Statists Defend Their God

The storm threatening New Orleans led to a discussion of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina wherein I pointed out how much worse government (and foolish reliance on government) made the disaster.

A statist in the conversation tried to paint government employees as good-intentioned but crippled by the bad behavior of the storm’s victims.

  • If the people had evacuated when told to, government gangs wouldn’t have been “forced” to go around kicking in their doors, beating them up, stealing their guns, and kidnapping them to be imprisoned in the Superdome.
  • This was a noble thing to do, and the only reason the Superdome turned into a nightmare is that there weren’t enough cops there to control the inmates who were forced inside and trapped. Disarming the good guys so as to leave them vulnerable to the bad guys was the right thing to do, under the circumstances, to keep things from getting “worse”.
  • It was OK to forcibly prevent people (who probably had bad intentions) from crossing that bridge to leave because maybe no one on the other side of the bridge wanted them or could “handle” the numbers of them. Obviously, the people on the bridge were the bad guys. (This is the borderist argument, too.)

No matter what I brought up, the government goons were excused because it was the fault of someone else. If the state and local government (governor, mayor, police) did something bad, it was the fault of the disobedient population (and maybe the feds). If the feds did something bad it was the fault of the disobedient population (and maybe the state and local government). I tested my hypothesis on how the justifications would go from different angles. It was always the same. Government good; people bad.

Because government is staffed by Angels, doncha know. They are better than us disobedient people.

I didn’t even get into how the charitable shipments of drinking water and other necessities were turned away by government heroes and other abominable acts of that nature.

Statists will defend their god ’til the bitter end. It can’t ever be wrong, and if it looks like it is wrong, it’s because of someone else.

This person I was talking with is deeply infected with the superstition of “authority” anyway. I was discovering just how deep it goes. And it’s scary.

These are the people who don’t believe you have a right to defend yourself from anyone with a badge or a government position, no matter what is being done to you.

These are the people who say “If you don’t want a police officer to shoot you, obey immediately. You can take him to court later if you think he’s wrong“.

These are the people who will report you to the cops for doing something they don’t like.

These people are a huge part of the problem in society.

They are “why we can’t have nice things“– at least until we cut them out of the equation and see them for the silly superstitious people they are.

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How to Deschool Yourself for Success and Satisfaction

Most of us spent at least 15,000 hours of our childhood and adolescence being schooled before we turned 18. Now in adulthood, we may need to unlearn some of what we were taught and embrace self-education for career success and personal fulfillment.

Much of what we learned in school was dictated by others, disconnected from our own passions and proclivities. We were taught what to learn, and we learned to be taught. With self-education, we take back control of our own learning, exploring topics and skills that matter to us, free from coercion. In many ways, pursuing self-education is the difference between learning in a library and in a school. A library offers abundant resources to support our learning, including tangible and digital tools, optional classes, and helpful facilitators, but it is free from compulsion. Unlike K-12 schooling, we are not required to learn there under a legal threat of force. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, winner of the 2015 National Book Award:

I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. (p. 48)

Granted the freedom to learn, our true talents and ambitions can begin to emerge. But first, we need to deschool ourselves and shed some of the common myths we may have internalized about learning that could get in the way of our self-education and related success:

Myth #1: Color Inside the Lines

One of the first things most of us learned as a tot when we stepped into a classroom is to color inside the lines. Follow instructions, be neat, do what everyone else does. Now as we embrace self-education and discover our full human potential, we need to do the opposite. If everyone is coloring in the lines, we should be coloring outside of them. We should be looking at opportunities for creativity, not conformity. What do we see that no one else does? Where is the market possibility there? Coloring outside the lines may be messy, but it can lead to original ideas and novel inventions that make our lives and those around us better off.

Myth #2: Ask for Permission

In school, we quickly learn to ask for permission. Obedience is heartily rewarded, and non-compliance is swiftly punished. If we want to succeed at playing the game of school, we learn to be led. Now, as a self-directed learner with personal and professional goals, we need to be bold! If we wait around for permission to pursue those goals, we won’t get anywhere. Be intrepid.

Myth #3: Be Quiet and Stay Still

This schooled expectation is getting even worse than it was when many of us were kids. We were all taught to be quiet and stay still (especially when forming those straight lines in the hallway), but today young children are increasingly being diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD when they don’t keep still and remain attentive. Aside from the tragedy of medicalizing what, in many cases, is just normal childhood behavior, we become conditioned to stay passive.

But to achieve our audacious goals in adulthood, what we need more than anything is exuberance. We need to be constantly moving, constantly questioning, constantly exploring new pathways. Energy and agility are critical characteristics for achieving success in a fast-moving, always-changing world.

Myth #4: Don’t Read Ahead

Remember this one? We were often given reading assignments of certain pages or paragraphs with the warning to not read ahead. Now, of course, we need to be curious instead of compliant and seize all opportunities to read ahead! Digging deeply into topics that matter to us or reading a wide variety of different materials to broaden our worldview can help us to uncover our enthusiasms and crystallize our goals.

Myth #5. Winners Never Quit

One of the more pervasive myths we hang onto from childhood is the belief that we shouldn’t quit. Yet, some of the most successful people are those who stopped wasting their time and energy in jobs or activities that were not meaningful to them. As Rich Karlgaard, the longtime publisher of Forbes, writes in his new book Late Bloomers:

“How can the curious and creative, the searchers and explorers, jump off the dominant culture’s conveyor belt and begin shaping our own fates?” We do it by quitting. Quit the path we’re on. Quit the lousy job. Quit the class we hate. Quit the friends and associates who hurt us more than help. Quit the life we regret. (p. 148)

Myth #6. Failure Is Unacceptable

Failure can be as valuable as quitting. Contrary to what we were schooled to believe, failure is an important part of risk-taking and experimentation. If we spend our adulthood seeking only gold stars and Good Job! stickers, we may find only hollow rewards.

The first step in taking charge of your learning and livelihood is to shed these schooled myths and become adept at self-education. Trade conformity for creativity, obedience for curiosity, and compliance for exuberance. Don’t be afraid to quit or to fail. Setting your own path requires a great deal of coloring outside the lines. Don’t wait for the teacher or the buzzer to tell you when it’s time to go.

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Illegitimate Laws Poison Society

One way you can tell laws are not legitimate, ethically or morally, is in the way they vary from place to place.

Those of us who live near an arbitrary political line — a state line or a national border — have the opportunity to notice this more easily than others might.

Something that is legal on one side of the line becomes illegal once you cross it. Without otherwise changing your behavior in the slightest you can go from law-abiding to criminal, by law, simply by pacing back and forth across this imaginary line.

Laws against actual wrongs like murder are less variable. You can’t take someone on a road trip to find a place where killing them for a reason other than self-defense is legal. These types of laws are legitimate … and unnecessary. A law forbidding murder doesn’t need to exist before you to have the natural human right to fight back and stop someone from committing murder.

A good illustration of the arbitrary nature of laws are the various laws concerning guns.

There is no such thing as an illegal gun or a legitimate anti-gun law according to the clear language of the U. S. Constitution. You’d never know this by looking at the thousands of laws that have been passed and are being enforced by the national, state, and local political class. These illegitimate gun laws create an arbitrary patchwork for travelers to navigate in a fruitless attempt to try to stay legal as they travel.

Laws concerning the substances commonly called “drugs” are the same way. Depending on which side of a line you find yourself, you might be law-abiding or you might be a criminal.

Even kids’ lemonade stands are subjected to laws. They remain legal, without permits, in only 15 states. This is so ridiculous that one thoughtful lemonade mix company has set up a program to help kids pay fines and license fees.

Yet some people still seem to believe if something is illegal it’s automatically wrong. This has never been true.

While most laws are illegitimate, you can’t safely ignore them. Every law, no matter how seemingly trivial, is a threat to kill you if you are caught ignoring it. This threat isn’t usually carried out immediately; those enforcing the law must normally escalate their enforcement attempts a few times before that happens. Yet it does happen.

Do you see the problem? Illegitimate laws poison society. They get in the way of telling right from wrong.

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Edward Snowden: The Untold Story of How One Patriotic American Exposed NSA Surveillance

I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building… the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default… they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.

-Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden might not yet be a historical figure, but he certainly is a hero. He is the whistleblower of all whistleblowers, the American who blew the lid off of Washington’s spying on private citizens. But Snowden’s leak revealed that it’s not just the U.S. government that is spying on virtually every American – big American telecommunications companies are also helping them to spy as well.

Snowden’s upbringing is largely uneventful. His maternal grandfather was a Coast Guard rear admiral and his father was also an officer in the Coast Guard. His mother was a U.S. District Court clerk. His parents divorced around the time that he would have graduated high school in 2001, but Snowden is a high school dropout. After a nine-month absence due to mononucleosis, he simply took the GED exam and then began taking community college classes. Despite a lack of a bachelor’s degree, he worked at a master’s online from the University of Liverpool.

Snowden had a keen interest in Japanese popular culture, and even worked for an anime company early on in his career.

Continue reading Edward Snowden: The Untold Story of How One Patriotic American Exposed NSA Surveillance at Ammo.com.

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It’s More Than Just Willpower

It breaks my heart every time I pass someone sleeping in the street. I go through a mental process, wondering what circumstances, preferences, and choices get a person to a spot where sleeping on the sidewalk is better than the next best alternative.

I do not want to deny free will. It’s possible there’s a homeless person somewhere who thinks my life is miserable and theirs is better. It seems more likely nobody really wants to sleep on the sidewalk, but somehow they get to a place where that seems better or easier than whatever would be needed to sleep indoors.

I think about my own life. There are a lot of things I experience that I don’t really want to experience, but I lack the creativity, willpower, or knowledge needed to make choices that would help me avoid those experiences. I’m always living sub-optimally in some way. It’s always a combination of circumstances and choices. I’m always choosing at least a little less than what I know would be best, and sometimes a lot.

I’ve had mostly good incentive structures around me. In part from circumstances I was born into, in part from those I’ve created. To the extent that the incentive structures are good, my behavior and outcomes are good. When those structures are neutral or bad, my choices typically follow.

I think willpower can be built over time, such that a person who’s learned to make good, tough choices gets better at it. But in the beginning, and at the individual point of choosing, I don’t think any two humans are that different. We seek our self interest as defined by our subjective preferences given our current information, resources, and understanding. Those variables of preference, information, resources, and understanding are the elements of the incentive structure.

I try to find, cultivate, and stay in good incentive structures because I know that without them, my choices are capable of leading me somewhere I don’t want to go.

So much for me. What about the people still sleeping on the street? I don’t know. That’s probably why my attention turns to my own life pretty quickly. It’s something I can work with and control at least to some extent. I don’t know what to do for them. That’s part of the heartbreak.

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Pork is Not the Problem

It’s that time of year: Citizens Against Government Waste just released its annual “Pig Book,” a compendium and analysis of pork barrel spending, aka earmarks, by the US Congress in 2019.

Summary: Congressional appropriations for 2019 include 282 earmarks, up from 232 last year. The cost comes to $15.3 billion, up from $14.7 billion.

That sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But not nearly as much as one might think, in the scheme of things.

The federal government plans to spend more than $4.5 trillion in 2019. Those earmarks constitute a whopping one third of one percent of that total.

Critics of earmarks point out, correctly, that they’re used by members of Congress to direct federal spending to their own districts, not always with much “public good” justification (cue complaints about $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum, $7.5 million for golf education, etc.)

True, all of it — but it’s baked into any political process. Whether formal earmarks exist or not, politicians will support bills that spend money in their districts, oppose bills that don’t, shill for their favored projects, and make deals to bring home the bacon.

And, it should be mentioned, earmarks do not directly increase total spending. They simply require that if Congress appropriates $10 billion for Purpose X, $1 million of that $10 billion be spent on Project Y.

The problem in that hypothetical isn’t the $1 million earmark, it’s the $10 billion appropriation.

The problem with the real numbers isn’t $15 billion in earmarks, it’s $4.5 trillion in federal spending.

If Congress has $9 million to spend on a fruit fly quarantine program and $3 million to blow on bad loans to ship buyers (among 2019 earmarks), Congress has too much money to spend on, respectively, Agriculture and THUD (Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development).

Congress DOES have too much money — money it takes from all of us via various tax schemes, and money it borrows in our names on the promise to bond-holders that it will beat us out of it, with interest, later.

Earmarks could be part of the answer to that problem.

If Congress specified in greater detail where and how EVERY dollar of EVERY appropriation must be spent, instead of just handing the dough over the executive branch under broad categories, we’d have a much better idea of where it was going — and be better prepared to protest, and bring pressure to bear against, wasteful spending.

It would also clarify “separation of powers” violations, such as President Donald Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional “emergency” misappropriation of  Treasury and Defense Department funds for his pet “border wall” project, making it easier to rein in presidential misbehavior.

Silly earmarks are fun to point out, but concern over them comes at the expense of addressing the bigger problem: The spending is too damn high.

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