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Monday, August 13, 2012

Their War: A Minority Interest

 As the nation reflects today on those lost in battle, we must not forget to seek out the active, interested minorities in society who chose to put those men into harm's way, and why.

by Christopher Zimny
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
Thomas Hardy, "The Man He Killed"
The concept of war is a rather straightforward one for most people. It is usually divided into a plethora of arguments on the "legitimacy" of any given war by those using cool rationale, and emotional anti-war sentiment from those against it. Any of these are seemingly acceptable points of view for discussion; it certainly seems reasonable enough to debate whether the Hussein or Gaddafi regime should go, for instance. Counter that with the most recent body bag count and raw video of war, asking if involvement is worth it. Draw up reasons why the enemy fights, then put forward arguments to dissuade people from this myth. Point out why we are fighting to begin with and argue about the merits of our mission. Each side's purpose in debating about war, of course, is to persuade or dissuade in each case. This always is done with remarkable candor, though it is done under the mousetrap of the State.

In the course of modern events, there is a whole series of issues to be debated about the conflicts in the Middle East alone, let alone fighting with specialized forces in other parts of the world. A war fought in a "conventional" manner (i.e. one country's army against another) provides a stark picture of what is needed to gain popular acceptance for a war. When a country fights in a guerrilla war, convincing the citizens of the country to support the war effort or participate in it might be tough going, but it can be done. A mission like the one (many, perhaps) in Afghanistan might be hard to follow. It is much easier when one can recognize the enemythat is to say, when "the enemy" is in a place that could be recognized on a map. The foe has a face that can be drawn on propaganda posters or socially cast out. With a little effort, the side opposite of one's own can easily be transformed into the true and just enemy, needed to be fought.

Note that engineering minds for war is a peculiar task. Once the seeds are put into place, the poison becomes as a virus does, and a war between people who would not have otherwise harbored any unfriendly spirit toward one another virtually manufactures itself. Use the present day example of North Korea. The situation is steeped obviously with the porcine dictatorship, but the situation is useful as the state exhibits the same behavior has any other, though to a more terrible degree. The government and people of and under the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are not at war today, nor do they have the means on their own to have any kind of prolonged conflict. But that aside, if the "Great Successor" wished for war with Japan, South Korea, or the U.S., the reputedly credulous people between the border of China and the 38th Parallel would not hesitate to spit in the faces of "their enemy." Why is this? North Korean children are taught in school about the U.S. imperialist bastards and Japanese "occupiers" who the Koreans tore loose from prior to the Korean War. Then couple these doctrines with the divine status and personality cults of DPRK leaders. For over sixty years, North Koreans have been fed the same nauseating notions, thus they are ready to pounce when the order comes.

We see that when the same diluted food is fed to us on our own plates in America, we simply call it something different and pretend that it is not the same thing. All in all, the two have some different subtleties, but we can call a spade a spade when the drums of war begin to beat. The same hype is offered by the governmentthat "the enemy" hates "us" for "our freedoms", they are crazed by their religion, their political ideology, that they are willing to stop at literally nothing to destroy us as a whole civilization, or that any given scenario is a "threat to national security" and that one has a duty to "protect his neighbor" in these perilous times.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, along these lines, your author feels the need to point out the most insidious, in my opinion, of all tricks used by the government: praise of military veterans of all kinds. This sentiment is an obviously admirable one, but it is contorted for the benefit of those who started the war to help keep support for the war. (One can see people respecting Presidents for honoring the fallen, forgetting that the Presidents themselves sent those men to their deaths in the first place.) The aim of the State is to have its subjects focused on the task it has set for them. A collectivized mindset is put into place, under a guise of "patriotism" or whatever the government pulls out of its hat: wayward ideas are "brought to reason" or denounced soon without any encouragement from the state apparatus itself.

Fighting "for the good of the country" is the classic state paradigm, or in some parts of the world and at different times, on behalf of the Emperor or God. The common denominator in any war is a given set of governments which have it out for each other. That is the point needed to be most stressed. Stripped bare, this is what a war is: nothing but two sets of people in positions of power who want to come to blows with one another. The rest is predicated on convincing everyone else to join them (or at least tacit acceptance) in the cause or in the fight. (This is conceptually easy to visualize. For instance, think of how much vitriol you do not feel for a shop owner in Tehran, and vice versa, then imagine the nature of what it would take for you to fight one another.) To use the words of Murray Rothbard in his great essay, "Anatomy of the State": "The first task of the State and its intellectuals was to convince the people of [any given state] that the attack was really upon them and not simply upon the ruling caste. In this way, a war between rulers was converted into a war between peoples. . ."

Of course, convincing the citizenry can take many shapes: force is one of them. Conscription may be the clearest example of this, in practice. A doubter of the doctrine so presented is invited to refuse to present themselves when called for the draft to see what the consequences are. A state's conscription program is inherently a system which takes the unwilling citizens of a country to fights its battleselse the draftee would have volunteered. In short, it is evidently their wara war by those in governmentnot one of "the people".

So on Memorial Day, when those fallen soldiers, Marines, airmen, and seamen are remembered for their service, do them the honor of contemplating why they are not sitting next to you having a conversation, or sharing the meal you're having tonight. My humble thanks go to those who joined and fought under the impression that they were serving to protect their families and the citizens of America (of which I am part) from aggressors. This writer only asks that you consider what their sacrifice means, along with who placed them, and for what reason were they put, in such a perilous situation.

This article was originally published on Memorial Day by The Libertarian Review.

The Best Advice The Beatles Ever Gave

Before the psychedelia shown in the later albums of The Beatles, a track on Rubber Soul gives advice that has always been timely, but never more needed than today. The following speech, given in competition, takes that idea and expands on it.

by Christopher Zimny

“Although your mind’s opaque
Try thinking more if just
For your own sake
Do what you want to do
And go where you’re going to
Think for yourself
‘Cause I won’t be there with you."

These are the lyrics to the famous Beatles song, “Think For Yourself” from their celebrated album Rubber Soul. It was written by the most talented songwriter of the groupas any true Beatles fan would know: George Harrison.

As it turns out, independent thought, or thinking for yourself, surprisingly today isn’t something that is held to a very high standard. If today, one looked at society as a whole, one will likely find that independent thought is in fact absolutely, pricelessly rare. In her 2009 article “Is Independent Thought Extinct in America?”, social commentator Leslie Weise concludes that soon, “we will live in a country where independent thought will be a thing of the past.” So let us examine three different areas to determine why independent thought is in danger, and realize how important thinking for ourselves really is. First, we’ll look at how we seem to so easily adopt the views of others; second, how individual and independent thought is so vital for our progress and third, ways to break away from society’s grip and learn to think for ourselves. In the end, we will see that “Think For Yourself” is not just another one of the Beatles’ top hits, but in fact has a message that we should all consider.

“In the moment of our creation we receive the stamp of our individuality; and much of life is spent rubbing off or defacing the impression.” said Augustus and Julius Hare in their book Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers. But why do we continue to erode that impression? Doesn’t it seem like a good thing to keep? Authors Bill Strauss and Neil Howe, in their books Generations and Millennials Rising, explain that this generation’s team oriented activities and constant encouragement to accomplish things together, leads teens to develop a sort of sameness mentality which will be lasting throughout life. They point out many generational trends that show us that we will strive to be standardized, and for the most part we’ll do things and think the same thoughts as everyone else.

When I read those books, I thought of the short story Harrison Bergeron. In the story, everyone is the same. There is no creativity, there aren’t any new thoughts, and there is no such thing as above average. Everyone is literally equal. No, Kurt Vonnegut, was not describing Soviet Russia where car drive you, he was describing the United States in the relatively near future. And if we don’t stay on our toes, we just may arrive in our future in just that fashion.

Well-known developmental psychologist William Perry explains that as we mature to adulthood, we go through different stages in determining our own thoughts and opinions. As young people, many of us see the world as if there’s only one right answer, and it’s always the adult’s job the authority figure to give us that answer. Unfortunately though, many adults never really grow out of this stage.  Instead of first looking to their parents or teachers like they did when they were young for answers, adults immediately look up at a television or down at a newspaper, without thinking about a given situation for themselves first.

But when we rely solely on others to give us all of the information, we lose the ability to think for ourselves. And it is at this time that we can take George Harrison’s timeless advice.Thinking for ourselves is imperative for both our progress as individuals and for mankind as a whole.

Independent thought, as far as the individual is concerned, is vital for learning anything in life successfully. As you might think, it all starts with education; but Howard Gardner, developmental psychologist and professor of Cognition at Harvard University, notes that simply studying and memorizing material doesn’t quite do the trick. He describes how even when students do well at problems like those that are found in the textbook, they do not truly understand what they’ve learned. His point is this: that we have to actually engage ourselves, interact, and explore what we’re learning in order to gain a full understanding of it. Simply reading it or seeing it on television doesn’t do it. Independent thought is crucial, even in these beginning stages—just as much as it will be fifty years down the road—in the development of an individual’s mind.

And how it benefits us collectively, well that’s easy to see. The best minds mankind has ever produced are those of independent thinkers: Thomas Edison with the light bulb is a… shining example. Alexander Graham Bell might call in second with his telephone. John Lennon, at least I would imagine, would in third with his vast array of songs. These people truly did change the world, and they did it all with their own minds. Galileo Galilee was the first to prove that the Earth was not the center of the universe… and his radical claims landed him on house arrest for the rest of his life… but don’t let that deter you. If Galileo would have given in to the status quo, thought like everyone else and adopted conventional wisdom, maybe we would still be at the center of the universe and centuries of gaining knowledge of the cosmos may have never even happened.

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted,” said famous British philosopher and social critic, Bertrand Russell. That’s a small bit of advice for those wanting to think independently. I think we could agree, for instance, that if we usually eat at the same restaurants, always eat the same food at those same restaurants, and interact with the same people while eating the same food at those same restaurants… it’s time for a change. Instead of going through the regular routine (whatever that may be), we might read a different type of book, meet new people, take a road trip. Be a little spontaneous.  Exploring different ways of thinking and doing different things will help us to think for ourselves, because more divers experiences that we have, the better off we will be.

Tom O’Leary, in his article “5 Ways to Develop Independent Thought,” recommends that instead of immediately turning on the television or running to Google, we try thinking for ourselves first. We try to figure out a situation on our own, without the input of anyone else—at least initially. Further, if you disagree with something, go and throw yourself into the other world for a while. Putting what you hear through this kind of test is certainly the prizewinning way to think independently. Try to really understand the other point of view; whether it’s reading a controversial book or truly listening to the words of someone you may not agree with. In the end, if our views have change somewhat, good. If they haven’t, we can now say that we’ve really looked at both sides and can draw conclusions that are actually ours, based on our own knowledge and experience.

Christopher Hitchens, in his Letters to a Young Contrarian, notes that, “The essence of an independent mind is not what it thinks, but how it thinks.” Thinking for yourself is certainly important, and the results are worth it. The sad part is, although independent thought is by no means hidden, it’s also not fully realized by a vast number of people. So that’s what I ask of you: spread the word of independent thought; encourage it in your parents and classmates, or your friends and coworkers. Remember to think for yourself, “’cause I won’t be there with you.” Don’t forget to question everything. Above all, remember the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous 19th-century German philosopher, who said, “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. But no price [no price] is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

The article was originally published by The Libertarian Review.

A Queer Wedding

Evidenced every so oftenmost recently with President Obama's support of homosexual marriagethe hardly different sets of major ideologies still give each other enough rub to create an intense amount of friction. Your author offers a libertarian compromise for the popular issue of the day.

by Christopher Zimny

"There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are 'just' because the law makes them so."  Frederic Bastiat, The Law
"Isn’t that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?" Richard John Santorum

Apparently, for Rick Santorum, the various laws of the land which "preserve" traditional marriage between one man and one woman are so sacred that if they were changed, they would violate the entire "sanctity" of marriage as we know it. During the heat of the primaries before he suddenly suspended his campaign, he served as the latest flair in a long list of defenders of the "traditional values" staple of the Grand Old Party.

Whatever the phrase "traditional values" really means might be subjective (as culture has shifted significantly over the years), but maybe it is not; maybe it does have some kind of objective meaning. I don't call myself an expert in these matters.

Clear on the other side, as it were, of the political spectrum are the challengers of these values. Social liberals claim that marriage may as well be between a man and a man (or the same of two females); after all, what difference does it make? They make the argument that in respect to government recognition of marriage and the benefits that flower from this which married couples enjoy, same-sex couples who earnestly love each other should also be put under such laws. Perhaps this is a fair point, but insofar as it is up to the government to sort this out, one should not consult me.

With all the fervent attack on and defense of traditional valuesand the laws which codify themas oppose to liberal ones, one might rightly suspect that, in fact, the reverse is true: it is instead the laws that give meaning to the values, instead of the other way about.

One might picture a social conservative responding to this theory by saying it is the value of marriage itself that will be threatened with the outcome of these debates (and, they may as well add, with the debates themselves). In fact, this is what one hears time and time again from the religious right. But threatened with what, exactly? If the laws are changed, your author contends that nothing of grave importance will change with them.

Take this idea for instance, Robert Murphy uses it to show how consumer demand ultimately shapes the consumer good: If Webster defined the word ‘up’ as ‘moving toward the ground,’ people would see right through it and the dictionary company would go out of business. Similarly, in the business of marriage, if the Obama administration (or indeed all the social liberals in the world) espoused that homosexual marriage is indeed ‘marriage’, this would not redefine ‘marriage’ as such, and it should not affect, in truth, what the term or what the ceremony really means to those who hold it to a certain traditional standard. In short, even if the doctrine were to be made official law, the meaning of marriage would not change.

Proponents of same-sex marriage usually have arguments along these lines. (For example, "If gay people get married how does that affect your marriage?") The conservative response goes something along the lines of the "degeneration of society" (as if a change in the law itself is the only thing stopping society from changing). It is maintained that letting homosexuals in on the marriage scene (i.e. government benefits, tax breaks, the works) would muddle up the heterosexual monopoly on the practice.

But the law itself is our concern. Instead of this sophomoric bickering between the parties, the libertarian proposal gives a way out for both sides: removal of government from the practice of marriage. Do away with the official benefits and all of that nonsense and let the institution marriage be taken over by the Churches or whatever other place of meaning; get it out of City Hall. The fact that the state has its hands in the business has led to the erroneous debate that was mentioned above. Our compromise is to privatize the institution of marriage. This would be the only idea in practice in which homosexuals would be on equal footing with their neighbors. As we have seen, it should not affect the God-fearing conservative’s idea of marriage (if it does, there might some unseen problem in their own lives).

It might remain a mystery on how to get the two sides to actually agree to such a proposal without some kind of strong emotional resistance, but if these fiercely fighting foes could come together on this long-standing issue, it might ironically be the queerest wedding in our society to date.

This article was originally published by The Libertarian Review.

A Deplorable Compromise: The Price of Obama's Reforms

When many on the left voted in 2008, they did so under the auspice of decreased warfare in the Middle East. The Democratic nominee offered to meet these demands with an Iraq drawdown, which he (eventually) did. But since becoming President, he has increased other parts of the “War on Terror” and his supporters pledge their allegiance anyway.

by Christopher Zimny
"Tell me straight out, I call on you—answer me: imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, that same child who was beating her chest with her little fist, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tearswould you agree to be the architect on such conditions? Tell me the truth."
Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov

One might be tempted to take one facet of the general "progressive" ideology at face value: their generally antiwar sentiment. A lack of a warfare state means a more prosperous economy and significantly less blowback than that state might otherwise see. In some cases, wars may be justified; when they are not, the ugly deaths or injuries suffered should be seen as having been needless, and immediately followed by an examination of the leaders, policies, and morality that went into making such a decision. The corollary to this, of course, is that the leader of the aggressing state ought to be held accountable for his actions. Why, then, after continuing and stepping up activity resulting from the Bush era conflicts, does the left venerate President Obama on the one hand, and with the other wave off his deadly deeds as if they were irrelevant?

Progressives are no doubt to some degree proud of the President's fiscal agenda; some wish he would do more. Some deplore, too, his military activity in the Middle East and elsewhere, rightly admonishing him for resources unduly spent, money unwisely spent, and the tragic consequences of it all. But for whatever reason one might give, they nevertheless hold true to him. Though his fiscal (and monetary) policies are unsound to a terrible degree, my contention here is with the left’s tacit support of Mr. Obama's war doctrine.

Transforming President Bush's "War on Terror" into perhaps a slightly more precision-oriented one, the military activities of the U.S. under Mr. Obama include placement of troops in Uganda, large drone campaigns in Yemen and Somalia, "leading from behind" in Libya, troop increases in Afghanistan and Iraq (and a later "shifting of resources" from the latter to the former), troop operation and drone strikes in Pakistan, and more, including foreign aid given to, but not limited to, any of these countries for purposes of military conflict.

There are consequences to these conflicts, of which those that have followed them are undoubtedly aware. These include an untold number of people who have had their life's work of making a better life for themselves or for their family obliterated. For whatever reasontheir homes destroyed, their place of living having been engulfed by violence, etc.many casualties of war are refugees who find themselves torn away from regular life, and are then subject to destitution. Deaths from violence number in the hundreds of thousands, civilian and combatant casualties included, which is not to mention the many more that have been injured that would have otherwise been in healthy shape had the wars not taken place. These are the natural results of war. The point to impress upon the reader is that these casualties of war are real. They may be thousands of miles from your front yard, but these people really are dead or injured or thrown into destitution, and despite one's best efforts to put these people out of sight and out of mind, they are still casualties resulting from U.S. actions, whether one chooses to acknowledge them or not.

The actual amount spent by Mr. Obama's administration on his military ventures is immaterial, at least for our purpose here, because we are looking at a matter of principle. So let us assume a conservative arbitrary estimate for the total amount of the President's spending on conflicts overseas: $1 million. (We might assume that the war contractors, weapons manufacturers, plus all the rest were feeling generous since 2008.) This wealth, rather than being used for purposes of war, might have been funding put into Medicare or Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, subsidies for green energy that provide or will provide employment, bailouts for companies going under that would preserve employment, and much more.

To make a clearer example of this principle, let us reduce the figure of refugees from war to a mere 100 people. Say this figure is an aggregate of all the countries the long arm of the U.S. has touched, which undesirably produced this result. What can be made of it? To begin with, the money used to make the location of these peoples' homes so hazardous might have been used to put 100 U.S. citizens in homes, and both the people affected by U.S. foreign policy and citizens of the U.S. would have had a better life. At the cost of displacing civilians elsewhere, we put up with continued homelessness here.

There exists a laundry list of government responsibilities that progressives have drawn up, and spending on any one of those items would be money better spent than on destruction in war. It might even be excusable if this sort of spending wasn’t expressly commissioned repeatedly by Democrats in the Congress or the White Housealas it has been. The declaration of a wish for war expenditures means precisely that the elected leaders of the United States prefer to use our $1 million figure on death and destruction than on the domestic needs of the poor or restructuring our economy for the better.

But setting the consequences of war spending aside, let's even grant that it is indeed possible to continue with war expenditures and simultaneously make in the United States a better economy through rightly placed spending or inflation. Say our leader can do both, as he is presently purporting to do. Your author's point is that even if one could have both, many, in practice, prefer to have a leader that does bothfor whatever reasonbecause it means having domestic social or economic “reforms” resulting in Americans leading better lives. Said in more direct words, supporters of Mr. Obama will have thousands put into poverty, thousands needlessly killed, and billions spent on these operations, in order that they might have this same administration institute progressive restructuration for a better society in the United States.

How grotesque could any voter be? Perhaps it is not truly purposeful behavior, but ignorance or apathy, or a light-minded pragmatic decision that results in a vote of this kind. In any case, any person on the left that espouses antiwar ideology and continues to support Mr. Obama must thoroughly examine their own principles if he or she is to vote with a clear conscience come November.

This article was originally published by The Libertarian Review.

Who Is Ayn Rand?

“I am. I think. I will.”
— Equality 7-2521, in Anthem

Ayn Rand was—and is—an intellectual revolutionary. Throughout a lifetime of observing the minds of men, she steadily formulated and added to her philosophy of rational being—which was, in short, that in order to truly affirm life, one must live proudly and unwaveringly for oneself. Rand was the author of an immense amount of literature, both fiction and nonfiction, that advanced her philosophy of Objectivism and unquestionably changed the face of modern political thought.

Best known as a compelling, lucid, and intelligent novelist, as well as a screenwriter and editor The Objectivist magazine, Rand boldly declared, in the midst of the worldwide conflict between individualist and collectivist thought, that man’s first and only duty is to himself. From We the Living—her first and semi-autobiographical novel against Communism—to Atlas Shrugged—her timeless classic espousing her refined worldview—Rand turned the tables on collectivist philosophies of all stripes. Through these works, she was, and continues to be, a stout contrarian in the face of those who wish to claim control over the individual.

Born in 1905, Rand was raised and educated in Russia where she felt the reaching effects of the Russian Revolution of 1917. She left for America in 1925, where she was intent on writing freely and became a moderately successful screenwriter. The Fountainhead marked her first true success as a novelist, and her political activism brought her into friendship with several well-known libertarian thinkers—such as Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt—who, like her, continue to be regarded as great. Throughout her later life she focused on many nonfiction publications, lectured, and actively spread her philosophy until her death in 1982. Her legacy remains prominent today.

This article was also published by The Libertarian Review.