Saturday, February 17, 2018

They Have Sown The Wind

     There are days when the stupidity of so many strikes me as profound beyond comprehension.

     Andrew Klavan, whose talent for opinion-editorial eclipses even his considerable gifts as a novelist, has written a brilliant, angry article that addresses the cultural prerequisites for the sort of violence and destructive deviances that beset America today. A brief snippet to whet your appetites:

     It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:
     When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody... Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I'll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn't change, we changed.

     It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.

     Please, please read the whole thing. You’ll thank me.

     Many persons’ conceptions of peace and order are hazy. Worse, they’re qualified by preferences they dare not express aloud. “Peace and order are all very well,” they might say, “but you must reckon with the nature of Man. If there is to be violence, what will suffice to extinguish it except even greater violence? And order is always maintained by the threat of violence. thus to maintain the peace and order you seek, you must empower men of violence as its guardians: professional thugs, tasked with intimidating the rest of us. How can the asymmetry in power be rationalized – or controlled?” Then comes the invocation of Juvenal: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

     It’s legitimate to ask how we might keep the enforcers of peace and order within their prescribed bounds. The question has no provably correct answer. But it’s quite another thing to dismiss the concept of enforcement, simply because the question hasn’t yet been definitively answered. And yes, you’re hearing this from an inveterate theorist and explorer of anarchism.

     I must express a fundamental insight which, sad to say, many advocates of anarchism have refused to acknowledge, so that no one can henceforward claim that I would deny it:

Wherever and whenever men use force or intimidation to bring about a preferred state of affairs, in that place and time there is a governing authority: in other words, a State.

     Lysander Spooner alluded to it in one of his better known statements:

     The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

     The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

     Yes, Spooner expressed a moral distinction in favor of the highwayman:

     The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

     However, that fails to erase the deep commonality between an armed robber and a State in action. Both enforce their preferences at gunpoint – and so it shall always be, as long as men object strenuously enough to any particular category of behavior among their fellows.

     There are categories of behavior to which there exists a strenuous, near-unanimous opposition: what Milton Friedman called “an essential consensus.” Murder. Rape. Assault. Robbery. Fraud. Trespass. Several varieties of abuse of the helpless and the defenseless. But near-unanimous is not unanimous; otherwise, there would be no need – or demand – for laws and their enforcement.

     There are other categories of behavior that excite widespread revulsion, but of a qualitatively different sort: Adultery. Homosexuality. Prostitution and frequenting prostitutes. Rampant intoxication and the drugs that cause it. However, that revulsion is not wide enough to suppress those things by force. For one thing, there are many who object that they harm only those who consent to them. For another, the number of practitioners is large enough that many who are revulsed are closely related to one or more, and would shield them from the law. This has become especially plain as regards drug abuse.

     The countermeasure to those sins is social disapprobation of varying degrees. At one extreme, the transgressor is completely ostracized; at the other, he might suffer only a dubious reputation, limiting his opportunities socially and occupationally. There are gradations between those two poles. Though it might seem insufficient to a virulent opponent of some particular behavior, there are many cases in which a forcible “cure” would be worse than the “disease.” In some instances, the attempt to repress by force of law would actually amplify the problem. In others, the use of law and force would abrade the protections of fundamental rights. A society that recognizes such failings must make disapprobation of the appropriate intensity serve the need. It must not trouble itself about its inability to expunge all turpitude completely, so long as public peace and order are adequately maintained.

     Western society has forgotten most of the above. In the matter of degeneracies and depravities that are insusceptible to legal enforcement, the amnesia is near to total.

     Time was, we all knew the rules. Some didn't like them, but they understood that some rules are necessary to maintain a semblance of peace and order. More, they understood that there would be consequences for violating them. As they disliked the consequences even more than the rules, they remained within them, overtly at least.

     For a time, public peace and order were maintained. Though many committed covert violations of the rules, even the violators taught the rules to their progeny and prescribed conformance to them. To some, this constituted “hypocrisy.” Others, aware that “the flesh is weak,” deemed it unavoidable.

     But the rules were not allowed to remain in force. Neither were their supporters sufficiently eloquent or energized in their defense.

     First the consequences were softened. Sometimes that which had been outlawed became tolerated, at least de facto. In cases where a behavior was legal but shunned, the violator’s deed was shrugged aside. “Everyone does it.” “No big deal.” “He’s living with it; why can’t we?” As both the penalties and the stigmata for being caught in violation of the rules faded, more and more persons indulged themselves more and more openly. They discovered the peculiar pleasures and rewards of “rebellion.” Public peace and order began to fail.

     Presently, parents found that they could no longer impress the importance of respecting the rules on their children. Of course not! The kids’ classroom instructors undermined their parents every day of the school year. More, popular entertainment depicted the rules being violated openly and merrily wherever they looked. How could something so open and popular be “wrong?”

     The idea that there were rules, or that there should be rules, faded and was gone. So was every concept of public order, appropriateness, and common decency.

     We should have known better. We probably did.


1 comment:

Bob T. said...

"There are days when the stupidity of so many strikes me as profound beyond comprehension."

Or (in one's best Yoda voice): "The stupid is strong with this one!"

I love using that in "conversation" with a leftist. (Why, yes, those *are* sneer quotes! Thank you for noticing!)