Chad Perrin: SOB

30 June 2009

Kentucky road trip travel report

Filed under: Miscellaneous — apotheon @ 12:54

Last Wednesday, I gave the SigO a ride to work early in the morning. I then ran some errands to get ice and other supplies, finished packing, and loaded up the car. I headed out to pick her up from work. We left town for a cross-country trip to Kentucky.

Weather had been stormy in northern Colorado lately. It was pretty good as we drove away, sprinkling on us a couple times but never getting very bad. When we got into Kansas, heading east on I-70, the weather got increasingly hot and humid.

We drove straight through to St. Louis, MO, then turned south. By this point, of course, we were in bug country: heat and humidity contributed to an abundance of nasty bugs in the air and crawling around on the ground. It helped remind me one of the reasons I like relatively high-altitude, dry, bugless northern Colorado.

We took the long way around Illinois — key word being “around”. Everywhere we would go on this trip has concealed carry permit reciprocity with Colorado, so I could just stick my Kel-Tec P32 in my pocket and drive through those states with impunity. Illinois, on the other hand, is one of the red-headed stepchildren of the Bill of Rights. Apparently, IL lawmakers forget the number 2 when counting to 10, because the Second Amendment is essentially ignored there. In fact, a case has recently been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court to deal with the issue of whether the Second Amendment is applicable to the states, specifically because Illinois laws in general — and Chicago laws in particular — violate the rights protections of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. I guess we’ll see what the SCOTUS will do about it in the near future.

Kentucky was hot. It was really hot. The sun beat down, and every time we got into the car it was like opening the door to a blast furnace. Luckily, the hotel — the Hilton Garden Inn — was quite nice. We had good, reliable wireless Internet access, a refrigerator, cable so we could catch some of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, and a good shower. I don’t remember having any complaints about the hotel, except maybe the fact that finding it isn’t really obvious. It was while there, though, that I realized that no matter how expensive a hotel may be, it seems no hotel has really great toilet paper. It’s always this single-ply cheap stuff.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon, and that evening we had lunch with an uncle and his wife, who live in KY. It was good to get back in touch with him; I hadn’t seen him since he first married his wife back in ’91.

The reason we went there was to attend TechRepublic’s 10th Anniversary Community Event, essentially a mostly social tech business conference that was more about the community than about the business. It was fun, and I got to meet some people I would probably never have met in person, though I already “knew” many of them from our online interactions at TechRepublic. A lot of people had nice things to say about me, my involvement in the TR community, and my articles for TechRepublic. I got good swag. I ate a lot of good food.

Sunday afternoon, we finally got around to visiting a game store. It wasn’t really anything special, but we satisfied our tradition of going to game stores when we visit cities away from home. Afterward, we left town, and started the 20 hour drive home. Again, we swung south to avoid driving through the middle of IL (what an appropriate term for the state — though it needs another L to be perfect).

After turning westward on I-70 at St. Louis, we found ourselves driving toward an increasingly ominous stormy horizon, with numerous, frequent, dramatic displays of lightning flashes. At one point, there was a lightning strike that looked notably closer than 500 meters off the left side of the highway. After it hit, there was a bright white glow where the strike happened that looked for all the world like a magnesium fire. After a bit, it went out, and I had a purple afterimage on the left side of my vision for a while.

We got hit by torrential rain at one point so bad that everybody was pulling off to the shoulder, turning on hazard lights, and waiting for the rain to lighten up enough to see for driving.

A last stop before getting home was at Sportsman’s Warehouse not far from where we live. We picked up the Ruger 10/22 rifle I’ve been planning to get before the end of the month. That was Sunday afternoon.

We got home and settled in. We decided we don’t want to do any long, multi-day road trips for quite a while now. They’re fine once in a while, but this should about do it for us this summer. We’re done.

15 June 2009

Communism, Revolution, and Tyranny

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 02:23

The account of North Korean tyranny described by a former political prisoner in Defector’s Testimony on North Korean Prisons: The Trials of Sun-ok Lee sounds similar in many respects to some of the accounts of the horrors of the Soviet Union in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn’s book is basically a gigantic tome detailing the terrible consequences of maintaining a government founded on revolutionary communism in excruciating detail — not excrutiating because it’s detailed, but because of what those details reveal about the terrible cost of revolutionary communism as the basis for a system of government.

I’m the kind of guy who, when someone says “I tried to read such-and-such a book and had to stop because it was depressing,” tends to laugh it off because I breezed through the book in a couple days and enjoyed it. The sole exception was The Jungle: I seem to recall that I struggled through it for a month, but finally finished it, despite the fact it’s trite crap from end to end. That has nothing to do with the fact it’s “depressing”, though.

Despite that, however — despite the fact that “depressing” books often quite interest me, so long as they’re well-written — the relentless, hellish despair elicited by page after page chronicling the miseries and horrors of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union eventually built up significant weight to the point that I wasn’t making any real progress. I stopped reading it to take a break and read something else.

I didn’t stop reading it because I decided I didn’t want to finish it. I still want to finish it. It’s interesting, and very clear. I just needed a breather from its relentless, merciless grind through the terrible sociopathy of the Soviet Union.

In Growing Up Without Guns, former Soviet subject Leyla Meyers explicitly ties the horrors of the Soviet Union to its almost-total monopoly on modern tools of lethal force. She does so by way of contrast with what she has come to regard as “normal” after being introduced to a culture of liberty in the United States, and she briefly expresses her confusion at the notion that some US citizens don’t seem to realize that they have a right to the tools of self defense. Her closing statement is a powerful one:

Most people at least once in their life said or heard someone say, “I wish I could bring my childhood back.” I might have said it too. Not now, not anymore. The Second Amendment to me, then, is one guarantee that my past will never become my future.

There’s kind of a chicken and egg problem with explaining away the tyrannical excesses of the Soviet Union, however. There are certainly causes other than the prohibition of the tools of resistance to tyranny — not only tools of physical violence, but those of the free exchange of ideas as well. Restricting the ability to effectively communicate ideas freely and defend oneself against state enacted violence is more a method of ensuring the continued domination of the nation by tyrants than a cause of tyranny, from the most obvious perspective. On the other hand, those restrictions are a significant part of the tyranny itself. On the gripping hand, with the passage of every year that no successful rebellion arises, that one can mark off another few million people who have been hauled off to the gulags, that the insanity of Stalin’s state socialism continues, this can be attributed in large part to the lack of the most effective tools to fight the machinery of tyranny.

The other causes that I gracefully glossed over in the preceding paragraph are subject to some speculation. In the following paragraphs, I’ll try to address that somewhat.

There are those who simplistically attribute it to “communism” or “socialism” without having any clear idea of how such things might contribute to tyranny. These are the opponents of pinko commie sensibilities who fail to differentiate between correlation and causation, seeing that explicitly communist regimes and crushing tyranny appear to go hand in hand and assume that means that tyranny is caused by communism itself, without fail or other contributing factors. They similarly tend to be the same people who fail to make much distinction between “communism” and “socialism”. Of course, while an explicitly communist regime may practice state socialism, the two terms are not strictly synonymous, but don’t let that deter you from treating them as though they are in your desire to simplify the relationships between philosophies and outcomes to the point where only unsubstantiated faith in culturally imbued assumptions holds your understanding of the world together.

There are also those who simplistically assert that the communism and/or socialism (there’s a fair bit of conflation of the two on the leftward side of the philosophical aisle as well) of a state is completely orthogonal to the tyranny of the Soviet Union. They assert there is no causal or contributing relationship between the political and economic philosophy of the nation and its tyrannical character, claiming that the excesses of Stalin’s Soviet Union are purely the result of people manipulating the ideals of communism or socialism to their own ends, undermining them and corrupting them without any reasons related to their intrinsic character at all. Their “proof” for this seems to largely derive from their desire for it to be true.

red flag over
reichstag

Ultimately, the problem is not “communism” or “socialism”, nor is it strictly divorced from communism and/or socialism. There is another factor involved that creates a very specific need for a tyrannical regime to arise, and it is common to the biggest explicitly communist regimes to have existed. It is the revolutionary factor.

Revolutionary communism — not communism as a whole, in the generic, but specifically revolutionary communism — simply cannot survive at the level of the state without resorting to a tyrannical domination of the populace. The legitimacy of revolutionary communist leaders is immediately called into question once they are clearly installed as the new status quo. To simply accept that the revolution is over and the communists have won is to assume that perfect equality of the quality of life is the new state of the world, and that true power rests solely with that segment of society that has no leadership capabilities or aspirations. Such an assumption, however, flies in the face of the reality that such equality cannot be had without someone organizing it — and someone organizing it necessarily wields greater power than someone else who simply “benefits” from it. The idea of revolutionary communism ever truly reaching a final state of victory, then, is self evidently paradoxical, unless one assumes that, once a state of perfect egalitarian utopia is reached, it is self-perpetuating without any conscious guidance by any member of that perfect society.

One person plants a crop, another harvests it, another turns it into food, another serves it to people who eat it, another cleans up after dinner, and so on, and it all happens in perfect harmony and order without anyone co√∂rdinating these efforts. The efficient dance of interacting contributions of labor spontaneously arises from the purity of revolutionary communist ideals in the minds of society’s participants. Resource management is a matter for mysterious serendipity, without requiring any actual people involved.

This is, of course, a patently ludicrous notion of human society, short of developing a truly universal and egalitarian hive mind.

Lacking such beautiful perfection of spontaneous, coincidental organization, the leaders of revolutionary communism after the bloody part of the revolution has been won must simultaneously ensure they remain its leaders so they can see to the work of keeping society humming along and give people the impression they are not in fact maintaining prominent positions for the purpose of keeping the whole rickety mess from falling apart. To do this, they resort to perpetuating the appearance of a revolution that has not yet been completed. They must justify their positions of power with the (at least implicit) promise that they will surely step down, and relinquish the reins of leadership, the moment the revolution itself has been completely accomplished.

Stalin

It should be obvious to the thoughtful reader at this point that this necessitates manufacturing enemies. Any regime whose legitimacy depends upon having an enemy to fight must ultimately fall to a real enemy, fall to the admission that there is no longer any significant enemy to fight, or manufacture enemies against which it can fight and win time and time again. Manufacture of enemies, of course, means sacrifice. Such enemies that can trouble a state as powerful as the Soviet Union must be so numerous that the sacrifices required to demonstrate a successful battle against them necessarily achieve the scale of genocide.

Ongoing cycles of pogrom after arbitrary pogrom like this, targeting “enemies” identified through manufactured evidence of their perfidy, on a genocidal scale, simply cannot continue without a true enemy in the form of a counter-revolution that really does threaten the revolutionary communist leadership arising unless the very capacity for revolution is eliminated. This being the case, one should certainly expect that any state founded on revolutionary communism must inescapably either fall to other ideals, collapse when evaporating ideology leaves it without internal supports, or enforce strict prohibition of free expression and exercise of the right to keep and bear arms.

The correlation of revolutionary communism to state violation of the rights enumerated in the 1st and 2nd Amendments of the US Constitution is undeniable and, if the revolutionary communist state is to survive, inescapable. Tyranny itself, in all its despair inducing horror — as revealed through the writings of people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Sun-ok Lee, and Leyla Myers — is inescapable in a revolutionary communist state.

The oppressive character of other, more sober forms of state socialism and communism, however, is much more banal.

14 June 2009

No Dilemma

Filed under: Cognition,Humor,Liberty,Writing — apotheon @ 03:47

In a Cato @ Liberty article, Gerald P. O’Driscoll raises what he calls A Libertarian Dilemma. In it, he quotes Simon Johnson:

MIT’s Simon Johnson has argued, “Anything that is too big to fail is too big to exist.” He favors breaking these institutions up.

Of course, as O’Driscoll correctly points out, the idea of governmental interference in “private” business (such as breaking up business concerns by authoritarian fiat) is anathema. Thus, the dilemma, which he sets out to solve.

The word “dilemma” comes from the Greek, where “di” means “two” and “lemma” comes from “assumption”. A dilemma, then, is a circumstance of facing two conflicting assumptions. There is, in fact, no dilemma here, however. Both lemmas in this case — that libertarians must simultaneously favor breaking up corporations that have been deemed “too big to fail” to protect economic markets from interfering governmental action and oppose the interference by government implied by forcibly breaking up large corporations — are, in fact, missing the point, the real root of the problem at hand.

The real root of the problem is simply that governmental interference in economic markets by way of corporate law has created legal “persons” that compete for rights protection without actually being people, and that receive immunities and political influence not available to individuals. These advantages (and conflicts with the goal of protecting individual rights) created the “too big to fail” issue in the first place.

It isn’t just that they’re too big to exist — it’s that they should never have existed under their current organizational structures, regardless of size, in the first place. When what amounts to a manila folder full of legal briefs and a set of ledger books is accorded the same “rights” that are Constitutionally guaranteed to individual people under the banner of encouraging “private” sector success, a grotesque perversion of law and market forces is clearly underway.

The solution is to start stripping away the unique legal status of corporations in the first place. I’m open to suggestions for how we can effectively and efficiently work toward such a goal, but I suspect that at this stage the mere act of getting the word out that corporatism itself is antithetical to a free market is the necessary foundation we must lay before building a structure of economic liberty. The mainstream media, politicians, and partisan commentators have equated “corporation” with “business” for so long that, I fear, the task of educating people on the actual incompatibility of corporations with a fair (by which I basically mean “free market”) business environment is almost insurmountable.

Supposed libertarians often scream bloody murder when the subject of dismantling corporate law (and thus the institution of the legally recognized corporation itself) comes up, spuriously asserting that anyone who would say such a thing is a communist, socialist, or other anticapitalist. Supposed libertarians actually end up defending what amounts to fascist economic policy (by literal definition, rather than mere connotative insult) against true free market policy.

It’s probably worth examining the meaning of the term “capitalist” and how it fits into the grander scheme of economic things in the attempt to understand this problem.

  • Back in the early days of economics as an academic discipline, Adam Smith referred to an economic policy he called “economic individualism”. Note that I’m getting this second-hand, from a number of sources such as The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics and Wikipedia; I have not actually read Smith’s seminal economic work, The Wealth of Nations, yet.

  • Economic individualism was in effect both the original term for a free market economic school of thought and the first academic economic school of thought. As Wikipedia puts it (though The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics gives a much more detailed account):

    The doctrine of economic individualism holds that each individual should be allowed autonomy in making his or her own economic decisions as opposed to those decisions being made by the state, or the community, for him or her.

  • Karl Marx, in laying the groundwork for orthodox socialist “thought” for centuries to come, essentially coined the word “capitalist” as a reproachful epithet, lumping together all manner of people who advocated for economic systems that allow for recognition of nongovernmental property. The term “capitalist”, in short, arose as a dire insult to those who support the concept of ownership — a key requirement of mainstream free market economic schools of thought. It is in effect a statement that all economic individualists care about is money itself, ignoring the fact that money is actually a technological advance that improves opportunities for productivity in a manner analogous to that of the invention of agriculture.

  • Ironically, those who should have come to be known around the world as “economic individualists” have instead chosen to wear the yellow badge of the “capitalist” label. It has become such a widely accepted term that would- or should-be economic individualists call themselves capitalists without irony, and do not take it as an insult when an economic collectivist sneeringly uses the word.

  • Perhaps as part of that adoption of the term “capitalism”, and abandonment of the term “economic individualism”, many would- or should-be economic individualists too easily forget the individual factor of economics — the single most important part of economics. Corporations are collective “persons”, entirely incompatible with an individualist economic policy, and require government interference in economic markets for their very legal existence, but far too many self-described capitalists and libertarians never even notice this basic contradiction in their support for nominally free market capitalist economic policy.

With that in mind — how can we come to any conclusion other than that a market correction for all the externalities created by corporate law has been far too long in coming?

Steps in this direction would inevitably bring about the dismantling of major corporations. Doing so would solve the supposed libertarian dilemma illuminated by O’Driscoll, by seeing that any organization too big to fail (and thus too big to be allowed to exist) naturally comes apart at the seams. Reorganizational efforts by those with a vested financial interest in the continued success of the surviving components of a previously extant “public” corporation would surely lead to an orderly devolvement from capitalist collectivism to a state of entrepreneurial individualism.

People call for forcibly dismantling these financial empires, but no force is needed. Simply remove the application of force that allows them to legally exist at all a little at a time, and watch them divide themselves into separate (but coöperative, one hopes) business concerns. If we accept the idea that libertarianism requires a free market approach to economics (which we must, if we are to accept market economics at all), we are left with the inescapable conclusion that there is exactly one answer to this:

The institution of the government sanctioned corporation, itself the result of interference in the operation of market forces, must be dismantled. Governmental interference must be rolled back. Do that at a reasonable rate, and large corporate organizations such as Chrysler and Bank of America will dismantle themselves. Problem solved.

Replace your false dilemma (don’t force the corporations to do anything; don’t let the corporations continue to contribute to hosing up our economy) with a justifiable, genuine lemma — that any economic actor dependent upon governmental interference in the economy for its very existence is incompatible with a truly free market. In fact, it’s better than a lemma. It’s a tautology.

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