Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kobe Bryant Searches for the Non-Aggression Principle


Plenty of people are reacting; many violently, some ignorantly, some coming so close to the issue.

So let’s put Kobe Bryant in the last camp:

“You can sit here and argue about it until we’re blue in the face and protest about it,” Bryant said following practice on Tuesday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “Until the legal system, we have a serious legal system conversation, it’s going to keep on happening.”

This would be helpful – a serious conversation.

Bryant expounded those thoughts on Tuesday, saying there needs to be more “accountability” and “responsibility” placed on law enforcement officials.


“What’s justifiable? What calls for legal action and what qualifies as the threshold in being able to use deadly force in that situation?,” Bryant asked rhetorically. “Those are higher conversations that need to be had.”

Yes, these conversations must be had.

There is a simple answer, built on the non-aggression principle: wearing a badge doesn’t make it right.  A crime is a crime.  Murder is murder.

I don’t know what happened on the night in question.  I know that as long as badges make it legal to commit crimes, Kobe Bryant will continue to wonder why.

“What’s justifiable?” he asks.  No one is above the law.  The same law is applicable to all men, else we do not live under law; we live under tyranny.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Proper Road to “Thick”

I will guess that, about as much as anyone in recent times, I have taken on the concept of “thick” within the context and discussion of libertarianism.  I will not rehash any of that in this post – for those to whom this is of interest, you likely know the story; for the rest, suffice it to say any appendage to the non-aggression principle would be considered thick.

At the same time, I have no doubt that for a society to survive and thrive, there is need for “thick” – what do people around here believe?  Some common understanding on issues that are not answered by the NAP is necessary.

Sheldon Richman is out with a very good piece – wonderful, in my opinion; I wish I wrote it.  Despite having tried on several occasions, I have never been able to explain myself on this topic as well as Richman has done.  It is entitled “Free-Market Socialism.”  Trust me, there is no oxymoron in this phrase.

In the piece, Richman connects how the individual becomes the social – fully in line with libertarian principles.  But instead of my paraphrase, here is Richman:

Libertarians are individualists. But since individualist has many senses, that statement isn’t terribly informative.

Virtually all libertarians observe the common customs of their societies, just as they conform to language conventions if for no other reason than they wish to be understood. I don’t know a libertarian who would regard this as tyranny.

As long as the “common customs” are not applied by a coercive monopoly, there is nothing wrong with this statement – it would be a reality in a libertarian world, if for no other reason than individuals would seek out community where they felt community. 

Further, however, the NAP does not answer every question of life – merely the question about when the use of force is acceptable.  I will go a step further: libertarians have not even agreed amongst themselves about the term “force” – or the applicability of the NAP to specific circumstances.

Is fraud “force”?  What about the applicability of the NAP to intellectual property?  Abortion?  Proper justice for a trespass?  I don’t think anyone can say these issues are “settled” within our community.

In fact, as one’s appreciation of the libertarian philosophy deepens, so does one’s understanding of the crucial behavior-shaping role played by the evolution of customs and rules—the true law—that have nothing whatever to do with the state. Indeed, these help form our very idea of society.

This is certainly a true statement for me.  When diving into the depths of some of the above mentioned topics, I have concluded that there may not be one “right” answer: if a community decides it wants to implement defense of intellectual property within their system of law, or define fraud as a violation – I can find no NAP-based reason to disagree (I will not delve into my reasons here, as this is well beyond the scope of this post).

Further, it seems clear that a libertarian world would allow for blatantly non-libertarian societies – as long as the members were free to leave.  If a group voluntarily decides to hold all property in common, have a field day – they cause me no harm.

The social is greater than the sum of the individuals – if it was not so, there would be no benefit in forming community.  Consider something as simple as the division of labor; try gaining the benefits of this invaluable process without voluntarily interacting with others.

Richman comments on prices – freely derived, necessary for a thriving society, determined by all…the result of countless individual decisions.  He discusses bankruptcy:

…no individual decided to put, say, the bookseller Borders, out of business. In an important sense, we did it collectively, but not at a mass meeting with people giving speeches and voting on whether the principals of Borders should keep control of the company’s assets. Rather, the demise of Borders and the transfer of its assets to others were the outcome of many individual decisions, most of which were not consciously coordinated. It’s just that enough people had preferences inconsistent with the company’s business plan. So the people who ran Borders were out, however much they objected.

In a free market, the people control the means of production – not in a communistic way, but a perfectly libertarian way; or, as Richman puts it:

In other words, the freed market would give traditional leftists what they say they want: a society in which free, voluntary, and peaceful cooperation ultimately controls the means of production for the good of all people.

No need for any “musts” or “should”: this is a road to thick that every libertarian could stand behind, without any concern about violating the NAP.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Enemy Within

Tuesday marked Armistice Day across much of the West – the last day of the Great War in 1918.  It goes by other names today, but the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month will always have one meaning to most.  Most, but not all – certainly not to those who died in the tenth hour solely for the desire to achieve symmetry.

There were parades, vigils, two-minutes of silence – all manners of remembrance.

I think it is worth considering what those veterans of the war that gave the world this Armistice thought – not about the war, but about the civilians cheering them on.  From “The Great War and Modern Memory,” by Paul Fussell:

It was not just from their staffs that the troops felt estranged; it was from everyone back in England.

Why would the soldiers feel estranged from those cheering them on, calling them “war heroes,” and offering all manner of praise and adulation?  One place to look is the news from the front – filed by correspondents sympathetic only to the official government narrative.  One such “kept correspondent” was Lord Northcliffe, publisher of the Times.  In an essay entitled “What to send Your Solider” he offered peppermint bulls’ eyes:

The bulls’ eyes ought to have plenty of peppermint in them, for it is the peppermint which keeps those who suck them warm on a cold night.  It also has a digestive effect, though that is of small account at the front, where health is so good and indigestion hardly ever heard of.  The open-air life, the regular and plenteous feeding, the exercise, and the freedom from care and responsibility, keep the soldiers fit and contented.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the life described by Northcliffe was not a life experienced in the trenches.  During the winter, men froze to death.  They wept in Gallipoli – not from fear, but because they were always so dirty – lice and dysentery were regular army issue.  Peppermint bulls’ eyes, indeed.

Well, how estranged is estranged?  The following should give some food for thought regarding what’s going on inside the mind of the next soldier you thank for his service:

The visiting of violent and if possible painful death upon the complacent, patriotic, uncomprehending, fatuous civilians at home was a favorite fantasy indulged by the troops.


Siegfried Sassoon, a veteran of the war, writes in “Blighters” that he:

…would like to see them crushed to death by a tank in one of their silly patriotic music halls, and in “Fight to the Finish” he enacts a similar fantasy.  The war over, the army is marching through London in a Victory Parade, cheered by the “Yellow-Pressmen” along the way.  Suddenly the soldiers fix bayonets and turn on the crowd:

At last the boys found a cushy job.

Sassoon did not neglect the politicians:

I heard the Yellow-Pressmen grunt and squeal:
And with my trusty bombers turned and went
To clear those Junkers out of Parliament

There was the hatred of soldiers returning to the front from leave; according to Philip Gibbs:

They hated the smiling women on the streets.  They loathed the old men….They desired that profiteers should die by poison-gas.  They prayed God to get the Germans to send Zeppelins to England – to make the people know what war meant.

Keep this in mind the next time you consider thanking a war veteran for his “service.”

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sentence First! Verdict Afterwards

Queen of Hearts: Now... are you ready for your sentence?
Alice: Sentence? But there has to be a verdict first...
Queen of Hearts: Sentence first! Verdict afterwards.
Alice: But that just isn't the way...
Queen of Hearts: [shouting] All ways are...!
Alice: ...your ways, your Majesty.

Veale concludes his examination of the return to barbarism in war with the Nuremberg Trials that followed Germany’s defeat in World War Two.

Regarded as an isolated phenomenon, the initiation in 1945 of the practice of disposing of prisoners of war by charging them with “war-crimes” and then finding them guilty at trials in which their accusers acted as judges of their own charges, was one of the most astonishing developments in the history of mankind.

Regarded, however, merely as the last link in a chain of developments all entirely consistent with each other and all displaying the same general trend, the initiation of trials for “war-crimes” seems the natural and inevitable outcome of a war in which one side had officially adopted a policy of systematically slaughtering a hostile racial minority without regard to age or sex and the other side had officially adopted a policy of slaughtering the enemy civilian population by dropping bombs on the most densely populated residential areas in order to terrorise the survivors into unconditional surrender.  A struggle conducted in such a spirit could have no other sequel. (Emphasis added)

When considering the vaunted trials of Nuremberg through the lens of today, these seem as nothing terribly abnormal: the loser pays a price, war is hell, etc.  That the loser pays a price for actions no different than those taken by the winner I understand seems unfair.  But the idea that the loser pays a price – in this case, the trial of the military leaders – doesn’t seem out of place.

Veale, however, places this in context, and in the context of the brief period of two centuries in Europe where war was fought in a relatively civilized manner – the root of civilized warfare being that non-combatants were not to be targets of wartime violence.  The violations build, culminating in the bombing of civilian targets and now this concept of war-crimes trials – and more specifically, the method by which this process was put into practice in Nuremberg.

To the savage mind the natural and proper way to deal with a captured enemy in one’s power is to kill him… On reflection it will become obvious that a struggle waged in this spirit could end in no other way, whichever side won, but with a massacre of the leaders of the defeated side.

So why a trial?  Why not just do the losers in? Why not just publish a list of the wanted, and get on with the executions?  To answer these questions, an examination of the views of the leaders of the Allies is necessary as is an examination of the make-up and structure of the trials.

It would have been an easy matter to have created an impartial court….

There were many neutral countries, all with individuals who were highly qualified as jurists: Switzerland, Sweden and Spain are examples.  Instead, the jurists were drawn from the victors – the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

The only possible objection to having the charges against the accused decided by a court composed of neutral jurists was that such a court could not have been relied on to bring in exactly the verdict the victors required….

Further, neutral jurists would have followed the evidence brought by the accused that pointed to the similar actions of the victors – the actions for which the accused were under trial.

But the process had one advantage – it minimized the friction between and amongst the victors.  It resulted in trials for which the Queen from Alice’s Wonderland would have found satisfaction: the captured were sentenced from the outset; all that was left was to reach a verdict that conformed to the sentence.

…the war-trials were initiated as a compromise between two entirely irreconcilable points of view.

This irreconcilable situation was first introduced by Stalin in Teheran in 1943.  According to Elliott Roosevelt:

Stalin said, “I propose a salute to the swiftest possible justice for all of Germany’s war criminals – justice before a firing squad.  I drink to our unity in dispatching them as fast as we capture them, all of them, and there must be at least 50,000 of them.”

Within much of Eastern and Central Europe, Stalin did not require the agreement of his allies to put his desires into action (Stalin admitted as much when Elliott suggested that many of the 50,000 would be killed in battle).  But such was necessary in the areas controlled by others.