Freedom is for Grown-Ups

…but our leaders want to keep us children. My newest Kindle read is Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. Hannan, a Member of the European Parliament who advocates for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, traces the development of the liberty that we take for granted from its roots in pre-Norman England through to the present-day anglosphere of the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Looking back at the foundations of the old English concept of liberty, Hannan points out one of the many differences between English common law and the top-down style of law in Europe:

“Common law is based on the notion that anything not expressly prohibited is legal. There is no need to get the permission of the authorities for a new initiative. Again, even now, we see this consequence of the different between British and Continental practice. British Euro-skepticism owes a great deal to a resentment of what is seen as unnecessary meddling, but, to the Eurocrat, “unregulated” is more or less synonymous with “illegal.” I see the difference almost every day. Why, I often find myself asking in the European Parliament, do we need a new EU directive on, let’s say, herbal medicine? Because, comes the answer, there isn’t one. In England, herbalists have been self-regulating since the reign of Henry VIII. In most of Europe, such a state of affairs could never have come about.”

This strikes at the very heart of what makes a people truly free. If you come across a meadow, with no fences or signs, are you allowed to cross it? If you want to do something against which there is no law, must you first ask permission? In grade school, children are taught to ask permission before doing anything. While this may be necessary for children who are learning the etiquette and mores of polite society, there comes a time when you no longer need ask to use the bathroom. Yet activists and political leaders always feel the temptation to treat their fellow citizens as children who require their guiding hand in order to do right.

Jonah Goldberg wrote the book on the way the modern American left is driven by a paternalistic fervor to rule over us for our own good. A leftist is one who looks around and, seeing people making poor choices, wants to free them from the consequences of their actions by taking away the ability to make poor choices in the first place. As usual, good intentions are all that matter. This wannabe dictator would balk at any comparison with such dictators as Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, or Pol Pot, despite the fact that they all came to power promising the same things. Their evil actions make them evil, while my good intentions make me good, he might say. Sure, he will take away your rights and your liberty, but don’t you see that it is for your own good? Whether it is about protecting you from greedy unscrupulous corporations or keeping you safe from the consequences of your own actions, the wannabe dictator is there, freeing you from the tyranny of choice.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this strain of paternalistic totalitarianism decades ago in God in the Dock:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

In a truly free society, laws exist to protect our liberty and our property. Murder, theft, and rape are crimes, and the government will punish on behalf of the victims those who commit such crimes. Contracts are enforced, and fraud is illegal. Beyond that, however, people are free to live as they will. Free men and women can choose to pay someone to braid their hair, arrange their flowers, or decorate their house. Free men and women can sell or trade firearms or loose cigarettes as they please. Free men and women can operate bakeries with the right to refuse service when an event violates their conscience. In a free society, adults can interact freely as long as they are not harming or defrauding each other.

In a paternalistic society, on the other hand, everything that is not regulated is unlawful. In the European model that Dan Hannan describes, and in the society that the American left is constantly pushing for, every personal interaction is overseen by government agents. Permits are required for braiding hair, arranging flowers, and interior decorating. Excessive taxes must be collected on every transaction, even between individuals. Friends cannot trade firearms without involving the government in an expensive background check. Bakers are forced to provide service if their prospective client comes from a government-recognized victim group. Beyond protecting liberty and property, the government of a paternalistic society treats its citizens as subject children, who must be guided by their benevolent parents lest they make the wrong decision. (Former Obama Administration official Cass Sunstein called it “nudging”.)

Despite the fact that such a society is ostensibly built on doing what is best for everyone, it is no less dangerous than the dictatorships that plunged the world into war during the twentieth century. If you doubt that, try ignoring your taxes one year. Try to practice law without a license. Open a business without going through the proper governmental channels. First, you will get strongly-worded form letters. Then, officers of the state will show up at your door. Eventually, police will be involved. Continue resisting, and they will eventually shoot you. Our government may be nicer about the situation than Hitler’s gestapo, but the end result is the same: comply with the state or be destroyed.

We let this happen. Our forefathers fought a bloody war against their mother country because they wanted to rule themselves, rather than let a king and parliament on the other side of the world determine the course of their lives. In just over two centuries, we have surrendered that hard-won sovereignty to a president, a congress, and an innumerable army of petty bureaucrats on the other side of the continent. We did it because in some ways, it makes our lives easier. We have traded our eternal liberties for the temporal security of knowing that Big Brother is indeed watching, and has our best interests at heart. If we are to have any hope of reversing this situation, it has to start locally. Get involved in your city council and school board. If you live in rural areas, get involved in your county commission, lest the city-dwellers decide how you must live on your own land. The next time you think “there ought to be a law” remember all the thousands of little regulations that have slowly curtailed our liberty up to this point. The death of the American Dream has not been by a single strike but by a thousand tiny cuts.

But beware: Liberty comes at a cost. We will be accountable for our choices and must accept the consequences of our actions. In a truly free society, there are no government bailouts – not for the trillion-dollar corporation that mismanaged their capital into nothing; not for the broke college student who is a hundred thousand in debt with only a liberal arts degree to show for it. One of the many causes of our recent recession was the way our government took on the cost of failure in housing investments while leaving the investors to reap the rewards of success. If you know you cannot fail, you will act with much greater risk to your money and to your life. In a truly free country, men and women know that risk is real, and will act accordingly.

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Immigration and the Undying Lands

I was listening to John Derbyshire earlier today and he pointed out that every mainstream article about illegal immigration is seemingly required to use the word “dream” multiple times. Supporters of amnesty and increased immigration often use the word to describe the reasons why people come to America. It tugs at the heartstrings, right? Young people, growing up in poverty-stricken countries, risking their lives to come to America, the land of opportunity?

I realized that this sort of rhetoric exposes an assumption that immigration advocates all share: that there is something special about America as a place, rather than a people. Liberals such as President Obama talk about how all of these people crossing the borders are here to improve their lives and achieve their dreams. Republicans such as Jeb Bush are convinced that Hispanic illegal immigrants will transform into Republican voters once they set foot on our soil. Libertarian open-borders advocates desire a political system that allows anyone to go anywhere. All of these people remind me of a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium named Ar-Pharazon.

Ar-Pharazon was the last king of Numenor, an island populated by a special group of men and women. They had been given this land by the gods as a gift, a reward for their solidarity with the gods and the elves in the War of Wrath and in recognition of their shared descent from the elves as well. However, they were given one command: They could not sail to the uttermost west and set foot in Valinor, the Undying Lands. Valinor was the home of the gods, and they had called the immortal elves to come west to live with them. Men, however, were mortal, and had a different destiny. As Ar-Pharazon grew old and neared the end of his life he became jealous of the immortality of the gods and the elves. He decided to go to Valinor to seize this power for himself.

Ar-Pharazon’s mistake was in assuming that there was something special about Valinor that conferred immortality upon its residents. He seemed to think that just by setting foot in the Undying Lands that he too would become immortal like the elves. He made a category error, however – the Lands were not Undying because of some special virtue of themselves, rather they were simply the home of the beings who did not die.

For more than two centuries, America has been exceptional among the nations of the earth. We have inherited a society based upon rule of law, equality before the law, freedom and liberty, a respect for hard work and individual success, and a belief in civic participation. These virtues are not inherent to the soil of America, but codified in the soul of our society. America is exceptional because it is filled with Americans. Until recently, people from all over the world came to America because they wanted to be Americans. Irish and English, German and Polish, Chinese and Japanese, Italian and Greek, they all came here because they wanted something that their old homes did not provide. They wanted a part of the virtue of America, and most importantly, wanted to become Americans themselves.

That has changed. Today, immigrants (legal and illegal) are coming to acquire the virtues of America while retaining allegiance to their old homes too. Mexican immigrants come here and work, or take advantage of social welfare programs, but they still cheer for Mexico rather than the US in the World Cup. Somali immigrants are coming to Minnesota and instead of assimilating, are looking to implement sharia law. Civil disorder and balkanization is in the cards for a nation that no longer has a melting pot.

To the left, I would ask: What do you do when the millions of people you are inviting in to share the largess of America become intolerant to gays, women, or other races? To Republicans, I ask how you expect millions of people from countries that have no tradition of representative democracy, civic participation, and rule of law to keep from voting in the sorts of tyrants who will undo these virtues? To the open-borders folks, I ask how you expect to maintain a civilized nation that guarantees individual liberty when you grant voting privileges to millions of people who do not believe in individual liberty?

America itself is not exceptional. American people have been exceptional throughout history. We inherited a belief in individual liberty and a mistrust of a powerful centralized authority that goes back almost a thousand years to the signing of Magna Carta. If we are to maintain a nation that protects freedom and liberty, than we must have a people who believe in those things. As we can see lately in Iraq and Egypt, there are no guarantees.

Plus ça change…

Oh, what is that? this blog has been quiet for a while? My life has been changing. In the last year, I spent a summer traveling the continent, settled on the other side of the state, went back to school, moved into a new place, found a woman worth marrying, and finally gave in to the inevitable and shaved my head.

Much has not changed in our world. Riots and revolutions keep happening. The national debt keeps increasing. Politicians speak platitudes, feminists ignore reality, and Al Gore declares that the sky is falling every other day. Some things, however, seem to be changing, albeit slowly. People are starting to notice that the real world does not resemble the fantasy created in the imagination of college professors and beltway journalists. The talk coming from Steve Sailer, Chateau Heartiste, Vox Day and others is getting harder for people to ignore. Is this the time where America wakes up to the reality that the good times of the last generation are coming to an end? Or are we going to go back to our reality TV and take for granted the media’s line that increased government spending and opening the borders to unrestricted immigration is the key to prosperity, while decrying the hesitancy of traditional Christians to fully endorse homosexuality and transgenderism as the biggest problem of our era. Interesting times, indeed.

Lechers and Gossips

The lecherous man is such a staple of literature and television that it has a very well-documented page at TVTropes. Everyone knows about the dirty old men who prey upon the innocent young women, sociopathically using defenseless young ladies in order to satisfy their carnal desires. I was not surprised to see this trope in action when I saw the new movie adaption of the musical Les Misérables. Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway in the new movie, is a single mother working at a factory to pay for herself and her daughter, who is in the care of an innkeeper in another town. The lecherous foreman makes advances, which she spurns:

Have you seen how the foreman is fuming today?
With his terrible breath and his wandering hands?
It’s because little Fantine won’t give him his way
Take a look at his trousers, you’ll see where he stands!

And the boss, he never knows
That the foreman is always in heat
If Fantine doesn’t look out
Watch how she goes
She’ll be out on the street!

He has no sympathy when he discovers that Fantine has an illegitimate child:

Ah yes, the virtuous Fantine
Who keeps herself so pure and clean
You’d be the cause I had no doubt
Of any trouble hereabout
You play a virgin in the light
But need no urgin’ in the night.

We all know that this sort of man is a villain. Though some stories play up the humor aspect of the dirty old man, nobody seriously believes that this trait is anything but sinful. There are many, in fact, who seem to think that this is the default state of all men.

After seeing the movie, I decided to read the book. I was surprised, then, to find that the circumstances of Fantine’s sacking were different in Victor Hugo’s original novel. Instead of a lecherous foreman, she was fired through the actions of a gossipy old woman. I would say that in our culture, gossips are held to be rather harmless, minor annoyances at worse. Certainly they are not considered to be villains on the level of a lecherous man. Victor Hugo would disagree, however. Here is what he had to say about the gossip:

For prying into any human affairs, none are equal to those whom it does not concern. ‘Why does this gentleman never come till dusk?’ ‘Why does Mr So-and-so never hang his key on the nail on Thursday?’ ‘Why does he always take the by-streets?’ ‘Why does madame always leave her carriage before getting to the house?’ ‘Why does she send to buy aa quire of writing-paper when she has her portfolio full of it?’ etc. etc. There are persons who, to solve these enigmas, which are moreover perfectly immaterial to them, spend more money, waste more time, and give themselves more trouble than would suffice for ten good deeds; and that gratuitously, and for the pleasure of it, without being paid for their curiosity in any other way than by curiosity. They will follow this man or that woman whole days, stand guard for hours at the corners of the street, under the entrance of a passage-way, at night, in the cold and in the rain, bribe messengers, get hack-drivers and lackeys drunk, fee a chambermaid, or buy a porter. For what? for nothing. Pure craving to see, to know, and to find out. Pure itching for scandal. And often these secrets made known, these mysteries published, these enigmas brought into the light of day, lead to catastrophes, to duels, to failures, to the ruin of families, and make lives wretched, to the great joy of those who have ‘discovered all’ without any interest, and from pure instinct. A sad thing. (Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo. Wordsworth Classics Edition. Page 120.)

Just as a lecher will use another person for his carnal satisfaction, a gossip will use others for her emotional satisfaction. The end result is the same: people hurt and lives destroyed. Lust and lechery are clearly condemned in the Bible, and are nearly universally condemned in modern Christian society. Let us do the same for gossip and slander.

These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.
(Proverbs 6:16-19, NKJV)

The End is Nigh

While pundits trumpet the imminent recovery, the truth is that the economy is poised for a crash that will make 2008 look like boom times.

All is not well. Any awake and aware citizen knows the economic, financial, societal and social fabric of this country is in tatters, and is getting progressively worse by the day. Since this supposed economic recovery began in mid-2009, the country has added 4 million jobs, more than 100% of which went to workers over the age of 55, forced into the workforce by Bernanke’s zero interest rate policy. Over this same time frame of economic recovery, 16 million Americans went on food stamps. How could this possibly happen if the economy has been recovering? Either the government and mainstream media are lying about the economic recovery or the Obama administration has been fraudulently encouraging people to go on food stamps to win votes in elections. Which of these truths is more palatable to your sensibilities?

Read the whole thing, and prepare for the cliff. Hat tip to Captain Capitalism, who reminds us to enjoy the decline.

Spinster Nation

Sunshine Mary discovers an unpleasant feminist who thinks we should celebrate singleness rather than marriage:

You know what I like about this BuzzFeed story (h/t The Bitter Babe) about a woman who has started using Facebook to congratulate her friends on being single?  First, I like that it is so obvious that the bad-tempered spinsters are aware of the fact that they have made themselves a really miserable bed to lie in.  Second, I like how very easy it is to see the parallels between their behavior and my four-year-old’s when she doesn’t get that cookie she wanted.  She just pretends like not only did she not want that cookie to begin with, but there is probably something wrong with those cookies anyway and they’re probably gross and I’m probably just trying to trick her into eating something disgusting that she doesn’t want anyway, so there!

As one of the commenters points out, singleness is our natural state, so congratulating someone for being single is like congratulating someone for breathing. I know that St. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and for single people it can be tough seeing the entire world celebrate relationships. But sour grapes are unbecoming. The same effect is seen with obese people. Thin, athletic people are celebrated, and fat people can find that tough. Getting in shape can be difficult, so difficult, in fact, that some people want to end the shame and simply celebrate obesity as a lifestyle choice, as valid as any other. So we end up with bitter fat people who try to tell themselves that it is ok, when they know deep inside that it is not. So it is with singleness.

In completely unrelated news, Hasbro has decided to update Monopoly by removing the iron token and replacing it with a cat. I am not making this up:

In what some might call a ruthless abandonment of the old and others a democratic approach to the new, Monopoly magnates have spoken. The board game’s month-long “Save Your Token” contest ended at midnight, and fans’ least favorite token was officially replaced with a newer model.

From now on, a cat will round the board in iron’s place.

What better symbol of our new national consciousness? Gone is the iron, the stereotypical emblem of marriage as seen in the 1950s housewife. In is the cat, the best friend of single women everywhere.

Government-Sponsored Cuckoldry

Vox Day reports on a French law banning paternity testing:

As one woman mentioned on Twitter, the French argument completely misses the point.  If the child doesn’t belong to the father, there is no family in the first place!  Notice the pattern: evil is always opposed to the truth and inevitably seeks to hide its actions from everyone.

I would like to see a defender of this law, or a proponent of a similar law in the United States, seriously explain their position. The argument I usually see from feminists is that it is the right of every woman to choose who will raise her children. Yet fraud is usually prohibited, for a reason. Building a family upon a lie is a recipe for disaster, and forcing a man to work to support a child who is not his is just plain evil. But go ahead, try to convince me.

The Ikea Effect

This has been bouncing around the internet today. Apparently, people are more psychologically attracted to things they build themselves:

Have you ever spent a couple of hours working on a craft project — or a presentation for work — and then fallen in love with what you’ve accomplished? Do the colors you’ve picked for your PowerPoint background pop so beautifully that you just have to sit back and admire your own genius?

If so, get in line: You’re the latest person to fall victim to the Ikea Effect.

I have maintained for a while that my food is objectively better tasting the more I make it myself. When I pick the blackberries from a park and make the crust by hand, the experience of the pie is many times better than if I just went to the store and bought it. When I make something with my own hands, I am more intimately involved in the process of creation, obviously. I am more invested in the object than if it is mass-produced in a factory somewhere and arrives in my hands fully constructed.

On the other hand, buying something from Ikea does not necessarily fit that description for me. Sure, their products require assembly at home, but on the other hand, they are still mass-produced somewhere.

Vibrant Multiculturalism

Rachel Lucas brings some attention to an expression of culture that is not getting much airplay:

A Saudi preacher who tortured his five-year-old daughter to death has been released after agreeing to pay ‘blood money’, activists said.

Lama al-Ghamdi died in October having suffered multiple injuries including a crushed skull, broken ribs and left arm, extensive bruising and burns.

The child had also been repeatedly raped and the burned.

Leftists and feminists ally with radical Muslims in their desire to overturn traditional western Christian culture, which is supposedly oppressive and repressive. Yet there is no corner of western society where something like this would be condoned.

Californidammerung

My favorite writer Victor Davis Hanson does not retain very much hope for his home state:

California has changed not due to race but due to culture, most prominently because the recent generation of immigrants from Latin America did not — as in the past, for the most part — come legally in manageable numbers and integrate under the host’s assimilationist paradigm. Instead, in the last three decades huge arrivals of illegal aliens from Mexico and Latin America saw Democrats as the party of multiculturalism, separatism, entitlements, open borders, non-enforcement of immigration laws, and eventually plentiful state employment.

Given the numbers, the multicultural paradigm of the salad bowl that focused on “diversity” rather than unity, and the massive new government assistance, how could the old American tonic of assimilation, intermarriage, and integration keep up with the new influxes? It could not.

The worrying part is that where California goes, so goes America.