Tag Archives: History

Eat Once, Don’t Die?

      People so regularly like to spout off about the evils of capitalism and the depravity of the profit motive. Perhaps we should take a moment to gain some perspective on the matter. Human history has been dominated with periods of anti-capitalistic activities and economic structures. From the feudalist periods to the monarchies to just plain subversion to an eminent leader supposedly “ordained by God” (all three exhibit stunning similarities) and finally to an aristocracy (today we call this socialism or communism) there has been a constant throughout history when the rights of property were not identified and the profit motive was denied to the average individual.

     This constant in a world without property rights and capitalism was the motivating factor of human daily activities—eat once, don’t die. This could have been the daily motto for much of humankind throughout history—eat once, don’t die.

      Imagine this world without capitalism as people seem to fantasize about so regularly. Just imagine losing your car, your microwave, your smart phone, your internet, your air conditioning, your refrigerator, your television, your house, your job, running water, your toilet, the medicine you take to feel better (or, worse yet, the one you take to stay alive)…imagine losing your clothing and shoes in favor of animal hides to stay warm and more animal hides for your feet…imagine losing loved ones in their late twenties or early thirties, if you or them are lucky enough to live that long…imagine every day when you wake up your goal is not to merely be a pretentious ass that wishes a lack of luxury for others to make yourself feel equal, but instead you must struggle just to scrounge enough food for one meal for your family…imagine portioning that food out to your family not on the basis of fulfilling hunger, but on the basis of which family members would be more beneficial to survival if they have energy…imagine laying your head down at night being glad if nobody in your family died or not being surprised if one had.

      Imagine your daily motto was eat once, don’t die. This is the reality of the world before capitalism (and exists today outside of capitalisms reach); the human condition was that of strife, struggle, and immense physical and emotional pain. Is capitalism perfect? If by perfect you mean we all get to have what everyone else has regardless of effort, talent, or sacrifice…then no, it certainly is not. However, it is unambiguously clear throughout history that no economic system has ever brought more (or, I would argue any) people out of true poverty and complete squalor than capitalism.

P.S. By the way, capitalism and cronyism are in no way similar and the terms should not be used together, it makes people sound absurd to those of us who know better.

 

Accepting false pretenses: The real political problem

       It is often asked how we can possibly change the nature of politics in the U.S. Ironically, this question often directly precedes or follows a party-centric idealistic rant premised on the idea that one party or the other represents the solution. And this, in fact, is where the problem lies. But in all fairness it is not the existence of parties which is inherently bad, just people’s blind adherence to them that is dangerous.

     People use party identification to predict how a politician might act. This is a good thing and can be an accurate tool for quickly measuring a politician’s central platform. The problem is, people allow the parties themselves to define what that means; in this sense, party affiliation is a poor indicator. A proper analogy would be if a father were to allow his daughter’s date to effectively characterize himself as a celibate angel who would never have physical intentions…and then believe it. In the analogy, it is not surprising the date is trying to sell that garbage, only that the father buys it. The same is true in politics. I am never shocked that politicians are disingenuous; I am instead constantly shocked that we continue to fall for it.

     Two good examples are this:

a) Republicans constantly are declaring how Republican politicians like the free market and

b) Democrats continue to believe that Democratic politicians wish to help the “disadvantaged.”

In both examples, voters who blindly follow those assumptions ignore two important potential implications:

1) Both are ill-suited at accomplishing their positions or

2) They are spurious declarations of ideology.

      Let us assume the least offensive choice (#1) is true, then why do we keep voting for idiots who cannot, after many decades, even begin to accomplish their task. It is not as if these people have spared any cost in the “pursuit” of these objectives; so they have clearly availed themselves as incapable of accomplishing anything [perhaps this is why slip-on shoes are in such high demand in Washington?]. However, I am resistant to accept the explanation that they are just stupid which requires many more moving parts to be accurate.

       Next, let us address option #2, that the political parties are instead not being genuine about their intentions. This would better explain why seemingly intelligent people continuously act in ways contrary to their stated intentions. Employing Occam’s Razor would tell us that number 2 is the correct reason for politicians saying one thing and doing another.

     The logical next question to ask is why would they do this? Well, most simply put, because it works. The parties spew forth hyperbole, and the electorate laps it up. And when a voter is confronted with the fact that their party’s policies have been utter failures at achieving their stated objectives, the trained response is that it is the other party’s fault. This is evidenced by the parties constantly trying to redefine each other; they do not see earning voters through merit as a primary concern, instead they see affecting the others image as a more effective method of winning elections through voter attrition. Even those people who are self-proclaimed independents often buy into the party mantras. The sad reality of political failures is simple: if we (the voters) want to see what is wrong with American politics we would better benefit from using a mirror than a microscope.

Recent Middle East events prove we must stop ignoring reality…

        Here we stand, once again faced with abhorrent violence in the Middle East.  Violence which we are to believe is random, spontaneous, and to some extent – justified(?).  Through the blinding light of our own ignorance; the impediment to logic which is idealism; and paralyzed by the ongoing evidence that we may never be adored globally, we stand as a nation with leadership that is prepared to do…nothing to change the status quo.  This is the unfortunate position that America’s post-Cold War foreign policy has placed our nation in.  Reject reality, we say!  Instead, let’s hope the thousands of years of human nature are going to change overnight because…well, it just ought to.

       So, what is the goal of American foreign policy you might ask?  A form of idealism aimed at showing strength towards allies, passivity towards foes, and demoralizing our own people in the process.  Idealistic foreign policy is derived from the “progressive” notion that all nations will gather ‘round the fire, cook some smores, tell some ghost stories, and generally frolic together like a group of girl scouts after a successful cookie drive.  This is a complete shift in policy since the end of the Cold War in which we now attempt to get all nations to rise above their own national interests and become part of the global family.  Plus, at some point we have determined if nations do not like us, it is not their people nor their traditions, only their despotic leaders that do not like us.  Easy remedy, right, depose Hussein and the Taliban and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan will welcome us with open arms because of their newly instituted, American-style democracy…Yet another miscalculation of the “democracy builders” on the left and the right.

    So, how is it we miss the point so bad?  We have unrealistic expectations of people we largely do not understand; and when we do understand them, we try to insert our own, more favorable version of reality in the hopes that they too might embrace this alternate reality.  So, instead of the rioters in Libya or Egypt merely hating us, we are told they just did not like a movie.  There are plenty of movies I do not like, but I have easily refrained from killing anyone over them [note on Napoleon Dynamite…I would love to have those couple of hours of my life back].  Now, just how do we begin to fix it?

     The first remedy would be to incorporate a little bit of cultural relativism into our foreign policy.  Cultural relativism reminds us not to view other cultures through our own eyes to best understand them, but to consider their practices through their own worldview.  This is an important detail, not for some ill-fated pursuit of political correctness, but because understanding the other culture provides us information as to how they will act in the future and what potential impact our foreign policy may (or may not) have on them.  Our actions must be measured, but must not be measured arbitrarily through the lens of our own moral authority, regardless of how relevant that authority may be.

      Second, act on those things which we know to be true.  Understand that, as unfortunate as it may be, reality is just as advertised and no matter how much hope we engage in, we cannot change reality.  Example:  if we know that nation-building has a low probability of changing a group of peoples’ attitude towards the U.S., let’s save the money and move along (Iraq and Afghanistan).  We must act in our own national security interest!  This may seem conceited, but if we engage in trying to make the world what we wish it were, we will likely be ambushed by that which it certainly is.  We are not the teacher of some global kindergarten class in which our will can be imposed through idealistic efforts and frequent use of “time-out” (does that really even work in kindergarten anyway?).  Instead, we must realize that we stand as the only remaining superpower in a world which largely believes that it no longer has a requirement for one.

Additionally, appeasing terrorists, tyrants, and despots is ineffective foreign policy (see: pre-WWII French and British policy towards Hitler—then “Google” The Holocaust).  Furthermore, there is a reason we have a policy of not negotiating with terrorists because, if we did it once, we would be doing it all the time.  And, lest we forget that having a Bill of Rights and individual liberty does make us better than everyone else!   If we continue down the path of excusing inexcusable behavior and apologizing for our own global superiority, we will only perpetuate and encourage behavior like we are seeing once again throughout the Middle East.  We mortgage our future for the unattainable goal of popularity, but must wake up to realize this is most certainly not a high school prom court; in reality, we live in a world riddled with danger where we stand as the biggest prize for those who wish to prove something.

 

Why warnings of tyranny must not be “rejected.”

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

                                                -Barack H. Obama, 2013 Ohio St. Commencement

        Actually, what they suggest is that any government is predisposed to usurp the liberties of its people. What they would suggest is that trust in a government official merely at their own behest is unwise at best and disastrous at worst. But, to be completely honest, it is not the government official for whom we must fear attempted subjugation; instead, it is “from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents” (James Madison, 1788). It is the tyranny of some oppressive majority. Generally, though, a single figure stands ready to exact the pound of flesh which this majority so dearly desires.

     “Reject these voices” Obama tells young people…or, perhaps in other words: “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Indeed, the manifestation of a threat to liberty has and will always be a single figure. Is Obama that figure to be feared? Who knows, only time can bear that out; however, I suspect he is only one of the puppets opening the show. The proverbial hand up his back, as with other leaders before him, has been our neighbors and family members and perhaps even ourselves. Eagerly our populace has stood ready to pull the handle for whomever promises to subdue ideological enemies and punish others for our own self-victimization. The choice has largely been either those people willing to seize the property of one man for the benefit of another; or, on the other hand, seize one’s liberty to appease the conscience of another. Both are mere perversions of liberty and, I would assert, share the same outcome: slavery.

    There is, however, shelter from the looming storm of statism. Unfortunately, the concept of liberty appears far too risky for those who never lived without it—sloth likely is our greatest sin. Liberty is merely a punch-line for people like Obama and Bush. For two “truths” resonate loudly for both: 1) the people cannot be trusted with liberty, and 2) most of us are more than happy to trade it for payments in-kind. Our weakness invites the shackles that will bind us, be they real or figurative. Ronald Reagan once said:

Socialists…can provide you shelter, fill your belly with bacon and beans, treat you when you’re ill, all the things guaranteed to a prisoner or slave.

This may be the best characterization of socialisms’ ill-fated pursuit. Despite popular opinion, however, the socialists ride on donkeys and elephants; and we should be wary of both.

      What then are those of us who yearn for liberty to do—where is our shelter? Not coincidentally, the “they” who Obama speaks of are very much the same as the “they” who founded our great nation. And those great minds and greater men gave us a weapon to defend ourselves from tyranny. They armed us with words whose sole purpose was to warn us of tyranny and provide the tools to defend ourselves from it: the Bill of Rights.

        What is the Bill of Rights? In school it is an inconvenience we have to remember for one test. In our adult life it is only the 1st Amendment (part of it, anyway) for Democrats and simply the 2nd and 10th for Republicans. But, in a broader sense its purpose was the explicit outline of what tyranny may look like. In fact, if tyranny was not even a possibility, the Bill of Rights would be unnecessary. Furthermore, for those who claim the mere age of the Constitution is proof of its own irrelevance and short-sightedness; they would be wise to appreciate that it is the very blanket of liberty which keeps us warm at night.

            For example, in the last couple of years alone, the news has been filled with government acts which challenge the:

  • 1st Amendment (“Obamacare” and the Catholic Church; Rosen from Fox News, etc.)
  • 2nd Amendment (gun control efforts)
  •  4th Amendment (NSA data collection, phone tapping, etc.)
  • 5th Amendment (illegal government takings during TARP)
  • 6th Amendment (NDAA)
  • 8th Amendment (NDAA, again)
  • 9th Amendment (the one the statists of neither party like)
  • 10th Amendment (Obamacare and unfunded mandates on states)

        Maybe the guys in the powdered wigs were on to something, huh? Simply put, our Constitution and the first ten amendments were designed to protect us from our government; and ensure we have the tools with which to protect ourselves from it. This is true even when an over-zealous majority threatens to exercise the government’s monopoly on violence to make us behave in a way which pleases them. It would be fair to say that distrust of government is the founding principle upon which our great republic (not democracy) was built. We would be wise to heed these warnings, not reject them; the cheap parlor trick of the politician is an illusory idea that we are safe because we are Americans. Instead, to retain the freedoms encapsulated in what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as the “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir” we must remain ever-vigilant. I leave you with these words:

Although all men are born free, and all nations might be so, yet too true it is, that slavery has been the general lot of the human race.  Ignorant—they have been cheated; asleep—they have been surprised; divided—the yoke has been forced upon them.  But what is the lesson?  That because the people may betray themselves, they ought to give themselves up, blindfold, to those who have an interest in betraying them?  Rather conclude that the people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it, as well as obey it.

                                                                               -James Madison, 1792

 

Three-fifths compromise…was it truly racist?

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

             The preceding passage is from Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and gives a guideline for how both the number of representatives in the House of Representatives and taxes shall be apportioned. The underlined portion is of particular importance for our topic as it has been the source of much historical misinformation.   It is likely that what you learned about this part of the Constitution while in high school is incorrect, or at least rather misleading; then again, much of what you learned about the Constitution is highly inaccurate. The common reaction or presumption about the so-called three-fifths compromise is that it was a tool used to control slaves in the United States and is evidence that white Americans thought that blacks were only 3/5 human. There was a segment of society that thought such an absurd thing; however, this portion of the Constitution is not indicative of it. In fact, anyone that is a direct descendant of someone bound in slavery ought to be truly thankful that this concept made it into the Constitution.

            I know this idea is counter to what our popular culture and politicians lead us to believe of the framers of the Constitution; but, on the bright side, it is hardly the first time politicians have lied or obfuscated reality. We must first understand that at this point in the Constitutional Convention there was significant concern that the union might yet dissolve making the former colonies a veritable smorgasbord of resources and increasing production for the European powers to come and dine from. Furthermore, there was existing contention between the northern states and southern states regarding the institution of slavery and its moral repugnance (my description). However, many at the convention were well aware that an attempt to end the practice in the Constitution would result in a fracture in the union and certain conflict both with outside powers and between the states themselves. Since protection, or national security in today’s parlance, was the primary impetus of the union, it was imperative that the slavery question be held to another day. Otherwise, slavery would have continued in the divided territories anyhow.

           On the other hand, it was important to the north that slavery not be allowed to remain a perpetually growing enterprise and that southern states would not be able to drive the congressional boat because they could count slaves for representative reasons without any intention to allow them to vote–or engage in any other sort of self-destiny. The three-fifths rule was not a new concept designed for the Constitution and some in the northern states were concerned the three-fifths number was too high. In fact, some southern delegates briefly attempted to argue for the counting of their slaves as whole persons. I will give you a second to take another look at that last sentence. The slave owners wanted the slaves to count as whole persons for the purpose of representation while the anti-slavery northern delegates would have preferred a downgrading. If racism was the motivator for this provision, would not the tables have been reversed? Of course they would have.

            So, why did the anti-slavery north support counting slaves as less than a whole person while the pro-slavery south wanted them counted completely? Power; specifically political power, which likely would have allowed slavery to last long beyond when it was eradicated in America in the 1860s. If the slaves of the south would have been counted as whole persons the balance of the House of Representatives would have fallen significantly toward the southern states and would have likely caused the practice to perpetuate and spread throughout the new territories. The south was low on population (non-slave) compared to the north, but the volume of slaves pushed their numbers well beyond those of the north. Some in the north held concerns that even with a three-fifths rule the south would just import more slaves as a way to gain control of the House; and, because of the Electoral College, probably the presidency in most cases.

            The three-fifths compromise actually helped stem the spread of slavery into the west through legislative domination. It seems reasonable to assume that with a large legislative mandate created by a complete counting of slaves in the south, the practice would have had enough power to live well beyond the 1860s. Regardless of the accusation by those who profit from the “racial” divide; there is no inherent racism in the three-fifths clause. If someone tells you there is you should either question their knowledge on the matter or their motives. Perhaps we should consider what Dr. Martin Luther King had to say about the framers of the Constitution and their glorious experiment in liberty:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (Yeah), they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the ‘Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’”