Elliptical Statements and Drawing Small Circles Around Government

In response to my previous post, commenter @amblingon wrote:

You know, articles like this are frustrating because they imply a point, but avoid outright stating it

I am, in all seriousness, deeply sympathetic to this argument.

I've got an internet friend – a physicist and a certifiable genius – who is tons of fun to chat with, but who – with some regularity – dips into a mode of communication where he makes weird elliptical references instead of just G_d-damned stating his m_-f_ing point. And it pisses me off.

…so it's sort of odd to realize that I am – apparently – prone to doing the same sort of thing.

With that said, I seem to have two modes of blogging: massive 5,000 word essays, and quick juxtapositions of quotes. I don't always have time for the massive word bombs, so the choice is "word bombs and nothing else" or "word bombs and occasional elliptical juxtapositions". Which is to say, I'd promise to do better, but – to quote Doc Venture: "your father can't…because he doesn't care to." Which is kind of a dickish response, I admit, but there we are.

Especially when it's a silly point (what, the President shouldn't be protected from attacks?) like this one.

To go elliptical for a moment (but I promise I'll circle back), a short tale:

A few weeks ago I was visiting a much less urban area of the country and ended up reading a transcript of a town meeting. Officer Fred from the police department wanted $90 for ammo to practice with. Bill from the Department of Public Works wanted $1,200 for a new liner for the skating pond, and noted that they already had $940 in the savings account. All five women on the historical committee agreed that they should open the local museum on a Saturday.

Reading the transcript I had a really weird feeling, and it took me a while to figure out what it was.

I eventually did.

You know how progressives love to say things like "'government' is just a word for things we all do together"? And you know how I mock that with additions and ammendations such as "…like use drones to kill Afghani children!" ?

I realized what was so odd about this small town's town government.

It really was just a bunch of people.

I don't know if it's sheerly because of the limited budget, or because the number of people involved is close to the Dunbar number, or because there's greater transparency, or there's some step function where any government under a certain size operates categorically differently from bigger governments.

…but I had the very weird experience of seeing a government and not having my extreme hair-trigger anarcho-capitalist / voluntaryist hackles raised. I thought to myself "yeah, the skating pond probably does need a new liner".

I swear to God, I even thought "$90 isn't much – the cops really should get some more ammo to practice with".

With out exaggerating, this is the first time in my life that I saw a government that seemed reasonable to me, and I'm still slightly in shock at the idea and reverberating at bit in response to it.

Commenter @jdgalt responded to my post:

JohnC and Zack have a point, but I think they miss Clark's point, which is political:

The government, or most parts of it, have adopted the attitude that they are at war with us the people.

The White House's fortress-like properties are not really even relevant to that point, except symbolically. A more reliable indication is the way local police departments across the country have been arming themselves like an army for the last 10+ years. Even before the feds started selling them mortars, tanks, and body armor, one podunk town after another have created SWAT teams and stocked up on riot gear.

At the federal level, you mostly notice it (or at least I do) when the President goes somewhere and gives a speech. When Nixon and Ford and Carter gave one, there was always a heckler or two. You could do that in a free country. Now, it will get you detained by the Secret Service.

Similarly, peaceful demonstrations at a city council meeting used to be no big deal. Now they will get you tasered and/or pepper sprayed.

This is what it means to be a police state.

Amen.

Exactly.

OK. Now it's time to circle back to @amblingon, who said:

Especially when it's a silly point (what, the President shouldn't be protected from attacks?) like this one.

My point is not that the president shouldn't be protected from attacks, but that he should – like most citizens – have no reason to be attacked.

Every now and then I read some article about a city mayor or the prime minister of a small European country who bikes to work, or takes mass transit, or drives a taxi to keep a finger on the pulse of the common man.

The small town in Maryland I visited didn't have to worry that anyone would assassinate the mayor – because what's a mayor? He's just some guy. One of us. His duties include reviewing the budget and mediating disputes between the historical committee and the DPW when they both want to use the same patch of land behind the high school.

The mayor did not need to defend town hall with lasers, anti aircraft missile batteries, bollards, or thousands of troops.

I suggest that any individual who is so powerful that he must be defended with a small army of private guards, laser weapons, missiles, continuously orbiting combat aircraft, and a private nuclear proof bunker ipso facto has too much power.

No one wants to kill the mayor of Duluth Minnesota. There are no laser weapons defending the executive board of the Humane Society. The New York Opera does not have a staff of 2,000 soldiers on hand. I'd be surprised if the founders of Google don't have a few private security guys following them and their children around, but they don't have tanks.

Some may suggest that a president so unimportant as to not be worth attacking is unrealistic for a government that employees 7 out of every 100 people in a population of 300 million, that spends $3.5 trillion dollars per year, and that rules over 3.8 million square miles.

Those objections might be correct.

I'd suggest that we scale back the size of the government – or perhaps even the territory it rules over – until spending $1,200 on a new rink liner and allocating $90 to the defensive force start to seem like reasonable decisions that we can all make together.

Last 5 posts by Clark

Comments

  1. pillsy says

    My point is not that the president shouldn't be protected from attacks, but that he should – like most citizens – have no reason to be attacked.

    For instance, Ronald Reagan shouldn't have been so famous that a crazy person would think killing him would impress Jodie Foster.

  2. says

    For instance, Ronald Reagan shouldn't have been so famous that a crazy person would think killing him would impress Jodie Foster.

    Yes. No one tries to impress Jodie Foster by attacking the mayor of Duluth.

  3. stillnotking says

    Sadly, small, reasonable governments tend to be crushed or absorbed by large, unreasonable ones.

  4. Tarrou says

    I have a similar idea when people talk about how the government is so big and scary that we need another sector of government to keep an eye on them. I just say that if (for instance) the police are too invasive, the best remedy is to scale back their power, staff and budget, not create a new office to investigate their wrongdoings and report to a moderation committee along with their union.

  5. pillsy says

    So the problem isn't that Presidents are powerful, but just that they're so famous that they're likely to attract the attention of violent loonies?

  6. dumbkraut says

    … about a city mayor … who bikes to work

    The bloodcurdling adventures of Biking Boris come to mind.

    The outcome wasn't too bad. Compared to a typical police operation the girls were neither tasered nor pepper sprayed or shoot. Which proves that even in communities not so small biking mayors may contribute to public safety.

  7. Jon says

    I think your point was better when you didn't outright state it, because I could willingly take away a more reasonable interpretation of your anecdote.

  8. says

    @Jon

    I think your point was better when you didn't outright state it, because I could willingly take away a more reasonable interpretation of your anecdote.

    I will always treasure your tightly-reasoned point-by-point rebuttals.

    Please stop by and comment again soon.

  9. Docrailgun says

    Let me counter your Libertarian fantasy of everyone being a polite and helpful neighbor with my own: a government at any level should be a arbiter to bring justice to those who have been wronged.
    We know that 'the free market' doesn't keep companies from acting badly (gasoline prices are a good example of that), and arming everyone with weapons made only for murdering people doesn't make for a polite society either
    So, how do we get there? Public-only funding of all elections us a start.

  10. says

    The whole "let's get rid of big government" argument might resonate a little better if in the same breath you said "let's get rid of huge multi-national business conglomerations" because they, too, cause much pain and suffering and are simply not accountable to anyone.

  11. Dan says

    …so it's sort of odd to realize that I am – apparently – prone to doing the same sort of thing.

    Yeah, no shit, you always do that. It's one of the things that makes your writing unbearably smug.

  12. Craig says

    I'm sympathetic to your view, Clark; I don't think democratic societies, in particular, can possibly work with a population of 300 million people covering an area the size of the United States.

    However, when technology and power make it possible for one government to control such a large area and wield as much influence over the rest of the world as the US does, you can't just leave that position empty. Nature (and power) abhors a vacuum. If the US gives up that power, someone else will take it. As little as I trust the US government, there are others I trust less.

    Part of the nature of the universe is a tendency to build up complexity. This is why we aren't all single-celled organisms. The same tendency exists in society. One problem, or just fact of life, about this is that social systems that can work tolerably well in smaller societies don't necessarily work in larger ones. Democracy, for example.

    What you or I would like, and what the state of the world makes possible, do not necessarily agree.

  13. Bobby says

    @ Clark, when it all goes to hell you can come on my island and be my neighbour.

    @ all: get it right! It was John Lennon who got killed over Jodie Foster. And the real tragedy is that it was John and not Paul, but enough about my musical tastes…

    All government is an usurpation. Lysander Spooner's natural law essay really is all the politics and all the law any sane, honest person needs for guidance vis a vis politics and law.

  14. says

    @Dan

    Yeah, no shit, you always do that. It's one of the things that makes your writing unbearably smug.

    I'll always treasure our moments together Dan. Thanks for stopping by.

  15. says

    @Bobby

    @Clark, when it all goes to hell you can come on my island and be my neighbour.

    If you've already got your island: DONE!

    If not: currently in the market for an island of my own (where "island" is defined loosely). If I get mine first, the position of Chief Executive in Charge of Farming is still open! ;-)

    All government is an usurpation. Lysander Spooner's natural law essay really is all the politics and all the law any sane, honest person needs for guidance vis a vis politics and law.

    Amen.

  16. pillsy says

    @Bobby:

    Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman because (to the extent there is a "because") Chapman was obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye. Hinkley was the one who was fixated on Taxi Driver and Jodie Foster.

  17. xtmar says

    While I agree with Clark philosophically, I think from a practical level there are too many loonies out there to assume that people at the highest level of government can just tinker around without being troubled by the populace.

    Consider, if you will, the case of SHAC, which made it a policy to harass clerks and scientists who work on animal testing. These are ordinary people, many of them with only a secondary or tertiary connection to the actual animal testing, yes they're still subject to harassment because of where they work. While I think the lasers and some of the other stuff are a bit theatrical, some degree of protection seems necessary.

  18. Bobby says

    @Clark well… I live in the UK and after the collapse and the naturally violent chaos that follows(which will be euphemistically known only as "the troubles" and never discussed in detail) I feel I will have a good chance of being owner of an island even if it is just that of Mann. On a more serious note, I really am seriously looking at starting my own country. Interested? (I suck at farming. But good at fishing/hunting and building stuff).

    @Pillsy – damn it. The gub'rment gone done and fried muh brain when my tin foil hat was off. But I really thought the catcher in the rye guy WAS the Jodie Foster guy. Ps: note my honourably avoiding to Google and taking my fallible memory straight into this duel of witlessness.

  19. Bobby says

    @ Docrailgun: you are wrong about an armed society not being a polite one. It is violently vicious and ugly for one generation then all the stupid people are dead and then it does become pretty polite. Remove government and it becomes pretty non violent too within the small communities that invariably form. The problem is these small communities become tribal and go to war with each other. The only real solution is an armed and EDUCATED society.
    Give everyone mini-nukes and the few hundred thousand that survive the inevitable holocaust of stupidity will be very polite. And glowing with the thirst for philosophy. Literally glowing.

  20. Mike says

    I think it would be useful to examine the development of the presidential fortress. In the 1800's anyone could walk right up to the white house or the capitol building.

    It might surprise people to find that even fifteen years ago, one could stroll unchallenged into my state capitol building and wander around lost for twenty minutes opening strange doorways before anyone noticed you were doing anything weird.

    Somehow government didn't collapse around us in a bloody pile of dead politicians.

    Once security measures are put in place, we tend to think of them as both normal and necessary, when in fact most of them are rarely needed.

  21. says

    Since I live in one of those "less urban" towns, let me share a few (probable; obviously, I can't prove it, not knowing the specific town) details not in evidence from the transcript:

    At least half of the cost of that liner goes in kickbacks to someone. It may be the Director or Public Works' brother's liner company, or it may be the Mayor's best friend's, but it's someone.

    Officer Fred will decide who to ticket, and who not to, based on his monkeysphere, and god help you if you don't believe in Officer Fred's God… or don't go to his church. (Or date his daughter.)

    The Ladies Historical Society also controls the zoning board. If you do anything they don't like (and they're all about 80, and were already stuck-up, blue-nosed, prigs when they were 20) good luck getting an authorization to repair the broken screen door on your porch.

    The cold, impersonal, bureaucratic contempt that Big Government has for everyone can't hold a candle to the personal, targeted, contempt Small Government has for anyone that doesn't kow-tow to its petty tyrants. Conspiracy theorists believe President Obama (or Queen Elizabeth, who is a space lizard, but I swear is no relation, even though my mother is from England) is targeting them, personally, with mind control microwave beams. Sane people who live in small towns know for a fact Officer Fred is targeting them personally by finding any possible excuse to knock on their door and say "A neighbor said he saw…. you don't mind if we look around for a bit, do you?" And, contrary to Ken's oft-given advice, it's not good policy to say "Fuck you, officer, get a warrant or GTFO." For one thing, Judge Joe, who issues warrants, is Fred's cousin. For another, Officer Fred can say, "Here's my warrant", and punch you, and go in anyway. (While the deputies arrest you for attacking Officer Fred's fist with your gut.) A jury "of your peers" is a jury of people who know Officer Fred, who went to school with Officer Fred, who get potato salad brought to them by Officer Fred's wife when they're laid up in bed and can't work.

    All governments are bullies. The only thing that keeps one bully in line is a bigger bully. Until you get people who find both you and Officer Fred equally distant from their monkeysphere, you won't get justice.

    Now, the counter-argument, which I've made many times, is that you can just move. Except, often, you can't. The magical Relocation Fairy is out of business, probably due to the cost of complying with FAA regulations. People are often stuck due to costs, illness, jobs, kids, or the knowledge there's nowhere better to move to. The more likely you are to be on the outside of the small town's collective monkeysphere, the more likely you are not to have the resources to leave.

    So? Life ain't fair. That's true. It's not true that people, confronted with life's unfairness, will simply accept it. The solution that's been found, unfortunately, is to keep hiring bigger bullies to beat up the bullies who are bullying you. There's an obvious problem with this solution, and we're living with it now. (Kids in Pakistan, meanwhile, are DYING for it now. Badum BUM. (Sad, slow, Badum BUM, to be clear.))

    I've got a lot of schemes for a workable system of microcommunities replacing our megastates, but all of them require something that I used to believe was true, when I was young and idealistic, but no longer believe is true, now that I've actually seen humanity in practice, not theory. That is this: That people care more about freeing themselves than about oppressing others.

    This is false.

    People are far too eager to put themselves in chains if doing so puts their neighbor in heavier chains. People do not want liberty for themselves; they want tyranny for others, and they want this so badly they'll accept tyranny for themselves as the price that must be paid.

  22. says

    Somehow government didn't collapse around us in a bloody pile of dead politicians.

    I won't write the first response that came to mind after reading this, as it might get me on a watchlist or something.

  23. Jon says

    I will always treasure your tightly-reasoned point-by-point rebuttals.

    Please stop by and comment again soon.

    In your original post, I could read it and take away a number of meanings. The one I took was that government is too-intrusive, and the security at the White House is a metaphor for their bunker-type attitude. This is a viewpoint I can appreicate. I also find value in proposals to make government buildings appear a little less fortress-like. I read the blog because I'm generally predisposed toward agreeing with this perspective.

    I repect and admire the work you do advocating for free speech. To be honest though, I got completely confused by this missive. And I apologize that I can't give a point by point rebuttal because I honestly don't know where to start. What I mean more precisely is that you're writing this with a worldview in mind that I don't have access to. My first reaction was exactly Pillsy's. Then I read your response to that, I just got confused and found the original, abstract post more accessible.

    I don't see your point, however, as really consistent with any sort of government that can even reliably enforce the Bill of Rights or address other problems alluded to by other posters (stillnotking, for example). So I guess if you have articulated some sort of actual structure to government that can accomodate your point (perhaps in another historical post), I can read that and we can agree or disagree on the particulars there. We can argue about what level of government is appropriate to protect our interests against some rather powerful external interests while preserving our freedoms and respecting our individualism. But I can't talk about the reasonableness of removing presidential security details without having some context.

  24. says

    Was John Lennon so powerful that his political power needed to be scaled back?

    According to many conspiracy theories, yes. The Beatles brought Satan's druidic music to the United States, according to Jack Chick, for example. I suspect a few minutes of googling will find many people with "proof" that John Lennon was assassinated by the Illuminati (however named by the tinfoil hatter in question), and if you believe the "lone gunman" theory of his killing, you're one of the brainwashed sheeple who believe we actually went to the moon.

  25. Artifex says

    @Clark – It is an interesting problem isn't it ? It is almost like there is some form of human Reynolds number that governs human interaction. There is definitely some form of scale dependency I can't quite put my finger on.

    Maybe it is just a limitation in the human brain. When you can actually see and talk to another human during the decision making process, you register them as human. When dealing with each other as a group they can become a dehumanized abstraction. The issue of fixing this doesn't seem very tractable unfortunately.

  26. George William Herbert says

    Clark:
    "Yes. No one tries to impress Jodie Foster by attacking the mayor of Duluth."

    There's a brain-damaged ex-congresswoman, twelve families of Navy Yard workers, and a whole classroom's worth of preschool parents who might object to that logic. And then some. Crazy happens.

    Occupational attacks or attempts on the President would seem to include at least wherever the fourth 9/11 plane was headed ( WH? Or Capitol? ) and the Puerto Rican separatists. Plus, you have to wonder how many other things might have been redirected at the president if security was not so evident, such as Oklahoma City, or the 1990s WTC bombing.

    I think you're edging into a "if we didn't have a big powerful central government this would not happen", but if that's where you are going, I think you are geopolitically naive.

    We still have 300 plus million very rich people's (by world standards) worth of power here. Even if you diffuse the central government, the power remains. Libertarian logic seems somewhat unable to cope with the reality of what power is and does. Diffusing it to individuals might sound nice, but what if the less savory billionaires' and activist groups' ideas about projecting power abroad end up more damaging than the current central governments? And without a central government to say no, they do it.

    Funny idea in the abstract, right? Well, a small group of US fundamentalist churches got Uganda to make being gay a capital crime, more or less. Power, in a form the current central government here was not equipped to mitigate. Multiply a thousandfold… Or worse…

  27. Bobby says

    @lizard it is a pleasure to read you again sir. We emailed in 1995 when the interwebs was written on clay tablets and you introduced me to Lysander S. You are also welcome on my island after the collapse. And more seriously, I really do have a plan for mass secession from monkeysphereness humanity. Interested?

  28. pillsy says

    @George William Herbert:
    Occupational attacks or attempts on the President would seem to include at least wherever the fourth 9/11 plane was headed ( WH? Or Capitol? ) and the Puerto Rican separatists.
    Someone also flew a small plane into the White House when Clinton was President, and someone else opened fire on it with a rifle.

  29. Steven H. says

    @Darryl:

    ""let's get rid of huge multi-national business conglomerations""

    Did you know that those huge mutli-national business conglomerations were "corporations"?
    Did you know that "corporations" are creations of government?

  30. HandOfGod137 says

    Whenever I read one of these utopian fantasies, I'm always left wondering about how it's actually meant to work. How kidneys are going to reach patients; how road and communication infrastructures are going to be maintained and extended; how disasters are going to be mitigated; how Higgs bosons are going to be discovered.

    Clark, you snap at people for snarking without rebuttals, but there's nothing to rebut here. You may as well say you want to live in Narnia. Until you can give some actual practical plan as to how this is meant to work, you're offering nothing.

  31. Chris says

    We still had presidential assassinations and assassination attempts even when the federal government was far smaller (in both relative and absolute terms) going all the way back to Andrew Jackson.

  32. says

    One problem with elliptical statements is that they're hard to argue with. It's like trying to rebut the point of one of Stephen Colbert's jokes: You have to first explain what he was implying — often the opposite of what he actually said — before you can respond. So thank you for explaining what you were implying.

    I see what you're getting at — the chance of death is proportionate to the total power — but I don't think you're doing it right. The President has power over 300 million people, and he has the potential to piss all of them off. The mayor of Duluth only has power over 86 thousand. Of course he pisses off fewer people. A better comparison would be to compare the threat against the president with the threat against all mayors and town managers combined.

    Still, I guess what you're saying is that the threat level is proportionate to the power wielded, regardless of how it's spread around. But I think it also depends on the characteristics of the enemies. Think of one of those central American governments where anyone who proves too effective gets killed by organized criminal gangs. Those governments don't have a lot of power — whole sections of the country are beyond their control — but they are endangered and embattled, and they folks attacking them are not anarcho-capitalist-libertarian freedom fighters. We're a large and diverse country and our president has some enemies too.

    Of course, if you want to see fortresses dominating the local population, check out some inner-city police stations.

  33. says

    One thing to remember is that as the population grows larger, the number of people at the far end of the bell curve increases.

    If you say "Only one person in a hundred million would want to kill the President enough to actually attempt", well, there's 300 million people in the country. So that's three attempts per year. We have no idea how many attempts were never, uhm, attempted due to a *perception* of impossibility. How many people would try to kill the President IF he was just wandering around unprotected? Even the insane can be rational in their own insane way. Assume you know you'll be killed in response to your attempt. Would you sacrifice your life for a 0.01% chance to achieve your goal? How about a 1% chance? A 10% chance? A 95% chance?

    A madman might say "I'm willing to die to get the Kenyan Zionist Communist Muslim[1] out of the White House![2]", but he won't act when he knows the odds of success are effectively nil. Dying for a cause is something well-rooted in human neurobiology, but we've also evolved mechanisms to weight the effectiveness of our sacrifice. A chimp that would run to battle a single tiger to try to save its baby would not run to battle ten. Fight one tiger, you have a decent chance to save your existing genetic investment. Fight ten, you lose your existing investment and any chance of passing on your genes in the future. You won't even keep the tigers distracted long enough for everyone else in the tribe (sharing some of your genes) to benefit from your sacrifice.

    [1]Seriously, google "Obama Zionist Communist Muslim".
    [2]Leaving us with President Biden. I don't think the anti-Obama types have really thought that part through. I think they think that if Obama leaves office, Sarah Palin is automatically President because of the 33.3rd Amendment, or something.

  34. Troutwaxer says

    @ Steven H.

    The big problem with our government is that it believes the big corporations are people, with all the human rights you and I are accorded.

    Our government has also ruled that "money is speech," which is a lie. Money is not speech. Money is volume.

    Thus, for example, British Petroleum is a person, who can speak to Senators and Congressmen, while using money in place of words. This is why our government is fucked up.

  35. Sami says

    Right, which is why assassination attempts on US presidents are such a recent thing. And no low-level American government officials have ever been murdered for political reasons…

    … oh wait.

  36. says

    @Steven: How well could the modern economy function if personal assets could not be split off from business assets?

    What kind of legal structure would you use to determine disputes between businesses, or between businesses and individuals?

    BigCo sells me a defective product.
    I sue BigCo.
    BigCo replies, "Sorry, the guy who ran BigCo when that product was made isn't here anymore. The rest of us aren't responsible, and since 'BigGo' isn't an entity recognized as owning property or capable of entering into contract, you can't sue BigCo. BigCo's just our cute little name for our private club of 2,000 people who all just happen to work in the same building. You see that desk. I own that desk. That computer on the desk? Fred owns that. The software its running? Mary paid for it. Nothing here is owned by BigCo. BigCo doesn't exist."

    So you try to sue the guy who was in charge. He says "Hey, it's not my fault. I was told the product was safe. Sue these researchers who lied to me."

    The twenty researchers claim that since all of them worked on the product, you need to sue them all, individually, to prove their specific responsibility, and each should only be accountable for the percentage of the harm relevant to the degree to which they were involved with the testing process. Meanwhile, they've sold off all their assets so they can't be seized, since there's no "corporate assets", they have to protect their own homes, cars, etc.

    Etc.

    We have corporations because they solved a problem that began in the 1400s/1500s, as the modern world was born. Even in the most libertarian society, something very much *like* a corporation is going to exist, just as even in the most left-anarchist society, something very much *like* money is going to exist. There are problems of human interaction which have shown to have only one viable solution. Social evolution, like biological evolution, often works in parallel: Subject to the same pressures, the same solutions evolve.

  37. says

    I am, in all seriousness, deeply sympathetic to this argument.

    I, on the other hand, would like to invite the people complaining to fuck off and read somebody else.

    (On the other hand, I disagree with your point, and think the line you attempt to draw between Presidential power and assassination attempts is highly questionable.)

  38. Scott C says

    Personally, I liked the post. Keep doing them. If someone constantly and only argued using elliptical juxtapositions, that would be annoying. But tossing something like that out there once in a while as food for thought is interesting. I see it as a feature, not a bug, that the reader then gets to think about the extent to which the analogy is apt.

  39. George William Herbert says

    Pillsy wrote:
    "Someone also flew a small plane into the White House when Clinton was President, and someone else opened fire on it with a rifle."

    I was evidently not clear enough; I was trying to separate out "just crazy" from policy or political based attacks.

    The rifle and Cessna (I think, too lazy to check actual aircraft manufacturer) were both just crazy.

  40. says

    @Troutwaxer: I assume, therefore, you find the idea of "the union" negotiating on behalf of the members to be ridiculous, since "the union" isn't a person, either. Likewise, it would be legal for the government to ban unions from funding advertising promoting the union, or hiring lobbyists to secure pro-worker legislation, or post billboards calling out companies that use non-union labor, etc, since unions have no free speech rights, being as they're not people.

    "Aha!" you say. "That's different! The people IN the union pay dues, and vote for the union leaders, who then spend those dues to advance causes of interest to the members!"

    "Hmm.", I reply. "You mean, just as the stockholders of a corporation choose to spend some of the corporation's money to advance causes of interest to them?"

    "No! Totally different!", you reply. "Before I explain why, though, look over there! That squirrel looks like Abe Lincoln!" (Whooshing sounds follow.)

    Humans form groups to act collectively. Call these groups clubs, teams, companies, unions, or governments, it's an aspect of human behavior which can't be changed. Furthermore, humans reify such organizations — it's one of the hacks to our brains that allow us to function in a society numerically larger than the monkeysphere. It can't be removed or educated away, nor should it. It's essential to our species existing in numbers greater than a few hundred thousand over the entire planet.

  41. pillsy says

    @Troutwaxer:

    Look, I might well agree with many of the regulations on campaign spending and donations that you'd propose, but the way you're basing your argument on some obvious distinction between money and speech, or some obvious distinction between speech produced by individuals and speech produced by corporations, makes me suspect that you haven't really thought your arguments through. Given the sort of distinctions you argue for here, it's hard to see how you could object on First Amendment grounds to the government preventing the New York Times from publishing an editorial critical of, say, corporate tax loopholes.

  42. Flip says

    I agree in some respects – the reduction of power to those in charge – but when you have billions of people all wanting their own pool liner or ammo or whatever…. How does that decision get made? A town of 500 can accommodate more communal decisions simply because there will be fewer people to make them or complain when theirs isn't the project that got funded. Resources are never unlimited and triage of what to do for the community will always be needed. I suspect larger bureaucracies are an inevitable part of larger democracies.

  43. glasnost says

    I, on the other hand, would like to invite the people complaining to fuck off and read somebody else.

    Why? No, seriously? Why is this your basic reaction to people expressing dissastifaction with Clark's thought process? Aren't you basically here to learn and be disagreed with? Isn't that how it works, TM? Do you really want a comment thread full of "Bro I KNOW"? And even if you do want it, can you recognize it as an inferior outcome anyway?

  44. Sam says

    Sadly, small, reasonable governments tend to be crushed or absorbed by large, unreasonable ones.

    This. While I agree with the sentiment

    I'd suggest that we scale back the size of the government – or perhaps even the territory it rules over

    I can't see how it would function. That could be a failure on my part; it could also be a result of an incredibly complicated, possibly intractable situation. (I'm a regular ray of sunshine this morning)

    Did you know that those huge mutli-national business conglomerations were "corporations"?
    Did you know that "corporations" are creations of government?

    Exactly. The problem I see with the phrase "huge multi-national business conglomerations" is "huge multi-national". One of the many reasons I question the value of 'globalization'.

  45. says

    @Steven–I used the term purposely. It doesn't matter if it is a corporation, LLC, other entity, or merely a partnership, joint venture, or other non-entity cooperative endeavor. The fact of the matter is "big business" is also dangerous, and, like it or not, we are protected from its excesses by government.

  46. says

    Why? No, seriously? Why is this your basic reaction to people expressing dissastifaction with Clark's thought process?

    You're missing the context, I think. I'm talking about people Clark is referring to, who are unhappy when Clark implies a point rhetorically rather than handing everyone a thesis sentence on a platter. David and Patrick do that too. I like occasional posts where you have to think about what the author's meaning might be. (By contrast, everyone ALWAYS knows what I mean.)

    But disagree with the point itself? Knock yourself out. I disagree with a plurality of Clark's posts.

    (Though I tire of the "oh hai I love Popehat but i hate Clark why do I have to read him :(" comments we get occasionally.)

  47. says

    Exactly. The problem I see with the phrase "huge multi-national business conglomerations" is "huge multi-national". One of the many reasons I question the value of 'globalization'.

    In a truly libertarian society, though, there would be no national borders. Nor would there be any government to decide that goods that cross THIS imaginary line must pay a toll, but goods that cross this OTHER imaginary line must not.

    If you have a world of microcommunities, each such community is a "nation", and any business in one, that does business with another, is "multinational". While it's possible any one such community may ban local businesses from making contracts with other communities, it seems obvious that those which did so would be in the minority, and if people were free to leave one community and join another, most would do so.

    No government — no tariffs. No protectionism. No smuggling, because there's no borders to smuggle across, nor anyone to decide what's not allowed. (A community might have local laws, and thus local smugglers to break them, I suppose, but one of the key tenets of most libertarian utopias is that leaving communities and joining others is easy. I've noted, above,that this isn't so, but we're talking ideals at the moment, not practicalities.)

    I find it amusing/ironic how many people I know in the minarchist/anarchist communities hate "those big international corporations", while not realizing that the only thing that can PREVENT big international corporations is BIGGER, MORE INTERNATIONAL, government.

    If you believe in individual rights, then, you cannot form a coherent argument as to why Jean in Toronto, John in Texas, and Juan in Tijuana can't all agree on a deal they consider mutually beneficial. And if you acknowledge no one has a moral right to use force to prevent these three from working together and trading as they see fit, then how do you prevent it when it's thirty people, not three? Or three hundred? Three thousand? As long as nobody is coerced, and everyone has agree to abide by particular terms of dispute resolution, responsibility, etc, how is it morally anyone else's business, to the point where the use of force would be justified to stop it?

    If you oppose the free, consensual, and voluntary movement of goods, money, or people across the magical invisible lines called "national borders", I do not think you can call yourself a libertarian in good conscience.

  48. LongCat says

    "I'd suggest that we scale back the size of the government – or perhaps even the territory it rules over – until spending $1,200 on a new rink liner and allocating $90 to the defensive force start to seem like reasonable decisions that we can all make together."

    If our national government had ever reached the point where a $90 ammunition purchase was a material issue requiring discussion or debate, I don't think our nation would have survived past 1775.

  49. says

    @LongCat

    If our national government had ever reached the point where a $90 ammunition purchase was a material issue requiring discussion or debate, I don't think our nation would have survived past 1775.

    nation – n – a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.

    state – n – a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government.

    So if you're saying "If our government was so small that $1,200 was a noticeable expense, our government would not be a vast continent-wide government", then,

    (a) yes, I agree with you

    (b) you're restating my thesis

    [ BTW, my pedanticism strikes me as somewhat necessary here, but if it strikes you as irritating as sin, please get in line behind Mrs. Clark. ]

  50. Sam says

    @Lizard

    In a truly libertarian society, though, there would be no national borders. Nor would there be any government to decide that goods that cross THIS imaginary line must pay a toll, but goods that cross this OTHER imaginary line must not.

    Right, I'm not advocating against any particular size or certain geographical coverage of a business. Rather, I'd simply expect more locally conscious, smaller businesses in conjunction with smaller, independent local governments.

  51. says

    @Ken -Well hopefully you don't tire of the "I love popehat and I love clark's posts' comments as well. If there's ever a kickstarter project to fund the Popehat crew quitting their day jobs to write here full time, you can count me in for a least a few thousand ;-)

  52. says

    @HandOfGod137

    Whenever I read one of these utopian fantasies, I'm always left wondering about how it's actually meant to work. How kidneys are going to reach patients;

    You're saying that the current system, where government threatens to fine or jail people for selling their kidneys or selling the right to harvest their kidneys uppon their deaths, thus ensuring that 99% of functioning kidneys are buried in the ground to rot, might not be able to arise if we had less government?

    Yes.

    I agree with you.

  53. Troutwaxer says

    @ Lizard

    I assume, therefore, you find the idea of "the union" negotiating on behalf of the members to be ridiculous, since "the union" isn't a person, either.

    Your argument is so very silly that I'm somewhat doubtful about replying to you, but I'll give it a try:

    A union and a corporation can negotiate even if they are not legally "people." Entities that are not legally "people" such as governments, non-profits, limited partnerships, clubs, etc. negotiate with each other and reach legally binding agreements all the time.

    I am not remotely close to suggesting that we shouldn't form associations of one kind or another, ranging from governments to bridge clubs (and I have no idea where you got the idea that I'm advocating against people forming associations of any kind.) I'm simply arguing that the legal fiction which states that corporations are people makes them very dangerous to democracy. When we add to this already dangerous idea the legal concept that MONEY=SPEECH, we have a situation where the corporations have a lot more "speech" than an equally sized group of biological people.

    Since our government is "by and for the people," we need to limit the power of everything that is obviously not a biological person because under the current situation a corporation composed of 10,000 people might have more power than a group of 100,000 voters, and that's not right.

  54. NI says

    Even if we shrunk government to levels that would make Clark happy, every crazy person in the world who wants to be famous knows that shooting an American president will make him famous for all time. If not for what happened in Dallas, nobody would have known Lee Harvey Oswald ever existed. Other than theater historians, would anybody recognize the name John Wilkes Booth if he hadn't shot Lincoln? If you're looking to go down in the history books, shooting a president is pretty much a sure-shot guarantee.

  55. says

    Windypundit wrote: "I see what you're getting at — the chance of death is proportionate to the total power — but I don't think you're doing it right. The President has power over 300 million people, and he has the potential to piss all of them off. The mayor of Duluth only has power over 86 thousand. Of course he pisses off fewer people. A better comparison would be to compare the threat against the president with the threat against all mayors and town managers combined."

    But this is precisely the point, as I understand it. There should be no single individual with such concentrated power. There's no reason the USA has to be as big as it is. Power should be distributed. There shouldn't be a President. This may be idealistic fantasyland stuff, but it remains useful as a framework for understanding what's wrong with America.

  56. says

    George William Herbert wrote: "We still have 300 plus million very rich people's (by world standards) worth of power here. Even if you diffuse the central government, the power remains."

    I disagree. A whole lot of that power depends on the central government.

  57. Troutwaxer says

    @ pillsy

    it's hard to see how you could object on First Amendment grounds to the government preventing the New York Times from publishing an editorial…

    I would object to that very, very much, thank you.

    Just for the record, I don't object to the idea that a corporation might have free speech rights, particularly in the context of printing a newspaper. I object to this particular group of rights, arranged in this pattern of logic:

    1.) Corporations are people… therefore

    2.) Corporations have free speech rights.

    3.) MONEY=SPEECH (Can you think of any legal assertion that's more idiotic?)

    4.) Corporations can spend as much money as they like on political matters, even enough money to overwhelm all other points of view, because preventing them from spending is preventing them from speaking.

    This makes the possibility of human speech being heard over corporate speech effectively nil.

  58. Chris Rhodes says

    Being a person of limited means who could never on his own purchase airtime to put through a political ad on national TV, I am personally quite happy that I have the right to band together with other like-minded people and pool our resources in order to do so.

    I guess, if you only want rich people to be able to run political ads, keep following your line of logic? Seems contrary to your stated goal, though.

  59. says

    @Trout:
    The New York Times is a corporation.
    Per you, corporations do not have free speech rights.
    Therefore, it should be allowed that the government limit the speech of the New York Times.

    Please tell me how the corporation "The New York Times" should be exempted from laws affecting other corporations?

    Would it matter if the BP published "The BP Journal", owned "The BP News Channel", etc, and spent its money to speak through these outlets?

    Should Rupert Murdoch be allowed to spend a million dollars of his own, personal, money on propaganda, but Greenpeace (a corporation) be forbidden to spend its donor's money on propaganda?

    Your position is based on an emotional definition of "corporation" as "those evil guys in suits who I hate", not on any meaningful *legal* definition. If you disagree, tell me how you would write a law to distinguish between corporations. (Note that "non-profit" does not mean "left wing hippy do-gooders" only; huge think tanks funded by the powerful are non-profit corporations.)

  60. Illy says

    Several responses seem needed here:

    "In a world of microcommunities, multinationals are still there, and still powerful": If the multinationals are not built as a *focusing* of power on a small number of individuals, then there's unlikely to be a problem. That seems to be the root of the libertarians' problem with government in general, to me. That it *focuses* millions of people's power into the hands of a few.
    Can a libertarian confirm/deny that please?

    "Sadly, small, reasonable governments tend to be crushed or absorbed by large, unreasonable ones.": Counterpoint: Switzerland.

    How much more likely are presidents of the USA to be attacked, compared to big-name movie-stars? CEOs of major orperations? Honest question looking for stats. Because it seems like that's the best test for "well-known famous people get attacked more often" And if we can get the rates for normal people being attacked in to comparison as well, that would be grand.
    Personally, I would expect poor women in inner cities to be attacked overwhelmingly more often than anyone famous.

  61. HandOfGod137 says

    @Clark

    You're saying that the current system, where government threatens to fine or jail people for selling their kidneys or selling the right to harvest their kidneys uppon their deaths, thus ensuring that 99% of functioning kidneys are buried in the ground to rot, might not be able to arise if we had less government?

    Er, no. I rather think the current situation will get worse if you either balkanise or reduce the infrastructure in the way you seem to think desirable. And I'm a little confused: are you suggesting enforcing donation? Not very libertarian of you.

    Also, I also don't want to bring in a system where the poor are under economic pressure to flog their internal organs because there is no longer the support system national governments should provide. The way to increase donation is through better education (and as it happens, one of the major reasons people refuse consent is because of religious conviction, so let's start by dropping the fairy stories).

  62. Chris says

    Right, I'm not advocating against any particular size or certain geographical coverage of a business. Rather, I'd simply expect more locally conscious, smaller businesses in conjunction with smaller, independent local governments.

    Much depends on the details, of course, but as a general rule I would expect the opposite. If governments were to become smaller, both in terms of geographic area and the amount of things that they do, I would expect corporations to become larger as they take over some of the roles formerly held by government.

  63. En Passant says

    NI wrote Sep 27, 2013 @9:55 am:

    Even if we shrunk government to levels that would make Clark happy, every crazy person in the world who wants to be famous knows that shooting an American president will make him famous for all time. … If you're looking to go down in the history books, shooting a president is pretty much a sure-shot guarantee.

    In history books, true. But "famous for all time", not so much.

    Oswald, Booth and Hinckley have some fame because the presidents they assassinated were relatively famous among presidents. It's a coattails effect.

    But consider this test. Think fast and self-assess assassin or would-be assassin fame. Each killed, threatened to kill, or attempted to kill a sitting president or a presidential candidate. Most were not successful:

    Who were:

    Charles J. Guiteau?
    Leon Czolgosz?
    Richard Lawrence?
    John Flammang Schrank?
    Severino Di Giovanni?
    Giuseppe Zangara?
    Oscar Collazo?
    Griselio Torresola?
    Richard Paul Pavlick?
    Arthur Bremer?
    Samuel Byck?
    Lynette Fromme?
    Sara Jane Moore?
    Raymond Lee Harvey?
    Wali Abdelhadi Ghazali?
    Raad Abdel-Amir al-Assadi?
    Ronald Gene Barbour?
    Frank Eugene Corder?
    Francisco Martin Duran?
    Robert Pickett?
    Vladimir Arutyunian?
    Jerry Blanchard?
    Raymond H. Geisel?
    Tharin Gartrell?
    Shawn Adolf?
    Nathan Johnson?
    Paul Schlesselman?
    Daniel Cowart?

  64. Erwin says

    This is just the basic 'large groups of people' problem. Which no one has ever solved.

    Look at a town council – nearly always reasonable. Look at the federal government – murdering children with killer robots.

    Look at a small business – treats people like people – and the people respond by working to make the business successful. Look at nearly any corporation – treats people like mindless interchangeable parts – and the people respond by f*king around to maximize salary and minimize work.

    Now, sure, you can argue that 'smaller is always better', but the reality is that sometimes, to, eg, build a dam, you need a larger organization.

    The problem is that, for most humans, it just isn't practical to think of individual people much past number 20. So, you end up optimizing average results – which would – in theory – get you to decent outcomes for most people, even if some people (like the ones who used to work in that factory in Texas) suffer. Except that, humans aren't really wired to care about faceless cogs. So then people tend to start acting like sociopaths because they aren't part of a tribe, just forming part of a big machine.

    So far, no one's come up with a system that gives the same sort of outcome you'd have in small groups in large groups. This sucks, but that's reality.

    The second bit is that large groups have so many other advantages (eg, pricing power, or not being invaded) that they form naturally.

    My take on that is that, even though government power is generally toxic, it is less toxic when limited to a locality. The founders agreed – which is why they put the states in charge of everything they could… And this would be a good model to follow for the US government when possible.

    So, limit where possible. (Eg, we don't need quite such a gigantic military or a war on drugs…so defund those.)
    And, devolve to the states where practical.
    And, to the towns, if possible.
    And, to the districts, if you can.

    But, yep, accept that, eg, a uniform criminal code really helps – so imposing that at the state or federal level is more practical.

    However, the point about corporations is well-taken. If, eg, we defunded the police, I predict that, rather rapidly, there'd be a local corporation with guns and that they'd eventually be worse than the police force that'd just been removed.

    –Erwin

  65. Kevin says

    @HandOfGod137

    I'm always left wondering about how it's actually meant to work. How kidneys are going to reach patients; how road and communication infrastructures are going to be maintained and extended; how disasters are going to be mitigated; how Higgs bosons are going to be discovered.

    I've noticed a pattern that whenever someone does one of these lists of things that "OMG what would we do without the government to provide!!!", it inevitably ends up including at least a couple items that the government has nothing to do with providing, and at least one item that the government, in fact, actually actively impedes the provision of. How are kidneys going to reach patients? At present, the only thing the government has to do with that is creating artificial scarcity by outlawing compensation of donors. This is not a theoretical problem: my dad died due to lack of an available transplantable organ, despite the fact that millions of perfectly good ones get thrown away every year because it's illegal to financially incentivize organ donation. So to answer your question "what would happen to people in need of organ transplants without the government to help", well maybe I should call up my dad and ask his opinion? Oh, right, I can't. He's dead. The government killed him.

  66. Xenocles says

    @En Passant-

    Several of those you listed I can recognize right off the bat as having a motive other than fame – typically a personal or political grudge. (This may be a case of me agreeing with you too forcefully but it may be relevant for the general discussion.)

    Booth's motive was obvious, however odious you consider it.

    Guiteau was a disgruntled seeker of federal employment who was ostensibly trying to roll back the civil service reforms by putting Chester Arthur in power.

    Lawrence was insane, believing himself to be the King of England, but his motive was to punish Andrew Jackson for opposing a national bank and thus denying him the money he believed the US government owed him.

    Schrank just seemed to strongly believe that no president should serve more than two terms. IIRC, when FDR later ran for his third term Schrank made some noise about it from his mental hospital.

    Czolgosz was an anarchist socialist (to the extent that those can be coherently combined) inspired by the murder of the king of Italy by a fellow traveler.

  67. Kevin says

    @Clark

    I have to confess, I generally avoid commenting on your posts because your response to commenters is often aggressive, smug and in many cases mean-spirited. But here we go, and go easy on me, think of the ponies.

    Now to my substantive comments on the style of your posts. You often have very valid points, but at least in my experience, you couch them in very inflammatory terms. You make incendiary posts with the goal of creating an angry emotional response in the comments section. I hate to say this, but it is reminiscent of the social media d-bags who say obnoxious things just to get attention.

    These two posts seem to fit that mold well. You go out of your way to avoid saying your fundamental premise in the first post, that the level of presidential security demonstrates that the president has too much power. You then seem to relish in the opportunity to demonstrate to commenters how poorly they have grasped your hidden meaning.

    I agree not every post has to be 5,000 words, but why was it necessary to hide your simple point in the first post? The first post seemed almost tailored to inflame the patriotic emotion in commenters. You are undoubtedly a very smart man, almost certainly much smarter than I am, I have no doubt you could express that intelligence in less than 100 words.

    Finally, as to the substance of this post. I, like many other commenters, think your logic is flawed. You assume that the president needs security because of his power. What would happen change if the President was replaced? Not much, the Vice President would likely follow many of the same courses of action, therefore the President is replaceable and would be in no need of all of this security.

    So why the security? There are many individuals who need an awful lot of security, but have very little power. At the low end you have your Hollywood movie stars. But at the high end you have the Queen of England and the Pope who at least in my opinion are both very ceremonial figures with little power.

    The threats against the President exist not because of who he is, but because of what this country is. Because of the size, strength, and influence of this country many people want to harm it and a simple way to do so is to attack the most visible representative of this country.

    As a side not, the news organizations in this country a laughable:


    There are 1,200 uniformed Secret Service agents posted around the clock at the White House … [ and ] …. 2,800 plainclothes agents.


    The Secret Service employs approximately 3,200 special agents, 1,300 Uniformed Division officers, and more than 2,000 other technical, professional and administrative support personnel.

    I find it unlikely that all but 200 special agents are on duty around the clock at the White House. I also find it equally unlikely that more than half of the entire Secret Service branch employees are stationed at the White House. If true, I really need to get into the counterfeiting business.

  68. Kevin says

    OK, this is getting confusing having two commenters named "Kevin" with similar-looking autogenerated avatars. I suppose I should pick an avatar image or something.

    For the record, THIS Kevin thoroughly approved of both of Clark's posts.

  69. Shane says

    @Docrailgun

    We know that 'the free market' doesn't keep companies from acting badly

    And more laws don't keep governments from acting badly either.

  70. says

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I really don't care so much, anymore, about the size of the group exercising power over someone else; I care about the fact no person should be able to exercise unjust power over another. The problem is that the only way to stop one bully, as I've said earlier, is with a bigger bully, and so, here we are,constantly trying to find ways to keep a thousand bullies in the air, juggling them frantically, so that no one can do more than their fair share of bullying. Social progress is the change between hierarchical bullying, where the king bullies the barons, the barons bully the knights, the knights bully the peasants, and the peasants bully each other, to rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock bullying, where each bully is stronger than some bullies and weaker than other bullies, but nobody's stronger, or weaker, than everyone.

    ("But I want a society without bullies!" Yeah, and I want to be a writer, not a programmer. I had to get used to disappointment. You can, too.)

    On the issue of small vs. big: Small government or businesses are no more reasonable than big ones, because they're all made of the same kind of people. The issue, again as many have noted, is one of reach. It is small, local, "sane", governments that try to claim Islam is not a religion and that a mosque should not be permitted; it is big, federal, "insane" government that says, "No, in fact, it IS a religion, and you don't get to tell people what god they can worship." Many small, local, governments, if you gave them drone strike capacity, would be HAPPY to use it on "them furriners". (And, to be fair, if you gave that power to the Berkeley City Council, they'd be targeting the BOD of WalMart within the hour.)

    Again and again and again, we get back to the monkeysphere/Dunbar's number. The small government's POWER is limited to a small number of people, small enough that it can think of (most) of them as human — but, also, without recourse to a greater power, those seen as "outsiders" within that small government are well and truly scrod.

    Likewise, one problem with a society of microstates is that, while those within them might be well-treated and receive fairness, the lack of an identity beyond the microstate causes problems. If you inculcate the idea in someone's mind that "We are all AMERICANS!", then, they have some small concept of collective empathy towards anyone else who is an American. We can react to violations of rights that occur in Florida or California or Nebraska with a greater sense of empathy because "They can't treat MY FELLOW AMERICANS like that!" On the other hand, if our largest sense of affiliation is our town, then, well, "Sure, it kind of sucks what's happening in Buffalo, but I'm not going to get too upset. They're not the same as us New Yorkers." (But just wait until a New Yorker gets picked by the Buffalo Defense Protectorate for carrying an unlicensed snowblower…)

    "But we should all just think of each other as PEOPLE!" Yeah, right. To some extent, we do, but it's such a distant, vague, and undefined concept that it doesn't evoke a strong "us vs. them" response. How can it, when "us" is everyone, and "them" is (are?) what? Deer? Trees? Rocks? You can't cheer for "our team" when everyone's on "our team". Human society is hierarchical and fractal. We chop the world up into groups based on multiple defining traits, and repeat patterns of division and subdivision up and down the tree, and we have a constantly shifting mental map that decides, context to context, ever changing, who is "us" and who is "they" in any conflict, and we instinctively support "us". We can choose to override this, to force our tribal allegiance to shut up and let us think, but it's a constant, conscious, effort that is a poor thing to hook a long-term social structure to. We change society not by eliminating "us vs. them" — an impossibility — but by redefining "us". There are limits to how big "us" can grow, though, without it being broken down into smaller subsets of greater and lesser degrees of "usness".

    Sadly, some people are stupid enough to believe these divisions are innate and fixed, not subjective and ever-changing. Kipling, the "poet of Empire", understood the truth all the way back in the 19th century. I thus have very little tolerance for any citizen of the 21st century who doesn't get it.

    "Still the world is wondrous large,—seven seas from marge to marge—
    And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
    And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu
    And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban."

    Not to mention: http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_wethey.htm .

    (Yeah, I'll use any excuse to quote Kipling.)

  71. En Passant says

    Xenocles wrote Sep 27, 2013 @11:35 am:

    Several of those you listed I can recognize right off the bat as having a motive other than fame – typically a personal or political grudge. (This may be a case of me agreeing with you too forcefully but it may be relevant for the general discussion.)

    Thanks for the agreement, though I think we may have been reasoning in slightly different ways. I was pointing out, in response to response to NI's assertion:

    … every crazy person in the world who wants to be famous knows that shooting an American president will make him famous for all time

    that the fame those crazy people may have known (or wished) they would receive didn't happen so often, except that they are recorded in history books.

  72. Shane says

    @Docrailgun

    Sorry to double comment but this made me spew milk:

    We know that 'the free market' doesn't keep companies from acting badly (gasoline prices are a good example of that)

    Because ethanol in gas is what the 'free market' wants, ohhh and don't get me started on those pesky gas taxes.

    And then after I cleaned up the mess you did it to me again.

    and arming everyone with weapons made only for murdering people doesn't make for a polite society either
    So, how do we get there? Public-only funding of all elections us a start.

    The culinary industry is a dirty whore selling knives like they do all willy nilly. And public only funding of elections … that is got to have some relevance, but I will have to shake the one brain cell in my head to figure it out. Ahhh … ok I get it you are a clichebot.

  73. Shane says

    @Darryl

    … because they, too, cause much pain and suffering and are simply not accountable to anyone.

    Except for the people that buy their products.

  74. AliceH says

    Golly, lizard, you must live in the suckiest small town in America. Droning "them furriners"?? Seriously?

  75. Xenocles says

    @EP-

    Makes sense. I suppose it's not a coincidence that the ones I listed were all attacks against presidents, either.

    I wonder if there's a lesson in what you are getting at, that it's the fame of the target that drives the fame of the assassin (though perhaps not even that, as TR is pretty famous). Is there a causal relationship between the fame of a politician and the power he exercised?

  76. pillsy says

    Small-town law enforcement officers have been known to dabble in murder, even if they don't get to use flying deathbots to commit it.

  77. Erwin says

    @Lizard
    You are exactly correct about the Berkeley City Council, BTW.
    @AliceH
    Y'know, probably 2 standard deviations below the mean, but not really rare either.

    @Lizard again… I dunno. Maybe I'm just muddled, but I suspect that there are often bits of power (public schools…) that are less toxic at the local level. Maybe not though…I'm having some flashbacks to my own small town upbringing. I'd guess local issues have a sharper feedback loop. My gut feeling is that the feedback loop gets sharper, so things tend to be a bit less dysfunctional. Eg, one of my aunts ended up a mayor based on promising to: 'Fix the sewage plant.' She did. That's why she's still the mayor.

    –Erwin

  78. says

    Somebody wanted to (and did) kill Harvey Milk, who was a city supervisor, so maybe just neighborhoods rather than cities? Incidentally, they got the mayor at the same time.

  79. says

    Some are less toxic, some aren't. We got a big federal grant to fix the sewers. It was spent on *not* fixing the sewers. (There are conflicting stories about where it went.) Then there was an effort to raise water and sewage fees (by a small amount) to pay for fixing the sewers, which seriously need fixing. The local attitude towards this, and to just about everything else, was and is:"We want everything, we want it now, and we don't want to pay for it!" It is not at all uncommon to see signs, in the same yard, demanding "Fix Our Schools!", "Fix Our Roads"[1], and "No More Taxes!" (Meanwhile, huge amounts of money go to "historical" buildings, or to trying to restore downtown with restaurants and touristy things, which is good, except that there's no parking and no one wants to be the one to pay for building a parking structure, and you can't tear down existing buildings to build a private structure because see above about "historical" and…)

    There are constant conflicts between town, county, and state government, and since we are on a state border, much of our economic health depends on decisions made by people who are not accountable to us. (This is a good example of the problem of "everything is local", because, nothing is local. If everyone living in Town A works in Town B, which is across some imaginary line, the voters in Town B have tremendous power over the lives of the people in Town A, and the people in Town A have no control over who Town B elects, despite being inextricably linked to them. Most of our legal and cultural ideas about who should be in charge come from an era when the population was 95% rural and a trip to the next town could take hours. In the modern, interconnected, world, where you live means a lot less than it did. Texas and California can set effective policy for the entire United States in many issues, because businesses adapt to meet their regulatory standards or requirements.)

    Even in Libertopia/Hippietopia, these problems arise. And what happens? Well, option one is "You shoot each other." Option Two, the presumably better option, is "Well, you get someone else to arbitrate between Town A and Town B, and establish rules they each agree to live by, and enforce them." And thus, bit by bit, the state is re-established, whether it's called that or not.

    Small government is just big government with fewer tanks. Just as much incompetence, bureaucracy, and double-dealing.

    [1]You never see "Fix Our Elections", because they're already fixed. Badum-BUM!

  80. En Passant says

    Xenocles wrote Sep 27, 2013 @12:36 pm:

    I wonder if there's a lesson in what you are getting at, that it's the fame of the target that drives the fame of the assassin (though perhaps not even that, as TR is pretty famous). Is there a causal relationship between the fame of a politician and the power he exercised?

    I don't have a clue about that last question.

    I certainly agree that the biggest factor in the assassin's fame appears to be the fame of the sitting president target.

    On TR, maybe the fame factor was overridden partly because TR wasn't a sitting president at the time.

    And I should correct my hastily unqualified inclusion of Hinckley with Oswald and Booth. Hinckley didn't assassinate a sitting president. He only attempted. But Oswald and Booth both did.

  81. AliceH says

    You make me grateful my small town is so very small it shows little to none of those features. Not enough money here for graft.

  82. Erwin says

    @Lizard
    I'd differentiate dysfunctional from less dysfunctional.

    My argument is not that, say, your small town will be functional.

    My argument is that, if you increase the size of your small town by 100x, your small town will become (assuming equal mean competence) less functional. There's probably a tradeoff on some size levels, where selecting from a larger pool to govern a larger region actually works better because you get better, or at least more consistent, governers, not sure.

    –Erwin

  83. George William Herbert says

    John Kindley:
    "I disagree. A whole lot of that power depends on the central government."

    It is not derived from the central government, it just resides in the central government.

    The US population is rich (by world standards, down to poor people in rural towns) and educated (not by European standards perhaps, but by world standards) and inclined to intervene and push ideas.

    See prior example of church organizations that got Uganda to make being gay a capital crime, but to generalize, how many of your friends and aquaintences either went into the Peace Corps or did Mormon or similar religious or social missions abroad. In my case, it's a two-digit percentage. Even if it's only 5% total, that's a huge amount of us-sending-change-outwards.

    We have the money to do that, and the education and organization to be effective at it (at all levels, from nearly all points of our political spectrum and social spectrum), and the will to do that.

    We have Power. We have more Power than it has taken to break small countries; we have more Power than it takes to start world wars. Many small organizations in the country wield enough power to remake countries and regions, and wage disasterous conflict abroad.

    The idea that this is "from" the central government somehow is naive. It's there. Europe has some of this, but culturally encourage midlevel multinational groups to be the channels for activity, which brings more light to what they do and is a moderating influence. We do it at all levels.

  84. Zen Accountant says

    Lizard, minor quibble:
    a trip to the next town could take hours.

    In California, I would replace hours with days.

    Clark:
    Thank you. I appreciate your statement that in theory, a small enough government, constrained by some form of social contract, is not evil.

    As a government employee, I do not like to be painted as evil beyond redemption, but I certainly agree that:

    a) some government employees are bullies abusing the public trust
    b) some g.e.'s are slackers seeking payment for very little work
    c) many government goals could be achieved with less cost, and preserving more liberty for the citizenry than currently.

    however, I also believe the following:
    d) some g.e's are civil servants, and seek to preserve the liberties recorded by the constitution (& similar documents)
    e) some government functions are necessary to modern society
    f) I am not smart enough, or educated enough, to know how to accomplish d & e without handing power to groups a & b.

    The only thing I can do is attempt to inspire my staff to
    1) treat our employers & fellow citizens with respect
    2) work our asses off to make it fair value for money
    3) report abuses of power to the elected officials, the public, whoever.

    after all, a good place to stop an abuse of government is by the agents of that same government telling the politicians or bureaucrats above them "no, that's not appropriate/ethical/legal"

    Also, thank you for saying all the things I disagree with. You say them eloquently, and make me think about my own convictions, and how to respect those of my employers who believe as you do, but aren't able to express them as clearly.

  85. Dion starfire says

    @Lizard

    Lizard: "That is this: That people care more about freeing themselves than about oppressing others. This is false. "

    I have at times in the past been one of those people you're describing there, so I'll offer a bit of insight into that mentality.

    The desire to oppress starts with wanting everybody else to make the same sacrifices, follow the same rules you do. Then you'll either:
    A (if you're honest with yourself) Rationalize a reason why those rules shouldn't apply to you or why you should be treated differently
    * or*
    B Rationalize how you're still following those rules/standards or ignore the ways you're breaking them.

    The reasons why they choose oppression for others over freedom for themselves varies quite a bit. Some think of their rules/standards/sacrifices as the ideal everybody should follow. Others don't believe it's possible (for them) to get by without following those rules or making those sacrifices, so they want everybody else to be brought down to their level.

    I grew out of that mindset when I realized it's perfectly okay for people to follow different standards of behavior and still be decent human beings.

    Also, diversity. That's a freaking magical word right there. It means there's room for all sorts of different ideas, philosophies, standards, expectations, everything. Of course, it has to be balanced by the standard of "the right/privelege to do anything is predicated on your neighbors right to NOT do it" (in other words, if doing xyz means your neighbor has to do (or be involved with) xyz ya don't get to do it without their okay). There's also a whole bunch of other caveats and limitations Clark and his anti-government friends will undoubtedly bring up. But why let reality get in the way of a perfectly valid principle?

  86. wgering says

    The title of the post is capitalized correctly…and there's a reaction to government that isn't outright loathing/contempt?

    Who are you and what have you done with Clark? Are you a pony?! I bet you're a pony. I'M ONTO YOU, PONY-CLARK!!

    aside

    Conspiracy theorists believe President Obama (or Queen Elizabeth, who is a space lizard, but I swear is no relation, even though my mother is from England) is targeting them, personally, with mind control microwave beams.

    There is a crazy guy in Berkeley who regularly stands on a street corner and says this exact thing. But with George Bush instead of Obama, because hey, it's Berkeley.
    /aside

  87. Asher says

    @ Lizard

    Lizard: "That is this: That people care more about freeing themselves than about oppressing others. This is false. "

    Yeah, I realized this around the age of 25 and it is why I am no longer a libertarians. Someone very famous once said something to the effect that the cry of the oppressed was not for freedom but to become the oppressor.

    I do think that there are exceptions to this but they are precious and rare.

  88. Asher says

    @ Dion

    Also, diversity. there's a magical word

    Not sure if you were being sartorial or not. Anyways, diversity or solidarity; there is a trade-off between them, everywhere and always. Something that comes with a cost is not magic.

  89. says

    @Dion: You forgot the most important one:

    c)You don't want to do something, so you think no one else should be allowed to do it, either.

    Your 'a' and 'b' are both forms of hypocrisy, but the greatest danger to any social order is not from the hypocrites, but the sincere — the more sincere, the more dangerous.

    You have a moral objection to eating meat — so no one should be allowed to eat meat. It's for the good of the planet! It's healthier! Treating animals as objects leads to treating humans as objects! There's no need to be a hypocrite, or to try to justify breaking the rules yourself while imposing them on others. Indeed, hypocrisy might lead to empathy. ("I know eating meat is wrong, but bacon is sooooo yummmmy! I guess I understand why some people won't give it up.")

    Substitute anything else that's basically a private choice, but that some people want to regulate: What kinds of consensual sex you're allowed to have, and with whom. What drugs you can put in your body. What gods to worship or ignore. What books you read. What games you play. What words you use.

    Diversity can be maintained when people are free to yell, scream, cajole, critique, persuade, associate, or disassociate with others based on their personal beliefs. As soon as it becomes possible to use force, diversity ends. The catch is that the only way to stop force, is with force. And then who stops them?

    And so, round and round it goes. We either keep up the juggling act of multiple conflicting power groups, none quite able to seize all the power they need to act, or we have one monstrous, centralized, tyrant, or we have ten thousand petty tyrants. So far, the first is working better than anything else that's been tried. Because how we're wired, neurologically, small monocultures can survive with minimal formal government because the population's idea of "what I want to do" is virtually identical to "what the rest of the people will let me do". As we grow to larger, more diverse, groups, the possibility of everyone agreeing dwindles to nothing. Between globalization and the Internet, the number of possible opinions on any topic, even within a small geographical area, is far larger than that any existing human social order ever had to deal with before.

    The more I think about it, the more I begin to consider that we are living through a social transition at least on par with the invention of agriculture or mass production, and it's happening in well under a single human lifespan. It's going to be fun to watch, if I survive.

  90. says

    @Asher: I tremendously prefer diversity to solidarity. The price, in terms of having to constantly have your ideas challenged, of understanding that "normal" is arbitrary, of making it much harder, ironically, to force radical change because not enough people agree on what that change should be, is cheap for what you get in return: New ideas, new perspectives, a memetic pool that is more likely to contain the memes needed to survive any crisis.

    Diversity doesn't mean we have to shut up and not disagree when someone says something we don't like. It means we all get to shout at each other, all the time, and that's infinitely better than chanting in a chorus. (No, that's not sarcasm.)

  91. Dion starfire says

    @Asher

    Not sure if you were being sartorial or not

    What the heck do my clothes have to do with this argument?!?!

    But, amusing non-sequiturs aside, accepting diversity as a necessary and even valuable thing is very powerful. If you disagree, well, diversity (i.e. there's enough room in the world/country/community/thoughtspace for you (and everybody else) to disagree).

    @Lizard"C. You don't want to do something …" that failing comes in the "wanting everybody else to make the same sacrifices, follow the same rules you do" phase of oppression. And yep, it's an f'ed up way to think. I wasn't trying to defend it or say we should tolerate it, just to explain why some people think that way. Understandable does not always mean acceptable (IMO, it definitely doesn't in this case).

  92. Asher says

    @ Lizard

    Was making no judgement about the values within that tradeoff. Oddly, most don't even seem to understand that, and I seem to encounter "More diversity, please! And solidarity, yeah, a lot of that, too!" depressingly often. No, you don't get more of *both* solidarity *and* diversity; you can have more of one and less of the other, though.

    One of my favorite responses to the "more diversity" crowd is to put on my best straight face and ask them if they want more "income diversity". What's befuddling is that it's a pretty obvious what I'm talking about but cognitive bias is so deeply ingrained that it produces a system failure in their brains.

    When I say "diversity crowd" I doubt I'm talking about someone such as yourself.

  93. Asher says

    @ dion

    lol, I was discussing women's fashion this weekend and meant sardonic but somehow my mind wandered and it came out as sartorial.

  94. says

    @Dion: I agree that understanding is not sympathy. One of the concepts I hate the most is "If you're trying to understand your enemies, you must agree with them!" or "How dare you consider things from their perspective! We must dehumanize them completely and treat them as mad animals with no motivations!"

    The fact I may understand why someone wants to kill me, and agree that if I were in his shoes, I'd do it, too, doesn't PUT me in his shoes, nor does it make me any less inclined to, in the words of Captain Ml Reynolds, "Try to kill him right back." Ditto, minus the actual violence, the realm of ideas.

    (And then, there's a few where what it boils down to is:"I understand why you think that way. It's because there's a physical problem with your brain, one which can be corrected, perhaps, with medication and therapy." This tends to be the conclusion drawn about the "The CIA sneaks into my room at night and hides my pens!" types. Yes, that's an actual example.)

  95. Asher says

    This tends to be the conclusion drawn about the "The CIA sneaks into my room at night and hides my pens!" types. Yes, that's an actual example.)

    Wait! You know my brother? Actually, since I started buying him penicils that is not longer a problem.

  96. Asher says

    @ Lizard

    Of course, and when most say "diversity" their brain imputes diverse things they like. The logical back-reasoning seems to go something like this:

    a) Diversity is always good
    b) Income diversity is bad
    c) Therefore, income diversity must not be *real* diversity

    Since, "c" is false, therefore, "a" must be false. No, seriously, I see reasoning like that every-freakin-where.

  97. says

    @Artifex

    @Clark – It is an interesting problem isn't it ? It is almost like there is some form of human Reynolds number that governs human interaction.

    Yes. I referenced Dunbar's number in the post.

    There is definitely some form of scale dependency I can't quite put my finger on.

    I've read book on entrepreneurialism that assert that in a company a manager's span of control can't be much larger than 7 people. Thus the natural sizes of firms are

    • 1
    • 7
    • 49
    • ~300
    • ~2,000
    • etc.
  98. says

    @Asher

    Someone very famous once said something to the effect that the cry of the oppressed was not for freedom but to become the oppressor.

    Heh. Ouch.

  99. says

    @Bobby

    @Clark well… I live in the UK and after the collapse and the naturally
    violent chaos that follows(which will be euphemistically known only as
    "the troubles" and never discussed in detail)

    LOL! You've already got more backstory and coherency than 99% of "prepper" novels.

    (That's based not on ever having read a single prepper novel, but on having read 2 or 3 free pages of a couple. UGH. Terrible stuff…and that's coming from someone interested in the topic.

    On a more serious note, I really am seriously looking at starting my own country. Interested?

    I started a small country in my mind 20 years ago. It sounds like a joke, but the point is that once you think of yourself as a nation of one that is pushed around by external forces but which is not legitimately beholden to them in any way, it's pretty freeing.

  100. Asher says

    Apparently, yes, I guess Google *is* my friend … at least until they start stealing my pens. OTOH, Dunbar's Number seems much liked by Malcolm Gladwell so that's gotta be at least fifteen minutes detention after class for that theory.

  101. says

    @Mike

    It might surprise people to find that even fifteen years ago, one could stroll unchallenged into my state capitol building and wander around lost for twenty minutes opening strange doorways before anyone noticed you were doing anything weird.

    Somehow government didn't collapse around us in a bloody pile of dead politicians.

    Once security measures are put in place, we tend to think of them as both normal and necessary, when in fact most of them are rarely needed.

    This.

    I used to scoff a bit at simplistic hippy statements like "once the fascists build their security state they need a war".

    …but there's a lot of truth to it.

    The thing is, I don't see if that much with external security, but I do see a ton of it with internal security.

    We managed to go 200 years with out much of a police force other than the US Marshalls and now every town not only has a SWAT team, but every medium sized 'burg has a Bearcat as well?

    SWAT team employees vote.

    …and they go to schools and speak to kids and tell them "how the world is".

  102. Asher says

    The first question in politics, everywhere and always, is that of legitimacy. Legitimacy just seems to be taken for granted and when I ask people what confers legitimacy on any particular government i get the sort of stares one would expect if you just claimed that the CIA

  103. Demosthenes says

    @ Troutwaxer

    "I'm simply arguing that the legal fiction which states that corporations are people makes them very dangerous to democracy."

    You would, I assume, also apply this to unions, churches, and newspapers. All of those would be corporations as well. "Corporation" does not equal "business."

    "When we add to this already dangerous idea the legal concept that MONEY=SPEECH, we have a situation where the corporations have a lot more 'speech' than an equally sized group of biological people."

    So? You're guaranteed free speech, not equal time. And money can be speech, by the way…especially when you're spending your own. There is no fundamental difference in the character of the following acts: me making a political sign and standing on a street corner; me spending my own money to create and market a political ad. Either way, I'm using my resources to advance my point of view. That is speech, whether you like it or not.

    "Since our government is 'by and for the people,' we need to limit the power of everything that is obviously not a biological person…"

    Corporations are made up of people. The "power" that corporations have, including the power to speak, is derivative of the power of the people that make up the corporation. What you're saying here is that I should be able to say whatever I want, and my friend Locke should be able to say whatever he wants…as long as we do it by ourselves. But the minute we combine our forces to speak together, you think you can regulate our speech because it might overpower yours. How profoundly un-American.

    "…because under the current situation a corporation composed of 10,000 people might have more power than a group of 100,000 voters, and that's not right."

    Are we talking about power now? I thought we were talking about speech. They're not the same thing. If we're just talking about power, there is one important power that I have that no corporation does — the power to vote. I, by myself, cast infinity percent more votes than does GE, every single election.

    If we're talking about speech, on the other hand, then I can't see how a person like you eventually avoids advocating for the closing/heavy regulating of the New York Times and MSNBC. Those corporations have a far greater ability to get their speech heard than you or I.

  104. Al says

    So, how does one reconcile anarcho capitalist, hard core Libertarian angst that this post and thread espouses with the fact that nation states themselves operate in what's arguably the freest market that there is?

    International politics is a pure law of the jungle, survival of the fittest environment. Surely the free market should have created an anarcho capitalist utopia by now, no?

  105. Krogerfoot says

    This is a lovely point. I don't know if it's relevant to note that I rarely agree with its author, but thanks.

  106. says

    @Al – As long as there are slaves for sale, the market is not free. The nation-states want freedom for themselves? Fine. Let them grant me the same freedom they desire. If they do not, then they are my enemies, and there can be no fair exchange with enemies.

  107. Anony Mouse says

    @Mike

    Lewis Powell certainly appoved of the lack of security and easy access. Seward was probably less enthusiastic.

  108. Demosthenes says

    "International politics is a pure law of the jungle, survival of the fittest environment. Surely the free market should have created an anarcho capitalist utopia by now, no?"

    No. First, because the market isn't free — it's not as though people can just pack up and leave tomorrow for any country they wish, to settle there permanently. Second, because the advances in technology necessary to enable a nascent anarcho-capitalist state are only now coming to the stage where they could.

    I realize you think you're being terribly clever (Oooh! The free market doesn't like you, hahahaha!). You're really not, though.

  109. Asher says

    @ Demosthenes

    I used to be an anarcho capitalist, in my early 20s. The reasoning he provided is why I am no longer one. The question is does history give us any evidence of the possibility of a future that looks like that envisioned by anarcho capitalists? My answer to that was a reluctant "no". Is it possible that the future might have some sort of environment that contains a lot of features desired by anarcho capitalists? Sure, but it's also going to have a bunch of stuff they hadn't envisioned.

  110. says

    Clark and George William Herbert:

    I too have started a new government in my mind. It's called the Confederate Confederacies of Americans. The "international" version is called the Confederate Confederacies of Georgists. See, even though I'm an anarchist I am not necessarily opposed in principle to one-world government.

    I am biased in favor of the Small, because Small is Beautiful, but I admit the Big has some appeal and arguments in its favor, such as the prospect of space travel. But if we're going to have the Big, it should be formed organically, of individuals from the ground up, and not from the top down, from some distant abstraction on high having No Authority.

  111. mud man says

    There are still sufficiently isolated places where government is mostly local, face-to-face, by hand, but you won't find it in America's 10,000 largest cities, nope. I think our biggest problem here is that there is a vocal segment that wants to industrialize!!. With all that Golden Coin we could … well I don't know what exactly. Patch the roads, keep the jail open, chase away the environmental restorationists. Whereas what we really need to do is stop sending most of it to Denver and Chicago. The possibility for an economically viable economy … eg, grow food … exists out here. Once the intra-regional infrastructure declines to a certain point … but I do hope the internet stays up. I'm the Head of Farming on this particular dirt patch, but other dirt patches are available. Do need somebody in charge of Fixing Mechanical Things, write for details.

    "An armed society is a polite society" … oh yeah, we know about that one. It is something that occasionally needs to be thought about, although actually more people are killed with hammers. Really! It's just a thing we have.

  112. Xenocles says

    I feel it's appropriate to repeat the excellent point Clark and others evolved last week or so: that we are in fact living in worldwide anarcho-capitalism and that system has resulted in two-hundred-odd very powerful criminal gangs with pretty well-defined territories.

  113. Al says

    @Tice with a J
    You're confusing free as in beer with free as in speech. Slavery is a result of a very free labor marketplace.

    @Xenocles
    But the idea of a "criminal gang" doesn't make sense in an anarcho-capitalist marketplace. A free market is amoral, no? So how can an enterprise which succeeds in the marketplace be criminal then?

  114. Xenocles says

    @Al-

    That's criminal in the sense of behavior, not in the sense of "contrary to the law." The standard here is along the lines of "I know it when I see it," or perhaps a do unto others sort of test.

    In anarchy power is free to condense wherever its aggregators choose. Well, power has condensed into organizations we now call 'governments,' which naturally seek to preserve their local monopolies of force. It's no different in character from a scenario in which you once had competing private security firms but now one is ascendant.

  115. says

    AI and Xenocles:

    Hence the fallacy of anarcho-capitalism as popularly understood, but not of mere anarchism properly understood and defined.

    Rothbard was quite the moralist though. But morality is the substance of legitimate government.

  116. says

    My ideal Confederate Confederacies of Americans would make no pretense to Authority. Nevertheless, it would be no more and no less legitimate than it was just. Who is the ultimate judge of what is just and unjust? The individual. This assertion, while perhaps counter-intuitive, is self-evidently true. Hence anarchy.

  117. Al says

    @Xenocles

    The standard here is along the lines of "I know it when I see it," or perhaps a do unto others sort of test.

    This feels like hand waving to me. Again, I'd say you're trying to ascribe concepts fairness or morality to a process where those things are deliberately undefined. If you don't like what anarco-capitalism produced does the fault lay with the product or the process?

  118. Xenocles says

    Less hand-wavy:

    A criminal gang uses force or the threat of force to extract support from its territory as opposed to a corporation or some other commercial firm, which (generally) persuades you to trade an object of value for a different object of value.

    The Mafia runs a protection racket; the government charges taxes for police and military. In both cases they do something bad to you if you don't pay up. The Mafia might actually protect me, contrariwise the police might simply be used to protect the state. It doesn't matter; the means of supplying those forces is the same.

    "If you don't like what anarco-capitalism produced does the fault lay with the product or the process?"

    I think the fault lies with the materials – namely, humanity. I think the only way to avoid a malignant monopoly of force in the long term is to establish a benign monopoly of force – basically the good people need to seize power and then mostly sit on their hands. Power vacuums get filled; the only choice for most of us is how light our chains are going to be and who will be holding them. This is why I'm a libertarian rather than an anarchist.

  119. Jared Martin says

    I am a libertarian, through and through. BUT… I don't believe in NO government… I believe in decentralized government.

    The mayor of your small town can make good decisions for his constituents… because he knows them. He's met them. He's looked into their eyes.

    It's good to have a leader people know and trust. A Lieutenant of a 50 man platoon. A mayor of a small town. But the Washington aristocracy knows not about the lives of actual Americans. They live in their fancy multimillion dollar homes in PG county. I'm sure many of them think they're doing what's right for America. But they don't know. It's too much.

    I often use the following example: who knows what's best for your child's education: the Secretary of Education, your states Education coordinator (whatever the title is in your state), the superintendent of your school district, the prinicipal, your kid's teacher, or you?

    Only towards the end is there even a chance the person has met the kid… And even the teacher hasn't known the kid for nearly as long as you. But we want schools because we don't have the time or experience to do it ourselves in most cases. But that doesn't mean the Secretary of Education should be deciding! And that's why I get riled up by common core. What if your school district is full of children of college educated parents? Or what if most kids are ESL? Or what if it's a military district where most kids have at least one deployed parent? Different needs… Different rules.

    Indiana had government run health care before Obamacare. It worked for Indianans. But maybe that system doesn't work for Texans.

    There's no one right way. That's why decentralization is the only answer.

  120. Al says

    @Xenocles

    What about a commercial firm or cabal of commercial firms that use their power of trade to make sure that black, brown, green or whatever people can't live or work in their state? Is that "criminal?"

    As for good people seizing power for the greater good of humanity and creating a "benign monopoly of force", didn't some other political ideology try that out?

  121. says

    I don't mean to beat a dead horse but definitions are important. Defining anarchy as no-government is incoherent and unfair to anarchism. Anarchism is not extreme libertarianism, or pacifism. The best way to achieve libertarian government is through anarchism. Having No Authority to use force is a very good reason to use force only when necessary, i.e., to Presume Innocence.

  122. Xenocles says

    @Al-

    No. It would be wrong in other ways but it does not meet the technical definitions I'm working with unless those firms are using force (which does not include non-participation in transactions) to prevent differently-minded people to conduct their own business.

    @John-

    In that case I'm going to need a positive definition of anarchy or anarchism. I'd like to preempt one by saying that if it's a system of complete adherence to the non-aggression principle or some other force-related definition I would consider that unworkable due to the human nature objections I raised earlier.

  123. Xenocles says

    "As for good people seizing power for the greater good of humanity and creating a "benign monopoly of force", didn't some other political ideology try that out?"

    I missed this the first time around. Several systems have tried this, including the present American Republic. I propose judging more by results than intentions.

  124. Al says

    @Xenocles

    So how is making someone give up something through the barrel of a gun force and starvation not force?

  125. says

    Xenocles: Precisely. That's my point. Force-related definitions of anarchy or anarchism are incoherent and unworkable. Anarchy is rulerlessness. A ruler is a person who makes laws for other people. But correctly speaking there is no law other than the moral law. The anarch understands there are no rulers. The anarchist tries to make other people understand there are no rulers, to improve society.

  126. HandOfGod137 says

    @John Kindley

    there is no law other than the moral law

    At the risk of rehashing another argument, who defines this moral law?

  127. says

    The situation in the US intrigues me. In Norway the previous prime minister simply took a bike or a normal car to and from work. You can probably even find most of our politicians walking the streets coincidentally.

    And hell, the king or regent frequently visits my hometown during its movie festival. I went to the same film as the (at the time regent) crown prince once, and it was literally as casual as it could possibly get. No security setup. He was followed by a guard, I think, but that was literally it.

    Not long ago, said crown prince ran a casual half-marathon. There were articles about how he casually made conversation with another runner near the line, and they raced.

    Of course, Norway is a relatively small country. But it should boggle your mind all the same just how little "safety" we have "granted" them.

  128. says

    HandofGod, I said it above but I'll say it again: The individual is necessarily the ultimate judge of what the moral law forbids or requires. Think about it before going for the easy retort.

  129. Asher says

    Life creates morality, thus, different types of life create different types of morality. I suspect libertarians have a cognitive profile that is significantly different from the general population average.

    Also, if you really wanna headscrew someone then point out that the aphorism that headed this comment works backwards, too. Seems pretty obvious, to me, but almost no one gets it without having it brought to their attention.

  130. Al says

    @John Kindley

    And if law is left up to the individual then how do we not end up with might making right? The powerful may have not have the authority but if they have the power then who cares?

  131. Asher says

    @ al

    And if law is left up to the individual then how do we not end up with might making right?

    We already have that. Think of every single taboo you hold: every single one was imposed over the course of centuries, if not millennia. Of course, when people say this what they mean is that simply holding a gun to someone's head doesn't confer "right" on the one holding the gun. However, that's, writ large, how government collects taxes, so what's the difference?

    Legitimacy. Might + Legitimacy = Right.

  132. Asher says

    The individual is necessarily the ultimate judge of what the moral law forbids or requires.

    This seems to presuppose individual autonomy, which seems a pretty iffy supposition.

  133. says

    Asher wrote: "This seems to presuppose individual autonomy, which seems a pretty iffy supposition."

    I agree with you on that. Ever since, coming from a Thomist perspective, I did my undergrad senior philosophy thesis on "The Metaphysical Nature and Cause of Moral Evil" I've had my doubts about "free-will." These days I'm trying to wrap my head around Non-Dualism, which may make my affirmation that the individual is necessarily the ultimate judge of good and evil sound less arrogant or more arrogant.

  134. HandOfGod137 says

    @John Kindley

    The individual is necessarily the ultimate judge of what the moral law forbids or requires. Think about it before going for the easy retort.

    I have thought about it, and it's where these libertarian dreams of paradise always fall down (once you get past the small issue of providing every autonomous agent with the power and resources to meet his/her needs to a standard a complex civilization can). For this to work you have to assume everyone involved is morally "good" (whatever that is). They're not. It would be like the Balkans, only more fine-grained.

  135. Asher says

    To paraphrase Nietzsche, groups make far more interesting and fruitful objects of analysis than do individuals. I think that if all non-libertarians magically disappeared that the remaining world would look like that libertarian paradise and the remaining libertarians would behave, largely, as their philosophy predicts (advocates?).

    In a certain sense, there is something to the notion that individuals are all judges of good and evil, in that they are affirming already existing notions with their behavior. However, that is not the common understanding of "judge".

  136. says

    HandofGod:

    Who said anything about dreams of paradise or anything "working"? I was not stating an agenda but a fact.

    In a sense my formulation of anarchy as "rulerlessness" was incomplete, because there is one ruler: me. Does this mean I am not subject to external force? Of course not. Does it mean I am not influenced by others in my judgments of right and wrong? Of course not. In fact I might be quite "humble" on that score. But every man should be ready to assert his considered judgment of right and wrong, if necessary contra mundum.

  137. Asher says

    Yeah, John, when I was hanging around lots of libertarians I was not aware of much paradisiacal dreaming. Not sure where he gets that idea.

  138. Xenocles says

    @Al-

    "So how is making someone give up something through the barrel of a gun force and starvation not force?"

    Because the former situation has the gun (which stands in for any physical violence or its threat) and the latter doesn't. Nobody's forcing the person to starve, they're just saying "You can't have any of my food." If literally everyone with some food says that then it sucks to be you, but each individual has the right to say that. I believe that a person has a right to dispose of his property as he sees fit, which in turn denies others the right to take that property against his explicit consent. You might disagree, but I suppose that's what axioms are for.

    @John-

    "But correctly speaking there is no law other than the moral law."

    After decades of struggle with it, I'm not even sure there is that much. I don't believe in a supernatural source for such a law, and I find the moral laws implied by our natural state to be repulsive.

    "The anarch understands there are no rulers. The anarchist tries to make other people understand there are no rulers, to improve society."

    Yet there must be some form of ruler, even if just at the individual scale. Since there is no moral law universally subscribed to, someone has to manage the conflicts. Nature defaults to awarding that privilege to the strong. If your moral law allows you to take whatever you want and mine does not, we will clash when you attempt to take what's mine. The quicker gun, or the side with the better mob, or however it's settled, becomes the effective ruler – whether in defense or aggression, one side makes law for the other.

    Since the strong will always do what they can, I believe the best hope for a stable good society is to make it so that the people who want to do good are strong.

  139. Asher says

    I was bored and flipping through old posts and I found the one by Ken White regarding creeper posts bringing out the crazies. Hang with me, as it relates to this topic. On commenter wrote

    "i>Do you mean to say that a woman who was harassed at a convention is at fault for failing to exercise her free will to… what? not attend?

    In fact, yes, such a person has the free will to not attend. When you say "group" you are simultaneously saying "out group", the reference is simultaneously both inclusionary and exclusionary. The more inclusionary the greater the diversity but the less the solidarity.

  140. says

    Xenocles: I mostly agree. But I think Right does make some Right, and that Right is written on the human heart and accessible to human reason, i.e., it's communicable. One of the Proverbs says something like "the evil man flees when no one pursueth. The consciousness of doing Right gives a measure of Might, and even of Authority.

    I'd suggest your project of making it so that the people who want to do good are strong is furthered by the anarchic "you're not the boss of me."

  141. Demosthenes says

    @ Asher

    "The question is does history give us any evidence of the possibility of a future that looks like that envisioned by anarcho capitalists? My answer to that was a reluctant 'no'. Is it possible that the future might have some sort of environment that contains a lot of features desired by anarcho capitalists? Sure, but it's also going to have a bunch of stuff they hadn't envisioned."

    With all due respect (and I'm not saying that sarcastically, I sincerely mean it), the fact that the answer to your second question undercuts the answer to your first question appears to have escaped your notice. There are many possibilities history gave no evidence could ever come to pass, until shortly before they happened. (Shortly being counted in a span of a couple decades, I grant you. Still, the possibility for, if not an anarcho-capitalist state per se, at least a vastly freer union of states on a Nozickian model, has never been brighter than it is right now.)

  142. Asher says

    Demosthenes

    There are many possibilities history gave no evidence could ever come to pass, until shortly before they happened.

    Can you give me an example. Think carefully, because this is a trick question.

  143. Asher says

    he fact that the answer to your second question undercuts the answer to your first question appears to have escaped your notice.

    If anarcho-capitalism is a normative-rich ideology then significantly different overall outcomes than that predicted would place that ideology at odds with reality. For an ideology to be "true" it needs to have a totalistic ability to predict the outcome of its own implementation.

  144. Asher says

    My definition of "ideology" is a system of ideas of how the world *ought* to be whose adherents attempt to impose it on reality. As I have any systematic set of ideas pertaining to how the entire world *ought* to function I am non-ideological.

  145. Asher says

    Don't forget that the is-ought distinction works both ways; it is as logically fallacious to try and derive is from ought as it is the other way around. I came up with the label "moralistic fallacy" but someone beat me to it the year before I was born, iirc.

  146. Demosthenes says

    "Can you give me an example."

    Sure. No one would have taken seriously, in 1480, a prediction that Spain would become the wealthiest empire in Europe within a quarter-century.

    "Think carefully, because this is a trick question."

    Only if you're cheating and using hindsight. You said that you couldn't see any possibility of a future as envisioned by anarcho-capitalists coming to pass. Most people, living in the moment as we do, can't see tremendous sea changes even when they're right on the horizon. I'm not saying the world will eventually be anarcho-capitalist, or even a single "state." What I am saying, all I am saying, is that the prospects are brighter than ever for such an occurrence.

    "For an ideology to be 'true' it needs to have a totalistic ability to predict the outcome of its own implementation."

    Sadly, this comment (and the two following it) appears to miss what I thought was an obvious point — simply, that your concession that there will almost certainly be things in the future an anarcho-capitalist wouldn't envision holds for you as well, and so your assertion that history at present seems dim for the prospects of anarcho-capitalism is possibly true but quite beside the point.

  147. Xenocles says

    Dictatorship? Who said anything about that? Are you talking about the starvation thing? That's a democratic process with a strong bias toward the person seeking food. Starvation would require the unanimous vote of everyone he seeks to trade with and, failing that, of everyone he seeks charity from. One person dealing with him would be enough to prevent starvation and it might be enough to start a chain reaction that reverses the prior shunning. Now if you are assuming a world where the number of people with access to food resources is very small, you might have a point… but that's not a necessary condition and it arguably indicates the presence of other problems too.

  148. Al says

    @Xenocles

    Dictatorship is about the only definition I can think of to describe this that works.

    As for the rest, as I said in a different thread, public accommodation laws didn't come about because someone feelings were hurt.

  149. Xenocles says

    @Al-

    You again fail to be specific, so I will proceed under the assumption you are talking about the phrase "monopoly of force."

    All forms of government are founded on establishing an effective monopoly of force. Some acknowledge that they can't (or shouldn't attempt to) completely monopolize it and allow individuals the right of defense in a very limited scope, but even those systems act quickly to quash any sort of wholesale competitor (which is to say, a rebellion or a vigilante force).

    You don't even need to imagine a non-dictatorship government that seeks a benign monopoly of force. That's the ostensible mission of every Western democracy or republic. Whether they have succeeded in the benign part is debatable, but their corner on the force market in their part of the world is pretty unquestionable.

  150. babaganusz says

    Drunkenvalley:

    Of course, Norway is a relatively small country. But it should boggle your mind all the same just how little "safety" we have "granted" them.

    small doesn't have too much to do with why it's [not] particularly intriguing or mind-boggling. the city of Las Vegas, for example, is quite small compared to the state it's in, let alone the country it's in, let alone the continent it's on, but it's sure to boggle a variety of minds on a variety of levels all the same. what's key to Norway's exceptional state is the relative[ly extreme] lack of diversity (diversity had already been brought up before your comment, which is probably one of several reasons you were ignored [unless responses to your comment have been erased, which seems doubtful]).

  151. Castaigne says

    @Lizard:

    The cold, impersonal, bureaucratic contempt that Big Government has for everyone can't hold a candle to the personal, targeted, contempt Small Government has for anyone that doesn't kow-tow to its petty tyrants.

    This. You see the same thing in large/multinational corporations versus small businesses. After several experiences with small business "God-Bosses", I vowed never again to work for any corporation that wasn't on the Forbes 500 or Global 500. At least with the HR department I can file a greivance, while with "God-Boss" I have to decide if giving daily blow-jobs is worth getting a paycheck.

    I prefer things cold, impersonal, and bureaucratic. It makes things like operating a computer; you just need to know the right buttons to push.

    That is this: That people care more about freeing themselves than about oppressing others. This is false.

    Your cynicism is sadly correct. This is why I tend towards the Chinese Legalists on the subject of governance.

  152. Castaigne says

    @Erwin:

    Look at a town council – nearly always reasonable.

    I invite you to come to the Metro Atlanta area. Over 50 different municipalities, with town councils for each of them – and all of them are pissfights of corruption and dickery. I trust the county governments more than the town councils. I trust the state government over the county governments. And the federales I trust more than all combined.

  153. Dion starfire says

    For those of you who have trouble sympathizing with Clark's viewpoint, check out Penn Jillette's (of Penn and Teller) video: Mistrust of Government is a Beautiful thing.

    For those sympathizing too much with Clark, there's a quote in David Drake's Lord of the Isles series about how hard it is to bribe (or otherwise corrupt) somebody you barely know, and another about how a strong king (or, in our case, federal government) far off will tend to be more fair than the local leaders (who will have petty grudges, an intolerance for anything new and different, and limited oversight of their activities).