Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Truth and Tolerance

Back in December, I put up a post entitled “Fools, Holy and Otherwise”, dealing with “true believers” and how they can be of any political stripe, as long as it's radical and revolutionary. In other words, “true believer” and “moderate” don't go together – any more than “true believer” and “silent majority”. True believers are activists, either in the physical sense (joining a crusade, proselytizing, blowing things up, etc.) or in the sense of expressing opinions, loudly and often, regardless of how counter-cultural or unpopular those opinions might be. So in our time, we can count, among true believers, libertarians and anarchists, the far left (or what's left of it, as opposed to garden-variety liberals and “progressives”), the far right (beyond mainstream “conservatism”, which doesn't differ significantly from Neoconservatism), and – obviously – adherents to Islamic fundamentalism and jihad. I should also include the more serious Christian Zionists, even though it's hard to draw the line between true belief and knee-jerk support.  (And when it comes to the Occupy crowd and the Tea Party, I think that's more about mob psychology than any coherent belief system.)

I guess what this amounts to is that true believers are a relative rarity on the current American political scene. What we have instead is any number of people, and organizations, who want to work “within the system”, and an isolated few who realize that the system is terminally corrupt and, basically, doomed (but not without many years, if not decades, of dying pains). Ron Paul supporters were, and continue to be, true believers, whereas political activity in Democrat and mainstream Republican circles is characterized by cynicism, resignation, and hunger for power – and little else. (Power without principles – ah yes, there's the ticket! Expect nothing but great and ennobling things to come out of that combination.)

In any case, in response to the blog post, a correspondent provided an excerpt having to do with the Jews, who were considered a bit of a pain (to the Romans, among others) because of their... we would say “dogmatic clinging”... to monotheism. The Roman emperor (a real person, but a fictitious letter in the novel) says, “In principle, Judaism has its place among the religions of the empire; in practice, Israel has refused for centuries to be one people among many others, with one god among the gods.” Sound familiar? In our time there are three “great” monotheistic religions, but are the Jews, as embodied in the State of Israel, any more willing than ever to be “one people among many others”? So it's about more than monotheism, clearly. And this was, of course, before the rise if Islam, so the quote “no other god has inspired his worshipers with disdain and hatred for those who pray at different altars” could apply, in our time, to radical Islam as well as to Christian Zionism (whose adherents are fully behind the war on Islam being waged by the U.S.).

So my reply to the response was as follows:

      Well, it does seem to be true that polytheistic religions are less "dogmatic", and inspire less fanaticism, than monotheistic ones.  (How do you talk about heresy if you have 1000 deities?)  On the other hand, there are plenty of religious wars and strife involving, e.g., Buddhists and Hindus -- although these may, in some cases, be political and economic struggles in disguise.  If you're contending for power, territory, resources, etc. you may have better luck appealing to articles of religious faith than simply to pragmatic ones; they are more inspiring (in the literal sense). 

      But there's another issue reflected in that passage, namely that of tolerance.  We assume that intolerance naturally goes along with dogmatism and fanaticism -- that they are basically the same thing.  And again, it's true that Buddhists are more likely to "live and let live".  But moderate monotheists tend to respect each others' religions, beliefs, and observances -- hence the term "people of the book", which the Moslems use.  I think the feeling here is that any monotheist is at least on the right track -- that they are closer to the truth than the polytheists, animists, etc. -- to say nothing of atheists.  And behind it may be the hope that a monotheist of another persuasion will eventually see the light and convert to your own.  (Christians -- Catholics at least -- have always prayed for the conversion of the Jews, up until recently when the practice was discouraged for political reasons.)  In any case, there is certainly plenty of "competition" among the monotheistic faiths, including persecution and shunning, e.g. when a Jew or Moslem converts to Christianity.  (When a Christian converts to Judaism, all we can do is pray for them to return to the fold -- that is, if we don't mind being politically incorrect.)  (You'll notice, BTW, that most of the Jews who object to Catholics praying for their conversion aren't particularly religious anyway -- so that gives it away as a political issue.)

      What is the basis for intolerance, by which I mean active discrimination against, or mistreatment of, people of another faith?  At best it can be seen as having their best interests -- e.g., salvation -- at heart.  If I refuse to rent a commercial space to a group of Satanists for their "church", it's not because I'm afraid of the competition; I really think that they are at grave risk if they persist in that way.  On the other hand, the Church has, not infrequently, said that God has a "plan" for the Jews -- tantalizingly referred to in Revelation, but not the one that the Evangelical "Christian Zionists" think, i.e. not that one involving the State of Israel.  (That state, as even some orthodox Jews point out, is a kind of red herring when it comes to salvation history, i.e. it's part of the problem.)  (The Church, as far as I know, has not said that God has a "plan" for the Moslems, any more than for the Protestants, since both can be considered heresies.  The "plan" would be to bring them back into the fold.) 

      What's more common, however, is for intolerance to have, again, a political or economic... or racial or ethnic... motive.  Again, you disguise something as something "higher", or more spiritual, and you get more support and more willingness to make sacrifices.  We tend to forget, in these times, that World War II was, among other things, thought of as a struggle of Christian civilization against the heathen.  (Even though the Germans weren't heathens, the Nazis were.)  And the whole history of colonization, westward expansion, foreign intervention, Manifest Destiny, etc. had this subtext.  It's wasn't only about "America" or about white people, in other words; it was about faith.  And I submit that one reason for our failure in Vietnam and our follies in the Middle East is that this element was missing [although the Christian Zionists certainly see the “War on Terror” as, basically, a war on Islam, and fully approve].

      So what we wind up with is a paradox of sorts -- getting back to the tolerance issue.  If we "tolerate" other religions on the basis of their right to exist and the rights of individual believers, then we are submitting to indifferentism, i.e. the idea that it doesn't really matter, ultimately, what religion people adhere to, or whether they adhere to any religion at all... that their fate is determined not by articles of faith but by (at best) the degree to which they live good lives, are "ethical", adhere to Natural Law, etc.  Or, in the climate of the present time, just being "nice" seems to suffice (and "niceness", of course, includes not being dogmatic, absolutist, sexist, homophobic, racist, etc. etc., and also being "tolerant" and some kind of socialist and/or liberal and/or Democrat).

      But what is indifferentism to the believer?  It would be a kind of exclusivity, like, my religion is essential for my salvation, and the rest of you can just go to hell.  (Does one detect a certain lack of charity there?)  Or, my religion is essential for my salvation, but the rest of you can believe anything you like and it won't matter.  (What sort of philosophical nonsense is that?)  So "tolerance" may have its limits, even for the most charitable believer.  On the other hand, I don't necessarily expect, but I would very much like, my own religion/belief system/observance to be tolerated by others -- by other monotheists, by polytheists, and, yes, by atheists and even liberals and socialists!  (This is a test that the Obama administration and the mainstream media fail time after time.)  So if I apply the Golden Rule, I'm going to give other faiths (or non-faiths) the benefit of the doubt even if I have doubts.  I'm going to trust that God has a plan, the way He had a plan for me when I was walking in darkness.  But for this, one has to balance charity (of the active, or even militant, sort) with patience.  God does not will that any be lost, but He also wills that we each make our own choices.  When one is standing on the sidelines of the great human drama, it's hard, at times, to not jump in and try to change history.  I guess we each have to make our own decision as to when, how, and how often to intervene. 

(end of reply)

It is always, it seems to me, about striking a balance between one's own beliefs – faithfully held – and the need to be patient with those who believe (or don't believe) otherwise. Better to set a good example than to appear “dogmatic”... attracting more flies with honey than with vinegar... meeting people at the point of their need... all notions that reflect this position. Using unmanned drones to bomb people who don't agree is certainly an aid to faith – of the directly opposing and radical sort. Rely on God to judge people according to their righteousness and adherence to Natural Law, but pray for their conversion as well. Even in the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas advocated sitting down with the Jews and Muslims to debate issues of faith, rather than using the secular power as a weapon.

For further reading” I can suggest no better source than “Truth and Tolerance” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Fairness, Equality, and Other Pipe Dreams

Every once in a while this country goes through a spasm of “fairness” mania, shining a bright light on inequality of income and of wealth, and demanding that elected officials (who are typically wealthy, at least at the federal level) “do something” about it. The first great spasm – born out of the Progressive movement – led to the “graduated income tax” with a top bracket that has fluctuated wildly over the years, but which usually amounts to confiscation – the idea being that no one should be allowed to earn more than a certain amount, no matter the merits of how they earned it. This, of course, is neutralized by deductions, exemptions, and credits, which succeed in shielding the high-bracket types and putting more of the burden on the middle class. (If you think “welfare queens” are good at gaming the system, you need to study up on tax shelters.)

So overall, the favored remedy for this disgraceful situation (i.e., some people having more money than others) is some form of wealth redistribution, primarily on income but also on interest, dividends, and capital gains... as well as “luxury taxes” and “sin taxes” (the latter typically hitting the lower classes the hardest – not because they are more sinful but because they spend more of their money on sinful pursuits – you know, things like smoking and drinking).

The odd thing about all this, after 100+ years, is that it has failed. There are still rich people; there is still a “1%”. (There will always be a 1%, unless everyone's income and wealth is completely equalized. The people who use this term don't seem to realize that.) (I suspect they're the same people who think all public-school children can become “above average”.) Not only that, but everyone has a different idea of what constitutes “fairness” -- that lofty goal of, well, pretty much any social program... and make no mistake, the income tax is a social program, as well as a fund raiser for the government. (That latter function was discovered, let's say, quite a while after the income tax amendment was added to the Constitution. The original idea of the income tax was essentially to punish the rich and placate the masses, not to add mountains of cash to the government's stockpile. But we're now at the point where the threshold for “taxable income” isn't much higher than the threshold for receiving welfare. I expect that, any day now, welfare recipients will have to pay taxes on their benefits.)

So what is “fairness” and what is “fair”? It's said that you can avoid most arguments by simply defining terms ahead of time – that way, people can agree to disagree, but at least they'll know what they're talking about. But in the case of “fairness”, everyone has a different definition. One – a libertarian, say – will say that fairness is allowing people to keep what they earn (and the anarchist will add: “Every last cent!”). A radical collectivist, i.e. a communist of any stripe, will say that fairness requires that individuals have no personal income and no accumulated wealth (either money or goods) – i.e. that everything must come from, and revert to, the collective. (I'm not just talking about communist countries here; much the same approach has been taken by any number of Utopian settlements, including the hippie “communes” -- the difference being that they were voluntary, whereas national-level communism is not.) Then you get the middle-of-the-road types who make familiar arguments like the one that the CEO of a company should not make more than a certain multiple of the average of the workers in that company. This seems reasonable, but it's lacking in any solid rationale, and it's wimpy because it avoids the real issue.

(I should mention at this point that two recent populist movements have come up with completely different concepts of fairness and equality – namely the “Occupy” crowd and the “Tea Party”. The Tea Partiers lean ever-so-slightly libertarian, whereas the “Occupiers” hark back to the Progressives of old. And yet, each group contends that their ideas are the correct ones, and that they know what fairness and equality mean, and the other guys don't.)

Another aspect of this debate has to do with the concept of ill-gotten gains. On the one extreme, it will be argued that anything constituting “profit” is ill-gotten by definition. Less extreme (but still very populist) is the notion that the portion of profit that necessitated “exploitation” of the worker, or deceiving or cheating the consumer, is ill-gotten. I don't have any problem with that idea, but the thing is that the people who fancy themselves judges of how, and how much, income should be redistributed hardly ever make that distinction, because it's too complicated to sort out, and besides, they're lazy. They'd rather sit around complaining about profits, and “predatory” or “cut-throat capitalism” than take the trouble to define terms, pass the appropriate laws, and especially enforce them. And I had better add that, on the other extreme, according to the alleged “robber baron” model, all profits are just because (1) they result from a contract (real or implied) between capital and labor (i.e., there is never any coercion or exploitation – if you can accept that) and (2) the capitalist deserves to be rewarded for his intelligence, manipulation, and wheeling-and-dealing abilities (Can you say “CEO bonuses”, class?).

So what is the real issue? What are the (mostly) unspoken premises behind these arguments? On one level, it has to do with the value of work – of labor. If we agree that all labor is of equal value (never mind what the market and the law of supply and demand say), then of course everyone should be paid equally. This is what an acquaintance of mine years ago called “the aristocracy of labor” -- the notion that the “working man” deserved as much compensation as the president or board of directors of the company... maybe more, in fact, because his work was typically more dangerous.

If some of this rings a faint bell, it's because what's called “the labor theory of value” is a pillar of communist theory – the premise being that the entire value of goods or services is contained in the labor needed to produce them, and no more. One consequence of this idea is that goods and services should cost no more than the sum of the labor component, i.e. that there should be nothing held back as “profit”, because “profit” is nothing more than theft – stealing from the worker (and the consumer as well, presumably). Another consequence is the total devaluation of much that normally goes into the final product – things like invention, innovation, technological advances, efficiency, management skills, investment, marketing... in other words “capital” and all of its appurtenances. Another way of putting this is that once a given technology or process is established, no further compensation need be granted to the originator, inventor, innovator, or “capitalist”... that their work is done, and from that point on it's all owned by the workers – or if not “owned” exactly, then held in custody by the government in the workers' interest.

(Of course, none of our present-day leaders or politicians would adhere to such a ridiculous notion, would they? Oh wait -- “You didn't build that!” Sigh... )

But why stop with the radical notion that all labor should be compensated equally? Doesn't that discriminate in favor of those who work? What about those who can't, or won't, work, for whatever reason? After all, they are human beings too, and since we're all created equal, shouldn't they be compensated for simply existing – for walking the earth and breathing the air? This is, of course, in modified form, the premise behind social welfare and entitlement programs.

But then the question will arise, well, why bother with money at all? Doesn't a “medium of exchange” open up possibilities of inequality (“unfairness”) and hoarding (savings)? Doesn't it tempt people to keep some of what they earn instead of sharing? Or, on the other side of the coin, doesn't it tempt people to borrow and go into debt? Why not just see to it that everyone is equally fed, clothed, and housed, and that anything left over once that is accomplished is distributed equally among the citizenry in the form of extra benefits? This is communism in a nutshell – except that there is seldom anything left over. In fact, suitable nutrition, clothing, and shelter may be hard to come by as well, as it notoriously is in hard-core communist countries. But I'm not going to get into the effects a system of this sort has on motivation; that's another argument, and besides, it's already been made and I have nothing to add to it.

But an advanced society cannot possibly function without a medium of exchange – right? OK... but who said anything about “advanced”? Remember how the Khmer Rouge – radical collectivists if there ever were any – blew up the sewer system in Phnom Penh because it was considered to be a “Western”, i.e. “imperialist”, contrivance, and thus a threat to the purity of their new order? (But not to their old ordure, I hasten to add.) Who knows how much of what we call “modern civilization” and “technology” has been built on the backs of the poor? The claim is made every day in the history and economics departments of American universities. We may have to make some real sacrifices in order to achieve equality and fairness. (Isn't what we are being constantly told by politicians in so many words?)

OK – you see where this is going (I hope). One way to approach an issue is, instead of quibbling at the margins the way they constantly do in Congress, define the limits. What would be the ultimate in fairness and equality? Can there be too much fairness? Too much equality? (To hear Obama & Co. talk about it, you'd think not.) The populists – to give a small bit of credit – tend to be a bit more moderate than this; it's just that any line they draw is going to be arbitrary. They're willing to tolerate some people having a little higher income than others, or a bit more in the way of savings (if not actual “wealth”)... maybe even a slightly bigger house. But don't forget the bumper sticker that reads “No One Gets Two Houses Until Everyone Has One”. That's the “progressive” mind at work. Frankly, I'd like to see Congress try and pass that law; it ought to be great fun.

So let's review. Assuming that it's the job of the government to redistribute income, which model should they use? The one that says that all working people are equally worthy of compensation? Or the one that says that all people are equally worthy of compensation? And what do we do about children and other dependents? Are they to be granted full economic “personhood” under this system? (Now there's an incentive to have large families! Ironic, since everything the government does currently is aimed at minimizing family size or eliminating families altogether.) And what about primates, since they are about to be legally declared people? How about elephants, and dolphins, and talking dogs? How about lobsters, since they're alleged to be conscious, even though pre-born humans are not?

Now, if you don't think that's a big enough cocked hat all by itself, you can stop reading. But let's say that we shrink, and cringe, from such wild-eyed radicalism, and decide that the bureaucratic burden of such a system would be too much to bear – that it would result in the demise of the system, in fact. (Because this is, basically, what happened in the Soviet Union and in communist China – although Cuba and North Korea seem to be muddling through – even though there are rumors that North Korea has a “growing middle class” -- but color me skeptical. I suspect that all it means is that some people get two small bowls of thin gruel per day rather than just one.) (On the other hand, they have solved the obesity problem, which is more than you can say for us.)

Let's say that we retain the money system, allow people to earn income and to save – but only under close and constant scrutiny by enlightened officials of the government, who will have tools such as the minimum wage, taxation, etc. to work with. But then, you see, you've already given in – you've said that fairness, and equality, are not absolutes... that they have to be “nuanced”... that we have to be (at times) “realistic” about what is politically viable... et cetera. What you're saying is that it's all about politics, and therefore all about political power – which is pretty much the premise that most people operate on already, especially the ones known as liberals. But on the plus side, if it's all about politics and power, and there are no absolutes, than no one can complain. If politics trumps my idea of “fairness” or equality, well, that's too bad, because politics rules. Since fairness and equality cannot be absolutes, they have no more significance as principles than politics; they are, in fact, the same thing, for all intents and purposes. So go to the polls every four years (or every two, if you've got nothing better to do), cast your vote, and shut up, because “the people have spoken”.

What to do! Is there no way out? Oh, right... there is that ancient, moldering document called the Constitution... and there is also classical economics, the market system, and supply and demand. These are called “imperfect” by nearly everyone, but the next step in the reasoning is where the great divide occurs. One side says that these imperfections prove that said document or process should be discarded because it is no longer suited to “our time” -- or that we hold onto it for the sake of sentimentality, but add so many qualifiers, nuances, interpretations, and “penumbras” that it might as well be declared null and void. The other side says that these imperfections only reflect the imperfectability of man, and that since no work of man can ever be perfect, the thing to do is to live with the imperfections because it's still the best thing we've got. It should be noted that the latter position implies that most government workers should be fired and their offices closed down – which is the primary reason that its advocates aren't listened to, and accused of being in favor of “cut-throat capitalism”, exploitation of labor, “hate”, and so on.

Bottom line (if there even is one) – the next time you, or anyone else, starts talking about “fairness” or “equality” please take a moment to consider what you, or they, are really talking about – and consider whether your answer is to hire the government to make your vision a reality. Because if it is, it's much more likely that your vision will turn into a nightmare. And this is not just a “doom and gloom” prediction; it's already happening, the horror stories are out there, and no one is made one bit happier no matter how much the government exerts itself in their favor and in disfavor of others. If the government were playing even a zero-sum game, it would be one thing – but the game it's playing is negative-sum (unless you include the government functionaries themselves and their elite cronies, in which case things might be coming out about even).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Dispatch From the Country of the Blind

It can be difficult to define what is “libertarian” because it would mostly be a list of negatives. (It's no accident that Ron Paul was known as “Dr. No” during his time in Congress.) But what is anti-libertarian? In the broad-brush sense, it's any political world view that puts government first and people – i.e. individuals, not “the people”, which is another word for government – second, or not at all. It includes both communism and fascism, as well as what I call suffocating socialism – i.e., socialism with a veneer of law and order – and even humanism -- but with a firm totalitarian underpinning (sort of like what we're starting to see in Canada and Australia). People are oppressed not so much by guns, prisons, and internment camps (although those may be present) as by laws and regulations that impact every aspect of their lives, no matter how trivial. This would include the American-style socialism that was created by the Progressives but reached full fruition with the New Deal, as well as postwar European-style socialism which has had, let's say, its ups and downs. Europe is still committed to socialism on the fundamental level, but its implementation goes through various cycles, accompanied by disputes and controversies. They go through cycles of reform, then reform of the reform, then reform of that reform, ad infinitum, but never seem to learn any lessons.

Our form of socialism has morphed from the relatively “pure” type represented by the New Deal into what I will call “soft fascism” -- i.e. control of the economy, and therefore (by necessity) the political system, by financial entities, both domestic and international (given that there is even a difference, which is doubtful). The fact that soft fascism doesn't involve mass rallies, torches, uniforms with a lot of leather, and goose-stepping parades doesn't make it any less fascism. What it means is that it's less obvious... more subversive... sneakier.   Another way of putting it is that, in the old days, fascism had to be presented as a political system where government was still in charge, with business being subordinate.  Now we've decided we no longer need that illusion, and government is openly subservient to business.

When Americans wake up, on occasion, to the fact that every meaningful political, economic, and social decision has been taken out of their hands when they weren't looking, that's when they feel the cold chill of fascism – but it's quickly forgotten in the wake of government handouts and entitlements and the contemporary equivalent of “games and circuses” (think NASCAR, the NFL, NBA, entertainment media, computer games and gadgets, etc.).

And you might say, “Whaddaya complaining about? Life (at least in this country) is no longer 'nasty, brutish and short', and the stock market is at an all-time high,” etc. Well, it's true enough that life is now, for most people, only mildly annoying, a bit dangerous at times, but longer than ever. And that's the point – or one of the points. We've been overcome by blandness. We are so far from our own revolution that we've completely lost any concept of what revolution is – the excitement, the fervor, the willingness to sacrifice. Ron Paul's campaign was called “The Ron Paul Revolution” (with the 2nd through 5th letters reversed to spell “love”) because it was, indeed, a revolution – not in the physical or violent sense but in the sense of consciousness – of awareness. As such, it was every bit as radical, if not more so, than the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which changed the world view of many but didn't make much of a dent in the true, underlying power structure. Rich white men ruled back then, and they continue to rule today – and the primary instrument of their rule is not “cut-throat competition” and “capitalism”, but government. Economic freedom is enjoyed by those at the top of the heap, and the rest of us have to be satisfied with our status as faceless, gray serfs. And granted, this does not differ significantly from the socio-economic structure of either communism or fascism.  But at least under “classical” fascism, the middle class had a place and a function, although it was tightly supervised and controlled – more so than the “proles”. Under the new fascism, the middle class has no more place than it does under communism; the only question is how quickly, and by which specific means, to eliminate it. For us, it's not about forbidding people to own property per se – or to be consumers. It's more about making it more and more difficult to save money, or to hold onto money that is saved. And it's also about making it more and more difficult to start small businesses, and to remain in business. Please note that large corporations run around sucking up small businesses like some sort of giant Roomba. The regulatory and tax structure is overwhelmingly tilted in favor of the largest entities, and works directly against the small ones. When you wake up one morning and find that everything you eat, drink, wear, drive, use, listen to, watch, feel, touch... is all under the control of one giant international corporation, you will know that a milestone has been reached. (On the plus side, there will be no more need for advertising, any more than there was in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. Propaganda, yes – ads, no.)

There's another aspect to all of this, and it's a product of this deadly combination of helplessness and cradle-to-grave security. I call it “societal anorexia”. It is not natural for man to be rendered helpless when it comes to his own life – his successes and failures and the decisions that lead to them. And it's not natural for him to be treated like a baby or retarded adult all his life – as someone who is incapable of making any important decisions and would be a "danger to society” if he did. So what is his reaction to this? We know that in the case of anorexia, women react to helplessness in the face of exploitation and abuse by asserting their choices and power in the only way available – namely by not eating. If everyone (or so it seems to them) has complete power their bodies, they'll show them that they don't, by not eating even to the point of starvation. Well, when you render an entire society helpless except for the ruling elite, they push back in odd ways. Their span of control shifts from society in general (Why bother voting?) to their immediate environment, and when that fails to themselves, and not even to the aspect of themselves that interfaces with the rest of society but by something that they alone can control and manipulate. So we get radical tattooing, piercing, people redoing their facial and body structure... things that go way beyond the self-assertion via hair and clothes that characterized the hippie era. If you can't have any impact on your environment, and if you're fair game for whoever wants to come along and intervene in your life, then the only option is to reinvent yourself – again, not at the interface (which is a lost cause) but physically. So I don't blame these people; they are reacting the only way they know how. Call it ill-advised, weird, pathetic, whatever – but I understand it, because the alternative is annihilation... being sucked into the machine like in “The Wall” and turned into lean finely textured beef, AKA pink slime. And of course the people who witness their futile antics shake their heads and wonder what their “problem” is. And – the tattooed, pierced hordes shake their heads back because they know what the problem is, and the squares don't.

The election of 2016 now seems to be looming on the horizon – at least according to the media. And in the midst of it all, breathing fire and crushing everything in her path, is the political Godzilla, namely Hillary Clinton. The supposed inevitability of her nomination and election makes any efforts the Republicans make seem silly and pathetic – like, why don't they just give up now? Hillary could be elected by popular acclaim, thus even eliminating the need for an formal election (and campaigning, and political ads – hmmm, not a bad idea when you come to think about it).  She could place the empress' crown on her own head, the way Napoleon did, with Bill smirking in the background.

And among the Republican “field” stands Rand Paul, who is invariably called a “libertarian” by.... well, by pretty much everyone but libertarians. The problem with Rand is that, unlike his father, he doesn't seem to have a deep understanding of libertarian principles. In other words, he is more a politician than a theorist. He says a lot of the right words, but wanders off the reservation a bit too often, in my opinion; he can be seduced, at least to some extent, by politics and “pragmatism”, whereas Ron Paul, as far as I know, never was. What it means is that it's a bit ironic for the mainstream Republicans to be having conniptions about this “radical” libertarian in their midst, when he really isn't – although compared to them, I supposed anybody with even the vaguest concept of individual freedom is going to seem like a radical. So, bottom line, if he in fact runs for the nomination and loses (which would be inevitable) it's no great loss for libertarianism. It would be better, in fact, if he were to stay where he is and, as I said, say the right things at least enough of the time to get people's attention (and their irrational reactions, which give away the hollowness of their position).

Having even a quasi-libertarian in the midst of the Republican Party is no less anachronistic than if he were in the midst of the Democratic Party. Each party gets things right on rare occasions, and totally wrong the rest of the time. I find myself agreeing with radical leftists more often than with the bland middle... and I even agree with the Neocons once in a while (based on what they say, not on what they actually believe). But I think that if our society is to survive in any meaningful way, and not morph into a blob of green slime out of some horror movie, the only thing that will save it is libertarianism in government – AKA Constitutional “originalism” -- combined with charity and tolerance on the part of individuals. You can't have a decent government if the citizens don't give a damn... and you can't have a decent society made up of people -- regardless of how charitable or good-intentioned they are – who are ruled over by evil men. People think of government as a one-way street, which it is in our time – all of the energy moves in a downward direction. But society, on the other hand, has to be a two-way street in order to function. This country was imagined, and organized, as a society, but has, over time, become a two-class system of rulers and ruled (with the middle class deluding themselves as to which class they belong in). It may be “soft” still, but there is no rule – nothing on the books – that requires it to remain that way, and plenty of sectors of our society have found themselves on the receiving end of actions that are anything but “soft”. That fact that prisons constitute a significant sector of the economy should tell you something; we are gradually moving toward a point where there are the “done to” and the “doers-to”, and no truly free men.

And as I've said before, perhaps this is only the natural product of societal evolution. Perhaps, like any organism, a given society has only so many years to grow and prosper, after which decline and death are inevitable. In that case, it's our bad luck to be around during the decline, although I imagine it will get much worse before things hit bottom. On the other hand, predictions of the demise of any society, nation, or system can be premature; cultures have a strange way of muddling through and showing surprising survivability – based, I would say, on cultural habits and values rather than governmental structures and laws. This may yet give us time to repent and mend our ways (dream on!), but what is more likely is that the system will collapse of its own weight (as opposed to being conquered in the military sense), not unlike what happened to the Soviet Union. And yet, there is always someone left... someone survives... and let's hope that they at least have a sense of history.