Category: Blog

All Hat and No Cattle

All Hat and No Cattle

“On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock.” – Thomas Jefferson


All talk and no action, all sizzle and no steak, all mouth and no trousers, all hat and no cattle; these idioms describe when someone’s actions don’t echo their claims. I often write on the ills of government and how ever-increasing laws infringe upon our natural rights to life, liberty, and property. But rather than focusing on state threats, this quill pivots to a matter of nuisance—a nuisance found within the ranks of the liberty movement.

I don’t presume to know the heart of every man, and the good Lord knows I’m incapable of attaining absolute consistency devoid of hypocrisy. But it strikes me that there are three main types within the liberty movement: 

  • Those who are all talk and no action. 
  • Those who act – then buckle under pressure. 
  • Those who hold fast to principles – even in the face of ruin.

Sounding off on the political state of affairs comes easy; we all partake in that. But for some, it represents a modus operandi. They complain like clashing cymbals and spit venom. They beat their chests like silver-backs as if that alone will bring change or relief. Calling social media platforms home, they build pseudointellectual fortresses from which to launch indiscriminate attacks on all who question them. And like the dark fishing spider, they devour their own, seeking short-term gains, no matter the cost.

This type does nothing to attract those new to the ideas of liberty. Their heavy footprints are mostly seen and felt within libertarianism’s perpetual infighting. I expect little from the individuals bent on lamentation – some of whom appear to be borderline neurotic, incapable of refining their ideas and presenting them in a manner that inspires.

“Discontent, blaming, complaining, self-pity cannot serve as a foundation for a good future, no matter how much effort you make.” – Eckhart Tolle

Our second type poses an even greater risk to lasting credibility. When writers, podcasters, and politicians in the movement achieve levels of success, they often acquire a follower base and attain notoriety. Here, we find our leaders and spokesmen, but beware of the grifters and charlatans. Some talk a great game but leave nothing but the curtains behind when the heat turns up. To them, liberty is an accouterment, a vibrant flag flown high only until it no longer brings any advantage. They are only concerned with themselves. 

Likening an invertebrate, their spineless retreat negatively impacts liberty’s advancement in two ways. First, they leave their followers disillusioned and frustrated – stalling overall momentum. Those who look up to them often put too much stock in their heroes’ opinions. When their bastions crumble, they often crumble along with them. Prudence would have us set our sights on principle over man and resist this tribal tendency.

Secondly, the abandonment of principles sends a clear message to opponents keeping a watchful eye over us: it’s a weak-willed movement. When a writer or podcaster publicly propagates one thing but privately does another, their lack of integrity does not go unnoticed. When politicians campaign on liberty only to throw those principles aside to maintain power, popping champagne bottles can be heard throughout the duopoly. In life, compromise is a reality, and nothing happens in a vacuum – but lines need to be drawn. 

Traveling off the beaten path is not easy. The prominent voices of today’s movement need to consider the costs of leading the charge. Leaders are held to a higher standard, and if they experience difficulty practicing what they preach, humility will be required to carry trust forward. No one should blame them if their heart is no longer in it. Increasing personal responsibility and reducing government is anything but fashionable, and speaking out against narratives brings down immense wrath. But there are two choices for those acting as beacons: withdraw from the spotlight and let another light the way, or press on accepting whatever consequences may come.

“When you see no present advantage, walk by faith and not by sight. Do God the honor to trust Him when it comes to matters of loss for the sake of principle.” ― Charles Spurgeon

As a committed Christian, perhaps I expect too much. I begin with the assumption that people should be willing to sacrifice for principles. Martyrdom comes in many forms and is not exclusive to Christianity. Like those I include in our third type, many individuals experience strong convictions and feel the weight of deep burdens. For them, backsliding from a belief because presenting it won’t come easy would be unthinkable. 

When a soldier stands his ground, ordered to hold the hill, the risk he faces is maiming or death. But the risks associated with the battlefield in question are of an entirely different nature. Reputations are destroyed, elections and livelihoods lost, ridicule ensues. Yet, many have tethered themselves to the ship – even when it’s taking on water. And whether or not elections are won, articles are read, and episodes are listened to, those faithful torchlights will carry on illuminating the message of individualism: a gospel of sorts. 

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every human being holds value, skill, and reasons for being here. My intention is not to spread malice or diminish individuals but rather to speak to the witnessing ability of our marginalized ranks. Our ideals, grounded in logic, tolerance, and freedom, are too important to hold back for not wanting to cause offense – and so I must be bold. To those who post and yell loudest and yet do nothing, contemplate your next steps. To those occupying seats of influence – examine yourselves and your loyalty to principle. If anyone finds themselves lacking the motivation or courage to saddle up and endure, consider hanging your hat elsewhere.

Towards integrity,

OA


Capsized By Charity

Capsized By Charity

“Far too many equate compassion for the poor with support for government welfare programs. They are not the same thing.” Bradley Thomas (@EraseState)


Merely two months had passed since purchasing our new car, yet there we were, continually stalling and finally unable to start – sitting ducks in the middle of traffic. Exercising our one option, my wife and I called a tow truck and waited in joint bewilderment. A faulty sensor caused a particular tow truck driver’s path along with ours to converge that evening. We climbed into his truck and struck up a great conversation that continued until we reached the dealership to drop off the vehicle. Once there, the driver offered to drive us home, roughly a thirty-minute drive away. It beat waiting for a cab. As we continued conversing, the driver and I soon realized we had both overcome past addictions and began sharing how those victories had once more granted us abundant lives. Thirty minutes seemed like ten, and we were home. Thanking the driver, I took my wallet out of my coat pocket and asked him what we owed him. “Absolutely nothing,” he said. He added that the conversation had been an encouragement and was payment enough. Nothing? I was speechless. We exchanged some final words and said our goodbyes. As he drove away, my wife and I were left marveling at what had unfolded: genuine charity.

The Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said,

“Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to throw away. Death stands at your elbow. Be good for something while you live and it is in your power.”

Many of us learn the benefits of sharing our toys and helping others early on in life. But where do these moral or societal norms come from, and how does applying them benefit us? In this quill, I will present the following three reasons individuals ought to be charitable: its importance throughout biblical scripture, the positive effect it has towards achieving individual happiness and peaceful society, and finally, how un-coerced charity erodes our reliance on government safety nets, potentially reducing the government’s influence over us.

Faithful Obedience

Before we begin, it’s worth mentioning that although the forthcoming section speaks to Christianity, specifically, I recognize many other belief systems place a similar emphasis on the importance of charitable works. However, as a professing Christian, I have chosen to adhere to what I know best. To the particular reader who may be averse to religious arguments, I encourage you to skip this first section rather than abandoning this work altogether. Now let’s dig in.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 from the King James Version (KJV) reads,

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

Interestingly enough, the KJV is one of the few translations to convert this passage’s usage of the Greek word “agape” into “charity.” Most versions opt for the word “love” instead. Not to detract from the point at hand, but I find this helpful in demonstrating how closely associated the two concepts are.

The preceding passage addresses charity’s preferential position over individual spiritual fervor. Believers sometimes fall prey to the desire to impress others by voicing long-winded articulate prayers or trying to impart to others how closely they are to God. Please do not misinterpret me here; I am not saying articulated prayers, and a desire to grow closer to God is wrong. But the passage clearly states that if you demonstrate different types of spiritual gifts, claim to know God, but are not charitable, there’s a problem.

The website Britannica.com defines charity as,

“Charity, in Christian thought, the highest form of love, signifying the reciprocal love between God and man that is made manifest in unselfish love of one’s fellow men… In Christian theology and ethics, charity (a translation of the Greek word agapē, also meaning ‘love’) is most eloquently shown in the life, teachings, and death of Jesus Christ. St. Augustine summarized much of Christian thought about charity when he wrote: ‘Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered, unites us to God, for by it we love him.'”

So what do the accounts of Jesus Christ, and the bible as a whole, teach us about charity?

Let’s look at mercy as it relates to charity. In the biblical story of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8), the Pharisees confront Jesus, remind him Jewish law requires that she be stoned to death, and ask Him what should become of her. Amazingly, although he recognizes her sin and knows the law, Jesus replies, “…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Awestruck, the men withdraw from the scene, thus sparring the woman from a humiliating and almost certain death. Jesus then counsels the woman and addresses her wrongdoing before telling her to sin no more. He could have easily condemned her to ensure His continued good standing with the spiritual authorities of the day. Instead, he illuminated the reality of sin and pointed the light back onto them. The woman received a great measure of mercy.

Many people associate financial generosity with charity. A well-known biblical principle that supports this is the concept of tithing – giving a certain percentage of your income to advance the church’s work. Tithing is an Old Testament (OT) command that is re-affirmed again in the New Testament (NT). Modern believers sometimes disagree about whether or not the ten percent still applies under the NT. Nevertheless, most agree that faithful giving is an essential part of spiritual discipline and growth.

My wife and I currently operate a church out of our home. We have faithfully chosen to continue putting money aside even though we’re not associated with any organization or have any operating costs. The tithing discipline enables us to meet people’s needs when they arise and to support established charities. There are no shortages of opportunities to help, and the scriptures point many of them out to us. Scripture frequently addresses helping the orphan, the widow, and most often the poor. A thorough review of scripture should compel the believer to help those in need and warn them against turning a blind eye.

To the believing Christian, Jesus’ death on the cross represents the most remarkable demonstration of love the world has ever known. Jesus devoted his early years to the teachings of the OT scriptures. Later, as his teachings began to increasingly subvert the local authorities and Rome, he never backpedaled as pressure on him began to mount during his adult ministry. He could have recanted and saved His own skin; instead, He chose martyrdom. Jesus exemplified perfect love while enduring a slow, painful death on the cross in saying,

“…Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do…” (Luke 23:24)

The crucifixion account of Jesus and other accompanying scriptures has effectively spurred many Christians to make sacrifices to help elevate those around them.

Proverbs 25:21-22 describes the effects of being gracious and charitable on those who oppose us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” Most people expect to be repaid evil for evil. When we repay good for evil, this unexpected reply often stings the offender: something unanticipated. The world knows too much vengeance and too little forgiveness.

Creating a Peaceful Society

Charity’s effects on individuals and communities often contribute to a more peaceful society. As we circle back to our tow truck driver, we recognize the impact a charitable disposition can have in transforming would be adverse events. What could have been a lost evening and a sleep-deprived night was completely upended and displaced by optimism and general hope for humanity. I recall resolving to seek out opportunities to be generous to people least expecting it. This desire is best explained by the 2000 American drama film “Pay It Forward.”

The well-known non-profit organization, Habitat for Humanity, defines “paying it forward” this way, “To pay it forward simply means to repay a kindness received with a good deed to someone else.” What would society look like if charitable acts were continually paid forward? Have you ever been in a drive-thru and discovered the vehicle ahead of you paid for you? I hope so – it definitely sheds new light on your day. And if you have, did you pay it forward by paying for the next person? Something to think about. Imagine the ripple effect of everyone paying it forward for one day. How would that impact the employees? Sure this scenario presents winners and losers in terms of its cost implications. Still, everyone would benefit from the kindness received and the feelings generated from passing on that kindness. Ok, maybe I’m seeing things through rose-coloured glasses, but a guy can dream. The drive-thru scenario is a simple illustration of how charitable actions contribute to positive attitudes and lead to beneficial outcomes.

On the topic of attitude, an evergreen article by Colleen Walsh of “The Harvard Gazette” states,

“Studies suggest that more money can lead to a significant bump in positive outlook when it brings people out of poverty, but when simply taking a person up a pay grade, there’s often only a minor change in attitude. And while the purchase of material possessions can offer a temporary lift, the effects of a new watch, car, or dress, studies show, are almost always short-lived.”

The article also references a Harvard Business School and University of British Columbia study stating the following correlation between the act of giving and levels of happiness,

“The findings showed that those who reported spending more on others, what the team called “prosocial” spending, also reported a greater level of happiness, while how much they spent on themselves had no impact on happiness.”

If happiness were capital, the preceding quote informs an individual’s expected return on investment when investing in others rather than themselves. Increasing levels of individual happiness can, in turn, have positive effects on the communities around them. Aside from helping with financial needs, people can also give of their time. A willingness to watch my neighbour’s children on short notice can significantly benefit them when something unexpected comes up. Knowing we are there for them can enlarge their sense of security and improve their overall mental and emotional state. Our neighbourly commitment to one another strengthens our mutual relationship. When our children have it out with one another (kids will be kids), both families have increased incentives to peacefully work things out.

Imagine this reality multiplied throughout an entire community: everyone would benefit. Neighbours would be better acquainted and have a vested interest in watching out for one another: making the community safer. In a more harmonious world, calling on law enforcement to lower the volume level of your neighbour’s music would be unthinkable. What might motivate your neighbour to comply with your request? The reciprocal nature of healthy relationships. Charitable neighbours make for better and more peaceful neighbourhoods.

For individuals living rurally, specific organizations exist, enabling charitable works and offering opportunities to get involved. “Voluntaryism In Action” exemplifies tangible voluntary initiatives aimed at strengthening communities. The organization’s mission statement reads,

“Voluntaryism in Action strives to empower and improve the lives of everyone across the globe through charitable, voluntary, and free market solutions.”

Their initiatives aim to improve community development, respond to urgent needs and disaster relief, contribute to education initiatives, and more. When life qualities are improved, we often witness less crime, leading to a more peaceful society. Whether done in person or from a distance, charity increases the prospect of peace. In an age where a growing number of people are becoming social isolates, reaching out to those around you can upend the individual tendency to withdraw. It may take time, but a little persistence can bring about remarkable results.

Continuing with the organization at hand, we find a compelling distinction within their vision statement, which reads,

“To be the premiere resource and venue for those who seek to help their fellow man through voluntary compassion rather than coerced altruism.”

Coerced altruism resulting from taxation and administered by the state lacks genuine charity’s upside and impedes its organic development. Government welfare is very effective, however, in creating individual and apathetic communities. In turn, this apathy strengthens the perception that the state is the only vessel capable of providing assistance to individuals in times of need.

Reducing State Influence

Turning our attention to altruism’s troubling relationship with the state, we once again borrow from our friends at Voluntaryism In Action,

“Rather than mutual agreements and voluntary exchange, we find our daily lives and actions being dictated by bureaucratic third parties. We find it not only immoral to centrally plan society, but dramatically inefficient. The system designates A to force B to pay for C, while A takes a portion for his own keeping. We find that this state-instituted welfare system not only leaves many disenfranchised due to disincentives, it further harms the individuals it intends to assist.”

State welfare should not be confused with charity. In his classic book “The Law,” famous French economist and philosopher Frédéric Bastiat wrote,

“You say, ‘There are men who have no money,’ and you apply to the law. But the law is not a self-supplied fountain, whence every stream may obtain supplies independently of society. Nothing can enter the public treasury, in favor of one citizen or one class, but what other citizens and other classes have been forced to send to it.” (pp. 20-21)

Government assistance is merely the re-distribution of resources obtained through forced taxation from one individual to another. Despite being disguised as philanthropy, the truth is the appropriation of funds that bankroll social safety nets is made possible by oppressing and plundering private citizens.

Coerced altruism also encounters problems of reduced effectiveness. I make no attempt to conceal that I’m a federal employee at the time of writing this. My livelihood depends on tax revenues, as do all public employees, including those overseeing government safety net programs. These salaries equate to high administration costs, diminishing the assistance provided to those who need it. Another drawback, often unnoticed, is what I like to call “divorced charity.” The term divorced speaks to the impersonal aspect of government hand-outs which can negatively impact individual psyches in numerous ways.

First, government bureaucracy forces applicants to navigate endless forms in hopes of qualifying and accessing benefits. This process can prove quite burdensome and can contribute to increased anxiety and feelings of disenfranchisement. I have seen this unfold in the lives of certain veterans struggling with PTSD while trying to navigate the system. True charity works to alleviate these sorts of experiences. If someone we knew expressed difficulties in paying their upcoming power bill, which of the following approaches would seem more charitable?

  • A – Ask them how much money they require and offer to do our best to help.
  • B – Ask them for recent bank statements and a monthly budget plan, offer them money, and request a receipt to ensure the money went towards paying the power bill.

Option A, and to be clear, I’m not concerned about enabling a few dishonest individuals along the way. My instincts usually don’t let me down. Moreover, as we’ve seen, charity’s benefits often apply as much to those giving as to those receiving. By nature, state “benevolence” is impersonal and often inefficient. But what effect does society’s reliance on state programs have on the government’s increasing size and mandate?

The famous economist and historian Murray N. Rothbard wrote the following in his classic work, “Anatomy of the State,”

“Once a State has been established, the problem of the ruling group or ‘caste’ is how to maintain their rule. While force is their modus operandi, their basic and long- run problem is ideological. For in order to continue in office, any government (not simply a ‘democratic’ government) must have the support of the majority of its subjects. This support, it must be noted, need not be active enthusiasm; it may well be passive resignation as if to an inevitable law of nature.” (p. 18)

When seeking the citizenry’s support, perhaps no scheme is more effective than dangling one’s livelihood before their eyes. As governments continue to expand, the population’s reliance on government safety nets has increased with it. There are now endless discussions around enshrining certain benefits as human rights. These expectations have resulted in some individuals making incentive-based decisions about whether it is even beneficial for them to find employment. Clearly, the gravy train has gone off the rails. Long gone are the days when the government operated as a collective group of individuals legitimized by protecting individual rights to life, liberty, and property. Today’s governments resemble huge cash cows, compelled to carry on funding all sorts of expensive programs and cooking up endless new positive right initiatives to maintain popular support. Every four years, many ballots are cast based on promises of increased financial incentives for the low and middle classes. As a consequence of central banking, most of these promises are funded without ever raising taxes, and few question the sustainability of such activities.

Consider the effects on voting behaviour if charity was solely an individual, community, or corporate pursuit. Back page topics would make their way into more serious discussions and contribute to superior policies – well, theoretically anyway. In the previous section, we visualized how communities, strengthened through neighbourly love, might impact society. Imagine how modified expectations might affect government size and the government’s claim to being our caretaker. For those yearning for freedom, from the classical liberal straight through to the anarchist, there’s consensus that the current size and scope of government is grotesque. Negating the government’s capacity regarding charity would take a small step towards undermining its authority, impacting future policies, and reducing its overall size.

In closing out this section, we would be wise to recognize government assistance for what it is – relief with conditions. The conditions being we accept the countless negative trade-offs, agree with the size and scope of government, and remember which hand has been feeding us through the next election cycle. Murray Rothbard put it simply in his book “Power and Market: Government and the Economy,”

“It is curious that people tend to regard government as a quasi-divine, selfless, Santa Claus organization. Government was constructed neither for ability nor for the exercise of loving care; government was built for the use of force and for necessarily demagogic appeals for votes. If individuals do not know their own interests in many cases, they are free to turn to private experts for guidance. It is absurd to say that they will be served better by a coercive, demagogic apparatus.”

In Closing

“The Golden Rule,” as it is best known, instructs us to treat others the way we want to be treated. I recently heard the following thought-provoking statement from Michael McCullough during an episode of Russ Roberts’ show “EconTalk,”

“We’ve tried on a couple of occasions to study the Golden Rule and it’s hard, to study in the laboratory.”

Interesting. It’s as though most people accept this rule as a natural law despite having no explanation as to how it works. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t really matter in the end. Perhaps what matters is that generosity benefits both parties, increases the prospect of peace, and reduces government legitimacy. Sounds pretty good to me.

Towards charity,

OA

Living By Example: 70 Years of Peaceful Resistance

Living By Example: 70 Years of Peaceful Resistance

“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” – Herodotus

John A. Dangelo III is an antiwar writer and full-time ER nurse. You can find his current content on IG @ antiwarwarvet.

This article was originally published on antiwarwarvet.com. Read the original article.


Despite an early chivalrous ring, World War I was not “the war to end all wars,” it was a harbinger. Western civilization emerged from the ruins of the “Great War” more belligerent than ever before, now for the sake of prognostications by so-called experts or in pursuit of ‘humanitarian’ ends.

The War to End War yet rages on, resolutely bloodless.  Soldiers for peace go over the top with an ever-expanding list of data points on failed interventions and human atrocities, working to convince their betters and their untapped legions of cannon fodder that peaceful ends must be achieved through peaceful means.  There can be no handsome unfurling of the victor’s flag above more corpses.  In place of marching tunes to remind them of love back home or of pride for their motherland, those within these wretched trenches are motivated by principle, by hope for progress, by frank human kindness.

I can think of few better who embody these mainsprings of peace, who stoically shoulder their charge amongst our ranks, than 85-year-old lifelong antiwar activist Joan H. Nicholson. 

Joan was raised in a Quaker home in Pennsylvania in the 1930s with deep connections to the Religious Society of Friends; her uncle an Executive Secretary.  Drawing on the rich history of her predecessors, Quakers “provided the background and ongoing inspiration to carry on a witness for peace and justice,” Joan recounts in our written correspondence.  

Attending college at Earlham with a Junior year at Edinburgh, Joan took her Friends-infused framework to post-war Europe like family before her. Joan’s father helped rebuild France after WWI while her aunt fed hungry German children during the interwar period.  Joan went to a workcamp in Austria where she saw the effects of blood-soaked modernity firsthand. 

After college, she joined the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Interns in Industry Project in Atlanta.  Joan worked in a bra factory by day and boarded at Morehouse College at night.  Factory workers protested their presence for residing at the all-black school over summer break and demanded the interns leave.  She did just that; taking a job on offer from Martin Luther King Sr. to teach children with Ebenezer Church.

After living in full-intentional communities in Georgia, Joan went back to Pennsylvania to teach with the Get-Set program for two years.  Failing to amend her contract in light of the Vietnam war and the burgeoning war-tax resistance movement, Joan resigned.  She refused to participate in the coercive funding of the American empire.

Over several hours on the telephone, Joan offers a firm refrain, spoken in her distinctly convicted, gentle voice, “war is just a thing that shouldn’t be.” She had decided somewhere along the way that her life would fully reflect that belief. 

As the war against Vietnam plodded on, peace protests gained new legs.  Joan joined a Quaker Action Group for weekly readings of the Vietnam war dead on the Capitol steps.  Joan read Vietnamese poems translated for an English audience. “We were arrested each time, but after five weeks, the judge finally ruled that it was unconstitutional to arrest us,” she writes. “That witness continued,” into the Pentagon itself – she laughingly interrupts herself – “can you imagine?” She remembers walking down steps into a common thruway where she and others began memorializing fallen American soldiers.  Joan and the others were promptly arrested.

Joan’s antiwar stripes were well earned, but she persisted.  Now in the late 1960s with violence in Vietnam reaching new heights, the draft was supplying incredulous holdouts for ‘service.’ Joan had other notions of what service meant.  Joan pens that she “joined the movement to nonviolently destroy or remove draft files in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia.” The group “surfaced” and was called before a grand jury.  The case was dismissed as prosecutors struggled to connect activists to particular locations.

It was again alongside Quakers that Joan captured headlines in Rochester.  The Flower City Conspiracy broke into the Federal Selective Services building, the FBI, and the Attorney General’s Office and destroyed draft files.  The 8-person crew standing trial represented themselves to use the time before the judge and jury to highlight the criminality and injustice of the war against Vietnam.  The Flower City Conspiracy was facing 38 years, but the jury recommended leniency and Joan, the eldest at 36, received 15 months.

Joan’s penchant for protesting injustice ran roots even into her concrete cell block.  Joan took part in peaceful agitation for prison reform in solidarity with prisoners in Attica before the riots there.  After the smoke and gas had cleared in New York – with dozens left dead – Joan was moved with other women from Alderson to Texas where she spent the remaining 12 months of her sentence.  There, she penned a diary and began writing children’s books. 

After her release, Joan traveled back to Washington, D.C.  Amidst the shouts of the Mayday Tribe, one may have heard Joan’s cadence calling with the crowd, “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.” The People’s Blockade, calling themselves the Mayday Collective, attempted to blockade 21 key positions around the U.S. capital.  The nation watched as police cracked down on permitted camps and tens of thousands of protestors with their usual tact of tear gas and low-flying helicopters.  Political chainsaw surgery for the manifestations of “Vietnam Syndrome.”

One morning Joan and a friend traveled to the White House, with names of the war dead echoing from the Capitol steps.  Joan had her blood drawn from a doctor and carried it with a rolled map of Vietnam into the East Room while tourists quietly shuffled between paintings.  Beneath the chandeliers with Washington himself watching like all the rest, Joan and her friend unfurled the poster reading “STOP SPILLING BLOOD” and splattered it with Joan’s blood.  She recalls that, “A small New York Times article reported that red paint had been used.” 

As overt military action in Vietnam ended, Joan went back to Pennsylvania, where she worked as a camp counselor for 12 summers.  Throughout the Cold War, with the state’s war apparatus still in the forefront of her mind, Joan remained active.  

Most pressing was the now-forgotten reconstruction of Vietnam and Cambodia.  In 1991 Joan spent three weeks with International Peace Works reaching out to Vietnamese and Cambodian communities in violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act that still wracked a Southeast Asia in recovery.  Desperate medical facilities were strangled for supplies as the IMF and World Bank were prohibited from making loans.  This economic warfare 16 years after the Fall of Saigon stymied progress as ‘legacy ordinance’ continued savaging a helpless people. “Our hosts were concerned about what might occur on the trip, because war wounds are so deep and pervasive, and we would be the first U.S. citizens seen by some of the Vietnamese since the war.  Incredibly, we were warmly welcomed by most of the people we met.  We were deeply moved and challenged by their forgiveness, courage and persistent hope for peace,” she remembers in a Friends Journal piece.  

At the end of her trip to Southeast Asia, Joan traveled to Hiroshima, Japan.  She wanted to personally bear the image, some fifty years later, of those who died beneath the uniquely American mushroom-cloud-shaped olive branch.

With over 40 years of peacemaking behind her, the road ahead became altogether different in 2001.  The once dichotomous Cold War model of supposed good versus evil transformed into a totalitarian nightmare of political-military global hegemony backed by corporate war-profiteers.  The justification for endless American military intervention struck New York City’s Twin Towers, and the Global War on Terror began.  In a few short years, as the laundry list of countries to be liberated grew, Joan hatched a plan.

Thanks to the generosity of “an old Friends Meetinghouse” owner, Joan began planting signs on the lawn facing Highway 1 in Pennsylvania.  Every morning – and every afternoon until recently – while weather permits, Joan stands outside quietly decrying the U.S. imperialism of the day.  Ever the slight, silent sentinel, Joan jealously guards her values in the face of thousands of community passersby.  

“CLOSE GUANTANAMO.”  

“STOP U.S. SUPPORT FOR KIEV.”  

“FREE MANNING, ASSANGE.”  

“ABOLISH U.S. NUCLEAR WEAPONS.”  

“STOP U.S. WARS FOR PROFIT AND PLUNDER.” 

Traveling with CodePink, Joan flew to Pakistan to meet with families and support victims of the U.S. drone program while they buzzed overhead.  She heard stories from families who lost innocent loved ones to so-called ‘precision-guided’ armaments.   She flew to Nicaragua and Haiti on mission trips supporting the impoverished and meeting with community action groups.

As she’s grown older, Joan travels less, needing help coordinating transportation and a friendly bed to rely on.  In a letter to a friend, she recalls a more recent trip to Washington.  Joan writes, “Christians and people of other religious faiths were gathered in the Hart Senate Building to pray for peace, for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Through prayer and stillness, word and song, we sought to reach out to the heart and minds of those who have voted for the madness of the invasions and occupation which destroyed the lives and welfare of untold millions of people and caused suffering that will endure for generations.”

In another visit to D.C., from the gallery of the House of Representatives, Joan watched as strident non-interventionist Representative Kucinich (D-OH) hosted a debate on ending the U.S. GWOT wars.  During the proceedings, a fellow member of the house repeatedly yelled, “al-Qaeda are global terrorists.” Joan couldn’t stand the hypocrisy and shouted down from the gallery, “The U.S. is the global terrorist!” She was arrested and banned from the capital for nine months. 

In 2011, on the 8th Anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Veterans for Peace organized a demonstration outside the White House to protest the illegal war and the treatment of Chelsea Manning.  Joan and the VFP members in attendance were arrested.  Everyone arrested, save Joan, was offered a $35 fee to forfeit.  Joan was told she would face the charges because of “previous cases.” Several of her fellow protestors from VFP refused to the offer and stood trial.  She writes, “As it turned out, I was thankful to be with the others on trial.” 

In her testimony, Joan criticizes the drone program and the tactics of the GWOT under the pretense of protection.  In her testimony’s closing remarks, Joan’s resolve reflected bluntly, “These unspeakable crimes against humanity were by themselves enough to compel me to join the veterans and others in front of the White House on March 19th… Peaceful efforts to effect change often seem to be futile gestures, but I believe we must never give up hope that our nation’s war policy can be radically transformed.”

That hope has ordered nearly every step Joan’s taken since she came into adulthood.  Contemptuous of an unjust ruling class and the “corporate media” she blames for perpetuating their lies, Joan manifests that dismay with kindness.  Though, there are no stars in the eyes that have seen so much.

I asked if she was at all optimistic; if she thought ‘our side’ had a chance of making real headway or effecting policy.  Stillness.

In time, Joan hesitantly chuckled. “My heavens,” she reflexively answered as she had so many times before.  

I sensed there’d been too much needless blood split for her to say; too many entrenched interests, too much money and power on the other side of no-mans land. Joan’s already connected countless weathered-by-war faces to the receiving end of the U.S. foreign policy establishment to muster the strength to lecture on change from her retirement home in Pennsylvania.

Instead, she incessantly pointed to those she considered more worthy of admiration than herself.  In each of our conversations, Joan downplayed her efforts for peace in place of those she’d come to respect throughout her years.  Joan saw my writing as a chance to highlight the work of others – earnestly agitating for peace in their times – rather than herself.

It’s precisely that deference that makes Joan’s life so admirable.  

In the era of unceasing expansion of ‘American exceptionalism’ at the barrel of a gun, Joan built her life into an obstacle; not for the sake of obstinance, but for principle.  Joan’s footprints are woven through some of the most pressing moments of 20th century America and the world beyond.

Joan’s not finished yet.  At the end of her letter to me, she writes that, “The situation in the world makes me want to continue witnessing for peace and justice as long as I can.” So tomorrow you can find her on Kennett Square’s Highway 1 – amidst her hand-written signs with a wispy peace sign – calling you to take these wretched trenches next.

John D.

Economics in 10 Tokens

Economics in 10 Tokens

A free eBooklet devoted to The Austrian School of economics

The Liberty Quill is pleased to offer “economics in 10 tokens” as a free resource for download. This eBooklet presents ten principles of Austrian economics using a tokenized approach. Please share the file found below as often as possible: that’s why it’s there.

Towards liberty.

Truth in a Totalitarian State

Truth in a Totalitarian State

An Essay on The End of Truth from F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.”

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.” ― Adolf Hitler

The author is a self-declared right-wing anarchist and enthusiast of the Austrian School of economics. You can follow him on Twitter @chillywillers. That’s all we’ve got on him; The rest is a mystery.


Totalitarian states are necessarily anti-truth. The argument’s strength pertains to the operations leading towards the institution of the totalitarian state as such, as opposed to particular leaders at particular times and places. At first glance, it may appear that the success of the social plan requires nothing more than broad agreement on goals. However, due to the nature of central planning, a broad agreement must also exist regarding the evidence used to justify the measures employed. Such consensus can only be maintained by the control of information, suppression of dissent, invasion of non-political areas of life, and ultimately the destruction of truth and reason. 

Maintaining the social plan’s acceptance is achieved by coercing or convincing the people to believe in its goals. The latter is essential to the long-run success of a planned economy and relies on effective propaganda. Propaganda exists in every society, but it is categorically different in a totalitarian state because of the absence of competing ideas. In a free society, propagandists have no assurance their assertions will take hold, but the propaganda monopolist does not share this difficulty. In a free society, it may be the case that from time to time, leaders of industry dominate the attention of the people, academia, or religious institutions; however, differences between and within these competing outlets ensure that their influence captures a majority for only a short time. Conversely, under totalitarianism, these institutions are increasingly beholden to the state. 

A second distinction is that totalitarian propaganda destroys morality and truth. This distinction becomes apparent when we consider that totalitarian propaganda must extend beyond questions of value to questions of fact. Justifying the importance of the social plan is achieved by demonstrating the connections between means and ends. The social program requires imposing a universal moral code that does not exist in a free society. The planner may not be aware of this necessity, or may be unable to plan the universal moral code because his decisions aim to resolve conflicts as they arise spontaneously. The planner is tasked with making decisions without the assistance of a definite moral code and finding some way to justify them to the people. The planner must announce some theories which are likely to appeal to the greater part of the people. 

The necessity of suppressing dissent derives from the nature of the social plan. Since most of the social project details are never explicitly stated, acceptance of the social plan increasingly becomes equivalent to the approval of every act of the planner. It follows that the schools, media, etc., must abandon truth and be directed to support the “facts” that justify the planner’s social plan. In a totalitarian state, control must necessarily extend into non-political areas of life. This is an outgrowth of how the social project gains acceptance in the economic sphere. We have seen the merit of an activity is to be judged by the extent to which it accords with prevailing theories. And at the root of all these theories is the idea that collective effort toward goals is superior to individualism’s chaos.

At this point, truth is no longer something to be discovered. Instead, it is imposed from above and subject to change to accommodate the inevitable evolution of the social plan. Arguably, in any case, what the masses regard as truth is at all times informed by several destructive ideologies such as commercialism, so there is no harm in guiding them in a more high-minded direction. While it is true that larger segments of people are prone to accept prevailing ideologies uncritically, it is quite different from saying we should reduce the number of doctrines to one. This misunderstands reason’s growth, which occurs through the interaction of individuals with diverse knowledge and values. A contradiction arises because while planning begins with rationality as its highest ideal, it can only succeed by erecting boundaries around thought and thus set in motion the decline of reason.

CW


The War on Reason

The War on Reason

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about what they imagine they can design.” – Friedrich August von Hayek

Jon McDonald is an energy economist in Texas focusing on the international trade of natural gas and natural gas derivatives. He has a master’s degree in energy economics from Rice University. Follow him on Twitter @jonnymack1010.


It is true that history gave us some philosophers who believed, through the power and process of human reason, they could predict the future of mankind as if it were as simple as watching the hands on a clock or the sun rise and fall. They claimed they were granted this power by a higher authority. Through their own arrogance they sought to produce absolute eternal truth. These utopian philosophers prepared schemes for paradise on earth but neglected the fact that what they believed to be eternal truth was just their own hubristic creation. The belief in this divinely awarded position led them to promptly establish absolute moral codes binding on all men. To free themselves from criticism, they raised themselves above fallibility and incorporated the intolerance and violent oppression of those who would dare disagree with their philosophy. Only these philosophers knew what was best for mankind so they sought dictatorship for themselves or for those who would put their ideas into practice. Only their ideas could end suffering. 

History gave us Georg Hegel and Auguste Comte. Hegel from Germany and Comte of French descent. Hegel knew everything in the universe that could be known. His doctrine held that to fully know anything required the knowledge of everything. He said the “truth” was revealed to him by Geist, or “The Absolute Spirit”. Though a brilliant thinker, nobody could interpret his work. Some took it as a reason for the autocratic dictatorship of the Prussian Church while others interpreted it as the reason for atheism and revolution. Comte said he could predict the future and he thought this entitled him to the position of supreme lawmaker. Comte worked to establish a new religion to replace Christianity and picked out a woman to supplant Mary. Comte was insane.1

The war on reason was borne out this line of thinking. It was not the result of careful self-examination, modesty, caution, or humility on behalf of the utopian philosophers nor was it caused by the failures of the natural sciences. The economic freedom which emerged as a by-product of the political freedom obtained in the late 17th and 18th centuries gave rise to the freedom to maximize knowledge towards the application of human needs. The result was the marvelous growth of science which ultimately changed the face of the world. It would be pointless to attack the technological improvements of the human race over the course of history as they speak an undeniable language of great progress and human ingenuity. Those who would wage the war on reason took aim at another target – Economics.2

The war took shape out of the conditions which existed in the 19th century. The classical economists – Say, Smith, Ricardo, and Bastiat among others – had laid socialism in its grave. They were yet to find the solutions to the classical system as drawn by Jevons and Menger, but they had done enough to expose the delusions of the socialist utopians. The communists were finished. There was only one way left open that could resurrect the collectivists ideas. They could attack reason and replace it with magical intuition.

History would choose Karl Marx to propose this solution.

Based on the omniscience granted to Hegel by Geist and the mysticism of Comte, Karl Marx gave himself the ability to predict the future for all of humanity. Karl, being the supreme knower of all things, was better informed than Hegel and Comte on the plans of Geist. In Marx’s vision of the future, the final outcome of humanity’s evolution must be the establishment of the socialist utopia. Socialism will inevitably arrive as time progresses as if it were natural law, he declared. Since every stage of human history improves upon the previous, the ultimate result of mankind’s evolution will be socialism and it will be perfect. Socialism is the highest form of civilization that man could ever achieve. Time is all that is necessary to bring about our socialist destiny and time will arrange everything for the best. There is no reason to listen to the advice of mere mortals. 

Marx still had one more hurdle in his path. The critique of the economists stood in his way, but he had a solution in mind. Human reason, he claimed, was insufficient to find truth. Universal logic and truth do not exist. Marx, replacing Hegel and Comte as the chief exhorter of “truth”, asserted that the different classes of society formulate logic in fundamentally different ways simply because the different classes have different incomes. Proletarian logic is different than bourgeois logic, he claimed. The bourgeois mind cannot produce anything other than an apology for their capitalistic exploitation of the proletariat. Therefore, bourgeois logic is irrelevant, and the proletariat class will soon abolish all classes to convert the earth into a socialist heaven. Marx stated that whatever the mind produces is ideology which can only demonstrate the selfish interests of the theorists own social class. To Marx, universal truth and reason were not available to the human mind. Yet, according to the supposedly higher mind of Marx it was universally true that socialism was mankind’s destiny.

Fittingly, some members of the bourgeois were granted the ability to logic like the proletariat. By the work of some unspecified miracle, Marx was endowed with this special ability. Karl Marx, the son of a wealthy lawyer and married to a Prussian noble, was a member of bourgeoisie awarded the knowledge of the logic of all class’s past, present and future. His collaborator Frederick Engels, a wealthy textile manufacturer, was also granted this special privilege – an obvious coincidence. That Marx and Engels both attained a wealthy status by what they called “capitalistic exploitation” by other members of society was irrelevant. They had the approval to determine absolute truth by Geist and were therefore exempt from their own theory. 

In the Marxian universe, everything revolves around the income of someone else as if it were the gravity that holds that world together. The Marxist doctrine is a false prophecy that attempts to teach the world how to properly covet, envy and despise the position of another. Marx asserted that the logical structure of the mind is dependent on class, or, essentially, income and status. Thus, the Marxists reject the economic concept of scarcity as outlined by Lionel Robbins. They reject it not only because the socialist order cannot account for this reality in its operation, but because Robbins rose from the humble life as the son of a farmer to the ranks of a prestigious professor at the London School of Economics. To a Marxist, an economic theory developed by a member of the bourgeois is spurious. The Aryans reject the theories from economists like Ricardo, Rothbard and Mises because they were Jewish. The logic of a racist differs only from Marxian logic in that it ascribes to each race a different logical structure of the mind and holds that all members of certain races, regardless of class, are endowed with this logical composition. 

Now, it is irrelevant for economics to critique the concepts of class and race as prescribed by the Marxists. It is not the purpose of economics to ask a Marxist when and how the logical structure of the mind changes when a member of the proletariat succeeds in joining the ranks of the bourgeois. It is not necessary to ask a racist to explain the logic of people who are not of a single race.

Economics has more important arguments to put forward. 

The belief that simply discussing the background of an author will suffice in the attempt to illuminate the fallacies of a theory is entirely asinine. What is necessary is to construct a system of logic to counter the contested theory to show why the theory contains invalid logic. Neither the Aryans nor the Marxists have ever been able to design such a system. Nor have they been able to demonstrate precisely in what logic the proletarian logic differs from that of the bourgeoisie or the logic of the Aryans from the non-Aryans. If such a system of counter-logic cannot be constructed, a Marxist or an Aryan would have to consistently maintain that certain ideas are false because the author is not a member of the proper class, nation, or race. However, consistency is not their strength. The Marxists and the Aryans will approve any thinker whose doctrines fit their own ideology. Anybody else is their enemy guilty of treason.

In a free market system where individuals with the natural right to choose the pursuits to which they will direct their labor, either for necessity or desire and unobstructed by the arbitrary powers of another, every change in the market setting will affect the short-run interests of several different groups of people. This dynamic makes it easy to expose every single change in the existing conditions as a change which benefitted the “selfish interests of greedy people.” Many authors today fall victim to this low-hanging fruit and Marx did not discover this procedure. It was known long before his time. It never occurred to the supporters of such dogma that where there are selfish interests in favor of certain changes there must always be selfish interests against such changes. It is completely unsatisfactory to explain any event as an affair that favored a special class. The question that is necessary to answer is why the rest of the populace whose pursuits were injured by such an action failed in challenging the efforts of those who were favored by it.3

Every firm in every sector of a free and competitive economy is interested in a higher quantity of sales for its products or services. In the long run, however, there exists a prevailing tendency towards the equalization of profits in the various sectors of production through the process of competition. If the demand for the products or services of a certain branch of industry increases, prices will rise until sufficient productive capacity can be built to meet the rise in demand. The rise in price signals a shortage and an arbitrage opportunity to a profit maximizing agent. Investors rush into the sector attempting to capture a return on capital. In consequence, more capital flows into the sector increasing the productive capacities of competing firms. The dynamics of new entrants and higher production results in lower prices and the competition of new enterprises brings the height of net returns down to a more equal level.

Those at the helm of the already high profitable firms have little interest in the preservation of free competition. They are, however, opposed to new entrants expropriating their profits and would rather keep competition at a minimum to ensure higher prices. On the other hand, they are in favor of government measures which prevent new business from challenging their position in the market. Those who fight for free enterprise and free competition do not defend the interests of the rich. They want the opportunity left open to the unknown entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow whose ingenuity will make the life of coming generations more agreeable. They want the way left open to further economic improvements. They are the watchtowers of human progress.


*Special attention was given to the work of Ludwig von Mises in the writing of this essay. The majority of what is written here can be found in Human Action – ‘Economics and the Revolt Against Reason’. My hope was to bring this work back into discussion in a condensed version.

[1] Ludwig von Mises, “Human Action”, 1949. Hereafter abbreviated LVM.

[2] LVM

[3] LVM