all of which rested on a silent, indispensable postulate: For any given thing a contestant in a contest might want, there is a maximum price he'd be willing to pay, and no more.
Seems unassailable, doesn't it? The contrary proposition would be that there's someone willing to pay an infinite amount for some good. That would imply that he'd be willing to sacrifice his life, the lives of all his loved ones and friends, and everything else he could manipulate, to achieve some desideratum. Insane! Who would be left to enjoy whatever it was he had purchased?
Before Black Tuesday, no one would have entertained the notion.
Somewhere in my time closet, I have a button that says, "If you're willing to die, you can do anything." Perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement, but it points up an unpleasant truth. The sacrifice of one's own life, which has been called "the ultimate price," will buy a lot of things that are available for no other currency. Yet the willingness to make that sacrifice contradicts the unspoken assumption of classical economics. It renders conventional methods of valuation, and the reasoning by which we use them, impotent.
The line of thought derived from Smith, whose fullest flowering arrived with Thomas Schelling, cannot cope with decisions that incorporate a willingness to pay an unbounded price.
You cannot deter a man willing to pay for what he wants with his life and all else that matters to him. Indeed, in a just society -- i.e., one that doesn't attempt to coerce or punish by inflicting harm on innocent uninvolved persons -- you cannot even deter a man who's merely willing to die. You can stop him by killing him; that's all. But there is no defense against him, if by "defense" we mean a shield for those he would like to harm. In a practical sense, he's already dead.
Some psychotics and sociopaths are detected in time to block their access to weapons. Some, like Aaron Alexis, are not. The ones that slip through the holes in the web will eventually take lives. There is no defense against them.
We cannot defend against them. But we can prepare for them: we can be ready to kill them when they decide to strike. It's not ideal; some innocent persons will undoubtedly die before we can stop them. But it's the best we can do -- and it's the ultimate argument for an armed populace.
If we look at the agendaist through the lens above, it appears that his absolute, unbreachable fidelity to his agenda renders him just as impossible to deter as any psychotic killer. There's no price he'd accept to back away from his agenda. He'll act on it unless and until he's stopped -- and stopping him is always a temporary thing.
(For the purposes of this discussion, allow me to omit consideration of "stopping" an agendaist by killing him. That's illegal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, as attractive an approach as it might sometimes seem.)
If there is no defense against the agendaist, then we must be prepared to stop him. This is a bit more difficult than simply carrying a gun. Remember: he does not respond to argument or evidence. In the usual case, neither will others who buy into his agenda, for he won't attempt to gain adherents through reason or evidence. To stop him, he must be neutralized by other means.
"Other means" require that we either threaten what he values apart from his agenda sufficiently to silence him, or find a way to undercut his appeal to those he seeks to persuade. The former isn't a reliable approach; it's subject to heavy political counterfire. The latter sounds unappealing, even slanderous...but many an agendaist will put the weapon into our hands by his own actions, for he is willing to sacrifice any and every other consideration, including moral and ethical ones, to the furtherance of his agenda.
Consider the case of Barack Hussein Obama, an agendaist of the first water. This man was stoppable. He had enough unsavory associations and murky antecedents that the McCain / Palin ticket could have (and should have) walked over him. Obama's patronage of Jeremiah Wright and his relationship with Bill Ayres should have been sufficient. Yet the McCain strategists explicitly excluded the use of Obama's associations and antecedents, and thus doomed their campaign to failure. Mitt Romney committed much the same mistake in his 2012 bid for the presidency.
Rather than replaying the errors of that campaign, I will ask: Are we in the Right able to learn from our mistakes, or will we advance other candidates as lily-livered as McCain and Romney?
Agendaism, in case it's not immediately obvious, is a disease of the Left. We in the Right pride ourselves on being alive to good reasoning and pertinent evidence, and let's pledge that it will always be so. Despite that, we've allowed agendaists to permeate the federal government, and no few state and local governments, as if we were afraid to use the weapons at hand. An agendaist in public office will exploit every means and opportunity at his disposal, and will create them if none are immediately available.
Against an agendaist in the Oval Office, there really is no defense.
It's time for freedom lovers to cease worrying about "descending to their level" and take off the gloves. No more wimpy candidates; no more white-gloved distaste for publicly dissecting our opponents' misdeeds and failings. The Republic can't tolerate much more from the agendaists. It will take the rarest and most difficult form of courage -- moral courage, the courage of our convictions -- to stop them.