Capitalism is Choice

Ask someone in the science of accounting or finances to define “capitalism” and the most common answer will be “private ownership of the means of production (a.k.a. capital).”

The typical recipients of media indoctrination will hear or read that explanation and images of elite moguls wearing top hats and smoking cigars pop into their minds. “Fat cats.” Monopolists. Robber barons.

The mental associations spawned by media and academic spin are not the province of this post. Rather, it is my purpose to explain that there is a philosophical aspect of the concept of capitalism that is far too often missed, even by advocates for the ideology.

What does one call a system of exchange in which all the participants are free from coercion? If Alex has an extra pig and needs cotton, and Betty has extra cotton and could use a pig, what do you call the system that allows these two to exchange their surplus without anyone being allowed to use any form of force, including just a threat of force?

If the farms producing the excess pig and cotton are owned by the state, that is socialism. The pig-producer does not own his farm or any excess pigs he makes, and neither does the cotton farmer own her lands or machinery, or the extra cotton she grew because of harder work or smarter techniques. If either of these producers refuses to produce, or to turn over their production to the state for distribution, they are coerced with fines, imprisonment, even execution in extreme cases. There is little free choice in this system, and what choice there may be is trivial.

If Alex and Betty “own” their farms, but must turn over all production to the state for distribution … they suffer the liability of investing in and maintaining their businesses, but have no control over the results of their labor … that is fascism. (And you thought fascism was just about wearing black uniforms and committing ethnic cleansing. Thank your school and television for sustaining that association for you.) The distinction between socialism and fascism is that socialist systems require that the state maintain the means of production, where fascism allows and requires the individual business to do so. Otherwise the coercive elements are essentially the same.

What do you call a system where the means of production are all owned by a monarch, a church, or monarch/church-approved nobility? That’s feudalism. In feudalism the state is the monarch and/or church, and the delegated princes of the monarch and/or church. Again, the coercion is essentially the same. Persons failing or refusing to produce or to surrender their production face punishment up to death.

Now, imagine a science fiction realm where no one is forced to buy any specific thing from any specific person or business. Imagine that no one is forbidden from producing left-handed purple thong extractors if they desire to do so. The state wants more guns manufactured, but no one is required to make the weapons, and no one is forbidden from making the weapons if they choose to do so. What is this system called?

Under coercive systems, if Alex has surplus pigs he needs to get rid of, Betty may be required by the state to hand over her extra cotton … even if she already has more pigs than she needs … even if she has no surplus cotton … even if she is a vegan with no use for pigs. Also, if Alex makes more pigs than he needs, the coercive authority may take his pigs and assign them to others without any compensation to Alex at all.

STATE: You had a pig you didn’t need. Don’t be greedy. Clark has no pigs at all and needed that pig more than you did. What … are you selfish or something?

ALEX: But I need cotton!

STATE: Fine. We’ll give you Betty’s this time. But you really need to make more pigs. One extra pig is sort of puny, don’t you think?

BETTY: Hey! I was all set to trade my cotton with Denise for some apples…!

STATE: More greed and self-centeredness. You should both be ashamed.

Alex and Betty then choose to stop over-producing because there is no reason to make more than they can use. If they have a need they may simply petition the state for someone else to meet it and not have to work extra in order to compensate anyone else. However, under socialism where Alex and Betty do not “own” their means of production at all, the state decides how much is to be produced. Quotas are established and if the state sets the levels too low, not enough pigs or cotton are produced to go around … or of the levels are set too high pigs are substituted for apples (which are insufficient this season), or destroyed as waste, or pig producers are unable to meet the ridiculous number and are punished (coercion).

What is it called when Alex didn’t make enough pigs to even meet his own needs, but Betty shares her excess cotton with him anyway, with an understanding that when Alex recovers he’ll reward her with pigs? Well, without the idea of a later reward, that’s charity, and note that it is voluntary. If Alex threatens Betty for her extra cotton, that’s theft. (If the state does it, it’s socialism or fascism.)

Capitalism, as a philosophical issue, is the recognition that a free individual has the right to do business if and as he or she pleases without force. Alex may not threaten or injure Betty in order to make her buy his pig, or surrender her cotton. If she doesn’t want his pig, he cannot have her cotton. If she very much wants his pig but cannot meet his price for it in cotton, she cannot have his pig. Neither party is forced to make the exchange … nor is either party prohibited from making an exchange. If Alex had a bumper crop of pigs and needs very much to unload them, he may offer Betty two pigs for her cotton, especially if she doesn’t have much extra and can’t part with it for just one pig. Alex and Betty are free to choose their rate of exchange, as well as whether or not to swap at all.

Philosophically speaking, capitalism is the system of voluntary exchange of value. It is, so far, the only such system. All other systems so far devised require coercion. (I am hedging because I’m not sure how much effort has been made to come up with a non-capitalist system that is also fully voluntary … and I cannot think of one myself, but that is not conclusive at all.)

People who lament the “evils” of capitalism are deeply unaware of what it truly is, and without intending to, they are advocating a restraint of choice and the systemic application of force. Most of these people will also self-identify as “pro choice” on social issues, ironically.


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Robert Heinlein — Competent

The title uses the word “competent” as noun rather than an adjective. So it is refering to the late Mr. Heinlein as A competent, not as being competent.

Often, when someone is described as being “competent,” it has a flavor of mere adequacy. “Is he a good cook?” “Oh, well, he’s competent, but no great chef.” But i’m using the term as a contrasting word for an antithetical person who might be called “dysfunctional” or a “screw-up.”

Dramatic theory for a many generations has concluded that characters without significant flaws are “unrealistic,” at best, and “boring” at worst. I grok. I never saw how Superman could be thought of as being heroic when he could not be harmed (back before it was discovered that the Earth is 99% kryptonite in composition and the Man of Steel became more vulnerable).

Re-re-reading some Heinlein over the break, I gained mor insight into the author’s strong appeal to me. By most accounts the man himself was mostly quite competent in any significant area he tackled, especially including the peculiar stripe of fiction that he essentially pioneered, and in which few peers have followed. In the majority of his works, short or long, the protagonist is “average,” but is also generally competent. They have quirks, but the odd facets, even when negative, are seldom the source of the tension in the story. For Heinlein, the dynamic stress of the story is the situation itself, not the character.

There is a cadre of readers I am delighted to find who “get” Heinlein. They like stories about people with skills and common sense confronting tough situations. In a fair percentage of Heinlein’s works, especially in the short stories, the hero dies or suffers terrible consequences … but usually also succeeds in whatever task he or she was trying to accomplish before dying or becoming crippled.

Heinlein portrayed the “average Joe” as being capable of facing trouble with a better-than-average chance to make things right again. His characters had qualms to overcome and ran into internal obstacles, but the main threat was mostly from outide because, darn it, they started into the situation with a level head on their shoulders. His characters are not static. Typically, they grow and change during the course of the trials they face. But they don’t start in the bottom quartile and, through some ridiculous transmogrification, leap to the top. They start out, usually, in a fairly good position … adapt to worsening conditions, and eventually come out on top and ahead of where they started … a realistic, graduated progress that is not so (melo)dramatic as being sent to a school to learn how to use a magic wand, or being bitten by a Calvin Klein model vampire.

My brother, Keith, recently turned me on to a defunct 2008 sitcom titled, “Kath & Kim” starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. I like both of these performers very much, and we endured a so-so pilot episode to go on to very funny episodes that followed. One of the secondary characters is a nice-as-can-be hipster who is crazy about the goofball protagonist. Where the mother and daughter characters of the title tend to get themselves into trouble because of more-or-less lovable ignorance or stupidity, this fellow, played superbly by John Michael Higgins, is a disgustingly “hip” sort who, oddly enough, tends to do the smart and right thing far more often than not, regularly saving the day for the theoretically more-interesting “wacky” types. His character is highly competent in most things, but his competence is correlated with a lack of style that makes him seem like the clown, when by any reasonable metric he is a hero.

Older TV programs or movies boasted protagonists who are stand-up guys (like Marshal Matt Dillon from TV’s “Gunsmoke,” who died shortly before I wrote this). They have flaws, but are not defined by them. They are not heroic because somehow they manage to win in spite of their incompetencies … most often because they just wanted it more somehow than their adversaries did (see Avatar for an example) … but because they took pains to minimize their flaws early on and enhance their best attributes before the trouble started so it was a matter of degree to rise to the occasion and not an act of miraculous luck.

The Competents of earlier fiction were the products of a culture that respected and expected competence. If you “acted out” you caught a spanking. If you slacked off in school you might be set back a grade and that would be embarrassing. If you worked hard and lived well, you were admired, respected, and lived peacefully among your family and neighbors.

There is a reasonable expectation of human compassion for the suffering of victims. Empathy for the afflicted is no sin by any means. Yet Western culture is increasingly sickened with an unreasonable identification with victims. Rather than genuinely feeling some fellow-suffering from understanding how it would be to experience the same situation that is troubling others, we have begun to infer actual causal links between the suffering of others and our lack of suffering. If we do not lower ourselves somehow closer to the emotional or conditional level of those in need, we are taught to think that we are arrogant and insensitive.

Such impulses are equivalent to seeing someone struggling to reach the dock after their boat has capsized, and rather than reaching down to pull them safely free, we have to get into the water with them and try to push them out … quite possibly drowning both of us in the process.

I see in the current strain of intelligentsia (and I am among the group so it is not a term of disparagement or sarcasm by any means) that people are quick to tolerate incompetence, even when it is volitional. A significant part of the motive in this is to obtain for oneself a “fair” tolerance for incompetencies of our own. We expend great amounts of time and money and other resources to help repair what is damaged by incompetence, and then we defend lackluster performances (others’ as well as our own) by saying, “Well, we’re only human. Nobody’s perfect. As if you never made a mistake!”

Yet, there are still people who have a low tolerance for sloppiness in their own behavior and work, and they tend to be competent, even highly so, in most areas. Maybe they can’t sing to save their hides, or are poor at math, but in most instances they are good at getting things done without failure. Not perfection, but excellence. Not doing things flawlessly, but doing them well enough that faults are minimal, even to the point of being undetectable. Doing things well enough that they don’t have to be done over again.

And such people are often said to be “lucky” and “arrogant” and “over-achievers.”

It is almost ridiculously easier to make excuses than progress. There is a lot of complaint in many corners about “Good Ol’ Boy Networks” where one hand slaps the back of another and the “In” crowd looks out for one another, protecting each other from outside influence … but most of these complainers are members of the fastest-growing Good Ol’ Boy Network around … the “I’m (just) OK — You’re (just) OK” gang. I don’t have to do a very good job because, well, no one really does, and those lucky few who arrogantly flaunt their successes are somehow “spiritually” poorer for not having suffered like you and I.

So Homer “I-Can’t-Even-Hit-the-Floor-by-Falling” Simpson is a “hero.” Bill “I-Can’t-Keep-My-Promises” Clinton is a great statesman. Arnold “I-Wish-I-Were-Bill-Clinton” Schwarzenegger is a celebrity. The “lovable misfits” are the ideals and the “over-achievers” are scheduled for really bad karma (see, Arnold?).

Heinlein did not write of superheroes. He seemed to find the mundane, daily sort to be sufficiently interesting to populate cracking good yarns. But his brand of stories, featuring stalwarts, is increasingly out of vogue. The truly heroic are mocked while the superheroic (impossibly heroic) or the slacker and loser are held up as being more “realistic” or “interesting.”

Heinlein’s controversial novel Starship Troopers was hideously mocked with a film by the same title that turned a competent young man into a sort of superhero. The literary protagonist was taught and trained by Competents and, over time, became one himself, but in the movie he was shown as a high school football hero from the start, trained by ludicrously over-zealous and arrogant tyrants to become a mindless killing machine. It doesn’t take a Freudian to see that the director, a fairly legendary icon of Hollywood “excellence” had a vendetta against a concept of the average as being skilled and successful, and that he waged a small, bitter little skirmish of his own to undermine the popular credibility of such ideals.

In my own life, a friend mentioned not long ago that I did not seem to be the same “happy-go-lucky” guy I was when he first met me about 7 years ago. He asked what had changed, and my response surprised — and pleased — me. I explained that I had developed higher standards, including a lower tolerance for mediocrity and error. My own competence, improved by conscientious effort at university to develop some professional skills, has not rendered me infallible or “perfect,” but I am more aware of my standards, and they are higher, than when I started, and the costs I have bourn to achieve whatever I may have gained to this point are meaningful to me. I have far less sympathy for people who, rather than investing similar time and effort, make cheap excuses.

So, I re-read Heinlein. I rejoiced to discover Ayn Rand about three years ago and have re-read one of her works as well while looking for more of that dying meme of competence. The threat in such heroic art to the chronically underwhelming is that the Competents spoil the curve for the Incompetents. As much as I am able, I am taking great glee in trying to nudge the average higher and force the lazy and the misanthropic to work harder to bring the species down.

Robert Heinlein has been called the Dean of Science Fiction. For me he has been a sterling “professor” of Competence.

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My Extremism

Thanks to Facebook, I learned of a Mother Jones article about Congressmammal Ron Paul’s 15 most “extreme” positions.

Rather than driving traffic to the mainstream media site, I decided to address these points here according to my own lights and not based on what some Paulista — or statist — tells me to think. I have copied and pasted the list from this article.

1. Eviscerate Entitlements: Believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, and has compared the failure of federal courts to strike them down to the courts’ failure to abolish slavery in the 19th century.

Cliff: Slavery may be defined as involuntary servitude. You labor without control over the product of your work, and others derive the benefit. The difference between tax-paying slaves and plantation slaves is the degree of ownership of the products (and the persons). Today we get to “keep” (before rent and groceries) more of our labor than goes to others … except that much of what goes to others (mostly to government employees and to the programs and policies they create) produces an environment that robs us of more potential to be more productive (or more frugal with our products).

2. Lay Off Half His Cabinet: Wants to abolish half of all federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.

Cliff: There is a profound energy crisis coming that will make the seventies look like a mosquito bite and the DoE is slowing down private sector innovation. Good riddance. There is a crisis in metacognition (yes, “my” word) in America and the Dept. of Education is doing the same thing about it that the DoE is doing about the energy situation. More good riddance. Dept. of Agriculture … propping up expensive food for democracy? Bye. I don’t know enough about Commerce or Health and Human Services, off-hand, to opine. DHS … a travesty in a free republic and should never have come into being in the first place. Strap a rocket to that one. Dept. of Labor? Only “needed” in a cronyist thugocracy. Kill the agency … and cronyism.

3. Enable State Extremism: Would let states set their own policies on abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and most other issues.

Cliff: How awful to have local standards apply to personal choice. Better to have legal aliens (from another planet, not from another land) inside the Beltway making these decisions for us? Yeah, I’m an extremist, too.

4. Protect Sexual Predators’ Privacy: Voted against requiring operators of wi-fi networks who discover the transmission of child porn and other forms online sex predation to report it to the government.

Cliff: Voted against “requiring” operators to divulge information to … which authorities? The Feds? Because an unalleged “sexual predator” needs to be dealt with from Washington, DC, and not at the local level? (Also note that voting against a bill because of scary attachments is not the same as voting against an actual issue or position.)

5. Rescind the Bin Laden Raid: Instead of authorizing the Navy Seals to take him out, President Paul would have sought Pakistan’s cooperation to arrest him.

Cliff: Tries to make Dr. Paul look foolish because who could “rescind” the death of Bin Laden? The fact remains that Bin Laden was in Pakistan and it was Pakistan’s job, not ours, to deal with him … unless Pakistanis asked for our help in their own “house.” The fact also remains that the “intellectuals” on the Hill have yet to deal with the definition of terrorism as a military or criminal justice problem, and conflating the two is a profoundly irrational thing to do.

6. Simplify the Census: The questions posed by the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, which collects demographics data such as age, race, and income, are “both ludicrous and insulting,” Paul says.

Cliff: Under the Constitution, I answered my census survey with prezactly one datum: 1 person lives in my apartment, at my address, and I am he. Everything else is an invasion of privacy and racism.

7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.

Cliff: So do I. It is not the business of the Feds if people decide to sell a service they can lawfully give away for free. How deeply retarded in logic must one be to not see the stupidity of prohibiting professional (paid) practice of what billions do as a hobby?

8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.

Cliff: For every study there is an equal and opposite study. Citing studies showing that recreational drug use, including the hardest of the hard, does not do as much damage as Hollywood and Washington, DC claim is pointless, but also unnecessary. The issue is individual sovereignty. It’s none of your damn business what I do with my body as long as it does not involve harming you. If I crack out at home and harm only myself, piss off. (Claims that self-harm somehow damages others karmically is emotionalist hoodoo. Your bad breath at home might kill a butterfly that was stopping a tornado in the Ukraine. Quantify that and then mandate mouth wash for yourself and, to be “fair,” everyone else.)

9. Keep Monopolies Intact: Opposes federal antitrust legislation, calling it “much more harmful than helpful.” Thinks that monopolies can be controlled by protecting “the concept of the voluntary contract.”

Cliff: Monopolies are the scary “niggers” of socialist dogma. The fiction is that monopolies only do harm and are “too big to fail.” History shows that monopolies benefit the community until innovation supplants them, and innovation is called for most heavily when a monopoly is the most detrimental.

10. Lay Off Ben Bernanke: Would abolish the Federal Reserve and revert to use of currencies that are backed by hard assets such as gold.

Cliff: Statists squirm at the very scent of clear, consistent standards. Then they wring their hands when a bridge built with a rubber yardstick collapses. Statists like having a checkbook where the only reconciliation and bookkeeping needed is to shift decimals and add or subtract zeroes. The evidentiary fruits of this mentality is the metastasization of a Federal debt that makes the worst credit card aholic seem to be the pinnacle of prudence. Bernanke’s job is worse than pointless … it is unethical to have the American economy “consulted” by people not accountable to the American people. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out, Fed.

11. Stop Policing the Environment: Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.

Cliff: Environmentalists are famously fans of a separation of church and state, and then labor exhaustively (and expensively) to inflict their own unproven faith on everyone else. You wear your robes and light your candles and let me choose my own delusion. In the meantime, if your neighbor soils your property (including your air) and you can prove it, sue him. Stop punishing everyone for the infractions of a few with onerous regulations and standards and other pointless requirements.

12. Not Do Anything, but Still…: Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964because it was a “massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society.”

Cliff: “But those handsome crusaders and Templars were wearing crosses n their tabards and shields! They must have been the good guys, right? Only a meany would oppose such obviously (superficially) heroic action, right?” I suppose the point to hindsight-slighting Dr. Paul is not that he would change history, but that a similarly vague and unnecessary, racist bill might come up in the future and he would oppose it. Shudder.

13. Let Markets Care for the Disabled: “The ADA should have never been passed,” Paul says. The treatment of the handicapped should be determined by the free market.

Cliff: When a case can be made that I am out of line for not hiring a blind photographer, the foundation for that case is ridiculous. One of my very best friends is in a wheelchair and I am really glad for accommodations for him, but making it a law is not necessary. Places that make no reasonable allowances for he and I will not get our money. They will then go out of business and be replaced by others who may. But it is the place and responsibility of the business owner to decide what is best for his clientele and his business. My only ethical say in the matter is whether or not I will finance his decisions with my money.

14. First, Do Harm: Wants to end birthright citizenship. Believes that emergency rooms should have the right to turn away illegal immigrants.

Cliff: If the emergency room is in a private hospital, it should have that right. I also despise “birthright” citizenship. It’s bad enough that, just because my parents produced me here I have the rights and privileges of the finest military defense in history and to vote for the most powerful rulers in the world today, but to grant that degree of largesse to persons here by fraud is just stupid.

15. Diss Mother Teresa: Voted against giving her the Congressional Gold Medal. Has argued that the medal, which costs $30,000, is too expensive.

Cliff: She’s dead, and would not want it if she were around to appreciate it. This is an issue?

Mother Jones, in this article, lived down to my lowest expectations from irrational, emotionalist, coddling anti-human media. The rag is beneath contempt, not for attacking Dr. Paul, but for insulting my intelligence.

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On analogies and the Pauls recently posted in their Hit & Run section about Sen. Rand Paul making a false association between Obamacare and slavery. I responded as follows.

Apples and oranges. I expect better from Reason. Sen. Paul is talking about the ethical equivalence, not the practical action. One valid purpose in analogy is to reveal parallel or opposing principles when existential aspects do not seem to be similar, or when they do appear to be similar.

Precisely because government mandated healthcare as a “right,” it does not look like slavery. Sen. Paul’s point is that it is ethically very similar, and the lack of superficially common features makes the core principles involved harder to recognize.

Another conceptual “leap” that is missed here is that Obamacare doesn’t really exist yet, and when it manifests it will only be the seedbed for the man-eating jungle the runaway, imperial Congress will grow from this innocuous-seeming soil. Sen. Paul is not tippy-toeing through the elementary aspects of the issue that, apparently, even Reason personnel could use refreshing in, and is looking at the long game.

The difference between human and animal cognition is the length of the chain humans can develop and sustain. Well, some humans anyway. In all too many people, it is the last sound bite Jon Stewart dropped, in a clip from Hulu, without context.

Both Ron and Rand Paul frequently stipulate that water is wet and move on to speak of things that are coming rather than things that are, or were when last we checked our Tweets. They are, in this regard, statesmen, not para-journalists.

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You say you want sustainability

The US had no Federal income tax prior to 1913, going from 1776 to then only on

√ corporate taxes
√ taxes on alcohol, tobacco, firearms
√ tariffs on trade
√ military hardware sales
√ etc.

Slice off all the fat (NEA, NPR, PBS, Amtrak, USPS, DEA, FCC, OSHA, EPA, IRS, a standing military (gasp!), DHS, etc., etc.) and what's left can be paid for without income tax. And the people let go can find and make jobs and businesses that actually produce goods and services rather than taking a middle-person cut for redistributing what they did not make.

About the standing military ... I'd advocate national guard units and perhaps a minimal peacetime Navy, Air Force and the full Marine Corps (the mission of the Marines is a bit unique and they can be first responders while Army guard and reserves are being spooled up to speed if and when needed).

Another source of economy is to stop sending billions to Israel ... and to Israel's enemies, etc. Also close down every foreign base and bring all of those troops home.

Again, we can all lament those programs we love (for me, NASA is one I love, but can see it being replaced by private enterprise in order to reach a budget). If we do seek to save non-essentials, we can't complain about the deficit.

It's like insisting on keeping our maximum-bandwidth Internet service and then not being able to pay the mortgage or rent. Nothing wrong with having high-speed Internet ... but if our income is insufficient, sometimes in the real world we have to cut back on the LESS-essential. I do not have cable TV (I do have medium-speed Internet). I don't own any kind of vehicle other than my clogs. Nothing wrong with having cable TV or a vehicle. Nothing "evil" about them. Just not going to rob my neighbors to pay for them. Rather do without until I can afford more.

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Lean back.

Settle down.

Let that left heel

jar the ground.

Six to the front.

Three to the rear.

Strut, strut, strut!

(First time I ever saw our sergeant in Boot Camp smile. For some reason he was feeling good as we were on our way somewhere and he called that out, smiling, as we marched. One of the best times of my life, oddly enough. I guess at that particular moment we were all in synch … maybe for the first time.)

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Having cake and eating it, too

In my first of two freshman government classes, both under the late Bill Ward of UTA, the topic of legitimacy in the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq came up, and Ward explained that the US was trying to prosecute the “war on terror” as a sort of Frankenstein’s monster conflation of criminal justice and military operations. He mentioned that there was a lack of clear distinction about the issue and that it caused political and ethical problems. Is the war on terror a matter for criminal justice, with Miranda “rights,” rules of evidence and trial in an American court of law … or is it a matter for the military to find an enemy and destroy that enemy sufficiently that it no longer wills to be, or is capable of being, an enemy?

To this day there is no formal, official government answer to this question, and it is a crucial one.

If bin Laden was the leader of a nation or it’s military, he might be a legitimate military target in a declared war. If, on the other hand, he was the head of a criminal organization, his execution was extra-legal by any laws I’m aware of. It might be argued that he was killed while resisting arrest … by Navy SEALs.

Mr. Bush was escorted into these military actions by people who did not bother to brief him on whether or not it was Constitutional and certainly didn’t burden him with concerns over the nature of the conflict … criminal or military. Mr. Obama has carried on similarly unimpeded by those ethical questions.

People squawk about Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wanting the “enemy combatants” there to be tried in courts of law. Does that mean that the people there are accused of a crime and also of being naturalized US citizens in order to obtain the protections of the US court system and representation?

Terrorists commit acts that can clearly be seen as the same as criminal acts … as does a military.

Some pre-reflective people may argue that the difference does not matter. These same people might object to coed public restrooms, or having a convicted felon driving their children to school in a bus. It’s all the same until you don’t like it.

The most basic function of the police is to protect, to defend, and to preemptively curtail crime by apprehending and detaining criminals. The most basic function of the military is to destroy. Police are not typically required to bomb a gang headquarters where methamphetamines are produced, and the military seldom are needed to set up radar speed traps.

Similarly, criminals are most often looking for personal, individual gain, even when organized into a group, whereas a military is, concerning motivation for actions, interested in the enforcement of a political policy. Everyone is self-interested, of course, and members of the military join and serve for their own reasons, but the orders they carry out are not about their own direct benefit as individuals, but at best indirectly as members of a national group.

Based on these observations, I submit that terrorism, because it is aimed at a collective, political direction, regardless of the benefit (or cost) to the individuals involved, is a political … a military … concern. Terrorism is also typically (but certainly not exclusively) international and “ordinary” crime is, usually, domestic.

Terrorism has not been categorized succinctly to this point because it really does not fall easily into an either-or category. Proponents of the Great Gray Goo theory of life which sees a universe devoid of absolutes may complain that “labeling” and “pigeon-holing” terrorism into a law or military classification is unrealistic, but the idea of no absolutes is also unrealistic and impractical. Everything is not the same as everything else, and not everything is expedient or effective. As much as I love the US Marines, I don’t want them conducting raids on a local poker game. I also admire the overall character of American law enforcement (the glaring exceptions notwithstanding, of course), but when there’s a missile heading for a playground, I don’t want some patrolman chasing it with handcuffs. (No. I couldn’t think of a better example in the short time I have allotted myself to work on this piece. Check back later for a better one, or supply one of your own.)

To “morph” the police into a standing, domestic military, as the US has been doing since before 9/11, but the rate exploded after that attack, is to turn America into the police state so many people say they do not want … but they vote to make it happen. To turn the military into second-guessing traffic managers more afraid of lawyers and politicians than of an armed enemy bent on killing them, as has also been the case in the US for some time now, is to exponentially increase the number of flag-draped coffins and body bags filled with “collateral damage.”

Because Mr. Obama is the latest imperial president to use violence to prop up his electile dysfunction (Mr. Bush being the previous one to do precisely the same thing) the Greek chorus of his congregation (mixed metaphors in heavy syrup) may see my remarks as racist, reactionary and fascist. That would be an easy out if it weren’t for the fact that I wrote to this same effect before Mr. Obama was even a candidate.

Aside: My writing here (and for the most part, always) is about principle and not personality. I rather like Sarah Palin’s social personality, as much (or, rather, as little) as I can discern from media reports, but I am appalled by most of her ideology. When I write against some issue that she may espouse, it is easy (and also patently wrong) to claim that I am attacking her as a person, or because I dislike her. A previous celebrity I grew to like in spite of despising his ideology is Bill Clinton. It’s hard to imagine a person who would be more interesting to sit and have a beer with off the record. We stand in line at the grocery store, in queue for concerts or cinema tickets, at the stop light during commute, with all sorts of people that we generally get along with in our conduct, but might deeply oppose if we knew their perspectives on philosophical issues. If, while standing in a line, we were to discover the other person’s affiliations and beliefs, seldom would we initiate violence against them. We just want our groceries and to get home.

It is irrational to send a fox to guard a henhouse, or blind person to choose the paint for the new living room. The law of identity … A = A … is an absolute, and in many cases (by no means all) B is not a substitute for A. You want it dead, you send in the Navy SEALs. You want it arrested, you send the FBI.

American intellectuals need to step up and apply real attention to the question of what response is best against international terrorism, and to make the findings known. If the president is doing the right thing(s), that needs to be known and supported by more than half the nation. If wrong, then the president needs to be snapped back into line before dragging the nation further away from anything resembling a moral center.

When Saddam Hussein was captured there was an outcry of excitement and pride in a job well done by the military, and then-president Bush basked in some of the spatter from what the military accomplished. Later, when Hussein was executed by the Iraqis in a passive hanging, there was some rejoicing in the US, but nothing I recall like the public gloating when JSOC sent elite military personnel with fully automatic, metal phalluses to blow bin Laden’s mind. It reminds me of the adage from the Vietnam era that fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity. When pacifists get aroused by the execution, if not murder, of a person, it erodes their credibility as critical thinkers, and smacks of desperation.

Nothing personal.


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