Amor Fati, But for the Past

It takes as much equanimity to accept the past as it does to accept the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche (I think) introduced the notion of “amor fati,” or “love of fate” as a way for humans to reconcile themselves to the uncertainty of the future and the disasters it may bring for each of us. The idea? Don’t fear your fate, don’t even just “accept” it – *love* it. If you love whatever comes, and act accordingly, no fate can harm you.

Is your fate to break a leg right before your football team wins state? “Amor fati” would perhaps have you be the best crippled cheerleader/mascot/inspiration you can be, using your injury for all it’s worth as self-motivation, others-motivation, self-improvement, and others-improvement.

“Amor fati” is fine for the future, but what about all else that has come before? As Gus McRae of Lonesome Dove says, “the world ain’t nothin’ but a boneyard. . .” We live at the tail end of a long history of life that includes lots of death, injustice, and suffering. When I drive through the beautiful lands of the Southeast United States, I also have to remember that so much of it is what it is because people were kept as slaves here.

What’s more, we each live at the tail end of long personal histories of mistakes, foolishness, regrettable decisions (or indecisions), and pain. We each have to wonder more or less often how things might have turned out differently with us had things gone differently.

I think this is where we need a more clearly defined concept. Perhaps “Amor praeteritum”?

The past can be a horrible place, but (as so many popular songs attest) it’s also what brought us to where we are now. When someone says they wouldn’t “trade any of it,” it means they have accepted the pain of what came before as the price for becoming. This is a viewpoint worth having. As someone who has spent a good amount of time regretting paths taken or untaken, I reckon it’s one of the only ways to sane acceptance of life.

If it is Stoic to accept whatever comes, it is Stoic also to accept whatever has come before. Practice “amor praeteritum” alongside your “amor fati,” if it’s not too tall an order.

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Why Logic is Unpopular

Value hierarchies are inevitable. What value belongs at the top to make sure the others stay in their proper place?

The ancient Greeks spoke of three perspectives: pathos, ethos, and logos. From a pathos perspective, emotions and feelings take center stage. From an ethos perspective, reputation and tradition are what really matter. From a logos perspective, reason is what guides to wise action.

The Primacy of Logos

There will always be tension between people with different values and tendencies, and this tension often manifests most obviously in politics. Most people are driven primarily by instinct (pathos) or tradition (ethos), which is why self-described “liberals” consistently find themselves at odds with self-described “conservatives”. Some few are driven primarily by reason (logos). Logic is unpopular because it calls into question both instinct and tradition.

In politics, instinct-dominant (pathos) people seek validation of their feelings and messages that make them feel good, usually because something sad/scary/unfair is presented along with an easy solution that would make everything better. Tradition-dominant (ethos) people seek assurance that the messenger is trustworthy, usually because they are part of the in-group or because they signal about duty and allegiance to established institutions like governments and churches and against out-groups and their institutions. Reason-dominant (logos) people seek to establish the truth of ideas and messages, even when it causes them to subordinate natural tendencies and inherited traditions to come into consistent harmony with the wisdom they cherish.

By Their Egocentric Biases Ye Shall Know Them

If you aren’t sure whether you’re dealing with a pathos-dominant person or an ethos-dominant person, you can look for patterns in their behavior.

Typical emotion-driven behavior:

  • Tend to engage in hot cognition with motivation bias
  • Feelings/intentions valued over facts/results (“it’s more important to be morally right than factually correct” or “that wasn’t real socialism”)
  • Easily scared/overwhelmed, and therefore easily controlled (“we need to do something!”)
  • Furious “mama bear” overreactions when challenged
  • Confuse “open minded” with “empty headed”
  • Oppression narratives with victimhood as a status symbol (various privilege/equity/social justice/forced redistribution schemes)
  • Anecdotal NAXALT fallacy and tactical nihilism in response to statistical evidence

Typical tradition-driven behavior:

  • Tend to suffer from the illusion of asymmetric insight and base rate neglect
  • Obedience to authority valued over truth (“it’s the law” equivocation)
  • Retreat to dogma and orthodoxy when challenged
  • Pearl-clutching fear of ambiguity and change (belief that the only alternative to the status quo is chaos)
  • Confuse “consensus” with “evidence”
  • “Might makes right” crusade narratives
  • Tendency to oversimplify patterns and overlook exceptions

The Cure for Irrational Tribalism

A society that subordinates reason is destined to corruption and ruin as the fruitless scramble to justify and rearrange prejudices to satisfy confirmation bias replaces the quest for truth. Narcissistic moral relativism and political power struggles only escalate the conflict. It is only by subordinating emotion and authority to wisdom that can we avoid catastrophe.

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

– J. Reuben Clark

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The Banality of Evil, COVID-19 Edition

As the COVID-19 pandemic ran its deadly course in New York, governor Andrew Cuomo  affirmed a state policy forbidding nursing homes to reject suffering from the disease.

At least partially as a result (Cuomo himself acknowledged early on that the virus spreads through such facilities “like fire through dry grass”), nearly 6,000 long-term care residents have died so far.

Cuomo, of course, denies any personal responsibility in the matter. He blames the homes (“Do you believe a nursing home operator would accept a patient who they knew they couldn’t care for? Why would a nursing home operator do that?”). He blames the CDC. He blames US president Donald Trump.

Cuomo’s usual “large and in charge” act seems to be crumbling under the weight of the body count. Suddenly, he was “just doing his job,” maybe even “just following orders.” Sound familiar?

Hannah Arendt,  Stanley Milgram observes in his classic study of obedience to authority, “contended that the prosecution’s effort to depict [Adolf] Eichmann as a sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong, that he came closer to being an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job. … This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs,  and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”

The policies Eichmann executed and enforced — policies aimed at the extermination of the Jews — were intentionally murderous.

The policies Cuomo executed and enforced were deadly too, but in a grossly negligent rather than openly intentional, way.

That’s the DIFFERENCE between Cuomo and Eichmann.

The SIMILARITY between the two is in their shared defense: The idea that those who execute and enforce state policy aren’t responsible for their actions BECAUSE they are executing and enforcing state policy.

The Nuremberg trials — and Eichmann’s later trial in Israel — quashed such defenses when it came to German war crimes in general and the Holocaust in particular.

Unfortunately, US law lags the Nuremberg/Eichmann precedents by decades: “Sovereign immunity” and “qualified immunity” shield governments, and those who act on their behalves, from liability for their actions.

The worst punishment Andrew Cuomo likely faces for killing thousands of New Yorkers is maybe — just maybe — not getting re-elected governor of New York, or promoted to a cabinet position, or ever winning the presidency.

If there’s any justice in the world at all, he’ll suffer at least THOSE penalties.

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Harvard’s Latest Attack on Homeschooling Abuses Reason and Justice

Harvard University publications continue to present a skewed perspective of homeschooling, spotlighting Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s call for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling while failing to provide an accurate picture of American homeschooling.

In addition to the recent Harvard Magazine article on “The Risks of Homeschooling,” both the Harvard Crimson and the Harvard Gazette ran stories last week reinforcing Bartholet’s one-sided view of homeschooling. While Harvard’s invitation-only summit to address homeschooling’s “problems, politics, and prospects for reform” scheduled for next month has been postponed due to COVID-19, the disinformation campaign against homeschooling goes on.

Interestingly, in the recent Gazette interview, Bartholet admits that most parents are quite able to homeschool their children. She says: “I believe that the overwhelming majority of parents are capable of providing at least a minimal education at home without presenting any danger of abuse or neglect.” Yet, in recommending a “presumptive ban” on the practice she would “require that parents demonstrate that they have a legitimate reason to homeschool—maybe their child is a super athlete, maybe the schools in their area are terrible.”

She would also require parents to “demonstrate that they’re qualified to provide an adequate education and that they would provide an education comparable in scope to what is required in public schools,” as well as “require that their kids participate in at least some school courses and extracurricular activities so they get exposure to a set of alternative values and experiences.” In other words, parents may be able to get permission from the government to homeschool their kids if they can jump through certain government-approved hoops and send their kids, at least part of the time, to the government schools from which they are fleeing.

Bartholet’s rationale for this heavy-handed approach to controlling homeschoolers is that, while most homeschooling parents won’t abuse or neglect their children, a tiny few may and so the entire homeschool population must be managed and monitored—including being subject to frequent home-visits by government officials to make sure they are not doing anything wrong. This guilty-until-proven-innocent approach is not only antithetical to American ideals, it sacrifices the freedom of an entire group out of concern that a small sliver of that group could potentially do harm.

The claim that homeschooling could lead to higher rates of child abuse is unfounded. In fact, three academics responded harshly to Bartholet’s conclusions, writing at EducationNext: “Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s claims that homeschooling contributes significantly to the scourge of child abuse fail to survive scrutiny.” Some research shows that homeschoolers are less likely to be abused than their schooled peers. And as I’ve written previously, physical and sexual abuse by educators is rampant in public schools, which Bartholet holds up as the gold standard. Still, Bartholet argues that homeschooled children could be abused because they are not in the presence of school teachers and administrators who are “mandated reporters” of child abuse.

Although Bartholet’s recommendations against homeschooling were initiated well before COVID-19 hit, she uses the current school shutdowns as further evidence that parents, unwatched by government officials, will abuse their children. Bartholet says in the Gazette interview: “I do think, though, that the present near-universal home education situation is illuminating. The evidence is growing that reports to Child Protective Services (CPS) have plummeted nationwide, because children are removed from the mandated reporters that schools provide.”

It is possible that declining CPS reports could indicate unreported child abuse, but it could also reveal a CPS system gone awry, with overly-aggressive reporting and investigative practices. A 2018 in-depth report by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost, for instance, found that “schools often use child protective services as a weapon against parents.” According to this analysis, school employees use CPS as a way to coerce parents who resist a school’s recommendations or approach. Reporters Rebecca Klein and Caroline Preston write:

Fed up with what they see as obstinate parents who don’t agree to special education services for their child, or disruptive kids who make learning difficult, schools sometimes use the threat of a child-protection investigation to strong-arm parents into complying with the school’s wishes or transferring their children to a new school. That approach is not only improper, but it can be devastating for families, even if the allegations are ultimately determined to be unfounded.

Such a determination is how the vast majority of these investigations conclude, despite terrorizing parents and children. In her powerful book, They Took The Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk, family defense attorney and policy advocate, Diane Redleaf, finds that the CPS system has ballooned in recent years, with millions of calls and family investigations despite most of them being baseless. She writes in her introduction: “In 2016 alone, 7.4 million children were reported as suspected victims of child abuse or neglect. Of this number, 4.1 million had a case referred for some CPS responsive action, ranging from finding no merit to the allegations and closing the case, to referring the family for social services, to a placement of the children into foster care. At the conclusion of a CPS investigation, 676,000 children were then labeled the victims of abuse or neglect.”

The Hechinger/HuffPost report reveals that poor and minority families are the ones most likely to get caught in the CPS dragnet, and Redleaf’s research reinforces this finding. She writes: “The child protection system most disproportionately intervenes against families of color and those who lack other forms of privilege…A system that is supposed to protect children from their parents ends up too often harming children’s precious attachment to their parents.”

Child abuse is horrific and should never be tolerated, but the growing distrust of parents and the related trend toward increased intervention in family life under the guise of protecting children may hurt more children than it helps. When families are weakened and parents are disempowered, children suffer. As Redleaf concludes in her book:

Family advocates need to proudly proclaim that children’s best interests are one and the same as their families’ best interests, for there is no other way to protect children but to defend their families—and to fight for the right of families everywhere to raise their own children.

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Who Was Behind the Incompetent Venezuela “Invasion?”

On May 3, a group of around 60 mercenaries attempted an amphibious landing at Macuto, on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. They were quickly defeated and 13 of them — including two Americans, Airan Berry and Luke Denman — captured.

US president Donald Trump has denied any association with, knowledge of, or involvement in the affair on the part of the US government.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the other hand has pledged to use “every tool” to get Berry and Denman released and returned to the US — a curious position for a US diplomat, given that the two seem to have been taken while violating Venezuelan law on Venezuelan soil.

The details behind the slapstick “invasion” remain somewhat murky, but a few aspects are reasonably well documented:

First, that the planners of the operation were Jordan Goudreau —  former US soldier and owner of “security” firm Silvercorp — and former Venezuelan general Cliver Alcala Cordones.

Second, that the services of Silvercorp were retained by a “Strategic Command” answering to Juan Guaido, a Venezuelan opposition figure recognized by his country’s National Assembly, and by 59 other regimes, as the country’s “acting president.”

Third, that the goal of the landing, dubbed “Operation Gideon” seems to have been to abduct the other claimant to the country’s presidency, Nicolas Maduro, overthrow his regime, and deliver him to US authorities for trial on recent “drug kingpin” charges.

At first glance, it’s easy to believe Trump’s denials of involvement. The whole operation was a comedy of errors from conception through execution. There was never any chance that 60 mercenaries were going to make a successful landing, move inland, capture Maduro, and spirit him out of the country, even with the help of another 300 troops supposedly already in Venezuela.

But even a cursory look at US history says this kind of thing happens all the time.

The US military messes up. Think Little Big Horn, the downing of Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union, or the “Desert One” fiasco during the Iran hostage crisis.

The US intelligence community overestimates its ability to extort presidents into following up failed paramilitary actions with official military force. Remember the Bay of Pigs? Maduro does.

American politicians get caught in weird, officially unsanctioned, criminal schemes. Consider, for example, Richard Nixon’s “Plumbers” and the Watergate burglary.

Yes, “Operation Gideon” looks, in retrospect, like a Monty Python sketch. But so do a lot of government, or government-sponsored, or government-approved, projects.

Is it coincidence that between the time Guaido contracted with Silvercorp and the launch of the operation, the US government provided “law enforcement” cover in the form of drug charges and a $15 million bounty on Maduro’s head?

If you and I landed at Lyme Regis with a plan to abduct Boris Johnson, or at Santos Beach intending to capture Jair Bolsonaro, would Mike Pompeo be keen to get us repatriated, or would he leave us to the mercies of the British or Brazilian justice systems?

Was “Operation Gideon” a comedic interlude, or just the latest failed US intervention in Venezuela?

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History of the ATF: How the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Became Corrupt & Abusive

It’s unlikely that there is a single federal alphabet organization less popular among the readership of this website than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. These are the people who gave us both the Siege at Ruby Ridge and the Siege of Waco. What’s more, they may well be engaged in an entirely unconstitutional exercise: monitoring and patrolling the gun ownership of law-abiding citizens.

There’s also a solid case to be made that the ATF is a rogue organization, the most corrupt of the federal alphabet agencies. This can be seen through a number of scandals beginning with Ruby Ridge, threading through the siege at Mount Carmel in Waco, and continuing to the notorious “Fast and Furious” scandal.

While firearms owners, weapons enthusiasts and Second Amendment advocates might have a special bone to pick with the ATF, we believe that all freedom-loving Americans should be concerned about the overreach, lawlessness and lack of accountability in this organization. Roman poet Juvenal once posed an important (and famous) question about powerful justice officers: Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” – Who is to guard the guardians?

All told, there are over 20,000 firearms laws and regulations on the books at the state and federal level. Many of these contradict each other or are written with a lot of room for interpretation. Gun owners and gun dealers are easy prey for a corrupt and lawless federal agency that wants to twist its arms outside the bounds of the law.

It’s also worth considering what overreach and lack of accountability other federal organizations are responsible for that we don’t know about, simply because they do not have the same spotlight on them as the ATF – a reminder that the scandals mentioned above are just the ones that we know about.

We recommend reading this article in concert with our other articles on the ATF: WacoRuby Ridge and Fast and Furious. Each of these contains familiar tropes with regard to the ATF: Entrapment, “lost” evidence, a total lack of accountability, aggressive policing tactics where discretion would probably have saved lives, and a vengeful manner of doing business.

Continue reading History of the ATF: How the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Became Corrupt & Abusive at Ammo.com.

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