The American Old West: How Hollywood Made It “Wild” to Make Money & Advance Gun Control

 

Hollywood has a clever way of distorting our perspective on history, and a great example of this is Western film – a movie genre we’ve all come to love. Cattle rustlers, guns blazing, outlaws running loose, and vigilantes dishing out vengeance indiscriminately. These scenes have become more synonymous with the American Frontier than Winchester and their “Cartridge That Won the West.” But these fictional tales have produced more than entertainment for over a century; they’ve also contributed to an ongoing, subtle push for gun control, all while making Hollywood millions.

Revisionist history books tell us that the “Wild West” was an anarchic period of time that was not conducive to human prosperity. Images of a Hobbesian nightmare – a life that is brutish and short – are ingrained in our consciousness thanks to decades of public schooling and violent images on the silver screen which are light on actual history and heavy on creative license.

However, individuals who believe in liberty and developing their critical thinking faculties should be skeptical of most mainstream narratives regarding history, especially American history. After all, these narratives by and large have been created by Hollywood, a legacy institution that has historically advanced politically correct content with the support of Washington in order to perpetuate the cultural status quo.

When the curtain of political correctness that’s been draped over this particular period of history is pulled back, we see a much more nuanced picture of the American Frontier. In fact, research by historians such as Peter J. HillRichard ShenkmanRoger D. McGrathTerry Anderson, and W. Eugene Holland shows that this period was rather indicative of a “not so wild, Wild West.”

For the purposes of this article, the Wild West will now be referred to as the Old West. This is by no means a pedantic distinction, but rather an acknowledgment of the fact that this time period was not “wild” by any stretch of the imagination when compared to other chaotic periods in human history. Indeed, the Old West had its fair share of challenges for American settlers. But as we’ll see below, crafty settlers found ways through ingenuity and mutual cooperation – all done with very limited state interference – to create a stable order for generations to come.

So let us delve into the “not so wild, Wild West.”

Continue reading The American Old West: How Hollywood Made It “Wild” to Make Money & Advance Gun Control at Ammo.com.

Open This Content

The Government Should Start Planning to Spend Less, Not More, on “Infrastructure”

At the end of April, President Trump met with Democratic congressional leaders at the White House. Instead of the backbiting that usually precedes and follows such meetings, what emerged was  tentative agreement on cooperation toward “a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to upgrade the nation’s highways, railroads, bridges and broadband.”

Responses on the Republican side range from tepid (acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney objects on both fiscal and political grounds, not seeing a “win” for Trump before the end of a second term) to enthusiastic (US Representative Chris Collins, R-NY, calls for doubling federal gas taxes and airline passenger fees to cover the cost).

But there’s a huge blind spot in this infrastructure vision that comes before, and heavily impacts, calculating the costs. The plan is a 20th century solution to problems that the 21st century market is already solving.

It’s true, as Collins points out, that the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in more than 25 years — and that, contrary to popular perception, its revenues come nowhere close to covering highway construction and maintenance costs.

But it’s also true that gasoline is on its way out. Timeline estimates vary, but it’s reasonable to predict that by 2030 the vast majority of vehicles on American roads will be electric. Gasoline will become a minor player, then a novelty, then a rarity, all while politicians are counting on it to pay for their big plans.

The good news is that their plans don’t need to be nearly as big, because in the future we’re going to see a lot less traffic.

More people are working from home (the number more than doubled between 2005 and 2015; it’s going to keep growing).

More people are ordering more of what they buy online.  That’s fewer people on the road for shopping — one van delivering stuff to ten households instead of ten cars heading for the supermarket or mall. That trend isn’t going to suddenly reverse itself.

More people are  seeking entertainment at home instead of out. Movie ticket sales peaked in 2002; they’re now back to 1995 levels.

Ridesharing means fewer cars filling downtown garages. As it combines with self-driving cars,  many urban and suburban households will decide they don’t need car and insurance payments. They’ll summon rideshares or rent cars when really necessary.  They’ll walk, bike, or take mass transit when their destinations are conveniently nearby.

On the cargo side, major players are already working on self-driving, electric “18-wheelers.” Fewer will be needed since they can run 24/7 (human drivers work limited hours). Fewer trucks overall and more even time distribution means less congestion.

Aerial drones are taking their first steps into home delivery right now. Amazon may never achieve its dream of blimp warehouses with line of sight drone delivery to every home for 100 miles around, but we’ll certainly see SOME reductions in road traffic.

It’s time to start thinking about fewer roads and bridges, not more.  And about having government hand those roads and bridges over to the same market that’s making them less necessary.

Open This Content

Cooperation is Libertarian

One thing I find very interesting, and a little frustrating, is how often people will try to put words in my mouth.

I guess it’s a facet of the straw man tactic.

Recently someone kept trying to say that I was against cooperation; that cooperation is against libertarian principles, so I have to be against it. Even after I explicitly said several times that I think cooperation is a great thing, and I’m completely in favor of it.

Libertarianism rejects cooperation? I’ve never made such a silly claim, nor have I ever seen anyone who understands liberty make a claim like that. It’s completely absurd.

But, because I’m opposed to stealing money to fund government or government “borders”, I must be against cooperation.

And if I am in favor of cooperation, then I must obviously see the “value” of theft and coercion in the name of government.

Yeah, I don’t get that connection either.

Government is the opposite of cooperation. If people willingly cooperate (and there’s really no such thing as non-willing cooperation) there is no need to rob them or to coerce them to do what you believe should be done. That’s not cooperation, that’s slavery.

Open This Content

The Power of Starting with Kindness

Here are two fundamentally different approaches to seeking someone else’s cooperation:

Option #1: “I would like to achieve X. Can you help me?”

Option #2: “Here’s a list of all the bad things I will do to you if you don’t help me achieve X.”

Option #1 will almost always give you the advantage if you’re trying to motivate people to cooperate with you and it’s usually less stressful for everyone involved. When people don’t feel antagonized or attacked, they’re usually more creative and clear-headed in their ability to help you get what you want.

Option #2 will almost always cost you more time, energy, trust, and social capital. Even if you get what you want, you’ll likely end up with a headache and an enemy at the end of the process. It’s a very difficult strategy to sustain. The more you do it, the less you can get away with doing it.

Some people prefer to lead with option #1. When they need things, they begin with a polite request and they go from there.

Some people prefer to lead with option #2. Rather than risk having their request rejected, they begin with threats in an effort to let the other party know they mean business.

Option #2 is actually a powerful and legitimate technique, but it’s a terrible place to start.

When you start with being mean, it’s very hard to go back to kindness.

If you want to be effective, being kind is usually the best place to begin. If you eventually need to get mean, you’ll still have the opportunity to get mean.

There’s no expiration date on your ability to be mean. Kindness, on the other hand, is time-sensitive.

And that’s one of the greatest advantages of starting with kindness. It’s the only option that doesn’t eliminate your other options.

Open This Content

Ethics 101: Reciprocity

People have been arguing about how to deal with ideas of right and wrong for a very long time. Even now, reasonable people sometimes disagree about where exactly to draw the ethical line on some complex issues. After all, the world is a complicated place.

That being said, one idea has emerged over and over again in the quest to understand right and wrong from essentially every cultural, religious, and philosophical tradition: the ethic of reciprocity.

You may know it as the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.” This basic mutual respect is the cornerstone of civilized behavior and the basis for cooperation and justice. It is natural law in practice.

When people who disagree choose argumentation over aggression, they are demonstrating a preference for mutual respect. Therefore, arguing against mutual respect is a performative contradiction. There is no civilized argument against the ethic of reciprocity.

Uncivilized people use aggression to get what they want. If you find yourself at odds with someone who refuses to abide by the golden rule, you cannot resort to argumentation to resolve the situation. It is in this circumstance that threat management becomes necessary and defensive force becomes justifiable.

Open This Content

Anarchism and Kavanaugh

Regarding Brett Kavanaugh, I’ve been wondering how I can blame the state for what we’ve endured these past weeks. I can safely say that without the state, we would have been spared the Kavanaugh episode.

Natural-law, pro-market anarchists are not utopians. To paraphrase the old hit: we beg your pardon; we never promised you a rose garden. Anarchism refers to a set of means — persuasion, consent, and voluntary cooperation — and not an end. It permits the emergence of solutions through a range of cooperative activities as opposed to the state’s imposition of one-size-fits-all alleged solutions from on high — from, say, Capitol Hill, our Mount Olympus.

But some things are less likely to occur in a stateless society than in a state-saturated one. And the Kavanaugh problem is one of those things.

Let’s start with the basics. Kavanaugh has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices have lifetime jobs. While an impeachment process exists, it is close to impossible to remove a high official. Second, the Court’s rulings are the “supreme law of the land.” It takes just five of nine justices to set binding precedents, which lower federal and state courts obviously must apply. Third, parties who elect to take cases to the Court are stuck with whoever happens to be on the Court at the time. If a party has doubts about the character of one or more of the justices, tough luck. (This doesn’t mean the government’s courts are unavoidable for some people, as the popularity of private arbitration demonstrates.)

In light of these facts, I can’t think how a situation like the one created by Kavanaugh’s nomination could arise in a stateless society. No supreme court would exist because no monopoly legal system would exist. (See my “Of Bumblebees and Competitive Courts.”) Judges would not have guaranteed lifetime jobs. Nor would their rulings serve as binding (as opposed to persuasive) precedents. (On the emergence and downside of stare decisis, the doctrine of binding precedent, in the common law, see Todd Zywicki’s “The Rise and Fall of Efficiency in the Common Law: A Supply-Side Analysis.”)  Parties to disputes would, through mutually agreed-to procedures, choose anyone they wanted to hear their cases. This could happen ad hoc in one-off disputes, but the more common practice would likely be prospective arrangements among associations of various kinds, insurance, defense, and so on.

As I say, it’s hard to imagine how the Kavanaugh situation could arise under anarchism. Parties looking for members of an arbitration panel usually could strike from consideration anyone about whom they had any doubts whatever. Other parties who had no concern about someone under a cloud like Kavanaugh’s could choose that person, subject to the conditions agreed to with fellow disputants. But, crucially, the choice to include or exclude such a person would have implications for only the parties to the specific dispute.

Obviously, prospective arbiters’ reputations, especially for fairness and honesty but not only those traits, would matter immensely. In effect, prospective arbiters would face a confirmation review — by disputants or their representatives — every day. A Supreme Court nominee does so just once. If the Senate errs, too bad. As mentioned, under the Constitution, justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” But in 229 years, Congress has never removed a justice. Only one, Samuel Chase in 1804, was impeached by the House, but he was acquitted by the Senate. in the 20th century, William O. Douglas and Abe Fortas escaped House impeachment votes, though hearings were either held (twice in Douglas’s case) or almost held (Fortas). Under anarchism, no impeachment process would be necessary because no one would be appointed to any judicial role except by parties to their own particular cases or by the associations or communities with which they chose to affiliate.

So a big advantage to anarchism is that it would blessedly spare us from the sort of repulsive spectacle we’ve lived through these last weeks — repulsive in an assortment of ways. I’m thinking now of that band of self-righteous frauds called senators and that amoral boor with the “really, really large brain” who imagine themselves to be guardians of the people’s welfare when in truth they are impediments to it. Imagine a society in which, for most of us, nothing much hinged on whether Brett Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth.

Anarchism’s looking pretty good now, isn’t it? I know that some people are frightened by that word, but they ought not to be. Rather, they ought to think of anarchism as Roderick Long presents it in his critical look at the recent exchange over anarchism that took place at Reason. Long tells us that anarchism amounts to little more than an expansion to all areas of life of the manner in which we typically deal with one another today, thereby shrinking the sphere of coercive relationships until it disappears. He draws on earlier thinkers to make the point:

Recall Gustav Landauer’s famous formulation: “The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another.” And another anarchist, Paul Goodman, has noted: “A free society cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.”

So, just imagine a world where you could ignore, among many others I could name, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Dianne Feinstein, and Donald Trump. To quote Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world it would be.”

(For discussions of law under anarchism, see Roderick Long’s essays “Why Objective Law Requires Anarchy,” “Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections,” and “Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism”; John Hasnas’s “The Myth of the Rule of Law,” “The Depoliticization of Law,” “Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights,” and “The Obviousness of Anarchism”; and David D. Friedman’s “A Positive Account of Rights.” Also see the chapter “The Constitution of Anarchy” in my America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited. and Gary Chartier’s Anarchy and Legal Order.)

Open This Content