To Talk of Many Things… (Vol. #5 – Unalienable Rights and Nouveau Marxists)

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”

There is a case to be made by philosophers and historians that the greatest right held by man is that of property. “Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness” all as a mechanism to accumulate our properly conceived idea of property – property as our best protection from despots small and large; tyrants upon gilded thrones or in committees; holding scepters and orbs or little clipboards as they penetrate our homes in the tireless hunt for violations which can be punished.

So why then was that not written into the Declaration of Independence? “The Greek word for ‘happiness’ is eudaimonia.  In the passage above, Locke is invoking Greek and Roman ethics in which eudaimonia is linked to aretê, the Greek word for ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence.’ In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote, ‘the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action’,” writes Carol Hamilton; and therefore, “Properly understood (…) when John Locke, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson wrote of ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ they were invoking the Greek and Roman philosophical tradition in which happiness is bound up with the civic virtues of courage, moderation, and justice.”

As Greg Knittel, professor of history at De Anza College in California explained, there is also a case to be made that Jefferson did not include property in the declaration because the southern states understood that loaded word as a code for slavery and therefore in doing so would have enshrined the very thing he knew would be antithetical to a free republic; but nevertheless punted the issue to future generations after the republic had been sufficiently consolidated to be strong enough to deal with that existential southern problem.

Unalienable rights. Right to life, liberty, property… – but what about my right to play and to recess and to day care and to a forty-hour work week? My right to enter a safe space cushioned from inconvenient truths…? or to my ‘culture’ (code for non-western culture, I defy you to try to use UNESCO to defend a public seminar on Winston Churchill)? My right to a job and water and a house and food and day-care and health care and secondary school and university? Simply put, these are not rights as conceived by great thinkers, these are entitlements enshrined by bureaucrats. They are not unalienable but are in fact the results of negotiations between (ideally) free peoples and their states as to the nature and scope of government. And there are no wrong answers, necessarily. If a state wishes to provide a universal basic income, can afford it, and arrives at this decision through a process which preserves the basic rights of its citizens, that is their business. However labeling these things as ‘rights’ is a bait and switch, a Trojan horse for the tired old principles of Marxism again peddled in our public arenas. Designating these social policies as rights requires the construction of the massive states and the violation of unalienable rights and demands the suffocation of local cultures and mores and systems of community government and conflict resolution developed by free people in community. And it results in the forfeiture of property. (Remember states do not create money; everything they have is taken from us – be it through printing of inflationary money {an insidious tax on the next generation}, new debt {a mortgage on the future of our children and our children’s children, who will be saddled with its repayment} or taxation {direct forfeiture of money from the citizen}).

cheSo why the rights inflation? Why are so many of the world institutions unhappy with the basic rights as enshrined by our basic treatises – and the ones which have given us ‘life more abundant’? Its because most institutions of our global order have been infiltrated by nouveau Marxists (they call themselves socialists now). Oh, this is not a conspiracy theory; it is openly stated. While the ancient idea of a proletarian revolution is passé, there is a new Marxism which has gained traction; instead of class warfare, it demands a warfare of the oppressed. Instead of “Workers of the world unite!” its slogan is “Aggrieved of the world unite!” (you can read about the whole plan here in my mini-opus, if you should so desire). The new plan, unlike the old idea of violent revolution, is incremental – Gramscian in its methods: “Socialism is precisely the religion that must overwhelm Christianity. … In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.” If you are curious why Keynsian socialist economics is ‘mainstream’ at the IMF while the Austrian ideas of Friederich Hayek are unknown – or why there are very few United Nations resolutions on the rights of Christians in Iraq or the Sudan, or why the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has given famine-ridden Venezuela an award for food security (no, not a joke) you only need to understand the Gramscian new religion which has its utopianism grounded now in the international organizations. Naturally I am not doing this justice; the best book on this subject is “The Debasement of Human Rights” by Dr. Aaron Rhodes, a cold warrior and human rights defender who cut his teeth and became old fighting soviet socialist infiltration of our global human rights institutions: infiltration which was not extinguished in the fires of the Cold War but still exists in the persistent hopes of utopia beyond the bread lines.

Incidentally, and on a more personal note (writing now as a theologian), this is why they object to faith – for faith tells us, as Ecclesiastes has said, that things are out of human control – there will be no utopias. “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” Only honest living before God matters. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Recently the State Department has announced the creation of a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” – bi-partisan in nature and created to attempt to push the Trojan horse back onto the beach. “Its members will address basic questions: What are our fundamental freedoms? Why do we have them? Who or what grants these rights? How do we know if a claim of human rights is true? What happens when rights conflict?” How to rescue our self-evident rights from the morass of nouveau Marxism. A worthy project, if ever there is one; and one which, like all worthy endeavors, is bound to meet the resistance of those who see their planned utopias beyond the next confiscatory resolution.

My recommendation? They should all get a free copy of Rhodes’s book.

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Visit Bisbee

You might want to take a trip this summer; and you might want in doing so to visit the lost places in our own lands. So you grab the old road atlas that your dad left up in the attic from the days when he used to plan your childhood trips, and open the map to the southwest. The east is becoming claustrophobic, a little bit maybe, and the chill of winter has demanded a thorough drying out. So you think maybe New Mexico: Taos with its storied hotels and its ancient Indian condos. Or maybe San Antonio, to check out the Alamo. Not Vegas, of course. That place is only the anonymous debauchery of the cities transported to a safe-haven in the sun; a place we forgive but – for those of us who live in the west (at least sometimes) – we never go. You skip over California, that is not southwest. The open skies and the freedom of diverse backgrounds and opinions about love of God and country has long been absent from that shaking land.

Arizona; yes, the beating heart of the southwest. Cowboys and canyons; rattlers and bears; forests and lakes and deserts. You flip over the pages, from the multi-state map to focus in on Arizona; but you want a lost place. Phoenix is big and powerful; not interesting for you. Flagstaff, but you’re looking for heat and sun not forests. You follow the dark blue line of the interstate south through Tucson and on south; yes, there it is. You will go south, towards Mexico. To those lands bleached by the sun; skeletons of men who lost their way, like Tuareg traders in that other great desert, and paid the ultimate price. Tombstone, our own Timbuktu – we hear of it in movies and we know it was great before it fell away; and now though lost in time, everybody has heard of Tombstone. You follow State Route 80 south; and there you have it – further still, deeper into the the legends of the southwest.

Bisbee; that’s where you will go. You pack up your kids, and rush to O’Hare or maybe JFK or Dulles and take the flight. You get out in Sky Harbor, and you pick up your rental van – make sure the air conditioning is working well!!! Check the water in the radiator; stop in the convenience store to buy water bottles. For the story of Arizona is also one of water; man’s control of nature in that profound and primal sense. You drive, and drive, and keep driving. Through barren deserts and beside Picacho Peak – where the furthest western battle of the civil war was fought; beside Tucson with its air bases and great universities and onward through Benson. A tiny monastery in St. David – Benedictine. Pecans and peacocks and the profound peace of the southwest; where these men have found God in an adobe chapel dedicated to the virgin. You go into the bookstore and buy a talisman; or tour the church, but it is now noon and the monks are at prayer and you are anxious to go on. You continue onward – Timbuktu. That town which refused to die, kept alive today by tourism, its local high school, its local government institutions. I wonder when will come the day that people drive to Timbuktu from Bamako, the capital of Mali? When will those people who wonder about the days when the Sahara was wild and reckless and full of jihadis – which it is now – finally be able to tour the ancient sandy storied streets of that fabled land? Another lost place, which will remain so.

In Timbuktu you stop to eat at the Crystal Palace – from the movie. You tour the Bird Cage to think about the longest poker game in American history: eight years without stop and with $10,000,000 (in 1900 dollars) changing hands. Cowboys and miners; and you snap some pictures – but you keep going. The place you are headed is even more lost. Bisbee, that olden mining town. Copper; the average American will consume 1750 pounds of copper in our lives. It’s in our phones, our coffee makers, our cars, our houses and our computers. Almost everything really. A mine more than 70 years extracting more than 8,000,000,000 pounds of copper. It is nestled deep in a crevice in the hills between the Tombstone valley and the Mexican border. Houses perched precariously upon the hillsides, hotels and schools and churches nestled in the escarpment beside a road that winds down and out beside the colossal pit mine which goes down almost 1000 feet representing decades of strip mining after the cave mines were emptied by the miners. Miners from everywhere – Serbia and Ireland and Netherlands and Mexico; people in search of a better life for their families forming themselves into committees and groups, marching for equal rights and greater pay, fearing Mexican invasions when it was thought Germany would push Mexico against us into the First World War. Terrible Brewery Street, saloons and houses of ill repute; juxtaposed against the north of town with its churches and community centers, its go-carting competitions and baseball games.

A quick comment on greatness. Those who now live in the cities – perhaps even you who have taken my advice and have left the comfortable shoebox where you live in Manhattan to experience some of the glory and stories of the west – have a misunderstanding about America. About greatness, and where it comes from; about hard work and sweat. You might see the mines as a dirty vestige of our past, taking your copper-laced cellphone out to snap and post an image along with a comment sufficiently wise about “how much we’ve changed” or about “the days when people did not understand progress”. You might consider the mining town backward and racist as you walk beside the little buildings made by Irish and Mexican and Montenegrin immigrants who came with their families to sweat away in the mines; their opportunity of a better life. You may even feel that prosperity is generated in the great amoral cities of our nation; and that the lost places are a relic which we still deign to keep open as a memory of when times were rough, and we were rougher, and how far we have advanced. But you, who might just visit Bisbee, will see that is not true. That we have filled our land, from Bangor to Bisbee, with people who had beliefs firmly set in family and in faith; who sought a hard day’s work and a good sleep and a Sunday off with family. Who knew that it was greatness, against which you might cringe, but which is the reason they made the long voyages and the tremendous sacrifices – because they knew that building for themselves and their adoptive or ancestral country was intimately interlinked, one and the same in fact – that they were not expendable people sacrificed upon the altar of progress but were of course the central characters in their own story which has become the story of America.

In Bisbee you will learn all of this; and you will do so as you buy some copper jewelry and drink a craft beer in an ancient saloon under the wide open skies of the southwest and when you go to sleep in the narrow rooms of the bed-and-breakfast and listen only to the silence, you might even give a silent prayer for those who fought for our great land in a place which you had never heard of and so long ago – but also through today; as a legacy not only of what we were and where we came from but where too we are going, because history is not a great arc ending in our built utopias, but more of a circle. And if you stand long enough in one place, she will come back around to meet you; again and again – and yet again.

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Frankenstein

This book surprised me. It was not at all what I thought it would be. We are confronted with Frankenstein everywhere in popular mythology; but it is a bastardized version of what Shelley tried to give us, bereft of meaning and morals and instead a character in our theater of the grotesque to satisfy our ever-deepening need for the morbid and the shocking.

Frankenstein

There’s a duality to Shelley’s Frankenstein and his monster. It is in fact natural that we have lost the plot of the book, that we call the monster itself Frankenstein. For it was in fact the second part of Vincent Frankenstein, that final expression of his hubris and immorality which gave birth to a wicked abortion which in the end knew only evil and revenge. I think it is telling that the monster is more of a sympathetic character than the mad scientist. He is more eloquent, has a greater need for human connection, and has a greater sense of empathy than the man. The man was cold and ambitious, and gave his monster his human traits – all of them.

Shelley’s original title for this work was “Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus”. That legendary figure which seeded life; but our modern Prometheus is vile and ugly and in the end deeply evil; an evil product of his rage and loneliness and emptiness.

And of course this book is a version of an ancient story with an ancient lesson (which we get from the Bible, from Noah to the tower of Babel): not all that can be done should. We are pretty proud of our limited technological achievements, we who still burn dead plants for our energy. We who cannot cure even the basic diseases which ravage us, such as cancer and the common cold love to shake our fists at God in defiance – “We no longer need Him,” we say, “nor His pesky morality. For we are the new Prometheus!” as we seed the world with our ghastly wickedness. This is the lesson that Shelley is trying to give us, and though written over 200 years ago it still rings true today. We are not as great as we think; our dabbling in affairs we do not understand can create great evils we cannot control, evils which will consume all of us before they go to their fiery pyres. That we should temper our experimentation with compassion and wisdom and a realization of whence comes our occasional and tiny creative sparks.

No, this book is not a Halloween thriller – though that is what pop culture has made it. It is a book about man’s limitations in the face of a fearsome God. No wonder its meaning has been twisted – who these days wants to read a book about that??

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“Auxilio…” Help – The Cry of Venezuela

“Auxilio…” Help me. The word was barely audible, a whisper in a crowded courtroom. The only word uttered by the defendant; his last word before he fell. Captain Rafael Acosta, arrested by the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela for conspiracy and tortured to death, “Auxilio…” in a soft low voice from the wheelchair as he was rolled in to face the unjust judges.

“Auxilio…” and then silence, for he is dead – murdered. Another victim of Venezuela’s socialist madness; right? Who cares, right? “Auxilio…” – its as if in his last cry Acosta channeled in one murmur the desperate plea of a nation.

The development of western civilization has been party credited to the novel; at least that is the contention of Lynn Hunt. But why? Because the novel taught the general public in Europe, for the first time, to do something they had never done before. It taught them to see the world through the eyes of somebody else, a character, an entity not themselves. Empathy. The discovery of empathy changed the world.

So let me ask you, you who have inherited the birthright of the west. Can you empathize with Captain Rafael Acosta? Can you feel the hot probes? Can you cringe at the blows? Can you hyperventilate at the plastic bag over your head filled with bug spray? Can your heart accelerate in the panic of mock drowning? Worse, perhaps, can you feel the burning shame as your privacy and dignity are violated by the beetle-men as they mock? And can you feel the panic rise in your consciousness as you look into the eyes of your torturers and realize that, not only will they never stop, not only do they feel no remorse – but they are in fact enjoying the work?

This is what socialism gives us, incidentally. Violence and famine. But why? Are not their motivations more pure than our own? Ayn Rand used to say there was only ever one fight, that which is between the individual and the collective. The state and the citizen. It started with Plato and Aristotle and has defined the march of history down through time. The state, given ultimate power and authority by collectivists in every form, socialists intent upon enacting their utopias; an entity that is so vulnerable to takeover that it quickly becomes captured by the greedy and the wicked. The strong and confident rarely seek power over others, for they would not be subjugated by the mob, even to lead them. They do not want the bother; the bread and circus; the press of unwashed flesh, even adulating flesh. But those who are weak and envious and greedy see the control of the rabble as their only way to wealth and position – the self-confidence they can find only in controlling the levers of the state, that euphoria which can fill the empty dark places in their hearts where there should be… – yes, empathy.

There is a reason that socialists are better bureaucrats and individualists are better at works of compassion. Why a socialist might come up with a state plan to ‘care’ for vulnerable children, turning Howard Roark’s great church into a half-way house for the unwanted; but why individualists take the children into their homes to nurture them and set them upon the path to righteousness. For we all know that collectivities cannot raise a child into a great man, that this is only done through empathy and love. But we also know that this is not the point of the state’s forced charity – that it, too, is about power and control.

None of this helps Captain Rafael Acosta; who was murdered this week for lack of empathy. Oh, not by the torturers who applied the screws or wielded the pliers. Those men are no longer truly human but have become an aberration, orks whose souls have been twisted and bent in their impunity to resemble only in outward form that greatest creation of God. No, Acosta was murdered by lack of empathy by all of us. By America’s own “democratic socialists” who are keen to keep people forgetting that theirs is a project which would lead to our own torture (mine first, for daring to write this essay). Who are hopeful that people forget their role in the building of so great a prison-state just south of our borders – and yes the role was significant. Danny Glover and Sean Penn and Harry Belafonte and Michael Moore (I could go on) all providing much-needed oxygen when it was most required and who now say, weakly and without conviction, “But they didn’t do it right…” as they rapidly attempt to change the subject. And Captain Rafael Acosta was murdered also by those who are now fleeing their ‘planned paradise’ by the millions; who enthusiastically participated in the theft, in the orgy. It was even fun, pretending that prosperity can be transferred by decree and that such a revenge as they sought to perpetrate would not lead to their own destruction. As in all terrible refugee crises – those being fed in the plastic-sheeting villages of Cucuta were the architects of their own destruction.

acosta

Captain Rafael Acosta — (twitter)

But was he murdered for our own lack of empathy? “What else could we do?” you might ask, and I struggle for a response. To give charity money to be distributed to the shadow-people only extends a lifeline to the tyrant. To march and vote, and to rebel – that is not our role, we who are not born with a brown passport upon which is emblazoned a little horse marching steadfastly to the left. So what to do? I don’t know anymore; maybe raise your voice for Captain Rafael Acosta, pray for his fate and his family and find a way to make his name and what they did to him echo into eternity. Honor those who are murdered for their freedoms – William Wallace upon the rack whose name still inspires. For while the socialists have their bureaucracies and their torture chambers – we have only our martyrs.

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My View From the “Back Row”…

“It is often revealing, and fun—for the same reason I think that I love to watch Bobo hunting Bigfoot (spoiler alert, in this metaphor I think I’m Bigfoot. And yes, I do exist. I know, takes some of the fun out of the show. If Bobo ever walked down the cliff carrying the dead, 900 pound body of the world’s biggest primate, we would watch in awe for 15 minutes and rapidly change the channel, never to return. The fun, as always, is in the hunt). At any rate, this one did not disappoint: for it was about faith, the tiniest little sparks of self-awareness against the possible reality of a great God who is getting angry.”

Read the whole thing here

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Africa’s Turn?

IMG_0035

A Market in Ghana

It was to be Africa’s turn. That was the promise and the hope. The great forces that converged in the last half of the 20th century to give the world the most remarkable surge into prosperity known to man would finally turn their indefatigable gaze upon the dark continent. The recipes developed patiently and over time and trial and error would be put to the task of solving that hardest of problems – poverty in Africa.

But it was not meant to be. When I myself began my work in the war-torn jungles it was assumed that the violence would come to pass. “These are the birthing pains of a new order for Africa,” we were told and faithfully repeated, plastic sheeting in hand as we faithfully counted bags of Corn Soy Blend stacked under the leaky roof of an ancient warehouse which once had stored barrels of vine-rubber on its way to Belgium. “These nations have only recently become free, they are going through their turbulent adolescence before they come into their own.”

But that was then. Africa’s moment has passed. No longer do people speak of Africa as the future – unless they are referring to instability and war and poverty the return of deadly diseases and the emergence of new ones (cue Ebola) which have entered the normal news cycle, to stay. If America is the apex of this cycle of civilizatory advance, is Africa its inverse? If America, which was the future and is now the present, will one day become the past – is the anarchy that came from Africa what our future will represent? Perhaps.

But why was Africa unable to make it? People ask themselves this question often – but it is a question polemical and fraught with political minefields in a world which has become saturated with Newspeak, which usually does not allow for free intellectual inquiry. Nevertheless I do read the literature, because there are some brave souls writing about what happened to Africa; and in courageous books like “Dead Aid” and “The Idealist” and “Why Nations Fail” and “The Tyranny of Experts” – and “The Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier.

I was extremely impressed with “The Bottom Billion”. As a practitioner myself I have become used to fending off the unexamined ideas of the utopians who believe development of Africa is right around the corner; just a matter of getting the loan terms right or selecting the proper community members for their ‘intervention’. Filling the spreadsheet with the right data, that is the planners’ answer to the arriving ordeal. So reading a clear-eyed review of why Africa did not make it, from an economist who is not a Keynsian (or any other type of Marxist) was refreshing. Collier identifies four traps into which have fallen the nations of Africa: the conflict trap, the natural resources trap, and the landlocked with bad neighbors and bad governance in countries which are too small traps. Collier introduces us to problems such as Dutch Disease (where extractive industry pushes up the value of currency thereby making other exports uncompetitive), the statistics of how much conflict costs ($60 billion per civil war) and the statistical difficulty of emerging from conflict. The main theory behind the book is that India and China advanced quickly due to their ability to use cheap labor to attract foreign exchange which was then used for domestic investment – and the idea that these industries would then move to Africa. But the economies of India and China (and Indonesia and Thailand) are not developing quickly enough to become consumer-based middle income countries; and might not be so for another forty years. For this reason (and the above traps, which are mutually self-fulfilling) investment has not come to Africa.

And now the moment has passed, for the tremendous growth of the 70s and 80s is gone, never to return and the world has entered a period of renewed turmoil and democratic decline which is heralding the return of empires.

So what to do? This is where this book falls down. Collier, thinking perhaps with his feet firmly dug into the sands of the 1980s has proposed several technocratic “fixes”; instruments and agendas which if faithfully implemented could solve some of the aforementioned traps. But alas, the world is not in a problem-solving mood these days. As Michael Anton wrote, “Conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think-tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo. Oh, sure, they want some things to change. They want their pet ideas adopted—tax deductions for having more babies and the like. Many of them are even good ideas. But are any of them truly fundamental? Do they get to the heart of our problems?” The same can be said for the defenders of our tired world order.

Finally, the book is wholeheartedly agnostic about the aid industry. It is not as critical as “Dead Aid”, but neither does it say that it has actually helped anything. Collier suggest there are moments when the increase in capital is welcome; and technical expertise necessary for the turnaround of struggling nations. But on the whole Aid is irrelevant and often times detrimental. Incidentally, this is now “settled science”, but there are too many vested interests by utopians to allow this narrative to change – no matter the harm that aid continues to do to Africa.

So read this book if you’re interested in why Africa has never made it or if you are trying to understand what the future might look like. Lest we continue to advance our mistakes upon false assumptions and our legendary tolerance for failure.

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Beware the Dreams of Other Men – A Poem

Beware the dreams of other men, the hopes of those not shared;
Hark not to visions of one’s past ‘rise up from those who dared;
Look only now within thyself, and not to search beyond;
Seek out the truth that knows you well and to his call respond.

“He has great wealth” you hear men say, you oft hear them decry;
“T’were I but half as gilded me, how far but I would fly!
That gleaming element you seek, if wings of yours enclose;
A’drug along the earth you’d be, in tortured sad repose.

He sings so fair, he dances true, he glides across the wood;
Happiness I’d sure to find if skills mine were that good;
Yet fates you must not once forget of those who can finesse;
The moments of their merriment does life but oft compress.

But what of men whose polished words are honey from the comb;
The succulent of all the fruits sprung from such fields of loam;
Those men, they fade, and none recall their worlds of flowers fair;
Yet forced to acquiesce to beats what garish both and spare.

Our terror of existence is to live our lives unspoken;
To watch the things we try to build end all in piles a’broken;
Till we recall that mirrors fair are oft to do us wrong;
The men we liken to ourselves, tis they who don’t belong.

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