Archives for category: Institutional Reality

Do some gun owners really believe in the conspiracy that the government is planning to take away all the guns?

…as answered by twv on Quora….

Yes. Sure. But most believe it is not a conspiracy, exactly, but instead an open movement that wishes to accomplish civilian disarmament by incremental regulations and prohibitions.

And since that is precisely what many gun control advocates and former advocates have publicly stated as their goal and their method, these gun owners are not witless, are they? Of course they are reasonably skeptical of any further regulation.

I know that when I flirted with gun control ideas, a mass confiscation immediately popped into my head, and I discussed it with other gun control advocates.

Also, political promises of “we only wish to do this so much (and no more)” and objections on the order of “how dare you think we will go all the way!” of any new proposal are to be believed only by chumps. The income tax was promoted as something only a few of the very rich would pay, and even then not all that much. Within five years the rates on the top bracket went from 7 percent to 77 percent and people at the bottom went from paying nothing to paying 1 percent. Government “wants” to grow. So any small increase in regulation is rightly seen as merely a “first step.”

It is also a known thing that many people in government — as legislators and as functionaries — want a general civilian disarmament. It sure would make their jobs easier! They think.

But gun owners look upon all this with a growing sense of incredulity. Government functionaries cannot successfully do their jobs now, as was shown in the recent Parkland, Florida, shooting incident. And the War on Drugs failed to eradicate psychoactive drugs even from prisons, the most heavily guarded buildings in the country.

So that means that a gun confiscation — or any increased legal encumbrance upon citizen ownership — would surely do only one thing: decrease the ability of peaceful and lawfully disposed citizens to own guns, but not the violent and the criminal. It would basically leave people less safe.

Besides, Spencer’s Law applies, as increasing numbers of gun owners understand. Gun crimes have been going down in America as gun ownership has risen. And this applies to school shootings, too. If someone, conservative or progressive, is much exercised about “a rise in violence” in America, they are, for the most part, being driven by coverage and hysteria, not facts, figures, and sound risk assessment. The rise in demand for “doing something” is occurring as the need for “doing something” is diminishing.

Given this, gun owners wonder what could gun control advocates be thinking? Are they that credulous?The kids are, surely — yes. But some gun control advocates, they know, are indeed malign proponents of authoritarian government. Many gun control politicians and activists love tyrannical government as such. Just look at their methods and policies. Freedom has nothing to do with their agendas. They like robust government, vast redistributions of wealth, and massive regulation of every conceivable element of life, down to the drinking of sodas. They are illiberal. Every society has such people. Not a few of my friends and acquaintances would welcome a “benevolent” tyranny if it would get them the policies they desire.

To the extent that they advance their political program in public, gun control organizing is not conspiratorial. It is, instead, an open political assault on a free society. But some of these people are in government, and no doubt do have contingency plans in place to confiscate vast hoards of guns. So I guess even I believe in such a conspiracy.

But mainly I am politically opposed to the entreaties and counsel of fools.

twv

I, of course, am harmless.

On Quora, the question was asked: “How can a gun enthusiast still claim their [sic] right to bear arms is more important than public safety?” Paul Harding, a deputy sheriff, begins an interesting answer this way: “All of your Constitutional Rights come at the cost of safety.”

But he doesn’t stop with this admission. He essays a sophisticated perspective:

Give up your rights under the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments, and I’ll make the world safer for you. No question about it.

The only problem is that if you give up all those rights, which are really just restrictions on the things I’m allowed to do to you, what’s going to keep you safe from me?

He ends with this: “Freedom is scary, but lack of freedom is scarier.

The argument, here, is that “public safety” is not just a two-factor variable where (1) gun ownership ranges from “no effect on public safety” (guns in good citizens’ hands) to “negative public safety” (guns in criminals’ hands) and (2) policing ranges from “no public safety” with zero policing and court intervention to “complete public safety” with maximum possible scope for regulation, gun prohibition, and police power.

Both of these factors have wider ranges of effects, subject to side effects and diminishing returns.

Does this graph I just threw together help conceive of the difference between imaginary effects of gun confiscation, or maximum controls, and actual effects?

Of course, the “expected” line is only as expected from statists. People who believe that government is magic. It is possible that my expectation trajectory might dip lower faster.

twv

My interest in liberty has long focused chiefly on the condition as a moderating principle in society, as a constraint on human excesses, of individuals, sure, but especially of groups. As such, I consider it a stabilizing discipline. But, from my earliest acquaintance with its strongest advocates, I have noticed a strain within their ranks who treat liberty as a principle to be advanced even when it leads to social instability.

The idea among these freedom partisans seems to be this: any motion towards liberty is a good move.

My perspective is different. I think a move towards liberty that encourages a revolt against liberty down the road, or leads to social instability and chaos, is not a move to liberty at all. It is an illusion. A misstep. Sometimes a fiasco.

This issue plunges us deep into a question of strategy, with various forms of radicalism and incrementalism — “gradualism” — vying for dominance. I argue that some forms of radical, bold moves to greater freedom are good, because they encourage further moves to even greater freedom; other forms are bad, because they encourage backlashes, or lead to situations so destabilizing that they discourage further progress.

The classic case is in banking regulation, when deregulation is coupled with increased subsidy.  The Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s shows the dangers of that approach.

A similar case is free immigration. It is a great idea in a general context of freedom and the division of responsibility. But when coupled with subsidies from the welfare state, it can be a grave threat.

Yet some libertarians advocate increasing the scope for freedom in movement even under a regime of guaranteed subsidy. So that, practically, the policy they promote is subsidized immigration.

Jacob Hornberger is one of those libertarians . . . as can be seen by his polemic of July 31, 2019, “Open Borders Are Compatible With the Welfare State.” 

I will consider each of his points:

For some time now, there has been a conservative faction within the libertarian movement that has advocated that libertarians abandon their position in favor of open borders and instead join up with conservatives and progressives in support of government-controlled borders.

So, it is a “conservative faction,” sez Hornberger, even though controlled migration has traditionally been a progressive position … so why aren’t the libertarian open border skeptics a “progressive faction”? This is a small matter, but I have noticed that those who lean left in the libertarian movement sure do love to identify their opponents as “conservative oriented” or “rightwing.” Ugh.

In doing so, these conservative-oriented libertarians always fail to address one of the principal costs of abandoning libertarian principle on this particular issue — an immigration police state, one consisting of highway checkpoints for travelers who have never left the United States, roving Border Patrol checkpoints, warrantless searches of farms and ranches within 100 miles of the border, body-cavity searches of Americans returning from overseas vacation, warrantless searches of cell phones and mandatory disclosure of passwords, violent raids on private businesses, forcible separation of children from parents, squalid conditions in immigrant concentration camps, and boarding of private buses to examine people’s papers.

Always? I know I have disliked this regime, and have mentioned its horrors. Indeed, one reason to put up a “wall,” or border fence — or other barrier, such as a moat! — is to avoid the domestic ramp-up of totalitarian methods.

Similarly, folks who do not want to get into altercations on their own property with trespassers often put up fences, or locked gates and the like, to prevent unpleasantness on their own property.

All I am saying here is that the “immigration police state” — which I do indeed find alarming, and have argued against — is not required by the policy of controlled immigration if the control is physical at the border.

Ideal? No. Do I especially like this solution? No. But it is an option, and it is one reason why a lot of people voted for Trump and his Wall.

One of the principal arguments that such libertarians cite is that open borders are not compatible with a welfare state. If America didn’t have a welfare state, these libertarians say that they would favor open borders. Pending the dismantling of the welfare state, which might be never, such libertarians have resigned themselves to joining up with the statists on the immigration issue.

All advances of liberty “might be never.” But if it can be shown that an advance A would necessarily preclude future advances B, C, and D, then Hornberger’s desperation, here, is less than convincing.

In taking this position, such libertarians, of course, are implicitly acknowledging that open borders is, in fact, the libertarian position. That, of course, makes sense given the core principle of libertarianism — the non-aggression principle. It holds that people have the right to engage in any action whatsoever, so long as their conduct does not involve force or fraud against another person. When people cross political borders, whether such borders are state, local, or international, they are not violating anyone’s rights, given that they are simply exercising their natural, God-given rights of freedom of travel, economic liberty, freedom of contract, and freedom of association.

Sure. But it is worth remembering that private property owners can also exclude transit, and that border protections between states could be done voluntarily (at risk of free riders) — and at the U.S. southern border there have been erected borders on private property, with some success, and . . . have you ever wondered if one reason for borders has been to subsidize private property owners? Or, to help private property owners avoid free rider problems in excluding unwanted migrants and . . . and trespassers? Of course you have. But if libertarians are going to be arguing over this stuff on a fundamental level, maybe drilling down to fundamental issues would be a good idea, and not just engage in purist hand-waving.

The fact is, however, that the libertarian position favoring open borders is entirely consistent with a welfare state. And the fact that America is a welfare state should not cause libertarians to abandon their principles and join up with the statists on this particular issue.

Well, here is the thesis. Finally. Somehow a libertarian policy maven asserts that a libertarian institution — freedom of movement — is “entirely consistent” with an anti-libertarian institution. This should get interesting.

Breaking it down, what is the real argument that these libertarians are using in support of their argument? They are saying that if we have open borders and a welfare state, foreigners will come to the United State and get on welfare, which will mean that Americans will have to pay higher taxes. 

That is part of it. Another part is the expectation that they and their progeny will be more likely to vote for transfer payments to folks like themselves . . . from established native taxpayers. Yet another is that their progeny will soak up police and court resources.

And those of us concerned about social stability also note that immigrants’ children will be run through the great tax sinkholes that are America’s public schools, and that demands on those resources are often much greater than for natives’ children.

That’s the core of their argument—that libertarians should abandon their principles because open borders adn a welfare state will mean that people will have to pay higher taxes.

Well, no. It is also that the institutions will be placed under great stressors that will increase social discord and even violence and class resentment, and that these results can be even worse than mere tax increases.

Of course, that’s not necessarily true for three reasons:

First, most immigrants come to the United States to get rich. 

This is inaccurate. Immigrants come here to improve their lives, sure — and sometimes through accessing commons resources as well as through trade. But few become “rich.” And indeed, the ones who get rich are generally the ones who come here legally. Depending on country of origin, many, many illegal immigrants are poorer than the general run of natives. Open up the borders while still giving out transfer payments and tax-funded services, and the marginal immigrant will tend to be and remain poorer yet.

Very few people get rich on welfare. 

Most people do not get rich, so this is an irrelevant observation. They don’t even try to get rich — they just aim to get richer. And the very formulation of wealth acquisition as the goal implies that folks use only one manner of human interaction to advance themselves. Ignoring marrying into wealth, there are four basic methods for immigrant advance:

  1. trade;
  2. begging;
  3. mooching off the State;
  4. stealing outright.

A family that arrives here with few work skills and no capital is likely to try all four methods. Only the first is desirable.

Moreover, the economic prosperity (and taxes paid) generated by working immigrants might well offset the additional taxes that would be needed to fund welfare for the dole-receiving immigrants.

They might. Do they? That is an empirical question. 

More importantly, though: what is the situation with the marginal immigrant population (illegals) we are actually talking about? What is their marginal cost to taxpayers? 

Second, there is nothing inherent in the welfare state way of life that requires Congress to provide welfare for foreigners. Congress could easily enact legislation limiting the dole to American citizens.

Barack “You Lie!” Obama promised that his Obamacare would not give healthcare to immigrants, and it was widely considered bad form to even suggest it might; now, of course, almost all the Democrats running to take up the Obaman mantle insist that illegal aliens get precisely such services. Fat chance getting the nixing of welfare benefits to illegals through now. The only way to prevent illegal immigrants (or new additional immigrants) from getting key and expensive welfare state handouts would be to dismantle the welfare state. And this is what libertarians should argue. But, you know . . . I cannot think of one libertarian to have made this case — other than me, actually — namely, “You want open borders and diversity? Well, the only way to secure them is to chuck the welfare state!” Why have I not heard libertarians make this case?

Why isn’t Hornberger saying “Aha! We have the solution to your problem!”

Instead of taking a libertarian critique of the destructive nature of the welfare state and applying it to migration, he argues, lamely, that free migration is compatible with the welfare state. 

Third, given the difficulty, both psychological and financial, in leaving one’s homeland, his culture, his language, and his friends and relatives, it is difficult to imagine that large numbers of people would leave their homelands simply to get on welfare in a foreign country, especially one in which they are going to be insulted and abused. After all, how many people in Alabama move to California, where welfare benefits are much higher?

OK, this is just witless. Of course some people move to collect better handouts. I can point to specific people in the county in which I live who have done precisely this.

And, once again, this is an empirical question that could be actually researched. But, barring that apparently onerous task, note that California is even now being flooded with homeless people from all over the country. Does this not indicate to Hornberger that he has asked a question with a ready answer not to his liking?

But let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume that America restores its founding system of open immigration, 

This is not quite accurate, by the way. Even Jefferson contemplated the several states controlling immigration.

…continues its welfare state, and opens it up to immigrants. Should that be reason for libertarians to abandon their principles and join up with conservative and liberal statists by supporting America’s system of immigration controls and America’s immigration police state?

I say: No. I say that libertarians should continue adhering to principle regardless and continue focusing on ending the wrongdoing — i.e., the welfare state. If we abandon principle because it pinches, then how are we different from Republicans and Democrats, who do that as a matter of course?

So, here we see Hornberger bury the lede. He is making a pitch regarding principles, and seems uninterested in emphasizing what libertarians could add to the discussion: ending the welfare state.

It is worse, though. Libertarians at their best understand social processes over time. They are not bound to narrow time slices. We have extended time horizons. So what we can add to this debate is explaining where both the far-left and the alt-right err.

But Hornberger does not seem interested in increasing knowledge. He seems just interested in “sticking to principle.” Or sticking libertarians with principles they may not quite agree with. But when you do that relentlessly, without careful attention conduct, policy and consequences, you come off as a dogmatic and moralistic prig.

No wonder libertarians go nowhere.

Of course, an obvious question arises, one that those conservative-oriented libertarians never ask: How much in estimated additional taxes would have to be paid if the United States had both open borders and a welfare state? After all, isn’t that reason that these libertarians claim that open borders are incompatible with a welfare state: that it will result in the payment of higher taxes?

How much in additional taxes? Oddly enough, such libertarians never ask that question.

As I have stated above, this is not the main point. The thing most necessary is opposing a policy — de facto subsidized immigration — that trains immigrants to become plunderers, to become socialists . . . and in the process increases social discord.

Oh, and I have heard libertarians ask the question. I know I have wondered.

Suppose, for example, that each American citizen would be required to pay an additional $10 a year in income taxes? Should that be enough to cause libertarians to abandon principle and join up with the statists? $100 a year? $1,000 a year?

I say: Libertarians should not abandon their principles for any amount of money, no matter how high taxes might get

What? So, we should let in immigrants even though the heavens fall? Even if the country goes socialist?

This is sheer craziness.

After all, throughout history there have been people who have paid a much higher price than additional taxes for the sake of their principles. The Alamo comes to mind. So does the story of the White Rose.

Getting your head chopped off in a time of desperation is one thing — doing it so that people from foreign countries who have scant interest in liberty can mooch off the taxpayer, and, over time be trained by Democrats into voting socialist is not heroic.

It is stupid.

If drugs are legalized, poor drug addicts could go on Medicaid to treat their addiction, which would cause taxes to go up for the rest of us. Should we join the statists in support of the drug war until Medicaid is abolished? Perish the thought! 

Once again, Hornberger neglects to put the actual libertarian position on the table. He instead lubes up the libertarian anus to be reemed by statists — in the name of “principle.”

But he misses something, too. A big difference. A drug addict going on the dole is something we have now. And by putting drug addicts on state assistance we are not increasing the number of voters who will vote to give more money to drug addicts. With allowing open immigration we are not only subsidizing them, we are helping them produce a class of people (their children, and even their very selves) with an interest in plundering existing citizens of their wealth, who are likely to vote for such plunder.

Libertarians should continue adhering to principle by continuing to support an end to this deadly, destructive, and immoral government program, even while continuing to advocate a dismantling of Medicaid. We should continue doing the same with respect with respect to America’s deadly, destructive, and immoral system of immigration controls.

Hornberger emphasizes the berating of libertarians for their lack of purity and underemphasizes the attack upon the welfare state. He only mentions this latter solution in an offhand way. He does not address the underlying logic, but merely characterizes the policies as deadly, destructive and immoral. And that logic is important, deserving of more coherent advance: you can have a large, intrusive state and a monoculture, or diversity and limited government. Our pitch to leftists is that their current mania for diversity is incompatible with the welfare state. Our pitch to rightists is that their love of monocultures encourages the maximum state. Left and Right have it wrong.

Do libertarians have it wrong?

Only if they keep attacking each other and siding with the left or the right.

One would think that the best method for achieving liberty would be to approach the two sides with where they are right, and then try to convince each where they are wrong . . . leveraging the good in their allegiances.

Hornberger appears to be uninterested in this method.

twv

These are the dog days. In which I respond to inane arguments.
Inaccurate title, but…
This is not the motto, today, of very many people who call themselves “democrats.”

…as answered on Quora…

The question should be formed in the past tense: when was democracy overthrown?

OK, that’s a bit snarky. And not at all accurate, since the United States was neither designed to be nor ever became a democracy.

Unless, as I have written elsewhere on Quora, one starts fiddling with the meaning of the term “democracy.” Which is fair game, I guess, and is part of a long tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville meant something different by the word in the Jacksonian era than did the founding fathers of these benighted states.

It is pointless for me to repeat all I have written on this in the past. So, for the remainder of my answer, I will accept arguendo that democracy is a good thing, that we once had it, and that it either no longer exists or is in peril.

So who is responsible for the anti-democratic influences? People in power.

I find it weird that Democrats think Republicans are democracy’s threat, and Republicans deem Democrats the threat. Both are threats. Obviously.

Take the big marker: initiative and referendum rights. Those are democratic, after all. No controversy about that. So, all around the country, in state after state, Democratic Party political machines work to squelch the ability of voters to check legislatures — which are, after all, concentrations of political power, especially when incumbency accrues advantages on sitting politicians by seniority and sheer persistence — using the ballot box on an issue-by-issue creation and repeal of constitutional amendments and statutes.

Except in Florida. In Florida it is the Republicans who work to squelch initiative activity, through the usual sneaky political means, by regulating the petition process for ballot access.

Usually, it depends upon who is in and out of power. Truth is, politicians out of power tend to favor democracy, for their best hope into power is to ride a groundswell of citizen unrest. Where, once in power, they tend to lust to squelch the competition.

Democracy is a means to manage competition for political power. That’s one definition anyway. And any group in power tends to be against democracy.

It is one of the basic rules of politics.

But let us look more broadly at the institutions of citizen control of the government. Are we really sure we have it? Are we sure we do not live in a mixed system with heavy elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mobocracy as well as star-chamber Deep State machinations?

After all, way back in the late 1930s, Garet Garrett understood that revolutions need not be overt:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.”

These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”

The key thing about citizen control of government is that government must be small enough, limited enough, for citizens to practically control. At the time of the founding, the ratio of Representatives to citizens was comparatively balanced — a normal person was apt to know his Rep. Today, to keep up anything like that ratio, our House of Representatives would have to number not 435 but in the many thousands. This means that the federal union that is supposedly the United States may be less democratic today than it was two centuries ago . . . when it was explicitly not democratic!

But Americans, when they hear this, usually just shrug.

I think it is pretty obvious that people do not want democracy. Government is something we get activated about when we fret about a particular issue. But most people have the sense to shove most questions of governance off their proverbial front burners and onto that of experts. Who have their own special interests.

The consequences of this, of course, is not democracy but rule by the most vociferous and greedy factions. The revolution of the 20th century — away from constitutional constraints and a decent balance between “the people” and “the government” and to the establishment of a vast administrative state with its bureaucracy and vast transfer programs and regulations placing unequal burdens upon society, for the benefit of some and not others — is the result of the activism of some and the “inactivism” of the many.

Is that democracy? Hardly. But the metamorphosis did not require much bloodshed, as Garrett explained:

Revolution in the modern case is no longer an uncouth business. The ancient demagogic art, like every other art, has, as we say, advanced. It has become in fact a science — the science of political dynamics. And your scientific revolutionary in spectacles regards force in a cold, impartial manner. It may or may not be necessary. If not, so much the better; to employ it wantonly, or for the love of it, when it is not necessary, is vulgar, unintelligent and wasteful. Destruction is not the aim. The more you destroy the less there is to take over. Always the single end in view is a transfer of power.

I find it funny that there are people who think they are “for democracy” but really just demand more power for their faction.

My laughter is not exactly mirthful, I admit.

twv

There is a sort of progress to be identified in civilization, an incline that can be seen in the graded, increasing limits on the demands the state may be allowed to place upon us. It goes something like this:

  • Death
  • Slavery
  • Corvée labor
  • Property confiscation
  • Taxation

Generally, civilized societies emphasize taxation as preferable to confiscation — but naked confiscation exists in America: just look at the practice of civil asset forfeiture.

America’s founding fathers placed an important limit upon confiscatory practices: the Takings Clause of the Bill of Rights. Their idea was that there be allowed no confiscation of property without a valid public use, and not without “just compensation,” either. Unfortunately, state functionaries are not the only ones with designs on others property, and both limits have been repeatedly undermined over the years, indeed flouted. The Keto case being only the most famous. And we now must endure a president who has used the “public takings” procedures of “eminent domain” for his own quite private ends. Who knows where this limit upon state power will go because of Donald Trump?

It is a mark of civilization that intermittant required labor (corvée) is preferable to outright slavery . . . but note that military conscription is a form of corvée labor that looks an awful lot like slavery, and one that often leads to death.

The State often brings back that initial demand upon subjects: the cessation of their very lives.

It is also the case that taxation is yet another form of slavery, just removed from personal control to more alienable commandeering of property. And remember the tale of Genghis Khan, who wanted to raze Manchuria (in the process slaughtering all of the conquered Manchurians) to . . . raise horses. An advisor, the story goes, mentioned to him the principle of the Laffer Curve — though not of course by name — saying that a living population could provide wealth to the Khanate via taxation, while as The Dead they could provide nothing. So, the Great Khan allowed the Manchurians to live, taxing them, thereby enabling his Golden Horde to further spread death and slavery throughout the world, into Persia and the Arab world, through Russia and even as far as Vienna.

Who says government doesn’t work!

Yet I prefer to push back on all forms of conscript service — all the way back to taxation. And then cut taxes. The love of taxation, often expressed these days, is sometimes said to express “caring” for the less well off. I just think of Manchuria. And its people, seen by their Mongol rulers as a mere one small step up from the equine beast.

twv

The binary of belief/unbelief when it comes to the accounts that the military-industrial complex gives for itself is not between A and B.

Let A be anything said by this complex — the Deep State, the public face of which is the Pentagon — and B any particular theory advanced by skeptics of the Deep State.

I do not believe any particular B. And I certainly do not believe any A, not without evidence, extensive evidence. I hold to my distrust now with more conviction than ever.

When it comes to the Deep State, and what it is up to, I hold to Not-A.

I see no reason to believe what these people are saying.

Indeed, I am willing to contemplate just about any conspiracy theory, now.

The corruption of power centers appears to be almost uniform across all institutions. Recently I have come to be astounded at the readiness with which people accept or reject propositions by reason of social controls rather than by reason of . . . reason. If climate science, history, economics, sociology, astronomy and even diet science can become corrupted by the magic of “consensus,” and the social power inherent in hierarchical memeplex systems, then the American military establishment strikes me as not at all likely to be trustworthy.

Why should it? It lies secure, after all, behind very old walls of secrecy.

But members of the permanent state are not, perhaps, incompetent. Those in the Deepest corridors of the Deep State are unlikely to keep their power by their incompetence.

Though our incompetence sure helps.

Our trust. Our cultisms.

Insiders’ interests are almost certainly at variance with ours, especially to those of us who hold to old-fashioned republicanism or anything like liberty.

But I try not to get too excited by all this, in paranoid fashion; I try to maintain some dispassion. Besides, the subject does not lack for curiosity: intrigue intrigues. The agendas of Deep State actors may be hard to ken, but the duplicity of those agents is fascinating.

twv

as answered on Quora:

What prevents countries from attempting libertarian policies?

Not enough libertarians.

That is the main reason. All other reasons are speculative.

But there is, I think, a baseline reason for why there are so few libertarians, and I am not referring to genetic predisposition or the current early stage of libertarianism’s development. What is that reason?

Statism is a trap.

The dirigiste state — the robust modern state, as well as the various states of limited-access societies in the past — presents people with a set of incentive traps that embroil them in self-defeating behavior.

Think of statism as a hole, and all we have are shovels — and, further, that the loosest loam is under our feet, not on the sides. It takes longer digging steps for an upward ascent. So people — mostly distracted, living their lives — convince themselves that digging further downward is the obvious response. It sure seems easier.

They forget that the first rule to apply when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging downward.

The social sciences provide some familiar and not-familiar-enough terms that help define and explain aspects of our predicament: rational ignorance, preference falsification, the Thomas Theorem, the prisoner’s dilemma, public goods, rent-seeking, market failure, and the like. But people get confused by the situations identified by these terms, and are tempted to see in further state-control and -interference solutions to the problems state-control itself causes.

Example? Take that term “market failure.” It is a term of art that economists use, but it often confuses even economists. It is not, like it sounds, about the failures of markets. It refers to the failure to establish the groundwork for markets. The most common market failures are in government.

It sounds paradoxical.

But it isn’t.

It is just a bit complicated.

Smart people are supposed to be able to unravel such convolutions, untangle these puzzles. But the dirigiste state presents smart people with a huge temptation: to live at others’ expense — gain unfair advantage — all the while feeling self-righteous in advancing “the public good.”

But what if the public good can only be achieved through the establishment of the limits that liberty provides? What if it is only by limiting coercion so that people have to get ahead by serving others through trade and other forms of voluntary coöperation that redounds to the general benefit?

Well, smart people would have to work a bit harder, in such a system, and might have to live with dumber people getting ahead of them. So smart people just naturally find the statist modes of the ancient world’s limited-access societies and revive them through licensing, regulations, taxation, even subsidies. And, in the process, “just so happen” to set up their class as dominant. Technocracies don’t run themselves!

It “just so happens” that the biggest winners in a modern dirigiste state are members of what we call the cognitive elite.

It is almost as if intellectuals — good students, remember, great test-takers and essay writers and bright young scholars — saw the world of market capitalism at the end of the 19th century, where anyone, regardless of IQ or credentials, could advance by leaps and bounds so long as they provided services to others on a contractual, voluntary basis, and said “fuck that shit.” It is almost as if they set up a system of massive coercion all built around the guidance of “trained professionals” wherein said professionals would achieve the security that markets do not readily provide, at least for so little real work.

It is almost that!

That, my friends, is Progressivism.

And, with the smart people — er, the good students and dutiful drones of the collegiate crowd — almost all on board with statism, and in control of the commanding heights of the culture — public schools, higher ed, major media and the entertainment industry, not to mention the many bureaucracies and government contractors — it is very hard to make much headway against the trap that they have fully set.

Amusingly, these geniuses routinely set up systems that self-destruct. At least, after entangling increasing numbers of the population into servility or exploitation or both. So, we run headlong into crisis . . . and move from crisis to crisis. There may be some hope in a growing realization that these long-term cycles of the dirigiste state are not All to the Good. But my hopes are not very high.

And, lastly, at the basis of the trap, at least in terms of democratic action, is this: government programs are routinely judged not on the merits of their ostensible and original purposes, but on whether they establish beneficiaries. That is — constituencies. But all programs establish that. So all government programs tend to grow, and kludge must become the rule.

While retreats from such kludge can be made, and have been made, historically, they are politically costly, difficult to negotiate.

Statism is the “it” of our situation:

C. -F. Volney, at This Is Common Sense.

Social media often takes the full brunt of the blame for the current ideological/political divide. Take this BigThink post:

Two [sic] reasons why social media is bad for us, politically:

1. The echo chamber: I think a huge part of why we’ve become so divided as a society stems from the binaries mentioned in Jason’s piece [“To My Friend, the Radical Leftist,” by Jason Gots, July 11, 2015]. Just as conservatives reinforce their anti-liberal sentiments by watching Fox News (and vice-versa with liberals and MSNBC), folks on Facebook curate their audience to form an echo chamber. It’s basically self-structured propaganda, which is inherently anti-liberal by the classical definition. Flashier, more inflammatory ideas rise to the top of the conversation thus fueling the sorts of radical biases and heuristics that subconsciously radicalize people. The middle ground shrinks as rhetorical forces seek to push people farther left or farther right. I don’t think that’s healthy for a society, especially when radicalization comes attached to a sense of mean-spiritedness against the other side.

2. Tactics and tone: The whole public-shaming culture bugs me because it portrays conflicting opinions as, at best, the stupid ramblings of uninformed idiots; at worst, straight-up evil. People act differently online than they do in person, often for the worse, because we see other people online as characters in a larger digital drama rather than real human beings. It engenders a sense of enmity against our peers that ought not have any place in a respectful and democratic society. It also kills me to see people shun, demean, or shame the ignorant, because ignorance is not always the result of volition. Demonization is lazy. It alienates people who might otherwise have come around to your beliefs had they not been made to feel bad. Social media and the SJW mindset (as much as I hate that term) both promote a shouting-down of the opposition rather than a thoughtful attempt to sway opinion. It, by design, divides rather than unites.

3. Memes are the lowest form of political discourse: I mean seriously, come on…

Social media is turning us into thoughtless political extremists,” Robert Montenegro, BigThink, July 13, 2015


This sort of thing would be more convincing if my own experience fit the depiction. 

I have believed and written the same sort of things for most of my adult life as I do now on Facebook. But in the old days, prior to the Internet, only a few thousand people read Liberty magazine, for example, a zine that I helped start in the summer of 1987. And those people only read it after jumping over the hurdle of a hideous cover as well as the stigma of that word, “liberty.” That was a bubble. Now, on social media, I reach neighbors and friends and family and their friends and families. And strangers who click into my feed, perhaps from Quora or my blog or even, heaven forfend, Twitter (I really do prefer Gab, but Gab mirrors posts to Twitter). So, what I do on Facebook and linked sites now probably reaches a greater diversity of people than my writing in Liberty.

Before the current era, and in the Gutenberg dimension, a fractured publishing world separated us. And, in person, politesse did. It was a rare thing to discuss at length “religion and politics.” Now, however, on Facebook, anyway, these natural barriers fall down. Because inhibitions of manners are less effective, because we do not see into the eyes of our interlocutors.

But two things: (1) I have noticed, over the past few years on Facebook, that my friends and family and neighbors who disagree with me interact with me less than they did ten years ago — they may be re-establishing the bubble of politesse, by shunning; (2) on the few issues where I have changed my mind, or grew open to new obsessions, it is on those ideas that I have received the most pushback.

This latter point is illustrative of the major problem with social media bashing, which, after this piece by Robert Blackmountian — and, more importantly, the election of Donald Trump — has become an international moral panic. Since I get the most flak for recent changes in opinion, there is certainly another attempt to embubble hot, divisive topics. But I persist, and slowly open up a few minds. And this does not indicate that my experience has led me or anyone else to increased “extremism” — I feel a pressure to conform, but the ease of posting emboldens my dissent, and new ideas do get circulated. People changing their minds is not necessarily extremism. And sometimes, after all, the truth does lie at an extreme — falsity being at the other pole, and fiction and irony in lines orthogonal.

OK. I bend. What we are witnessing in the present time is partly the result of social media. Sure. But much of this is good. In earlier times, we could all pretend that democracy was not what it definitely is: a factional contest to inflict one’s values on one’s enemies. This is no longer possible, because actual differences are demonstrated interpersonally on the Net. The extremism was always there, but hidden by convention and institutional subterfuge.

What we are reviving is the manner of democracy before the establishment, in the late 19th century, of the secret ballot. Adopting the secret ballot was necessary to disenthrone constitutional limits on government. When everyone knew how everyone else voted, there was some social check on extremism in factions. Your vote was known to your neighbors, and you had to look them in the face when you sicced the state upon them through your pet policies. There was a reason you had to moderate your politics. But with a secret ballot — which, we should remember, J.S. Mill had the wit to oppose — all participants had cover, and could nurture secret hatreds and resentments against others and call it Good Policy.

So the all-against-all war emerged in the progressives’ “new republic,” as predicted by Volney:

Under the mask of union and civil peace, [cupidity] fomented in the bosom of every state an intestine war, in which the citizens, divided into contending corps of orders, classes, families, unremittingly struggled to appropriate to themselves, under the name of supreme power, the ability to plunder every thing, and render every thing subservient to the dictates of their passions; and this spirit of encroachment, disguised under all possible forms, but always the same in its object and motives, has never ceased to torment the nations.

See “An Intestine War,” October 23, 2012.

Now this is all out in the open. We all know what is at stake: capturing power in the imperial capital means inflicting on others the programs and policies and laws with which they disagree, often are even disgusted with. We know where everybody stands.

And today’s progressives feel especially attacked, and thus desperate. Their power at the commanding heights of the culture has been challenged. They thought things would always go their way. Things would “progress.” They have not. They received pushback. Their dominance in major media and in the academic realm has been eclipsed by “new media” of the Internet, which social media helps spread far and wide. And after a century of progress in the size and scope of government, they became frightened. And crazed.

Their reaction to Trump was comic, of course, though they were not laughing: before the election, when they were sure Hillary would win, they were aghast when The Donald demurred in possible “acceptance” of the results of the vote; after the election, and the results became clear, it was they who could not accept the outcome. So of course things got even uglier. For they had given up on the old democratic decorum of understanding that you can’t always get what you want.

The putative conservatives, on the other hand, are used to losing — they have lost all the culture wars, have they not? — and now have this notion in their head that they should win occasionally. But with Trump in office — a centrist sinner with only a few points of overlap with Reaganite conservatism — they are, on net so far, only stemming the progressive tide. A Universal Basic Income, for example, sure looks imminent.

So the battle lines are drawn.

And the solution? The truth of the matter is as Volney put it: peace can come only from the liberty that limits intestine war.

Until we all learn this lesson, and set down some limits again, the war must go on. And ugliness increase.

And I am not going to blame social media for that — I will give it some credit, for transparency. But the blame goes to the system itself, and its historical place on the arc of its own involution. For the truth must come before the solution can even be understood. Social media has helped lay bare the intestine war.

To call a truce, we must not deny truth, but accept it.

twv

Philosophy: the last thing Americans consider in public policy. Because it might be wisdom.

It was a joke when I was a child. It is an atrocity now.

The Army has carried the American ideal to its logical conclusion. Not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on ability.

Tom Lehrer, An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (recorded at Harvard’s Sanders Theater on March 20–21, 1959)

Ah, discrimination. People forget that it is a good thing. It is what makes us human.

But let us admit it, the normal run of humanity rarely bothers to do much in the way of careful thinking. A word gets associated, in common speech, with another word — and then the concept of the word pair leads, as if by an invisible hand, to impute meaning back up the two words’ separate semantic lines. Well, up at least one of them. Racial discrimination being bad, at least when done by the state or when engaged in privately with malice, so careless, slovenly speakers come to think “all discrimination is wrong.”

And it was not just about race. Sexual discrimination was said to be wrong by liberal folks. And religious discrimination, too. These are the three mentioned by Lehrer in his joke.

In 1984, the two major party candidates for the United States Presidency, when asked about gay rights, admitted, humbly and righteously both, that “all discrimination is wrong.” Walter Mondale insisted that he learned that outstive truth “on his daddy’s knee.” His father had misinformed him. Ronald Reagan answered the question with another question, if memory serves: “isn’t all discrimination wrong?” The answer is definitely “no.”

What is going on here? Well, a puzzled person might consult a dictionary.

from Merriam-Webster’s iPad app.

The root meaning can be found in the second and third listed defnitions, not the first. This is made more clear by consulting an older dictionary.

My copy of The New Century Dictionary (1927), D. Appleton-Century Co. (1933)

Discrimination is the act of recognizing differences, making distinctions and apt judgments. This is what makes man a rational animal.

The error comes down to a category problem.

Racial discrimination is bad when one identifies race as a relevant characteristic upon which to make a judgment or decision when race is not, in fact or by custom or morality, relevant.

We who support the idea of basic human rights insist that it is a person’s status as a human being and not as a member of a particular race that matters in advancing and defending his or her rights.

In employing someone, productivity is what matters, not race as such, so one would be a fool to hire or fire mainly on the grounds of race.

But in other domains of life it may indeed make sense to discriminate to some extent by race. If you are putting on a play about Martin Luther King and the best actor you can find is some white guy, it would be ill-advised to hire him and paint his face darker — better, I think, t limit your search to a population of actors from black African stock. And of course the reverse is true: when casting for the part of George Washington, you can rule out of hand right from the start all black, Asian and even short actors, no matter how good Denzel Washington, Naveen Andrews, and Danny DeVito may be.

Similarly, when choosing a mate, it may be high-minded of you to be open to members of all races, but it would hardly be wrong to discriminate for members of your own race, or members of a race you find most attractive.

The upshot is: equality before the law and doing good business indicate reasons to set up a taboo on discrimination on the basis of race, but there may be a few or even many areas of life where where racial discrimination is not wrong.

And other forms of discrimination — on basis of talent, taste, concepts, efficacy, etc. — remain central to what it means to be human.

I shake my head at this now, and wonder how anyone could be so dunderheaded as to think otherwise. But I remember Reagan and Mondale, and I see why the error of believing that all discrimination is wrong could be made.

Especially by those who are over-vigilant, for whatever reason, in the fight against racism. Over-compensation is a strategy.

But it can lead to bizarre and horrific consequences, as seen in an article that was just published on Quillette, “Public Education’s Dirty Secret.” In this revelatory memoir, schoolteacher Mary Hudson describes why New York City’s schools are so bad. And “bad” is an understatement:

The school always teetered on the verge of chaos. The previous principal had just been dismissed and shunted to another school district. Although it was never stated, all that was expected of teachers was to keep students in their seats and the volume down. This was an enormous school on five floors, with students cordoned off into separate programs. There was even a short-lived International Baccalaureate Program, but it quickly failed. Whatever the program, however, the atmosphere of the school was one of danger and deceit. Guards patrolled the hallways, sometimes the police had to intervene. Even though the security guards carefully screened the students at the metal detectors posted at every entrance, occasionally arms crept in. Girls sometimes managed to get razors in, the weapon of choice against rivals for boys’ attention. Although I don’t know of other arms found in the school (teachers were kept in the dark as much as possible), one particularly disruptive and dangerous boy was stabbed one afternoon right outside school. It appears he came to a violent death a few years later. What a tragic waste of human potential.

As the weeks dragged painfully into months, it became apparent that the students wouldn’t learn anything. It was dumbfounding. It was all I could do to keep them quiet; that is, seated and talking among themselves. Sometimes I had to stop girls from grooming themselves or each other. A few brave souls tried to keep up with instruction. A particularly good history teacher once told me that she interrupted a conversation between two girls, asking them to pay attention to the lesson. One of them looked up at her scornfully and sneered, “I don’t talk to teachers,” turning her back to resume their chat. She told me that the best school she ever worked at was in Texas, where her principal managed not only to suspend the most disruptive students for long periods, he also made sure they were not admitted during that time to any other school in the district. It worked; they got good results.

But this was not done. Suspending the violent and the disruptive was considered by administrators to be . . . wait for it . . . “discriminatory.”

It would be “discriminatory” to keep the students at home. The appropriate paperwork being filed, the most outrageously disruptive students went for a day or two to a room with other serious offenders. The anti-discrimination laws under which we worked took all power away from the teachers and put it in the hands of the students.

This is of course a recipe for chaos. No learning can occur when violent students disrupt classrooms and receive protection from the authorities.

I tried everything imaginable to overcome student resistance. Nothing worked. At one point I rearranged the seating to enable the students who wanted to engage to come to the front of the classroom. The principal was informed and I was reprimanded. This was “discriminatory.” The students went back to their chosen seats near their friends. Aside from imposing order, the only thing I succeeded at was getting the students to stand silently during the Pledge of Allegiance and mumble a few songs in French. But it was a constant struggle as I tried to balance going through the motions of teaching with keeping them quiet.

The abuse from students never let up. We were trained to absorb it. By the time I left, however, I had a large folder full of the complaint forms I’d filled out documenting the most egregious insults and harassment. There was a long process to go through each time. The student had a parent or other representative to state their case at the eventual hearing and I had my union rep. I lost every case.

The sheer craziness of this policy is dystopian in its extremity. And note that excuse: being “against discrimination.”

And let us not fool ourselves. We know where the abuse of the word “discriminatory” comes from: progressivism.

And lawyers.

Over-vigilance against racial discrimination has led to the anathemization of all forms of discrimination, including those forms noticed by Tom Lehrer, discrimination on the grounds of ability. And it is white guilt that is the main trouble — coupled with the moral corruption of inner-city black parents and their lawyers and advocates. Progressive white folks have been so afraid to think carefully about — and criticize, judge — “the marginalized”* when they do wrong that they defend bad behavior and thereby nurture evil and self-destructive vice.

This is a grand example of moral and intellectual cowardice.

That it has led to a form of philosophical corruption, where a word central to the whole moral and intellectual project — discrimination — has become a word to defend bad behavior and the corruption of the young.

The story is not just horrific, though. It is also darkly comic:

Sometimes you just have had enough. One day a girl sitting towards the back of the classroom shouted at some boy up front, “Yo! Nigga! Stop that!” I stood up as tall as I could and said in my most supercilious voice, “I don’t know which particular nigga the young lady is referring to, but whoever it is, would you please stop it.” The kids couldn’t believe their ears:

“Yo, miss!  You can’t say that!”
“Why not? You say it all the time.”
“Uhh . . .  Because you’re old.”
“That’s not why. Come on, tell the truth.” 

This went on for a bit, until one brave lad piped up: “Because you’re white.” “Okay,” I said, “because I’m white. Well what if I said to you, ‘You’re not allowed to say some word because you’re black.’ Would that be okay?” They admitted that it wouldn’t. No one seemed to report it. To this day, it’s puzzling that I didn’t lose my job over that incident. I put it down to basic human decency.

Decency? Maybe. More likely it was a philosophical moment. For one instance the students learned something. What? That the normative order thst they relied upon was itself evil. One can hope that their momentary glimpse of the truth came to serve them later in life. And speaking of life — what kind did they have?

Students came to school for their social life. The system had to be resisted. It was never made explicit that it was a “white” system that was being rejected, but it was implicit in oft-made remarks. Youngsters would say things like, “You can’t say that word, that be a WHITE word!” It did no good to remind students that some of the finest oratory in America came from black leaders like Martin Luther King and some of the best writing from authors like James Baldwin. I would tell them that there was nothing wrong with speaking one’s own dialect; dialects in whatever language tend to be colorful and expressive, but it was important to learn standard English as well. It opens minds and doors. Every new word learned adds to one’s wealth, and there’s nothing like grammar for organizing one’s thoughts. 

It all fell on deaf ears. It was impossible to dispel the students’ delusions. Astonishingly, they believed that they would do just fine and have great futures once they got to college! They didn’t seem to know that they had very little chance of getting into anything but a community college, if that. Sadly, the kids were convinced of one thing: As one girl put it, “I don’t need an 85 average to get into Hunter; I’m black, I can get in with a 75.” They were actually encouraged to be intellectually lazy.

The adults responsible for this system, black and white, should be ashamed of themselves. And repent. Reform the schools. Get rid of the insane “anti-discrimination” rules — at the very least.

But how likely is that? To do that, after all, they would have to discriminate.

twv


* This term of art, “the marginalized,” is especially inartful, hardly an accurate descriptor, since it misidentifies nearly all the problems noted in this memoir.

Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

I grew up taught to believe that the stories of my religion were true. But as I grew older, certain inconsistencies and antinomies weighed upon my mind, and I found myself incredulous about the whole matter, so I gave up on the beliefs and the rites.

But, if not literally true, is religion — or all religions, or some — figuratively true? Supremely useful? Something else?

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

I was taught to regard the religion I was born into as true, literally so, and all others as false, with a faint chance that shadow meaning sometimes figuratively refracting the truth — but more likely “of the Devil.” Converting out of the religion, it was easy to treat my youthful theological stance as Atheism With One Exception, making actual atheism merely a final step.

But I did understand a discordant note to this secular triumphalism: henotheism. It was clear that Judaism began with a polytheism-in-fact but monotheism-in-practice: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” more than implied a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh was good, all others were bad — or, even less strong a position: Yahweh was ours and all others were theirs. The Chosen People idea seemed to imply one of many gods choosing and nurturing a bloodline of people to serve His agenda. But this idea, while clear in my head, I somehow never took all that seriously.

What did I take seriously? The “ghost theory” and exaptation. These ideas can be found in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, and the latter has been greatly expanded by contemporary evolutionary psychology. Beliefs in the gods arose from memories of dead leaders echoing in human brains and showing up in dreams. And hallucinations. That is the irritant that starts the pearl that is religion. But then something else happens: religious belief and practice is discovered to be useful.

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

But one use we fell into. It turns out that when we less-than-well-tempered hominids — Hominoids — even contemplate a putatively divine being or concept, or even any “transcendent object” or priniple, we think and behave less like selfish, short-sighted apes. We begin to behave morally.

And thus the transcendent notion, whatever it is, can serve as a social signal that can encourage others to see our intent to coöperate, not engage in harm. Whatever religious idea we hold can gain a lot of traction when folks come to rely on such signalling.

Thus, the gods.

A simple story, this secular account, and it can be filed under the heading Exaptation — a thing that originated for one reason surviving for other reasons. It was as if adapted for a new purpose, but as naturally selected, sort of adapting itself.

A meme — a replicable habit — spread for reasons independent of its explicit rationale.

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

But it is not the whole story: we still have that initial irritant. The “ghosts.” Which though inconvenient after the religion becomes a memetic hit, still persist.

And there is an outside possibility that some of those irritants in the oyster of our imaginations are, themselves, Not What They Seem.

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

In a fascinating dcumentary about a man who paints his alleged encounters with aliens, some of whom with which he engages in sexual acts, Love and Saucers, we learn about an odd variety of religious experience, the sexual extraterrestrial encounter. Philosopher Jeffrey Kripal, quoted in the movie, tells us that religious experiences with a sexual component are common in the literature. He also sees alien encounter and abduction stories as not dissimilar from past religious tales. What they interpreted as angels we, in a more scientific age, interpret as extraterrestrials.

And such experiences are not uncommon.

So, do we have these experiences because of some quirk of our psychologies, as evolved from the distant past?

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

I have never had an encounter as described by the painter in Love and Saucers. It would be easy to mock him. That is something I am sure my “skeptic” friends online would be inclined to do.

But I no longer do such things. If David Huggins, the subject of the documentary, is conjuring these “memories” by confabulation, that is almost as astounding as the events he describes.

And then there is the wider context. Do we have certainty that encounters with “aliens” do not happen? I do not have that certainty of conviction, of dismissive incredulity. I do not have enough faith to dismiss out of hand the UFO context.

Now, I understand, that wider context and the evidence for it may be peculiar in the extreme, sure — but it is vast. The number of documents leaked from governments, and the hundreds — the thousands — of seemingly earnest testimonies from military personnel and government contractors, airline passengers, and workers about encounters with bizarre flying and submersible crafts is huge. And these crafts — in government documents and reports as well as in reams of testimony, apparently run according to principles nothing like the technology we know, which is based on aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, and on the many types of internal combustion engines . . . well, the number and weight of the testimony is almost disturbing.

Further, there appears to be an ongoing government disclosure of information about these encounters, around the world, and even — belatedly, with a great lag — from the biggest, most UFOey government of them all, the United States of Military Industrial Complex.

I do not know what to make of all this. Not with anything approaching certainty. And were it not for the Cato Institute, I might not be thinking about it at all.

A number of years ago the libertaran think tank fired one of its consulting scholars, economist Dom Armentano — removed him from their honor roll, so to speak. Why? Because he had come out for UFO disclosure.

Think about this. The retired professor merely expressed a support for transparency in government on an issue of public interest. But the “heroic” Cato management could not even be associated with something as tame as that.

When I heard this, I experienced something like shock. I had thought I understood the cultism of the cultural center, its proneness to shaming and shunning and marginalization . . . perpetrated to keep the hierarchy of the in-group secure against all comers. But Cato is libertarian. Do Cato-ites think their propinquity to power, geographically, makes them in the in-group? If any tribe on the planet has reason to understand the corrosive nature of in-group intellectual regimentation, it would be libertarians. And if any group should be prone to resist such nonsense, then it must be libertarians, right?

Apparently not. Cato was so eager for respectability, and so unimaginative that an illustrious economist had to be purged.

This is when I realized the astounding extent of ideological cultism in America, and its corrupting powers. And, once you realize how powerful that propensity is, then you can see how it could be manipulated.

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

For, alas, it seems likely that some conspiracy is involved. Either a cabal within the Deep State is conspiring to keep some dread secret from the world and from the citizens that the government putatively serves, or a big if ragtag group of military personel, domestic pilots, seamen, and a great number of civilians are perpetrating and perhaps coördinating a huge fraud.

About two years ago, I began to think the latter the less likely.

Further, I surmise, if I were in the Deep State and saw all these rumors swirl around me, I would regard them as a destabilizing force, as undermining governance by decreasing trust in basic institutions. I would earnestly support public research into and educational efforts about the phenomena, the better to thoroughly explain and debunk paranormal accounts and tall tales about UFOs and “aliens.” But, on the other hand, had I a secret to keep, a big one, letting the testimonies and photographs and rumors and urban legends spread while giving lukewarm and even preposterous counter-explanations might just work — to keep the secret. After all, I could count on all the little Catos out there, doing my work for me, keeping “the nuts” marginalized.

This does not mean that painter David Huggins is not some kind of a nut. There is room for psychological confabulation along the margins. But it sure looks like something strange is going on. The planet and its history may be stranger than we thought.

Indeed, “the gods” at the start of religions may not have been mere mirages and dreams and “visions.” Perhaps the Anunnaki and Quinametzin and Viracocha and that crowd really did help start our civilization, and that they seemed “gods” to us barely higher apes. And maybe they had some connection to the phenomena that we call “religious” — and maybe they have something to do with “aliens.”

In any case, Love and Saucers is a fascinating documentary.

And religion remains something of a mystery.

twv