Trade Peer Pressure for Past Pressure

“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. . . Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Peer pressure is shockingly sneaky. Despite all the warnings against it, I’ve ended up falling into many of the lifestyle choices (high-consumption, etc) of people around me – even while being able to break the mold of peer pressure in other ways (skipping college, etc).

I want to try to live my own life, as fully as possible without the (unconscious) rule of following the masses. Maybe that’s possible for me. Maybe I’ll fail. But I have discovered at least one way of thinking about peer pressure that’s helping me on my way:

Even if it is impossible to break free of the sway of others, why settle for such a poor pack of peers?

There’s no particular reason I have to let the pressure of my 21st century late millennial, city-dwelling, and social-media driven peers be my only guiding light and influence.

I’m looking a little further back – and biographies have been helping to change my perspective on who my peers can be.

With the great “cloud of witnesses” of those long-dead I can pick and choose a much better cross-section of peers to pressure me.

I can look to people like Cato to learn how to resist corruption and face death bravely.

I can look to people like Frederick Douglass, who stood up to claim his manhood and freedom from slavery.

I can look to Richard Winters (of the 101st Airborne, Band of Brothers fame) to learn how to lead people well.

I can look to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and other Americans of the Enlightenment era for inspiration on becoming a learned and accomplished man.

I can look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Sophie Scholl or Pino Lella to learn how to act from faith and justice against a system of darkness.

Spend enough time around the good and dead people of the past and you will grow in their direction – just like you might grow in the direction of your millennial peers. Our brains don’t seem to mind treating the dead recorded as if they were living. Several hours listening to an audiobook about Benjamin Franklin might have much the same effect of spending time with the man himself, and being influenced by him.

Listen to the words of wise, good men and women. Read their biographies. Imitate them – play-acting if you must. This past pressure is a far better and far more productive kind of peer pressure.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC

Washington’s political establishment went berserk when US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) publicly noted that US-Israel relations are “all about the Benjamins”  — slang for $100 bills, referring to money shoveled at American politicians by the American Israel Public Affairs Group (AIPAC).

Omar was accused of antisemitism — immediately by Republicans, shortly after by members of her own party — and bullied into apologizing. She may or may not be prejudiced against Jews,  but even if she is, that wasn’t her real offense.

Her real offense was  publicly mentioning the irrefutable fact that many members of Congress take their marching orders from a foreign power’s lobbying apparatus (an apparatus not, as required by law, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act), at least partly because those marching orders come with promises of significant donations to those politicians’ campaigns.

AIPAC itself doesn’t make direct donations to political campaigns. But AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbying groups like Christians United For Israel punch well above their weight in American politics, largely by motivating their supporters to financially support and work for “pro-Israel” candidates in general elections and help weed out “anti-Israel” candidates in party primaries.

By the way, “pro-Israel” in this context always means “supportive of the jingoism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party,” and never “supportive of the many Israelis who’d like peace with the Palestinian Arabs.”

One AIPAC supporter  alone, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, spent $65 million getting Republicans elected, including $25 million supporting Donald Trump, in 2016.  But that $25 million was only put into action after Trump retreated from his early position of “neutrality” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, publicly prostrated himself to AIPAC in a speech at one of its events, and pronounced himself “the most pro-Israel presidential candidate in history.”

But: We’re not supposed to talk about that. Ever. And it’s easy to see why.

If most Americans noticed that many  members of Congress (as well as most presidents) are selling their influence over US policy to a foreign power, we might do something about it.

For decades, howling “antisemitism” any time the matter came up proved an effective tactic for shutting down public discussion of the “special relationship” under which Israel receives lavish foreign aid subsidies, effective control of US foreign policy in the Middle East, and lately even state (and pending federal) legislation requiring government contractors to sign loyalty oaths to Israel’s government.

The Israeli lobby’s power to prevent that discussion seems to be slipping, however. Why? In part because the lobby’s money and political support, which used to be spent buying both sides of the partisan aisle, has begun tilting heavily Republican in recent years, freeing some Democrats to not “stay bought.” And in part because the newest generation of politicians includes some like Ilhan Omar who aren’t for sale (to Israel, anyway).

Decades of unquestioning obedience to the Israel lobby has drawn the US into needless and costly conflicts  not even remotely related to the defense of the United States. We’ll be better off when the “special relationship,” and the corruption underlying it, ends.

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Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die

The traditional depiction of Lady Justice is a woman wearing a blindfold to demonstrate impartiality. In her right hand she wields a sword (symbolizing swift punishment for the guilty). Her left arm holds aloft a scale to weigh the opposing sides’ cases — publicly, for all to see.

Over time, American judges have become increasingly inclined to demand that the public itself wear the blindfold, and that the opposing parties wear gags.

Headline, New York Times: “Supreme Court Stays Out of Secret Case That May Be Part of Mueller Probe.”

The Court refused “to intercede in a mysterious fight over a sealed grand jury subpoena to a[n unidentified] foreign corporation issued by a federal prosecutor who may or may not be Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia affair.”

Headline, Sacramento Bee“California judge will keep Planned Parenthood names sealed.”

The judge says he’ll “punish” anyone who reveals the names of the alleged victims in the prosecution of two anti-abortion activists charged with secretly taping them in conversations regarding procurement of fetal tissue.

Headline, CNN: “‘El Chapo’ Guzman jury will be anonymous, judge rules.”

Before the trial even began, the judge pronounced Guzman guilty of “a pattern of violence” that could cause the jurors to “reasonably fear” for their safety.

Headline, ABC News: “Federal judge warns she may impose gag order on Roger Stone, prosecutors.”

The judge doesn’t want the flamboyant Stone, charged in the Mueller probe, treating his prosecution as a “public relations campaign” or a “book tour.”

Secret proceedings. Secret subpoenas. Secret juries. Secret alleged victims.

Always with excuses, some more or less convincing than others.

And all flagrantly in violation of the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Sixth Amendment’s public trial clause.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there mentioned any prerogative of government to operate in secret or to forbid public comment by anyone.

From what source do these judges claim to derive the powers they’re exercising? Certainly not from the taxpayers whose expense they operate at. Nor from the public they claim to serve.

To allow such secret judicial proceedings invites corruption and makes a mockery of the conception of justice the courts supposedly exist to uphold.

Paired with secret police operations (how many times have we heard police chiefs refuse to answer simple and germane questions to “protect an investigation?”), such proceedings constitute the necessary elements of a police state as ugly as any in history.

If American freedom is to stand a chance of survival and recovery, judges who engage in this kind of misconduct must be removed from their benches, stripped of their robes, and punished harshly — after the speedy, and very public, trials they’re entitled to, of course.

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Without Profit, There Would Be No Investment

Among the numerous fallacies embraced by socialism, one of the most notable is completely ignoring the value of investment and risk. Socialists love to talk about the value of “labor” and how profit is made on the backs of “labor,” but they ignore the fundamentals of human nature and of how the market actually works.

Labor doesn’t invest in building a widget factory. Labor doesn’t take the risk of widgets going out of style or being supplanted by something new in the market. Labor doesn’t pay for health and safety inspections. Labor doesn’t take the hit of depreciation.

Labor is paid first, before any profit is seen. Labor loses nothing when the factory burns down. Labor makes no investments and takes no risks, and therefore labor is not entitled to share in the reward. Labor makes a direct trade of time and skill for money. Beyond that, labor has no claim on the possible profits which a capitalist’s investment and risk may generate.

To be a laborer rather than a capitalist is a choice. It is a safe choice in which risk is traded for certainty and the possibility of profit is traded for the guarantee of wages. Most people are both laborers and capitalists. We engage in some direct trades of time and skill for money but we also make investments—be it in the stock market, bonds, cryptocurrencies, or even a loan (with interest) to a friend or neighbor.

Profit is not earned through labor. Wages are earned through labor. Profit is earned through investment and risk. The socialist sees this as unfair, but the socialist cannot explain why anyone would undertake a risky investment if there were no possibility of profit. Instead, the socialist is forced to embrace central planning as an alternative to all the productivity of the free market.

The socialist would have “the state” take on all the risk of investment in industry, infrastructure, research and development, and all other such things and then selflessly distribute the profits it will theoretically generate to the people—the laborers—regardless of what role or lack thereof they played in the generation of said profits.

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, as it turns out. Unlike capitalists, who regularly fail, go bankrupt, and lose everything, the state cannot afford to take such significant risks. The state lacks the motivation of the capitalist and so it recoils when faced with the same odds at which the capitalist would jump. Even if one ignores the corruption and inefficiency which are endemic to all states, the state is just too risk averse to make meaningful gains in any sectors where it has primacy.

The possibility of profit is what makes investment and risk worthwhile. Without it, there is no incentive for investment and risk, and without investment and risk, there is no societal advancement, no innovation, and no wealth creation. People aren’t going to risk their resources unless the reward for doing so outweighs the risk. That’s basic human nature.

Contrary to what you may have heard, socialism doesn’t “work on paper” any better than it works in practice. It just doesn’t work, period. Attempting to remove profit from human existence removes the motivation which drives humanity to improve itself. Even if socialism didn’t fail catastrophically (as it always has when put into practice), it would, at best, still lead to the devolution of mankind as productivity ground to a halt. That’s not a future anyone should advocate.

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Entrepreneurial Innovation and Crony Corruption

It always starts with entrepreneurial innovators breaking new ground and establishing new avenues for the expression of individual liberty and private initiative. Then, as soon as some of the companies established by those innovators grow sufficiently large and influential, the biggest protection rackets operating in their respective territories (i.e., states and their military-bureaucratic regimes) stop fighting them and proceed to corrupting them with subsidies, “public contracts”, unofficial monopoly privileges, etc.

As a result, such companies become increasingly inefficient, unresponsive to the wishes of their clients, or downright opposed to their original mission statements. As soon as that starts happening, the representatives of political protection rackets start clamoring for imposing “regulations” on the whole industry – that is, subjecting it officially and comprehensively to the dictates of institutionalized aggression. Having been long since thoroughly corrupted, the high-ranking officers of the companies in question happily concur, thereby driving the last nail in the coffin of free competition in the industry under consideration. The ones who have opened new avenues of individual liberty are now all too willing to close them indefinitely.

This is what happened in the mature period of the Industrial Revolution, and this is what is happening now in the mature period of the Information Revolution. However, it follows from the very character of the Information Revolution that today we can be more aware than ever of the recurrent nature of this perfidious process. By the same token, we can also be more effective than ever in finally stopping its recurrence. Crony corporatism is an extension of statism, and statism is an enabler of crony corporatism – thus, tools and resources originally created to promote individual liberty (and knowledge about threats to it) must be used to their fullest in denouncing statism and its pseudo-market allies, lest they be converted into their opposites. If there has ever been a perfect time to renounce statism altogether and be particularly vocal and decisive about it, thereby possibly ending its corruption of libertarian entrepreneurialism, it certainly is right now.

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Redeem the Evil Days

Have you ever wondered how our time will be remembered?

You start to ask this question a lot if you’ve read a lot of history. The passage of time can either paint a positive or negative picture of how you and your fellow humans spent your time and your lives.

Will people remember the time we were alive as a time of freedom, justice, progress, and beauty? Or will they view our time with regret and shame, seeing how we failed to prevent evil or do good?

The world is a good place. But this good world is still littered with corruption, untruths, hatred, contempt, and all kinds of pain. People are still enslaved. Governments and soldiers still kill and maim. People still starve, good work remains undone, and children still have to sit through school.

We might say that our “days are evil”. But we wouldn’t be the first.

This is a phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians* which recently caught my eye. But there’s another one tied close by:

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

“Redeeming the time.”

I typically dislike the King James Version, but I love this wording. These are some words of hope. As is typical, Paul had ways of saying things which resonate beyond his religious audience.

So often we think of our “era” as something far beyond our control. But in the end, an era (from a historian’s point of view) is only the human actions and reactions that make it up.

We can by our lives redeem the evil days in which we live. We can change this time – at least as far as we are concerned – from a time of evil to a time of goodness. And we can redeem the time and “the days” by redeeming each day with the littlest of action: small kindnesses, small moments of integrity, small recognition of human dignity, small tellings of the truth.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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