Rigorous Red or Bogus Blue? Part I

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By Mike Cronin

In the 1999 movie “The Matrix,” the future is presented as a dystopia where the vast majority of human beings are caged in pods that capture their body heat to energize a vast, governing machine intelligence.  In order to keep people in such a state, the machines created a virtual reality and plugged the brains of the human “batteries” directly into it – this constructed reality is the eponymous Matrix.

There are a few human rebels who escaped the machines, fighting an almost hopeless battle against them. These rebels are able to plug themselves back into the Matrix with full awareness of its virtual nature, and work to free the rare human “battery” who has begun to suspect the Matrix is not reality.  In the process of freeing such a mind, the leader of the extraction team confronts the skeptical person within the Matrix, hints at the truth, then offers the candidate two pills, one red, the other blue.  If the candidate takes the blue pill, he will remain trapped in the Matrix.  If he takes the red, he will be unplugged, rescued from his pod, and shown the true nature of reality.

There are some people today who believe we are living in a Matrix.  I don’t subscribe to that at all, but I do believe nearly all of our society’s ills can be attributed to a conflict between two philosophical meta-traditions, with schools of thought that promote collectivism & altruism on one side; and the philosophies of  individualism & reason on the other.  The traditions of collectivism & altruism have some Matrix-like qualities.

“Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.” ― John Dewy, hero of progressive education.

Like the machines in the Matrix, the elite of these traditions would prefer their subjects remain ignorant of the true nature of things, i.e. to take the metaphorical blue pill.  Creating critical thinkers is not a goal for the education of the masses in systems dependent on these models; nor is it a priority for the media to expose truths that contradict the narratives of the anointed elite.  But unlike the “batteries” of the Matrix, We the People are not trapped in energy-sucking pods. Metaphorical red pills can be found.

“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” ― Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States

Promoters and adherents of philosophies of individualism and reason are, like the rebels in the Matrix movies, very much a minority who see things much closer to the way they truly are. A thinking, reasoning mind is valued among such rebels, skeptics, and extremists, but represents a threat to the purveyors of the blue pill.

“To fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence… Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim… is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States… and that is its aim everywhere else.” – H.L. Mencken, journalist and author

The conflict between “blue” and “red” thinking has been with us since humans first started using tools to make tools – probably as far back as the invention of the wheel.  Blue thinking started with superstitions and pagan religions.  It has always had the advantage of being easier to sell and easier to believe in, so it has always flourished in some form or fashion, while red thinking has always required intellectual rigor, which meant it was not preferred by people looking for the path of least resistance. In fact, ours was the first nation to be founded on the principles of individual liberty and capitalism – i.e. The United States of America is the original red state!

Testing our Constitution

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By Mike Cronin

Today ought to be a national holiday.  229 years ago today, the Constitution was created.  It was ratified and became the highest law of the land two years later in March of 1789.  Contrary to popular opinion, or even popular “fact” taught in many of our schools, the Constitution didn’t give us a democracy, even though it specified certain democratic processes for electing the president and members of Congress and for proposing and enacting legislation.  It gave us a republic – a form of government where the people’s rights were protected by law and could not be voted away at the whim of the majority.  It gave us the first country in the history of mankind founded on the ideal of individual liberty and personal freedom.

The Constitution, and our republic, has been under attack, either literally or rhetorically, ever since.  Some, like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, would have us believe the Constitution is a “living document,” i.e. open to re-interpretation through whatever cultural lens exists at a given time.  The Framers knew better than that.  They knew America would not be the same in 1887 or 1987 as it was in 1787, so they crafted a mechanism into the Constitution that would allow for it to be changed: via amendments. They deliberately made the amendment process challenging, but not impossible.  It has worked just fine at least 17 times over the last 229 years.  The most recent, the 27th Amendment, was ratified in 1992.  (Yes, there are 27 amendments, but the first ten were enacted simultaneously as the Bill of Rights, hence 17 instances the amendment process has been carried out.)

One of those amendments, the first in fact, is being tested right before our eyes today. There is a public controversy over several NFL players who are refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  As a veteran, I am in the curious position of both feeling pained and proud.  It pains me to see people disdain the anthem, because so many have fought and died to protect the freedom and liberty the flag stands for. And yet, the very first freedom protected by the Bill of Rights is the freedom of expression.  As much as it galls me to admit it, our country has not always acted in accord with its own highest law.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for nearly a century after the Constitution was ratified, men could own other men in this country…if they were black. Our history has other examples of its failure to abide by the Constitution and the principles of individual freedom it protects: Confiscatory income taxes. The draft. Excessive bureaucracy and scandalous deficits and debt. Spying on citizens. Obamacare. Failures to hold officials accountable for their transgressions in office. The list is not short.

So when an NFL player refuses to stand for the National Anthem, and no government sanction ensues, I can be proud to witness an instance where the Constitution itself is being honored by the government, even if those who have given everything in its defense are being dishonored.

Of course that works both ways.  Just as those few players have the right not to stand, the fans, the teams, and the league have the right to express their displeasure at the offending players.  It would not pain me at all to see the league fine, or the teams discharge, the players in question!

An Open (and Polite) Letter to the Gun Control Faction

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By Mike Cronin

Here’s my take on the bitter firearms dispute vitiating our country. I offer my commentary without vitriol. No contempt. No condescension. No name-calling, baiting, or inflammatory rhetoric; just exposition.

Obviously, we have a fundamental philosophical difference.  I don’t know, but I suspect that your apprehension over firearms is energized by a belief that it is the government’s responsibility to protect the citizenry from harm, and that you see firearms in private hands as a huge threat, especially given horrific mass shootings.  Ergo, the government should further regulate firearms or ban them outright. If I am articulating it wrong, please correct me.

I can’t speak for every pro-gun rights person, but I suspect most of us subscribe to a quite different interpretation of the government’s duty to protect us than you do.  I see it like this:  All of us have the inherent right to defend ourselves from immediate violence.  It would be nice if there were always a police officer around to intercede on our behalf, but that’s just not feasible, so we compromise.  We retain the ultimate individual right to self-defense, but we delegate the right to retaliate after the fact (via impartial criminal prosecution and punishment) to government.

So far, you may not see a large gulf between our positions.  Yet there is a significant one:  It is my position that the right to self-defense is absolute.  By that I mean that I have the right to defend myself from ANY initiation of violence (or the imminent threat of same) from ANY initiator – up to and including government agents, should they act in the absence of due process or turn overtly tyrannical.  A shotgun or revolver is hardly proportional to such a threat. Since our own government, should it turn tyrannical, and the forces of other governments, should they unwisely choose to invade this country, possess weapon systems of devastating destructive power, it is more than reasonable for a free individual to possess mere firearms to stand in opposition, even if such opposition must take the form of a covert insurgency. It is reasonable that a free person possess firearms identically lethal to those his oppressors routinely bear.

Does that mean I think private individuals should be able to go down to “Booms-R-Us” and buy guided missiles and tanks and chemical weapons?  In the absence of a better argument, I’ll accede to this principle: the more indiscriminate a weapon is, the harder it should be for anyone to obtain.  That principle is already largely in effect. Regardless of anybody’s desire, there is no “Booms-R-Us” to go to in this country. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t legally buy a grenade, landmine, or bomb as a private citizen without an enormous amount of oversight, if at all. Conversely, hand-held firearms currently legal for possession are discriminate enough that law-abiding individuals should not be further barred or banned from buying and possessing them, regardless of militarized appearance, magazine capacity, fire rate, trigger function, or other minutiae, or whether some sociopath or jihadist has used one to commit mass murder.

There has been, and will continue to be, all manner of legal wrangling over the exact meaning of the oddly-phrased Second Amendment within the bounds of “the letter of the law.” However, the Founders made the spirit and intent clear in their other writings.  The Second Amendment does not primarily protect the right to hunt or compete at the skeet range, that protection is a byproduct.  It protects the individual right to self-defense. (Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has said as much in D.C. vs. Heller.) A populace that can assassinate tyrannical leaders and their henchmen and fight a well-equipped guerrilla war against its oppressors is a populace that will not be easy to subjugate. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee that America has such a populace.

If we look at our positions from a purely logical standpoint, I posit that we are arguing from different premises: The pro-gun rights argument rests on the premise that individuals have an inherent and inviolate right to self-defense, and that our government is obligated by the Second Amendment to protect that right through non-infringement on keeping and bearing arms. If I have not misread the argument for the gun control faction, your premise is that government’s obligation to protect our rights gives it (or should give it) the purview to limit the potential for anyone to cause harm.

I contend that the more power you give to the government to prevent anyone from causing harm, the more pathological personalities you will attract who seek to wield that power…to cause harm!  Eventually, you will get a card-carrying totalitarian who will turn the United States into a Venezuela or an Iraq, or worse. The alternative is to accept some risk with your freedom: occasionally, a nut with a rifle will kill a bunch of innocent people.  The proper mitigation to both threats: A populace that can shoot back!

A Crazy Idea

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By Mike Cronin

In the 1600s, pilgrims came to this land to escape religious persecution. Other colonists soon followed. In the late 1700s, the thriving 13 colonies decided to throw off the yoke of their far-off ruler. In the 1860s, we fought a war over slavery.  (Some will tell you the war was about state’s rights, but the “rights” being fought over were the right to secede from the Union in order to continue the practice of slavery.) About a half-century later, women won the right to vote. Nearly another half century after that, we had the civil rights and equal rights movements.  At some point, other groups saw that these early movements were largely successful in gaining for their members the recognition that they deserved the same rights as anyone else. But then new groups started seeking privileges disguised as rights.

For instance: the gay marriage movement.  This movement sought (and is still seeking) the privilege for one person to be able to marry another person of the same gender. The movement postulates that since heterosexuals have a “right” to marry, homosexuals deserve no less. Advocates of this arrangement are right that homosexuals ought to have the same rights as heterosexuals; but they err by seeking parity with heterosexuals in being permitted to marry by the government. If marriage (or domestic partnership), or any other kind of association is indeed a right, then the movement should be demanding the elimination of government intrusion (except for the function of contract enforcement) in the domestic arrangements of competent, consenting adults. (Freedom-loving heterosexuals ought to consider advocating for the same thing!)

Now we live in a time with a constantly-increasing number of movements and causes seeking special privileges for smaller and smaller groups of people.  The latest examples: Trans-gendered folks seeking the “right” to use whichever public restrooms are appropriate to the gender they “identify” with.  College kids demanding “safe spaces” where they can be free from challenging ideas espoused by disagreeable people. Illegal immigrants demanding in-state tuition rates and voting rights. Minimum-skilled fast-food workers demanding higher pay than junior military members (who have months of technical training) make. Able-bodied yet jobless people demanding food stamps.

Before you know it, every single individual in this country will get the crazy idea that they deserve equal rights for themselves.  Some will demand free speech, others will want to own a gun, and many would like to have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.  Some might even want to be free to associate with whomever they’d like.

Folks might get the fantastical notion that a genuine individual right cannot require or obligate anything of anyone else other than that we leave each other alone and honor our voluntary commitments.

Some thought leaders and other prominent people might even get together and decide to craft a document that would enshrine these ideas.  They might imagine that the best way to organize a government would be around the concept that its sole purpose is to protect the rights of free individuals, and that such freedom is the best way yet devised by humans to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.

I wonder what it would take to produce such a document and put it into force. Could such a society ever flourish? What would we call such a place?

 

Random Absurdities, Pt. 2.

 

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By Mike Cronin

It’s OK to kill our (human) enemies, but we dare not name them.  On the other hand, we have no compunction about conducting war against all sorts of things that aren’t enemies: Terrorism is a tactic used by our aforementioned unnamed enemy, but terrorism itself is not an enemy. Drugs are a commodity sold by enemies taking advantage of the risk/reward conditions our drug laws create, but drugs themselves are not an enemy. Poverty is a condition often perpetuated by people who refuse to accept that they are responsible for the choices they make.  Poverty is not an enemy, but the “War on Poverty” often treats the most productive among us as foes.

The “Occupy Wall Street” types who made a stink a few years ago railing against capitalism were often seen wearing name-brand clothing, drinking coffee from famous-brand cafes, and calling and texting each other on smart phones.  How can one accept an anti-capitalist argument from spokes-dudes wading up to their necks in the products, goods, and services created at the hands of some of our most effective capitalists?

Scientifically speaking, anything with a carbon molecule is organic. Virtually all of the food items we eat, with the exception of water, salt, and trace minerals, are organic in the most factual sense possible: they contain carbon atoms and molecules in the structures of carbohydrates and proteins.   The idea that a vegetable or box of cookies or a can of soda might not be legally “organic” when they are factually “organic” is a semantic absurdity fostered by the pipsqueaks of panic.

Ditto for “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs).  Virtually every domesticated food plant and animal produced and consumed today is a result of genetic modification that has been going on since the dawn of agriculture.  Here again, the pipsqueaks are pandering to fear.  It makes no difference to your body if a tomato or grape or a chicken was modified over many generations in the field or one generation in a test tube.  You are going to eat the stuff, draw energy from it, and eliminate it, not blend it into your genetic code. Eating “Franken-food” will not cause you to turn into a shambling mutant!

I am reliably informed that airline pilots for most of the big domestic airlines (American, United, Delta) are paid by the hour, from the time the jet is pushed back from the gate at the departure airport until the door is opened at the arrival airport.  Is it not absurd to incentivize your highest-paid hourly employees to NOT be efficient in an industry with such low profit margins that attention to efficiency is essential for financial success?

The concept of “white privilege” has been instigated as a way to induce guilt in white people for (supposedly) causing, or at least not having to suffer, the woes (real or imagined) of every other demographic. It is a racist concept, and it absurd.  It is racist because it attributes advantage to whites solely on the basis of their skin color.  It ignores the fact that there are many non-white people who attain as many, or more, rewards and advantages in their lives than most whites.  It is absurd when applied to Americans because all of us in the US enjoy far more “privilege” (in the form of better living conditions, more freedom, and more opportunities for some, and sadly, also in the form of government handouts for others) than most people in most countries around the world.  The constant stream of immigrants pouring into this country (legally and illegally) aren’t coming here seeking to be oppressed by the man!

We are supposed to take it for granted that income inequality is a bad thing and accept all kinds of wealth redistribution schemes to help resolve it.  There is never any allowance for the possibility that income inequality might be a direct result of ingenuity inequality or effort inequality. That would mean that people are responsible for their own achievements (or lack thereof).  We can’t have that – it would be absurd!

The Ninth Circuit has no Appeal to Patriots

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By Mike Cronin

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it is Constitutional for a California high school to ban students from wearing patriotic American-themed clothing, such as t-shirts displaying the stars and stripes, during the the Mexican commemoration day Cinco de Mayo. Their reasoning is that the school has issues with ethnic tensions between its majority Hispanic and minority white student populations, and that the school was acting prudently to ban the patriotic garb so as to reduce friction between the two groups.

The court’s decision has inflamed adults in the name of reducing the tensions of students. On the one hand, it very well may be provocative to “throw the flag” in the face of Cinco de Mayo celebrants, especially if that were the obvious intent of those so clothed. On the other, the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular, offensive, and disagreeable speech. It is a wonder to patriots that such a ban, seemingly in direct conflict with the freedom of expression, can be upheld, and it’s insulting and supremely ironic that the proscription elevates the cultural expression of a hosted culture at the expense of the host. (Note that the court did not ban Cinco de Mayo or Mexican-themed apparel.)

To be clear: The Ninth Circuit upheld the ban on the basis that the school was acting for the safety of the students. If that is truly their reasoning, then why not ban patriotic apparel for both cultures?  If wearing American-themed apparel at a high school in the United States of America, which receives funding from the American government at the expense of American taxpayers, is offensive to some Mexican students, could it not also be just as likely that celebrating a Mexican commemoration at that same high school might be offensive to the non-Mexican students?

The court made at least two serious errors: In banning patriotic wear, i.e. self –expression, it has taught the teens that their individual rights are to be violated at whim by authority rather than protected by it. In making the ban applicable to only one set of cultural expressions (American-themed), it has taught the students that it’s the majority that rules (at that school, the majority is Hispanic), not the law.

I wonder what country the Ninth Circuit judges come from?

America: Republic, Democracy, or Empire? Part III

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By Mike Cronin

In parts I and II, I opined that the U.S. is supposed to be a republic, but that we have become dysfunctional as such, and that people think we are a democracy, but if we adopt true majority rule vs the rule of law, we will descend into dictatorship.  Whether we are a republic or a democracy or a dictatorship speaks to our domestic governance, but what about our foreign relationships?  Some say America is an empire, and we have certainly done things that are imperialistic. But what is an empire, exactly? According to Paul Schroeder, Professor Emeritus of History, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

“…empire means political control exercised by one organized political unit over another unit separate from and alien to it. Many factors enter into empire–economics, technology, ideology, religion, above all military strategy and weaponry–but the essential core is political: the possession of final authority by one entity over the vital political decisions of another. This need not mean direct rule exercised by formal occupation and administration; most empires involve informal, indirect rule. But real empire requires that effective final authority, and states can enjoy various forms of superiority or even domination over others without being empires.”

America certainly wields enormous power and influence across the world. We have the most powerful military and the largest economy. We have a military presence in something like 75-80% of the countries, and our Navy and Air Force can hold any target anywhere on the globe at risk. A few words from the president or the Chairman of the Federal Reserve can affect the fortunes of investors the world over.  We have acted imperialistically in many historical cases, but we are not fully an empire yet. The critical distinction is that we do not maintain “final authority” over other polities. In the historical cases where we had such power, we kept it only temporarily. (For example: the Philippines, Japan post WW II, Panama, Iraq.) We may not ever become an empire…unless we do descend into dictatorship. A dictator needs to accumulate power in order to keep accumulating power. An American dictator would have enormous power indeed – certainly enough to enable his or her ambition for empire.

So, to sum up this series of posts: are we a republic, a democracy, or an empire? If the answer eludes you, don’t feel bad. If you asked 100 historians or social scientists, you’d get 100 different answers.  In my opinion, we are stuck between modes of governance, that is, we have a mix of systems, and pressure is building.  “We the people” are supposed to have a republic, with representation in furtherance of protecting our rights; instead we get lip service. Where our votes are supposed to matter, instead corporate lobbyists and issue-based pressure groups buy or bully for the legislation they want and turn America against itself in the doing. Our elected leaders pass laws we don’t want, waste money that isn’t theirs on programs the Constitution doesn’t authorize, and empower armies of bureaucrats to regulate with the force of law. Then they then exempt themselves from their own handiwork. Our Supreme Court to often tries to legislate new rights out of thin air in an effort to achieve “social justice” and ignores the  Constitution, or says it’s a living document and re-interprets it to mean exactly the opposite of what it says. Ayn Rand was prescient when she wrote: “… no one’s interests are safe, everyone’s interests are on a public auction block, and anything goes for anyone who can get away with it. Such a system—or, more precisely, anti-system—breaks up a country into an ever-growing number of enemy camps, into…groups fighting one another for self-preservation in an indeterminate mixture of defense and offense, as the nature of such a jungle demands.”

If it seems like we are the most powerful nation on the planet, but that we are in decline because we can’t get our governmental act together , you are seeing things pretty clearly.

 

America: Republic, Democracy, or Empire? Part I

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By Mike Cronin

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government had been created. He replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”   Yet today, you almost never hear people call the U.S. a republic. It’s often called a democracy.  It is also sometimes spoken of as an empire, usually in a derogatory way.  So what are we supposed to have, and what do we actually have?

Let’s start with “republic.” The word republic, derived from the Latin res publica, or “public thing,” refers to a form of government where the citizens conduct their affairs for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of a ruler. It’s the form of government we are supposed to have, it’s the form of government our Constitution establishes, and that our presidents, military, and other public servants swear oaths to support and defend.   That’s what our founders gave us.

So, do we Americans conduct our affairs for our own benefit, or for the benefit of a ruling power?  How long do you have to work each year to pay your tax bill? How much paperwork do you have to fill out to file your taxes? Is the NSA spying on you? Can you sell your product without some kind of mandatory labeling to warn idiots not to do something stupid with it? If you decide to home school your kids, or send them to private school, do you still have to pay for your neighbors’ kids’ public schooling? If the local government thinks your house and yard would be put to better use as a shopping mall, will you be able to keep your own property?  Can you conduct any financial affairs without government scrutiny? Can you travel anywhere you like via any mode of transportation you want without having your papers checked and/or your property or your person searched? Are your particular vices allowed or prohibited?  Can you marry whichever mutually consenting adult(s) you’d like? Can a male over 18 NOT register for the draft without consequences?  If you decide to hire candidate X instead of candidate Y, are you going to get into hot water for not supporting affirmative action or diversity goals?  Once that has been settled, can you pay the candidate what the work is worth, or do you have pay them what the government says you must?  Are you obligated to provide a benefit package to boot? Do you have to take a drug test in order to work, so that the government can give some of your money to people who don’t work and couldn’t pass a drug test? Can you keep your insurance plan and /or your doctor this year? Are you in compliance with all of the millions of pages of other laws and regulations our government has levied on us over the last 237 years?

I think we can say, that based on the definition above, we are no longer fully functioning as a republic. To be sure, and for now, we still have many freedoms, including the freedom to write a blog like this one, and many other trappings of a republic, including the ability to vote. But are we truly able to conduct our own affairs for our own benefit?