Category Archives: Government

Is Trump Fascist?

There has been rather a lot of name-calling during this election cycle. One of the more recent things I’ve witness is a bunch of people calling Trump a fascist.

He’s also been described as Hitler by many, and, it really must be said, Hitler was not a fascist. (he was a socialist)

Mussolini was a fascist, and he was allied with Hitler. Trump apparently quotes Mussolini, but Melania quotes Michelle Obama, so I’m not sure it proves much.

So, for any intelligent discussion on the subject, we must start by defining our terms.

Socialism, fascism, and capitalism are economic systems.

Capitalism, properly, is characterised by what is known as the “free market” – I’m free to sell stuff, you’re free to buy (or not buy) my stuff. If I’m not selling what people want to buy, I am free to retool or remarket (“adjust to market forces”): if I do that, hopefully I can stay afloat. If I keep selling what nobody wants to buy, the consequences for that are my going out of business. If an exchange is not voluntary, then it has moved out of the realm of capitalism and into something else.

In socialism, the government (on behalf of “the people” in general) controls the “means of production” – basically business or industry. Profit, in the cases where it exists, become more tax revenue for the government to use, which is unlikely to benefit (improve, upgrade, modernise) the business or industry that is profited from. Losses are inflicted on society at large (= taxes go up), and it takes extreme losses (= same business or industry under capitalism would be out of business long before) for the government to do anything about it, and the results are generally worse than if the government had never been involved at all. Communism is basically extreme socialism.

Fascism was described as a “third position” (the first two being those already mentioned). Basically, government and business collude. In classical fascism, the government has the upper hand in the arrangement. The situation where government and business collude but business has the upper hand is described as “neo-fascism”.

Another term that has been used for fascism (and probably more so neo-fascism) is “crony capitalism”. It seems to be mostly this that people are complaining about when they say they don’t like capitalism. It’s not capitalism.

Socialism and classical fascism are pretty closely related.

With this as foundation, then, let’s take a brief look at what people mean when they talk about fascism.

I’m guessing it’s something like the authoritarianism, the heavy-handed law enforcement, the dictatorships, the xenophobia – these are not distinct to fascism. They are things that fascist governments have done. We also see that kind of thing from socialist governments, communist governments, republican governments, parliamentary democracies – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a form of government that hasn’t exhibited these kinds of traits. The commonality is not fascism.

So is Trump a fascist?

I think it would be a fair assessment to say so. I think “neo-fascist” would be more accurate, but basically, yeah.

At the very very least, having his daughter (who has been delegated control of the Trump hotel chain) prominently in that meeting with the Japanese delegation (the Trump chain wanting to open hotels in Japan) seems a pretty big indicator.

Some of the people whose names are floating around for Trump’s Cabinet positions also seem to point in that direction, but….

One of the earliest names that came out, right after the election, was Forrest Lucas, an oil industry executive who was supposed to be Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior (overseeing national parks and suchlike, bye-bye ANWR). Wikipedia has now been updated to state that Trump says he’ll nominate Ryan Zinke to the position. Zinke’s a congressman who doesn’t have a stellar reputation with environmentalists – but he’s not Lucas. Zinke was announced on 13th December.

So I really want to be careful about jumping the gun on cabinet positions, and I can’t say I entirely believe that Trump’s going to nominate whoever he says today that he’s going to nominate, so I’m not really sure I want to say for definite about any Cabinet names until they’ve actually got the position.

So yes, let’s go with Trump is a fascist.

Can you smell a big “but…….” coming up?

Of course you can.

Allow me to call your attention to a meme that does the rounds fairly regularly. It’s something along the lines of “Politicians should be required to wear the names of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do”.

Getting elected takes a bunch of money. Advertisements, campaign leaflets,, mailing, getting to places to campaign, hiring venues, it all adds up. And large cheques come from businesses, the larger the business the larger the potential income. So far, so not surprising. And if someone gives you a large amount of money, you’re not likely to ignore them if they ask for something.

But it doesn’t end with the campaign trail. When your new congressman gets to Congress, about all he can do is vote on floor votes. To do anything else, he has to pay his “party dues”. This is an amount of money the congressman has to pay his party to be allowed in the door to do anything else. He’ll be given an amount he has to raise, a list of people and businesses to get the money from, and the amount he’s expected to get from each place. Basically, you’ve elected a telemarketer. If I remember correctly, to get on a particular committee or to sponsor a bill costs extra.

If your congressman was already obliged to large donors from the campaign trail, he’s even more so now.

This is true for both Republicans and Democrats.

For more on this, listen to this interview with Patrick Barron from Defining The Machine at The Survival Podcast (introduction to the guest starts at about 9 minutes, and you can easily skip to the 10 minute mark if you want).

The problem does not end there.

You may have heard of the “revolving door” – depressing charts surface every so often – between government agencies and business.

So, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had people working there who have previously worked for pharmaceutical companies and agro-chemical companies, and has had people working there who then go on to work for those same companies. And a smaller number of people who fit both categories.

You find the same with the CDC and drug companies.

the people who tell you things are safe and/or necessary are the people making the products (or have it on their radar that at a later stage in their career they might want to work there).

And then the person who signs off that there’s no conflict of interest in this situation, is the congressman who’s had to raise money from those companies.

Think it’s only the FDA and CDC and the various chemical industries?

Think the Affordable Care Act didn’t have input from the healthcare industry, for example?

If an industry begs for more regulation, perhaps a specific kind of regulation, it’s unlikely to be for the benefit of the environment or the consumer. The company could unilaterally enact the changes and brag about how good they are in their marketing materials. The legislation might pose a burden to the industry, but one they can account for and absorb. What it does do, though, is significantly increase the barrier of entry to anyone looking to start up a business in the industry. I think that car emissions tests, and cars designed to cheat them, fall under this.

This is what is so headdesk-y about people going on about Trump being fascist. It’s not that they’re wrong about Trump being fascist. It’s that the entire government is fascist, and you’re only complaining about one man. It has been for a long time, and you’re only complaining about it now.

After voting, a friend of mine put up a pretty long post about why he voted the way he did (without using names, though it was made very clear he did not vote for Trump). One of the lines was that he voted “Against fascism. (Really? REALLY?)”

I don’t doubt that he intended to vote against fascism. I don’t doubt that he believed he was voting against fascism. I believe he voted against one fascist. I don’t believe he voted for a non-fascist candidate.

So, what can we take away from all this?

Well, I hope you’re angry.

I hope you’re not angry at me for telling you this, I hope you’re angry that no-one’s explained this to you before. I hope you’re angry at the fascism in the government, but I hope you’re angry at more than just the President-elect. Because he is only a very small tip of a very large iceberg.

More than being angry, though, I hope you start noticing more the “foxes guarding the henhouse” kind of phenomenon. I want you to be suspicious when industry praises incoming legislation that will affect it (like the mogwai begging for food in that classic Christmas movie, Gremlins).

Assuming that we’re not going to be able to change things overnight, I hope that you will be careful when you use the word “fascist” or “fascism”, and I hope you find yourself able to gently rein in your friends who throw around the words in such a way that they become meaningless (something that has happened with the less technical, more colloquial use of the term for more than fifty years).

Plan B – Kind Of

TLF: I entitled this post “Plan B”, but there’s many for whom neither Trump nor Hillary were really Plan A. It seems that many were unhappy with the major party choices in this election cycle, and many decided to vote for the lesser of two evils. Some decided that Hillary was the lesser of two evils, and in some ways I’m sure they were right. Some decided that Trump was the lesser of two evils, and in other ways I’m sure they were right, too.

For those who really didn’t like either of them, the more impeachable of the two won the election.

My interviewee James has mentioned a little on his Facebook and on his blog, about the Electoral College and its job, and also impeachment as another way to remove Trump. I threw a bunch of questions his way about the more immediate of the two, the Electoral College. James posted a lot of information in an article he wrote that was published by The Federalist.

So, on with some questions.

TLF: If the Electoral College Republicans unify behind another Republican candidate, what do you see the fallout being? Some predict the violence we currently have, to escalate considerably. Is this a valid concern, if so is it worth the risk?

JH: If we allow ourselves to be cowed by the threat of violence from people who resist our republican system of government — which is built on the independence of the electoral college, whether people realize it or not — then we’ve already surrendered our republic to them, without even bothering to fight.

Just as Hillary supporters have been forced by our electoral college to accept the result that she will not be president despite winning the popular vote, Trump supporters must be prepared to face the possibility that the electoral college will not make him president despite his party winning the electoral vote.  Every call for Democrats to accept the election results applies equally to the Republicans.

It could get ugly anyway, because people are terrible and democracy is a hot mess. But that threat does not rewrite the Constitution. The electors have a duty to vote for the person they believe best suited to be the next President. If that’s Trump, fine. If not, then they’d best do their duty, and trust the rest of our constitutional order to handle the fallout.

TLF: The Electoral College is supposed to choose a candidate who can unify, both Trump and Hillary have been quite divisive. Is there any alternative figure who has a broad enough appeal that both Democrats and disaffected Republicans could agree to cope with and say “we’d rather have them, thank you” in their communication? (seems like this was a problem with the NeverTrump camp during the R Primaries, no unifying figure).

JH: As for who it would be, in the vanishingly unlikely chance the electoral college does do its job and vote independently: my money would be on Gov. Mike Pence. He’s nobody’s favorite, but he’s one of a small number of Republicans who is fairly popular in all wings of the party right now, and, since he was on Trump’s ticket as vice-president, he enjoys a lot more legitimacy than would, say, Paul Ryan.

TLF: I’ve heard Pence described as Trump’s “assassination insurance”, I’ve heard people talking like they like Pence less than Trump, if that can be believed.

JH: The Pence hatred, I think, really exposes that, for much of the Left, the thing that makes Donald Trump unqualified is not really his lying, his sexual abuse, his lack of respect for the rule of law, or his indulgence of racists. For surprisingly many leftists, that’s just a front: Trump’s true sin is that he might turn out to be a somewhat conservative president, and THAT is what makes him so “traumatic”. Unless you fear even mild social conservatism more than you fear lying, assaulting, demagoguery, Pence is clearly a better president, with much higher general approval ratings, and so saying Pence is worse exposes one’s true priorities. Which means all the upheaval and shock and rage would have happened if any Republican won, not just Trump.

That is an ominous sign for our country.

TLF: It seems like uncharted territory – is writing to an Elector likely to be well-received by them, or annoy them (are the general population’s votes supposed to do that job)?

JH: I can’t see that writing the electors would do any harm. They are public officials now, like it or not, and it’s not like some of them are sitting there saying, “I’m going to vote my conscience unless a constituent writes me to demand that I do.” I’m sure some will be annoyed, but those aren’t persuadable electors to begin with.

TLF: I’ve seen a petition linked a few times on my Facebook to try and get the Electors to vote for Hillary, which seems somewhat unlikely to succeed. Are there any credible efforts worth getting behind?

JH: There are no realistic efforts to get behind; the ball is entirely in their court now… which is sort of the point. Letters might help, and I don’t discourage them, but there probably aren’t enough persuadable electors to take Trump below 270.

That said, the least realistic option of all is asking the Republican electors to switch their votes to Clinton. I am not certain I can express the level of antipathy felt by Republicans for the Clintons, particularly among longtime activists who are veterans of the 1990s battles with President Bill. And most GOP electors are longtime political activists. I am confident that at least 270 GOP electors would sooner vote for Satan, Prince of Darkness, than vote for Hillary Clinton.

270 GOP electors would sooner vote to cut their own legs off with a rusty spoon than vote for Clinton.

They really dislike the Clintons.

TLF: (The conversation took  a little pause here as I tried to think how to round out the post. Letting you know, as the flow of conversation is a little interrupted here.)

Over the past week or so, we’ve seen many calls for the Republican electors to vote Hillary, even some electors receiving death threats if they vote for Trump (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5HiEyPFBa8 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbJBB-kTMvA are the ones I’ve seen).

As you noted, the switch to Hillary isn’t going to happen (nor should it, the “religious beliefs should change” thing was horrifying – had a “your culture will adapt to service us” kind of ring to it).

We’ve also seen the article about the “Hamilton electors“, two Democratic electors who at least seem to get it that the Republican electors are not going to switch to Mrs Clinton, but maybe a compromise is possible.

Any thoughts on these?

JH: I am, of course, pleased that the true purpose of the electoral college has been given some attention in the past few weeks — perhaps the first time that purpose has been acknowledged by a large subset of the political elite in fifty years, maybe a hundred.

The manner in which this discussion has happened, however, is very unfortunate. Rather than encouraging each elector to carry out their duty to vote for the person that elector considers best qualified to serve as president — to vote their conscience — the overwhelming majority of commentators involved in the discussion are calling for the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton.

This undermines the entire conversation, for three reasons:

(1) It is bizarrely impractical and intensely polarizing. The notion of deliberately electing Clinton is personally repugnant to the Republican electors, who control a large majority of the electoral college. It will never happen. The odds of the electoral college doing what I want and voting their consciences to throw the election to the House is a one-in-a-million long shot. The odds they’ll elect Clinton, though, is more like a one-in-fifty-trillion shot. And the thousands of emails being sent to the electors demanding they vote for Clinton are drowning out the dozens of emails being sent to the electors asking that they seriously consider voting for a realistic candidate, like Pence or Romney.  When the electors do get our letters, they are already completely poisoned against the whole idea, because the deluge of (often extremely nasty) “vote for Clinton instead” letters have soured them.  But this is just a political concern, and so it is the least serious objection to the Left’s approach to this question.

(2) It is self-defeating. The core argument for the conscientious elector position is that the electors should vote for a candidate who is qualified to be president, and Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, because he is a lying, fraudulent, amoral, deeply bigoted, probably criminal, corrupt demagogue. But Mrs. Clinton is a lying, fraudulent, deeply bigoted, amoral, probably criminal, corrupt demagogue; she is a tad more polished about the lying, and she’s bigoted against different groups of people*, but there’s no chance she’s qualified for office. If you disagree with me — many left-wing commentators did — that’s fine, but remember that you have to convince 37 of 306 Republican electors to vote against Trump, and every one of them believes what I just said. Telling them to vote Trump down because he’s unqualified and then vote up Clinton instead is like telling Simon Cowell to reject Pitbull because he can’t sing and then vote up Rebecca Black instead.

(3) It completely misses the point. Most arguments for why Clinton should get the electoral vote instead of a far more palatable candidate like, say, Pence (one of the very few nationally-known politicians in America with a positive approval rating right now) revolve around the fact that Clinton won the popular vote.  But the whole point of the electoral college is to circumvent the will of the (small-d) democratic mob by ignoring the popular vote. The only reason we are having this conversation at all is because the Founding Fathers were so scared of popular-vote winners at the national level that they built an elaborate and unique system that was designed, originally, to discourage popular votes from happening at all, and to render those votes minimally relevant if they did. The idea that you would write to the constitutionally-mandated electors and instruct them to ignore the popular will of the voters in their states, not out of a sense of duty to the Constitution, but out of a meek subservience to the popular vote nationwide that completely subverts the Constitution… it completely blows my mind. It’s an argument that could only be made by people who do not actually value (or even understand) the electoral college and the Constitution, but are only using them to attain short-term political goals.

Which is why I joined the right wing in the first place.

Credit where it’s due: the so-called Hamilton Electors you mention are Democratic electors who are not pursuing a Clinton victory, but have resigned themselves to a well-qualified third option that would actually be acceptable — even attractive — to Republican electors. I fear they are largely being drowned out by their fellow pro-Clinton Democrats.  But this is an approach that could actually succeed, under ideal circumstances, and there’s still time, so… maybe they’ll pull something together.

This will definitely be the most attention anyone’s paid to the December 19th electoral college vote in living memory. So many people don’t even realize that the electoral college vote happens on an actual day with actual human beings.  If that’s all we get out of this calamitous election —  a broader awareness of how the college works and why it exists — maybe that’s a foundation we can build on in the future to roll back the tide of democracy.

*(FOOTNOTE: Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” and Trump’s “Mexico isn’t sending their best” comments were both taken a bit out of context, but showcase their respective bigotries pretty well nonetheless. The Left tends not to see Clinton’s bigotries because, generally speaking, the Left shares them. Same problem on the Right, of course.)

TLF: Well, we’ll see what happens on the 19th. I’ll see about throwing James some more questions following that result, so more than likely we’ll be talking about impeachment. I still need to finish up a couple of stories that got alluded to in an earlier post in the conversation (which got less immediate as the election and its aftermath got more immediate), and I have a mostly-written post on “Is Trump Fascist?” which I’m going to try and sneak in soon, I hope you’ll enjoy it, or at least find it interesting and informative.

‘Til next time!

Yertle The Turtle, and other stories (not necessarily the ones you’re expecting)

Spent a bunch of time today wrestling with a format change over at History Basics. As the gathering of all the possible resources, writing a bit about them, and formatting all the links, was a time-consuming part of the old process, and the long full-format entries that I aspired to were a bit too much to read (according to some feedback), it seemed a good idea to split different segments out. Hopefully the Research Guide, containing the gathered resources, will be a manageable format to sustain in the future.

As my friend Rob feedbacked yesterday that he’d like me to discuss a book that I mentioned I’d read to my kids, I thought I would do it. I’m not sure whether or not he meant it as a serious suggestion, but it sounded like a fun idea to me, so I’ll do it.

Yertle The Turtle, by Dr. Seuss.

Yertle is the King of all he surveys, which at the start of the story consists pretty much of just the pond. He orders some of his subjects to climb on each other, to create a living pedestal which would allow him to see further, and thus have more to be King over.

Unsatisfied, he orders the pile higher and higher, until he spies the moon and becomes jealous of its height.

Meanwhile, one of his underlings towards the bottom of the stack is getting rather uncomfortable. Mentioning this, and receiving no sympathy, eventually he burps, which wobbles the top of the stack so much that Yertle falls off.

There’s an obvious moral here, don’t make things unbearably hard on those you’re in charge of, it could be your downfall.

Historically, we can see this bear out: it wasn’t for nothing that the American colonies split from Britain, similar with India and South Africa. The list goes on, it’s easy to single out Britain as imposing its will on the rest of the world, the same could be said for America through the latter half of the twentieth century through to the present.

It was probably from watching Gandhi that I really got the concept of “home rule”. I think with how unstable the West has made the Middle East, that we could really use that lesson.

So I didn’t really understand Welsh “devolution” at the time, but more recently have been in favour of Scottish independence, and would rather Britain left the EU.

I think that those that govern should be accountable to those they govern, and the further removed that people are from their overlords, the worse it is.

About the only “Remain” meme that I like, is “Help! I don’t want to be stuck on an island with the Tories!”. Though I find the Labour Party equally as distasteful as the Conservative Party.

I think it does show, though, that politicians on a national level are too far removed from the people they are supposed to represent. It bugs me, both in the UK and the US, where election winners are declared before all the votes are counted. Even though mathematically it may be impossible for another candidate to win. All the time, you’re told how important your vote is. The thought that anyone might not actually vote fills people with horror. And then, if you happen to live in the wrong area, your vote literally doesn’t count. If the vote is such a sacred responsibility, and really that important, you should be absolutely ashamed that peoples votes (and in hard numbers, not a small number of votes) are disrespected so.

Switching to the US, government on a State level can be pretty bad. And while several states are more populous than Scotland, no state is as populous as England (source: Wikipedia and Wikipedia). Several States have ludicrous laws like those forbidding farmers from selling raw milk to those that would like to buy it. See Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Is Illegal. But still, there are States that have declared that there are certain Federal laws that they won’t enforce.

So let’s get smaller. County? Still seems too big to me. City and surrounding area? Well, you know how you hear all the time about how bad it is that the politicians dictating on education have no experience with teaching. You may have heard about city folk with no farming experience passing laws about farming.

Just keep going smaller.

Neighbourhood could work. Although some Home Owners Associations are pretty bad, micromanaging the height of your grass, or what you’re allowed to keep visible to the street, at least you can move out.

Onorous neighbourhood-local government could lead to the ultimate literal application of “home rule”.

In a strangely converse manner, Yertle is toppled when he has many people under him, in reality it’s easier to depose someone when there’s fewer other people he’s accountable to.

Anarchy is not the absence of rules, but the absence of rulers. You can have equal-to-equal agreements, without delegating it all to those that crave power (aka, those least suited to having power).

And that’s where a Remain argument falls apart (I can’t say it makes all of Remain’s points fall apart, though most Remain arguments have nothing to do with my points). It assumes a cutting Britain off from the rest of the world, whereas it is perfectly possible to be friendly with many other countries, without a slow uniformity being imposed. Independence does not necessitate isolation. In fact, some Remain treatises get very close to this point, that immigration won’t stop if we vote Leave.And yet they poke the Panic button that trade will stop if we vote Leave. There may be some cheese we don’t get from the trap, but it doesn’t mean that all opportunity will suddenly dry up.

I could probably elaborate more on some of those points, but this is eating up too much of my sleep time.

As I’m not planning to be there to suffer the consequences of either a Leave or a Remain vote, I don’t think it’s my place to vote in the referendum, though Facebook has been advertising to me for weeks to register. I voted with my feet to leave the nanny state a few years ago. The US is, of course, far from utopia, just in some (but not all) important regards, the eye of Sauron Big Brother doesn’t seem very interested in my corner. And long may it remain so.

Oh Look, Another War

There was an episode of Father Ted, where Ted was running a raffle, and the grand prize was a new car. Unfortunately, soon after he picked it up, the car suffered a minor dent. Ted got it into his head that he could tap the dent out with a small hammer. This, of course, went horribly wrong, and the denting spread and spread around the whole car, it looked like a write-off.

Here’s YouTube to help:

My Facebook was lit up today with posts about the British Parliament’s vote to bomb Syria.

This Father Ted clip reminds me of the West’s foreign policy. And not a new phenomenon. I recently read an article concerning a bunch of places whose economies we ruined, and whose population we severely harmed. The CIA overthrowing governments, installing their own preferred puppet, who turns against them a few years later. From 2001 to the present day, going into perpetual war in Afghanistan, Iraq. Fighting ISIS in one country, aiding them in another (*cough*Syria*cough*).

Our rhetoric about protecting the poor civilians, again and again proves to be misleading (to say the least). At best, our rhetoric says something to the effect of “we caused this problem, so we should go and fix it”. At least that kind of rhetoric actually acknowledges that we caused a problem, too often it doesn’t. But, much like the poor car, our “fixing it” hasn’t made things better in… how long? The Fifties at the latest?

And it’s baffling to me when people use this issue to side with one political party over another. Blame the Tories when, in reality, Labour has done it as well. Same in the US with Republicans and Democrats.

I believe that part of the problem is that the debt-backed economic paradigm has war as an integral component. Look for a pattern of the minority party being able to provide more dissenters than the majority party. Politicians who stay in office long enough to establish a consistent dissenting opinion and vote, and actually consistently do, are very rare.

Ted, at least, had a conscience. Mulder’s maxim of “Trust no-one” sadly very much applies in this arena.

Pray for the Syrian Christians. May they fare better than those in Iraq, where the effects of our actions have proved catastrophic for them.

Forms

I’ve never really liked forms at the best of times, there’s something about the rigidity of them when the question cannot be answered in the manner asked.

And that’s more true when living abroad.

Of course, you can’t fault the forms in the host country being geared towards people from that country. You kind of laugh at them when they say things like “We do not discriminate on the basis of…. national origin.”

The biggest pain in that regard is the educational systems are different. A-Levels being roughly equivalent to Associate’s Degrees or Advanced Placement, depending who you ask.

Addresses and phone numbers being entirely different formatting, of course.

The most annoying one I have to deal with is forms that only take one middle name (basically the forms where it Really Matters, like bank accounts, Social Security cards and the like) when I have more than one.

One of those parts of life that I find less fun.

Review: The Market For Liberty

The Market For Liberty is a book by Morris and Linda Tannehill. I found it on Podiobooks, read by Ian Freeman.

Starting from the notion that government is always a coercive force, and it can do nothing without violence and the threat of violence, the book goes through various ways that the coercion is applied, how even when government tries to be constructive it ends up being destructive, and goes on through ways the market (even when it’s not totally free) can signal the reality of things, how things could work out in a society without a government, and How We Can Get There.

Overall, I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I quite agreed with everything, and perhaps I should have paused it at certain points to I could think more: Mr Freeman kept the words coming thick and fast, there.

The quickness didn’t all seem to be down to the reading style, though. Because a wide range of subjects were covered, there wasn’t quite enough time to spend giving more than a cursory look at alternative viewpoints. They do spend some time on them, all too often to quickly dismiss them. Some of those quick dismissals seem justified, some less so. As ultimately a free market, anarchist society would be a breeding ground for competing ideas, and the best ones would theoretically do better, it seems that in places a “well ok, give it a go, see how that turns out” response might have been better. But when your publication is restricted in size, and you’re trying to spread your particular ideas, it’s probably pretty hard to not come across as heavy-handed.

I know the book was written in the ’70s, and a certain industry hadn’t become quite the monolithic parasite it is today, and that many of the problems we have with that industry are precisely because of government meddling, but still, I can’t say I was very fond of the emphasis the book places on insurance.

If you’ll forgive me a little tangent:

One thing I liked about Asimov’s Robot series of books, was that he wrote the Three Laws of Robotics, and then a lot of the stories were spent trying to break them. What if this law was modified? What if a law was accidentally broken? What if all these robots were programmed with the laws, but one of them had certain knowledge that would make the application look different? What would the long-term effects be on society?

Similarly, in Babylon 5, the creator JMS talked about creating your characters, writing them up into a tree, and then throwing rocks at them. It’s the same sort of concept: create the world, and then try to break it.

By the end of this book, it really seemed to me that we need to see some good strong stories coming out of the voluntaryist/libertarian/anarchist communities.

I mean, this book did give sketches galore about what this could look like, how that could work, and so on. That’s well and fine, it just doesn’t have the scope within it of really putting it under a microscope, trying to break it and see what happens. We need to start seeing fleshed-out fictional societies working in this model, to help us figure out a clearer way to get there, and envision what problems there might be along the way. The Market For Liberty said spreading the idea of liberty among everyone was a good way to help them desire it. I don’t disagree, but I think that fiction is going to have the edge in this regard.

1, fiction is less threatening, less didactic and more exploratory. 2, fiction doesn’t demand immediate action when the reader isn’t ready for it. A lot of people comfortable in the status quo.

Having said this, regularly listening to The Survival Podcast might just do it for ya, even though it’s not fiction. Jack sometimes manages to get quite a bit of mileage out of “what if?” questions on this topic. I like his concept, “you can be as socialist as you like, just don’t make me participate.”

Dystopia

I came across the thought that dystopian fiction was popular among teens these days, because it reflects their reality.

The example used was The Hunger Games. Katniss starts off as a regular subjugated citizen, already testing the borders (that become more strictly enforced before too long). As an entrant in the Hunger Games, she’s a pawn in someone else’s agenda. As champion, she’s coerced into keeping up a front, in service of the President’s agenda. Then as Haymitch and co try to find her allies in the arena in Catching Fire, she pushes back against their agenda. As she becomes the Face Of The Resistance in the last book, we can understand her reluctance to assume the role.

I found some similarities in the Softwire series. JT and the other children of the Renaissance soon find themselves slaves, moving between owners over the course of the books. And their owners aren’t the only ones who are trying to use the kids for their own ends.

I think I can see why kids would identify with this.

At school, they’re pushed through many tests,and if they’re being “taught to the test”, as we so often hear, as opposed to really understanding the material, then they’re there to make the school or the teacher look good.

We see and hear parents say something along the lines of “you must go to a particular college/university, because I did and it was the Best Thing Ever”, or try to push the kid down a particular career path from a young age, without finding out if the child was particularly suited to, or interested in, it or not.

We hear of Scotland appointing state overseers for every child. And everywhere else in the Western world, the state acts like it owns the children before the parents do.

Case in point: while we were in England, we decided to not take Oldest for a developmental check (we knew he was fine, and going anywhere in the day is hard when you work nights). When the State decided it Really Needed To Meddle in our lives, it got used against us and we were made to take him for the development check (spoiler: he turned out to be fine. What do you know). When the State-sent busybody was whining about it, I ran through the list of all the things we’d taken him to, vaccines he’d had, and all that. “Those are optional” she whined, unconvincingly. It was obvious that if we’d declined any of that other stuff, and gone to the development check, that check would have been labelled “optional” and the other stuff not. Anyway, while she was whining about the development check, I pointed out that Oldest was fine. “But we don’t know that.” Yep, the State thinks it owns your kids.

You hear politicians and talking heads going on about the things we “must” do, “The Children!” are always an easy excuse to do it. No matter that it usually won’t help them, just another drudgery added to the burden they’ll have to carry when they’re of age.

School already felt like a prison to many, back when I went, these days we see, in some places, that they have to go through metal detectors and the like, just to get into school, each day.

Kids are told what they can and can’t eat, all with the best intentions, I’m sure. You hear stories of kids not allowed to bring packed lunches to school, or having the contents of such scrutinised, or being chastised when they share it with a hungry friend.

The list goes on and on, and I’m sure I don’t know most of it. But thinking about it, it’s not a surprise that they identify with stories set in dystopic societies.

They live in one.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” – C.S. Lewis – I’ve seen it variously as from “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” and “God In The Dock” – I haven’t checked.

I believe that where I heard about The Hunger Games reflecting the experience of kids today, was in the talk “Systemic Abandonment, “The World Beneath,” and Postmodern Adolescence”.

“We must dissent.” – M. Godwinson.

Tree Assault

Today we had a visit from the designer of the sidewalk that’s going to be put in through our front yard. We found out they were putting the sidewalk there, as opposed to by the road (which would be in line with the sidewalk where it starts/ends a couple of blocks down) about a week after we planted trees and shrubs, some of which we will now have to move. Only one is actually in the path of the sidewalk, two are on the road side of where the sidewalk will be. Our happy maple, on the house side of the sidewalk, may also need to move, as it’s in the two feet buffer zone that the contractors might want to work in. I wonder if we will be able to talk them into working around it.

That was just the stuff we’ve just planted. We’ve got some well-established bushes that they’ll want to hack down – they’ve already cut down some (admittedly sad) trees next door, and some in the next block.

It troubles me that they send the designer as diplomat on the last day of the public consultation into the project. Like, if you have objections after getting the information and explanations, you’re just about out of time to voice them.

We didn’t think of any objections when the designer was here. I recall him mentioning something about the sidewalk being slightly below the level of the ground as it currently is, as it goes past our property. Didn’t think about it at the time, but it seems to me that the sidewalk would then collect a bit of the rainwater runoff from the grass  – which in our Rather Cold Winters could turn somewhat problematic for Those Poor Schoolkids that this path is for.

On a more positive note, today the Summer Reading Program at the library started. For those not familiar with it, the gist is that you sign up, record how much you read, and then for every so many hours of reading you do, you get a prize and a raffle ticket.

On these raffle tickets, you write your name and details, then you put it in a tub corresponding to a prize that you hope to win. In previous years, these prizes were divided into age groups. The first year that I was around for. there was a Lego kit in with the grown-up prizes. Since then, some years have been better than others for grown-up prizes, but for stuff I’m interested in, the trend is a general decline. Last year there were a couple of book series that looked kinda interesting, some years there have been cinema tickets. I guess the decline hasn’t meant a whole bunch as I haven’t won anything.

Invariably, though, some grown-up tickets land in the tubs for kid prizes, and vice-versa. Such tickets, if selected, have been thrown away (there was an embarrassing moment last year, when one tub contained ONLY the wrong-colour tickets). If I hadn’t known that, there are times when I’d have been much more tempted to put my tickets in for kid-prizes (not entirely selfishly, I have three kids).

This year they are experimenting with a free-for-all approach to those prizes. Interestingly, unless they’re just not displayed yet, there’s very few that seem to be aimed at grown-ups. We’ll see how this shakes out.

The design of the reading progress cards has also been in decline over the years. The kids’ cards have had something to tick off half-hour chunks until each eight-hour goal. Two years ago the pattern was very convoluted and hard to follow. Last year the design just looked like there were half-hour things to tick off, until partway through you realise that it just ain’t right. This year there’s nothing at all for that, so now we’ve got some scrap paper on the wall, with boxes to tick off for each half-hour.

It’s not just reading in your head that counts: reading to someone else counts for you AND them, so keeping track of how much counts for each person (especially with two kids in the program) gets kind of tricky. More so if you’re not counting in small increments like that.

First day: Oldest has read two-and-a-half hours towards his first 8-hour prize. Middle has been read to for two half-hours. I’ve only managed half an hour (reading to both kids). Once I hit the audiobooks (they somehow count, which is great for me), I’ll start doing really well.

As for butchered trees, I start the Reading Program partway into:

  • The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian
  • The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
  • The Adventures Of The Wishing-Chair by Enid Blyton

Those are the ones I’m actively reading. Nineveh And Its Remains, by Austen Henry Layard, is also nearby, waiting for me to resume it.

And so much more that I’m looking forward to getting into and through. Busy summer.