Immoral Walls and Dishonest Manipulation

Sarcasm only works for me when you don’t demonstrate dishonesty while attempting it.

I listen to Scott Adams’ “periscopes” to keep an eye on what some of those on the pro-government side are thinking. He’s right about half the time– when he isn’t in his pro-government box, unable to see beyond its horizon. But sometimes it amazes me how dishonestly he frames an issue. I wonder if others notice.

Of course, since he is a trained hypnotist, it may be intentional on his part; an attempt to manipulate the opinions of his listeners. I don’t criticize him for that– it’s what I hope to do with my blog. But I hope to do it honestly, without deception. I am not trying to be sneaky about it.

A day or so ago he was mocking Nancy Pelosi’s absurd contention that “walls are immoral“.

I agree conditionally; walls are not, in and of themselves, immoral. Unless your particular morality is somehow anti-wall, which I seriously doubt. Morals being what they are (“situational ethics”) I can see how someone might have a set of morals which doesn’t allow for walls, but it’s not likely. It’s more likely to be political posturing.

The real question is whether or not walls are ethical. For simply being walls. The answer is: walls are ethically neutral.

You can almost always use your own money/resources to wall off your own property from adjacent property without any ethical problem.

Or you can help wall off “collective property” in the very rare cases where you have part-ownership in some actual collective property and there is unanimous consent to build and fund the wall.

There is an ethical problem if you wall off property which doesn’t belong to you, or if you force others to pay for a wall they don’t want to pay for.

If you wall off a neighbor’s property a few doors down, you have unethically built a wall.

If you force someone to help pay for a wall around your own property, you have unethically built a wall.

You could say those particular walls, under those circumstances, are unethical walls. Probably even immoral walls.

“Government land”– dishonestly referred to as “public land” in the same way kinderprisons are called “public schools”– is not yours to wall off. It isn’t true “collective property”, and there is not unanimous consent. Nor does it really belong to the government. Everything government claims it either stole from the rightful owner or bought (and maintains) with stolen or counterfeited money. A thief does not own the stolen goods he possesses, so government can not rightfully own anything. Any wall financed with stolen money is not an ethical wall.

A “border” wall fails on both accounts. No matter how “necessary” you believe it to be. It can not be done ethically under government.

You can sarcastically mock the truth, but the truth doesn’t change to suit your wishes. Not even if you are a president or Scott Adams.

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“How Do You Talk to Someone Who Doesn’t Believe in Climate Change?”

This was actually the first sentence to an introduction to a TED talk, and it illustrates a big part of the problem with Anthropogenic Global Climate Change (AGCC) fanatics. Their condescending need to preach at the rest of us is annoying, as is their conviction that we could be won over to their side.

First of all, climate changes. Very few people seriously doubt that. The Earth has been both a snowball and a sauna in the past. I completely “believe in” the evidence that this has happened and will continue to happen. That’s not what they are talking about when they say “doesn’t believe in climate change”.

They are talking about the fact that intelligent, informed people don’t necessarily worship with their cult of AGCC belief and their preferred social agenda, and they can’t bear it. That’s it.

The best way to “talk” to someone who “doesn’t believe in climate change” is … don’t. Stay quiet. But if you can’t mind your own business, and you ignorantly (and unwisely) broach the subject, maybe you could at least listen to the reasons why they aren’t in your cult. If you can’t do even that much, then drop the religious devotion to your cult before opening your mouth. No one wants to hear it.

Second, it would help if you would recognize that what you are promoting isn’t science. AGCC believerism is partly science; mostly collectivist politics. When you mix politics with science (by funding it through theft, for example) what results is less science than politics. This brand of politicized “climate science” cherry picks data, relies on completely unreliable models (computerized guesswork which is never, NEVER reliable), ignores economics, and violates ethics– all of which would need to be taken into account for AGCC believerism to be credible enough to be taken seriously. They ignore all the inconvenient factors, which is why they aren’t credible, no matter how much they posture and preach. No matter how much they try to talk down to those who aren’t falling for their violently imposed “solutions”.

I believe the Earth’s climate changes over time. I accept that it is possible human activities have changed the rate of change by adding atmospheric carbon dioxide. I don’t doubt there is some amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide which would be trouble. I acknowledge that it is possible, although unlikely, that this climate change is entirely negative, with no benefits at all. I am more open-minded and scientifically oriented on this topic than any AGCC believer. And yet I’m not one of them and can’t support them in any way. That offends their feelings.

I doubt their “solutions” are solutions. I know they aren’t ethical– more government control never is. If they get their way more problems will be created, yet they won’t be held accountable. You can’t let the perpetrator of the greatest amount of environmental damage– The State– tell everyone else what they are allowed to do. Not on this planet or any other. Denying this reality is science denial.

I am completely in favor of businesses and individuals finding ways to reduce pollution of every sort. It’s dumb to foul your own nest. I am not in favor of imposing “solutions” at the barrel of a government gun, no matter what someone imagines will happen otherwise.

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Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago

When congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) confessed her personal financial dilemma — “I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real” — to  the New York Times, guffaws broke out on the right.

“Some of those shoots she had during her campaign, she had these multi-thousand dollar outfits that could pay a month’s rent in Washington,” said Fox News correspondent Ed Henry.

“[T]hat jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles,” wrote the Washington Examiner‘s Eddie Scarry in a tweet he deleted after an uproar.

I get it. It’s easy to mock a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” who wants to remake the US economy when she hasn’t proven her own financial acumen by piling up a nice nest egg before running for Congress.

But return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear …

Former House  Majority Leader Dick Army (R-TX), who served in Congress from 1985-2003, slept in his office rather than rent an apartment in DC. So did outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan. In fact, that trend caught on among Republican members of Congress to such an extent that earlier this year it resulted in an ethics complaint from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A half-religious, half-political organization  called The Fellowship runs the C Street Center, where (mostly Republican) congresspersons pay discounted rent for rooms — with maid service. Why? “A lot of men don’t have an extra $1,500 to rent an apartment,” The Fellowship’s Reverend Louis P. Sheldon told the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

Some congressional Republicans describe the “live in my office” routine as political theater, demonstrating their principled devotion to “fiscal responsibility.” Others frankly admit that even on a salary of $174,000 a year it’s not easy to maintain two households (one in their districts, one in very, very expensive DC).

And, let’s be clear here: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an outlier. She was a waitress before running for, and unexpectedly winning, election to a body in which the average member’s net worth is more than $1 million. If anyone has a valid complaint about the increased living costs involved with serving in Congress, it’s her.

This is a chance for her to show off her “democratic socialist” credentials. She favors income equality and presumably opposes rent as exploitative, right?

Ocasio-Cortez should introduce a bill to provide housing for members of Congress — in squad bays at Marine Corps Barracks Washington DC, a mere 25-minute walk from the Capitol — while simultaneously reducing pre-tax congressional pay to the average American’s post-tax income.

I wonder how many “fiscally responsible” Republican members of Congress would support such frugality and equality. And, given their own similar preening, why some wouldn’t.

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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.

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Moral Philosophy and Deer Hunting

Set aside the ethics of hunting itself, and you find that within the act of hunting, there’s a whole world of right and wrong.

Tonight I sat in a tower stand for hours without seeing any activity from the deer population. Then, right as darkness fell, three deer came out. All of a sudden I had some decisions to make.

Whatever your opinion of the moral agency of animals, you’d probably agree if you were there with me that the decision I had to make was a moral one. I had life and death power (in the form of a rifle) in my hands – and that lends a gravity I don’t normally have in my decisions.

Should I shoot even if I don’t have a clear visual of the target? On one hand, I could see pretty clearly that I was dealing with deer. On the other hand, I couldn’t tell how large or how old they were. This is a question of responsibility and due diligence. Is it appropriate to act before I know the full details?

Should I shoot if it’s a doe? On one hand, does are great for meat provision. On the other, this doe was taking care of two yearlings. My answer was no.

There are more questions that extend beyond a single hunt:

Should you pay your local government for permission to hunt? On one hand, you don’t want to have to lie. On the other, your local bureaucrats don’t own you, your land, or the animals that live on it.

To what extent should you feed and attract animals to your land and to certain spots on it? On one hand, this removes only some of the randomness from hunting and supports local wildlife. On the other hand, this may unfairly reduce the hunter’s workload relative to the animal’s riskload.

It’s interesting that so many non-vegans take such care to these questions. The hunting community operates from a code of honor – which applies very much in how we relate to animals. Many of us feel a certain sense of obligation to the creatures we’re hunting.

How those obligations emerge and where they start and stop is a topic for a much longer post, but it’s interesting to see just how complicated the decision to hunt (and to shoot) can be. And it’s powerful to have the live test of making these life and death decisions of ethics.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Are We Sure It Can’t It Happen Here?

One runs a risk whenever one cites the 20th century’s great terror states while discussing current ominous developments in the western democracies. Apparent comparisons of the United States or western and central European countries to Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia will inevitably be hooted down with accusations of alarmist conspiracy-mongering and worse, shameful ahistoricity. Nevertheless, that must not keep us from noticing and pointing to contemporary events that bear an eerie resemblance, however slight, to things that went on in those totalitarian terror states. Such regimes don’t spring up overnight. They emerge, and looking at history, we can see that their more or less gradual emergence have telltale signs that we would do well to keep an eye out for. We can’t rest comfortably with the cliche that “it can’t happen here.” Yes, we run the risk of overinterpreting events, but perhaps that is better than underinterpreting them.

America today (though this is not new) is a place where the embers of fear of the outsider are being vigorously fanned from the very top of the political system. This is too clear to need substantiation. Just reread Donald Trump’s announcement of his candidacy for president three years ago, then observe his subsequent speeches, tweets, and actions. How revealing is his opportunism in seizing on any act of violence by an immigrant — “legal” or “illegal” — as though it were the rule rather than an anomaly! His not-so-subtle message is that all outsiders, and not just actual proven perpetrators, are by nature capable of atrocities against Americans and that those who have abstained until now can’t be trusted to continue their nonviolent ways. It’s not that they have the burden of proving their peaceful intentions; rather, it’s that they can never prove themselves trustworthy and thus eligible to live among us.

To what purpose does Trump communicate this message? It would be a mistake to to reply that it is only to advance his agenda of cutting — for cultural as well as economic reasons — even “legal” immigration and the admittance of refugees. It goes deeper than that. It is plainly to reinforce his “America First” nationalist religion with which he seeks permanently to transform — Trumpize, we may say — America. (His economic nationalist drive against global trade, the wealth-enhancing division of labor, is part of this program. In his eyes, it is ipso facto patriotic to “hire American and buy American” and therefore disloyal to think or do otherwise.) For Trump, the purity of America has been compromised long enough by the venal leaders of the past. Time to undo the damage. Step one: reduce, on the way the eliminating, the inflow of even more outsiders. And we can see the signs of step two: ridding America of “outsiders” who are already here, indeed, who have been living here peacefully for decades, including adults who were brought here “illegally” as children (so-called Dreamers) and who know no other society, and adults who are suspected, without hard evidence or due process, of having been granted U.S. citizenship only because of allegedly fraudulent documents.

Such measures, supported by ranting tweets and ominously familiar rally harangues, communicate one thing: the targeted groups consist of lesser persons if they are persons at all. Thus their children may be seized and held in camps, and parents deported without knowing the fate of their children. Unaccompanied children seeking refuge from violence are shut away in overstretched detention facilities and “tent cities,” left in the charge of quintessential bureaucrats. (See “Detention of Migrant Children Has Skyrocketed to Highest Levels Ever.”) Trump partisans, who scream whenever local Child Protective Services takes Americans’ children away, are unmoved when the parents Trump targets are outsiders, or “aliens.” “It’s the law” is an entirely satisfactory explanation for those partisans in the latter case, but not in the former. Victimless technical violations committed by an American parent are rejected as grounds for such a drastic measure as family separation, but an equally victimless technical violation (“illegal entry,” failure to have government papers) is regarded as something approaching a capital offense. What does that tell us?

It tells us that outsiders are not only unwanted; they are intrinsically unworthy of being wanted because, as outsiders, they are less than human. So why care that many of the “illegals” seek asylum from inhuman conditions in their home countries? Send them back where they belong! They don’t belong here! So they are stateless, countryless, superfluous, rightless, which how Hannah Arendt described refugees, having been one herself.

It would be terrifying enough if what we are seeing in the Trump administration were novel. But it is not. We see it in other places, and we’ve seen it before in the not-too-distant past. In America, the novelty is that Trump’s recent predecessors, however ruthless their deportation programs, did not engage in Trump-style dehumanizing rhetoric. But, then, Trump wants to do more than just enforce bad “law”: through actions and words, he aims to brand the outsider as threatening to national security. (A similar tone can be heard in defenses of earlier American anti-immigrant statutes.)

Stripping human beings of their personhood as well as their natural rights should make us all recoil. It is not only immoral in its own right; it is corrosive to our society because it encourages people to emote (I hesitate to say think) and act in immoral and self-destructive ways. Consider the fact that the Trump administration has no trouble finding men and women who are willing to seize children from their mothers and fathers and place them in strange facilities; to capture people who are trying only to escape violence and tyranny; and cage people who are simply looking for work and a better life in a freer land. Those government agents are not conscripts. They can quit their jobs. Why don’t they? Is this Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil”: unexceptional people just “doing their jobs” in order feed their own children, advance in their careers, and someday retire in modest comfort? (See her Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.) Do they sleep well at night? Can they look at themselves in the mirror? Why wouldn’t they be able to do those things? They are being good citizens, serving their country, following lawful orders. Indeed, they are involved in something greater than themselves, which happens also to relieve them of personal responsibility, or at least they might think so. (In this connection, I recommend Leonard E. Read’s important essays “On That Day Began Lies” and “Conscience on the Battlefield.”)

Are there parallels in the past? We need only consult Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. Note carefully the full title. Horrors can begin small, putting good people off-guard perhaps until it’s too late.

Discussing the prelude to the horror that was Nazi Germany, Arendt wrote:

In comparison with the insane end-result — concentration-camp society — the process by which men are prepared for this end, and the methods by which individuals are adapted to these conditions, are transparent and logical. The insane mass manufacture of corpses is preceded by the historically and politically intelligible preparation of living corpses. The impetus and what is more important, the silent consent to such unprecedented conditions are the products of those events which in a period of political disintegration suddenly and unexpectedly made hundreds of thousands of human beings homeless, stateless, outlawed and unwanted, while millions of human beings were made economically superfluous and socially burdensome by unemployment. This in turn could only happen because the Rights of Man, which had never been philosophically established but merely formulated, which had never been politically secured but merely proclaimed, have, in their traditional form, lost all validity.

The first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man. This was done … by putting certain categories of people outside the protection of the law….

The road to domination requires the extinguishing of individuality, Arendt wrote, which represents “spontaneity,” subversive thought, and perhaps resistance. In Trump’s rants do we find any clue that the people he targets are individuals, each with his or her own story and aspirations? If we were to think about the victims that way, we — I include in the “we the border agents and detention officers — would be less likely to acquiesce, much less participate, in their mistreatment.

If “illegals” can be dehumanized, can we be so sure that groups of “legals” and even certain citizens won’t be subjected to the same sort of process?  Arendt warned that “the politically most important yardstick for judging events in our time [is] whether they serve totalitarian domination or not.”

I am not saying that immigrant-detention facilities resemble the concentration camps that Arendt spent so much time examining. We are fortunate that traditional hard-fought minimum legal protections and the constellation of civil-liberties organizations that stand ready to pounce on as-yet illegal mistreatment certainly pose obstacles to any significant advance toward the terror state. But who can rest comfortably with just that?

We need something more. We need a broad-based and vigorous moral campaign to trumpet the humanity of detainees and those seeking entry, whether as immigrants or refugees. The public must be reminded that these are persons with names and loved one, and not merely numbers in a cold bureaucracy’s database.

Further, those who know better must work overtime to cultivate not only a love of the “Rights of Man” but a love of individuality, that is, diversity and pluralism. Ultimately, as Arendt suggested, it’s the only insurance policy against dehumanization, oppression, and its ultimate consequence: genocide.

This humanitarian campaign ought to include lessons in basic economics. Recession, depression, and unemployment breed superfluousness, despair, intolerance, bigotry, resentment — and, finally, the scapegoating of the outsider. We’ve seen this happen when the “outsiders” were Americans with darker skin. In contrast, people who have a sense of economic security and optimism have one less pretext for eying the outsider with suspicion. So we must preach that widespread and chronic economic distress has only one source: the state, with its manipulation, monetary and otherwise, of our economic relations. A freed economy — freed of trade and other restrictions — is thus another insurance policy against dehumanization and genocide. (For this reason, Albert Jay Nock, for example, worried in 1941 that economic upheaval spawned by the U.S. government’s profligacy endangered Jewish Americans. Similarly, in 1922 H. L. Mencken expressed this fear regarding the Jews of Germany.)

Waging this campaign would not be mere altruism. It would also be self-regarding in the noble sense of the Socrates, Aristotle, Benedict Spinoza, Frédéric Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, etc. By being good to others we are also being good to ourselves. Pluralism enables us to extend ourselves by giving us access to more knowledge, goods, and experiences than we as limited beings could ever acquire alone. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle said that a “friend is another self.” Thus a freed and open society is like a super-self. Spencer and Menger analogized society to an organism, not to diminish the individual but to emphasize how a pluralist society augments each individual. Indeed, it maximizes each person’s power in Spinoza’s sense of the capacity to move toward excellence as rational social beings in the vast and infinite world.

To repeat, I am not saying Trump’s rants and policies constitute an inevitable prelude to a totalitarian nightmare. I am saying the nightmare could not befall us if dehumanization never took place.

“Totalitarian solutions,” Arendt wrote, “may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes in the form of strong temptations which will come up whenever it seems impossible to alleviate political, social, or economic misery in a manner worthy of man.” Decency, then, depends on widespread understanding that a worthy remedy is indeed available: freedom, pluralism, and social cooperation.

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