Friday, December 21, 2012

Rounding Up 2012

Sigh. Every year I do this. Well, almost every year. I survey the worst of the atrocities, review the foulest of the political developments, and catalog the least forgivable of the “personalities” who dominate our news cycles. I hold nothing back. I unleash my evil twin, my Steppenwulf, my inner Westbrook Pegler. I spread the opprobrium with a BLEEP!ing trowel! the And does anyone care? Do things change noticeably? Of cuss not! People go on being people, instead of magically transforming themselves into angels. Governments go on being engines of oppression, yet most folks think they’re “inevitable,” or “deplorable, but what choice do we have?” And silly little pop princesses go on singing diabetes-inducing ditties about love while having group sex with manatees.

No. No more. Not this year! This year, it’s about me.

Wait...what am I saying? I’m the single most boring individual who’s ever lived! The details of my existence are the strongest soporific known to Man! Better to give comparative statistics on the drying speeds of various brands of indoor paint!


It was a bad year for America. I can think of only one development of note that put a smile on my puss, and it’s one in which my delight wasn’t universally shared: The New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl yet again.

The hell with the eagle’s-eye news survey. What did you enjoy this year that’s almost completely behind us? Yes, you. What developments in your own existential niche brought you pleasure or personal profit? As things were going to Hell around us all, what events improved your existence: physically, intellectually, or spiritually?

I ask because when things are generally going to Hell – and don’t kid yourself; they most certainly are – a sensible man pulls back from the world. He closes off the sources of noise and disorder and creates a fortress for himself and his family. He does what he can to provide against the future, but he lives in the present, enjoying what there is to enjoy and cherishing the lives and affections of those whom he loves. He doesn’t wallow in misery, nor in the miseries of others.

That’s the meat of a conversation I had with a friend not long ago. That friend, an extremely bright and astute man, was – probably still is – in utter agony over political developments. Make no mistake: I agreed with him about all of them, and still do. Politically, things really, truly are going downhill at toboggan speed. We who are alive today might be the last crop of Americans who know any freedom at all. My friend wanted my opinion about what we can and should be doing about all of that.

I averted the “should” and focused on the “can.” Politically, in the near term there’s nothing we can do. The answer didn’t please him; he has an active mentality and wants to pitch into the battle for freedom in whatever way he can. My assessment turns on a simple partition of human attitudes toward political subjects:

  • There are persons who are open to reason and evidence, whatever their current opinions.
  • There are persons whose opinions are impervious to reason and evidence, being based entirely on emotion or indoctrination.
  • There are persons whose opinions are merely cover for an agenda of which they will not speak.

The persuasibles are a minority. Worse, the overwhelming majority of them have already enlisted in the pro-freedom cadre. The other two groups are a heavy majority – and they include just about every politician and public figure in the country. Persuading such persons to change their stances is comparable to sweeping back the tide. Ask King Knut how well that went.

A time of darkness is upon us. The re-election of Barack Hussein Obama makes it inevitable.

There will be several sorts of deterioration in the immediate future:

  • Economic: The nation’s production of goods and services that free men want and are willing to pay for will decline as the disincentives to production accumulate.
  • Fiscal: The American dollar will continue to devalue; the evidence in the general price level will become ever plainer.
  • Cultural: The pollution of our cultural space will continue apace, as aspiring “entertainers” turn ever more definitely in the direction of such vomitous examples as PSY, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Lady Gaga, and so on. Assaults on Christianity and the Christian ethos will spread and intensify.
  • Social: There will be an increase in violent crimes and crimes against property in America’s coastal states. That will evoke a tide of emigrants from those states to the states of the “inner” country...which will respond by erecting barriers against them.
  • Political: What remains of politically recognized individual rights will be salami-sliced over and over in response to fake “crises,” some of which will have been brought about by previous incursions on our rights, and some of which will have been manufactured outright. The phrases to watch in this connection are “We’ve got to act now” and “compelling government interest.”

All of this is so foreseeable that it’s like predicting that a raw egg will break if you hurl it against a wall. You, Gentle Reader, can affect exactly none of it by individual action. Neither can you retard it by sending Republicans to Washington; the Grand Old Party has made it plain that it lacks any interest in freedom...that it merely wants to remain a “player” in the political charades of our time.

You can shield yourself from some of it. You can shield your family from some of it. You can help your neighbors to buttress themselves against some of it. But you can’t prevent it; the developments of 2012 have made that impossible.

Yes, I could be wrong. But I wouldn’t bet against me.

Mark Butterworth’s “Tales of New America” strike me as a plausible possible future direction for these United States. There are parts of the country, mostly well away from the ocean coasts, whose people retain the American virtues and the belief in freedom. The gulf between them and the “blue states” has become very wide. We’ll know when it’s become unbridgeable: secessionist movements will gain enough affiliates and respectable spokesmen to become a credible political force.

Don’t like the idea of secession? Neither do I. But these past sixty years, the universe has rarely consulted me for my likes or dislikes before rolling along in obedience to its inherent laws. At any rate, effective secession, by a state or a bloc of states, remains less than likely in the near term. It could happen, but for the next few years at least, the odds will be against it.

However, if the current political trends are permitted to continue for four or five years more, the emergence of a powerful secessionist movement will become ever more likely, perhaps more likely than not. Washington will not fail to react. Blood will flow even if the secessionist-dominated regions never explicitly declare their independence from the Union of 1787.

If you’d like to avert that outcome, and others equally as unpleasant, now is the time to set to work. It’s all we can do. Indeed, it’s what we should do. Just keep in mind that the salutary effects won’t be perceptible in the immediate future.

The path into an improved future must begin at the individual level. It takes free men – determinedly free; ready, willing, and able to accept all the responsibilities freedom implies – to create a free nation. For starters:

  1. Free men must be self-reliant.
  2. Free men must be morally aware and upright.
  3. Free men must be equal to the consequences of their decisions and actions.

The self-reliant man doesn’t necessarily have to be able to build his own starship. (It would be nice, but let’s stay within the bounds of present-day reality.) But he does have to allow that nothing he needs or wants is his by right; all good things are the fruits of preparation, labor, and trade. Therefore, he must become one who has something of value to offer to others, at the very least. Education is his paramount obligation to himself. If he has children, it’s one of his three principal obligations to them.

A morally aware man is one who has learned, through whatever fashion, that all actions have consequences, and the nature of the action determines the nature of the consequence. He who flouts the moral law – do not murder; do not steal or defraud; do not break one’s given word; do not bear false witness; do not covet – can sometimes evade the impact of the consequences for a while, but not indefinitely. Others will take note of him and prepare defenses against him. He will be ostracized, will descend into poverty, and will die alone.

A man equal to the consequences of his decisions and actions will be properly prepared to face them. If he has obligations to others, he won’t shirk them when they become weighty. He doesn’t disdain help in times of crisis – indeed, he welcomes it and is grateful for it – but he doesn’t demand it nor expect that it will come to him like manna from heaven.

Such men are worthy of being free, because they can league together to build free communities.

Political freedom – the right to do as you please with what is properly yours, as long as you refrain from infringing on others’ right to do the same – is always an attribute of a geographically demarcated group. Such a group can be as small as a neighborhood or as large as a planet. The point here is that political freedom inheres in the acceptance of one’s rights by others. The lone “free man” asserting his rights can die in their defense, but in no other way do they possess practical significance. We are only as politically free as those around us permit us to be.

Practical freedom, on the other hand, is to a large extent achievable even in the midst of tyranny. It relies on the gap between the demands of the political “authority” and its ability to enforce them.

The best example of what I mean comes from the underground economy. America has a substantial one. Many, many Americans conceal some portion of their economic activities from prying political eyes in some fashion. Recent estimates of the size of the underground economy range as high as 30% of all economic activity in the United States. Those engaged with that economic sector are exercising a degree of practical freedom that political “authority” hates and would act to quench...if it were able to do so.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s humorous vignette illustrates why and how it works. A British subject is goggling over the bill from his surgeon:

"Your fee of £4000," the patient said, "represents the proportion I retain from the last £44,500 of my income. To pay you without being worse off would mean earning another £44,500 more than last year, no easy task."

"Well," replied the surgeon, "you know how it is. It is only by charging you that much that I can afford to charge others little or nothing."

"No doubt," said the patient. "But the fee will absorb £44,500 of my theoretical income -- no inconsiderable sum. Might I ask what proportion of the £4000 you will manage to retain?"

It was the surgeon's turn to scribble calculations, as a result of which he concluded that his actual gain, after tax had been paid, would amount to £800.

"Allow me to observe," said the patient, that I must therefore earn £44,500 in order to give you £800 of spendable income; the entire balance going to the government. Does that strike you as a transaction profitable to either of us?"

"Well, frankly, no," admitted the surgeon. "Put like that the whole thing is absurd. But what else can we do?"

"First, we can make certain that no one is listening. No one at the keyhole? No federal agent under the bed? No tape recorder in the -- ? Are you quite sure we can keep this strictly to ourselves?"

"Quite sure," said the surgeon after opening the door and glancing up and down the corridor. "What do you suggest?"

"Come closer so that I can whisper. Why don't I give you a case of scotch and call it quits?"

"Not enough," hissed the surgeon. "But if you made it two cases -- "


"-- and lent me your cabin cruiser for three weeks in September -- "


"-- We might call it a deal!"

"That's fine. And do you know what gave me the idea? I studied Parkinson's Second Law and realized that excessive taxation has made nonsense of everything!"

[C. Northcote Parkinson, The Law And The Profits]

Most persons are able to understand this, though only some – probably less than half the total – are both willing and able to act on it. Nevertheless, such minorities constitute the most vibrant part of the American economy: the part that isn’t hobbled by government interference.

Would Washington – and the states, counties, cities, villages, and school boards – act to stop this if possible? Yes, of course. That’s what they do; it’s inherent in the nature of political power. But they can’t. There are 330 million of us. Policing us all in every aspect of life and at every instant of every day is simply impossible. That’s why they rely upon paid informants – and why among the most important things you can do is to learn who, of those around you, is utterly, reliably trustworthy.

(A big warning here: That might not include all the members of your family. Indeed, family having suffered the denigrations and degradations we’ve all seen, it might not include any of them.)

Practical freedom, whether in economic affairs or in any other venue, depends upon practical privacy: the maintenance of strong barriers against intrusion by persons minded to interfere. The rest follows.

By now you must have realized that what you’ve been reading isn’t a news roundup of 2012 but a manifesto for 2013. It’s not a political manifesto, in the usual sense. The earlier essays:

...are all I can contribute in that connection at this time. Today’s essay is a personal manifesto: a program for individuals to follow. He who follows it will be equipped, mentally, morally, and in other ways, to endure and flourish in the near and intermediate future, despite adverse political developments and the ever-increasing rapacity of the political class.

I hope that’s enough, from me at any rate, to close out 2012. For the moment, I have no more to give. Practical matters press upon me rather powerfully at this time: I have obligations of which I must not speak, to which I must give my immediate and absolute attention. Yes, they’re that serious. If you live long enough and involve yourself deeply enough with others, you, too, will someday feel their weight.

But all things start with individuals. “Society” is composed of nothing else. And though the thought has always pained me, it is nevertheless the case that most of us are more concerned with reforming or re-educating others than with making as much as we can of ourselves.

Let 2013 be the start of a different and better path:

There’s only one way to improve society. Present it with a single improved unit: yourself. -- Albert Jay Nock

Merry Christmas. May the joy of Christ’s Nativity be yours throughout this blessed season and the New Year to come. I’ll be back with fresh tirades in January.

All my best,


Mark Alger said...

Workin' on it. Meantime, Merry Christmas to you and yours.


furball said...

Best wishes, Fran.

KG said...

Merry Christmas, Fran. All the best to you and yours for 2013, too.
You helped me make some dark times bearable through 2012 and there's no way ever to repay you for that.

rickl said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Fran, Mark, and all of the other contributors to this site.

I don't have much in the way of family, and I've cast away my liberal friends who voted to re-elect Obama. I want nothing further to do with them.

So now it's just me, my employer, my cats, and the people I know on the internet.

rickl said...

As for my highlight of 2012, that's easy. It was the first "all-up" test flight of SpaceX's Dragon in May, which reached the ISS.

Here's the full webcast.

You can skip ahead to about the 40 minute mark to watch the launch. The wild cheering near the end still brings tears to my eyes. I haven't been this excited about a spaceflight since I was a kid in the Apollo era.

rickl said...

I forgot to mention that I set my alarm for 3:00 AM on a work night to watch the launch live.

Then I took a vacation day to watch the approach and berthing with the ISS.