Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Depending on the Government for your Protection.

Another sad example this week. I've written on this topic a number of times, most recently in my piece on the Supreme Court's review of Castle Rock, CO v. Gonzales. This time a couple was gunned down in their own home by a nutcase who blamed them for his arrest on drug charges. Julie and Aeneas Hernlen, 31 and 29 years old respectively, were murdered by David Edward Johnson, 33, who later took his own life. He did not, thankfully, kill the Hernlen's 5 year-old daughter who dialed 911 after being woken by the gunshots.

The Hernlens tried to get an injunction against Mr. Johnson, who had threatened them before. The judge in the case was "very upset" about the slayings, but blamed his refusal to grant the injunction on too little information. However, Volusia county Sherriff Ben Johnson understands reality.
(T)he sheriff explained that the injunction may not have prevented the attack. "I don't really believe it would have in a case like this," said Johnson.

"An injunction is fine for someone who is willing to accept the rules. This individual here was set on taking action," he said. "The only way you could have prevented it would be to put him in jail and keep him in jail. There was nothing there to do that. When someone is bound and determined they are going to do a criminal act, it is hard to stop it."

There's one other way to stop it. Be prepared to do it yourself.

It would appear that the Hernlens were not.

Time for that cartoon again:

Blinded By Hate.

I've mentioned once or twice before that I read Tucson's "alternative newspaper," the Tucson Weekly from time to time. I picked up the latest edition at lunch, and got to read a really lovely screed in this week's "Guest Commentary:"
The actions of some gun-loving legislators show they're certifiably insane


I hate guns. I fucking hate guns.
Nice of you to admit it right up front. With expletive! You hate inanimate objects. But "gun-loving legislators" are the ones who are insane. Right.
They're good for one thing only, and that's blasting holes in living flesh. Outside legal hunting activities, this flesh usually belongs to policemen on the job and innocent bystanders, particularly children. The statistics on gun violence are ubiquitous and not disputed.
In that case, as the joke goes, all of mine are defective.

And yes, I'm as tired of that stale old bromide as I am of hearing Ms. O'Sullivan's. And I'd dispute some of those statistics, actually. But that's what I do.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the rate of firearms deaths for kids under the age of 15 is 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized nations combined. In one year, more children and teenagers die from gunfire than from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma and HIV/AIDS combined.
"Children and teenagers" is a little bit different from "kids under the age of 15" (not that you're supposed to notice) but I thought I'd check. According to WISQARS, the CDC's injury mortality database, the number of gunfire deaths for "kids" 19 and under are as follows: 2,684 deaths by firearm violence in 2002. Homicides: 1856. Suicides 828. Accidents added 167 more for a total of 2,851. Of that total, kids over the age of 15 represented 2,266 of the deaths - or 79.5%. That leaves the "kids under the age of 15" total at 585, meaning that in those other 25 industrialized nations there were about 48 firearm related deaths. And how many firearms are there in private hands in those other 25 industrialized nations?

If you want to say "BAN THEM ALL!" why not just say it?
It seems an American kid is 16 times more likely to die from a firearm-related accident than a kid in any other western industrialized nation. A gun is the No. 1 choice for male adolescents in attempting (and completing) suicide. Approximately 3,500 students are expelled every year for bringing firearms to school.

According to the National School Boards Association, 135,000 guns are brought into U.S. schools every day, and nearly 8 percent of adolescents in urban areas miss at least one day of school each month, because they are afraid to attend.
Wait. One hundred and thirty-five thousand guns are brought to schools every day, but only 3,500 kids are expelled for it annually? Anybody see a problem in those stats?
According to FBI statistics, 1.7 million guns have been reported stolen--mostly from homes and cars--in the past 10 years. Only 40 percent of them have ever been recovered. What this means is that they are or have been in the hands of crooks.
Only 170,000 per year? I'd have thought it would be more. Just goes to show, though, that it doesn't take much of a market to keep the violent criminal demand supplied.
Guns do too kill people; and they do it more efficiently than a sword, a knife, a baseball bat, a disease or anything short of a bomb. An assault weapon is to a switchblade, or any other weapon of youth past, as the bubonic plague is to a head cold.

For the most part, the people victimized by this insanity are too young to vote or be real players in our economy. Children in our culture don't actually count. That's what the numbers say and numbers don't lie. They don't even hedge.
Err, no. For the most part the people victimized by gun violence are not children. They're adults - young adults, but adults. Overwhelmingly male, and blacks are tremendously overrepresented in that group, too. Nice sleight-of-hand, but I've seen this trick before.

Now that you've built your straw-house...
So I should have been elated recently when I read in the Arizona Daily Star that a firearms bill had been killed. Seems a Phoenix Republican by the name of Doug Quelland failed to push House Bill 2666 through the state House. This bill would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons into schools.
Here we go...
The fact that any Arizona legislator would come up with an idea like this (he says he was unaware the bill was so far-reaching) tells me that he is certifiably insane and should be locked up in a rubber room, or that he and his constituency are of a dangerous criminal mentality. Not only shouldn't such people be legislators; they shouldn't be allowed to walk around loose.
Let me ask you a question, Ms. O'Sullivan: When young Dylan Kliebold and Eric Harris shot up Columbine High School, what finally stopped them? When Jeff Weise shot up his Red Lake high school, what finally stopped him? Other men with guns arriving on the scene.

You've stayed true to your hatred: you hate the gun, not the shooter. You've drunk the Kool-aid, blurring the difference between "violent and predatory" and "violent but protective" into just "violence," and mistakenly believe that anyone who carries a gun is, by definition, someone on the cusp of random murder. Yet you still, I assume, have that curious disconnect of gun-haters: you make an exception for "authorized agents of the State" - that is, people on the public payroll.

I can't fathom that "logic." But then, I can't understand your irrational hatred of inanimate objects, either. I can recognize it, but not understand it.
But of course, nor should armed drunks. Yet the Legislature is gearing up this very minute to debate SB 1363. This bill will allow customers to carry firearms into bars. To call this Ali G. reasoning would be to insult Ali G. Drunks and guns might be funny in the movies, but in real life, a bullet through the brain pan tends to take nearly all the fun out of a rollicking evening out.
Except the law in question specifically prohibits consumption of alcohol by the CCW permit holder. I'd like you to explain your opposition to this bill to Texas representative Susanna Gratia-Hupp, who watched as her parents were shot to death in a Texas Luby's, knowing all the while that her handgun was locked in her car in the parking lot because it was illegal for her to bring it into the restaraunt. That little fact didn't stop George Hennard. He drove his pickup through a window, got out and started shooting.

He only stopped when - once again - men with guns showed up. By that time he'd killed 22 people, though.

Texas has since changed that law. Their homicide rate has fallen along with the rest of the nation's. And drunks are no more likely to shoot up the place now than before. People who jump through the legal hoops necessary to get a concealed-carry permit aren't the people you need to worry about.

But you're not worried about the people. Only the guns.
I've got a bumper sticker that says, "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will shoot their kids accidentally." This is what logicians call an "if-then" statement. It doesn't assert anything. It only says that if something were to happen, then something else would also happen. If I drop a drinking glass, it will break, does not mean I ought to or am going to drop the drinking glass. The truth is, on purely moral grounds, I don't think all guns should be outlawed. I don't like the idea of hunting animals, but understand that some decent people feel differently.
Gee, thanks for your little "moral exception." But some of us feel differently about being armed for the defense of ourselves and our communities (even YOU), too.
Some people who pulled up next to me on Tanque Verde Road just the other day were neither as tolerant nor logical. Maybe they were on crack. Maybe they were just ardent supporters of this Quelland fellow. But they started shouting, thumping around, flipping my friends and me the bird. As the light changed, their parting words were that they should come back and shoot our motherfucking asses.
And you weren't armed, obviously. And they might have been. And you still don't get it.
This, alas, is the crux of the problem. In a democracy, when one side of an issue is armed and the other is not, you've got big problems.

If I know both my state and my country--and I do--Little Johnny had better start packing his flak jacket before he heads off to school. And soon. People like Mr. Quelland may pick up their marbles, but they never go home.
The train of illogic here is astonishing, really. Someone capable of stringing that many sentences together coherently, yet who still cannot overcome her obsessive hatred of a tool and separate the legitimate use of violence from the criminal is something that makes me want to grab a magnifying glass and study. (Or a ClueBat™ and start swinging.)

You've misidentified the problem, Ms. O'Sullivan, and run with it. Let me see if I can clarify it for you. In a 1994 Mother Jones column, Violence Policy Center executive director Josh Sugarmann wrote:
We can continue to push legislation of dubious effectiveness. Or we can acknowledge that gun violence is a public-health crisis fueled by an inherently dangerous consumer product. To end the crisis, we have to regulate--or, in the case of handguns and assault weapons, completely ban--the product.
That "legislation of dubious effectiveness" he was referring to was the much-vaunted "Brady Bill" and its ilk. There's your position - guns as the cause of the problem. Yet in a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed, (the Trib not being a bastion of gun-rights support, if you weren't aware) editorial board member Steven Chapman has apparently grasped reality:
(D)ecrying America's love affair with guns is like decrying America's love affair with football or movies. There are some 260 million firearms in private hands in this country. Any solution requiring vast numbers of people to reject something they have long valued is not a solution but a fantasy. It's also an admission that no politically feasible options are likely to have any perceptible effect on crime.
By "politically feasible options" he meant things like licensing, registration, "safe storage," etc. Josh Sugarmann's "legislation of dubious effectiveness." Banning isn't "politically feasible." What Mr. Chapman is saying is that you're going to have to live with them. That means living with the results of assholes and crazies with guns, because they're not going to go away - either the assholes & crazies, or the guns.

That being the case, it might be a good idea to recognize that the overwhelming majority of the population isn't assholes and crazies, and the overwhelming majority of gun owners aren't either. And if we have to live with the assholes and crazies with guns, then some of the rest of us would rather have at least a chance to oppose them effectively if they threaten to harm us.

Instead of having no other option but to cower in fear and plead with them not to hurt us, which is the choice you advocate here.

Now who's insane?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

On the Lack of Posting.

A) Blogger's been, well, bloggered lately.

B) I'm still getting over whatever the hell this ongoing creeping crud is.

C) Work is still extremely hectic and looks to stay that way a while.

D) I haven't been too inspired to write due to A), B), and C) (though I'll admit to getting up at 4AM on Saturday to finish Rights, Morality, Pragmatism & Idealism Pt. II.)

At the moment, it looks like The Smallest Minority is going to be updated mostly on the weekends.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Our Schools May be Collapsing, But They Ain't Dead Yet!

Regardless of your position on illegal immigration and its effect on our nation's public school system, I dare you to read La Vida Robot and not feel some sense of pride in these kids.

Via AmericanDigest.
Quote of the Month.
The difference between the United States and the Islamic terrorists is this: The terrorists export death. The Americans export freedom.
Fatos Tarifa, Albanian Ambassador to the United States in his Washington Times editorial column
Albania Stands with the U.S. in Iraq
Read the whole thing, but that's the money quote.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Dept. of Our Collapsinged Schools, Part Who-Can-Keep-Track?

In today's entry we have the unfortunately named Wayne Brightly, erstwile teacher for the NY school system. Mr. Brightly is a 38 year old black man.

Mr. Brightly had a bit of a problem passing NY's state certification exam. He failed it at least twice. If he failed it again, he risked losing his $59,000/year job (well, DUH!).

So instead, the tall, thin, young and black Mr. Brightly coerced squat, fat, old and white Rubin Leitner

into taking the exam for him. It seems that Mr. Leitner has a bachelor's and a master's degree in history, but he also suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and at the time was homeless. Mr. Brightly was bright enough to get Mr. Leitner sufficient identification to get him in to take the exam, but neglected to consider what the result would be. Mr. Leitner not only passed the teacher's exam, he did so much better than Mr. Brightley's previous attempts that it aroused suspicion. So they called Mr. Brightley in for an interview. He sent Mr. Leitner with his fake ID.

Things, shall we say, fell apart at that point.

But wait! That's not the best part! Mr. Brightley has been teaching in the NYC school system since 1992! According to the New York Daily News:
Wayne Brightly's city schools career:

* 1992 - Began working as a substitute teacher at IS 171 in Brooklyn.
* 1994 - Became a substitute teacher at PS 7 in Brooklyn.
* 1995 - Became a substitute teacher at PS 65 in Brooklyn.
* 1998 - Became a teacher at IS 171.
* 2004 - Became a teacher at MS 142 in the Bronx.
* 2005 - Reassigned to a regional office job after he was charged.
Yes, that's right! Thirteen years teaching without passing the certification test, and he's still on the payroll!

I couldn't make this up.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Rights, Morality, Idealism & Pragmatism, Part I.

The discussion with Dr. Danny Cline continues. He sent me his reply to my previous post yesterday. I read it and thought about it and then read it again.

This is a difficult topic because the discussion goes to something so fundamental that the words we're forced to use carry many layers of meaning, while what we're trying to do is flay them back and be unerringly precise in what we're saying. There's much opportunity for misinterpretation here, though I think we're approaching a consensus on the topic. As I did before, I'm going to post Dr. Cline's submittal for you all to read and think on, then later I will post my reply which will be predated to appear physically below this post. That way, anyone stumbling onto this full front page or reading a monthly archive will be able to read the two posts as one continuous piece.

Dr. Cline emailed to me in plain text, so I have taken the liberty to edit his piece very slightly for readability (if I screw anything up, Danny, leave a comment and I'll fix it.) Here is his latest response:
First let me say that the order in which I'll respond to your comments is not necessarily the order they appear in your post. First I think I'll take up the statement:

"I think Dr. Cline believes that man has an innate moral instinct."

Well, I'm not going to argue much against this statement. I do indeed believe that man has innate moral knowledge (I wouldn't say an instinct, but that's a pretty minor problem). I should say rather that I believe that I have innate moral knowledge. I've never been very convinced of the applicability of knowledge about one's self to knowledge about others. So instead let's say that I believe that I have moral knowledge and I suspect that some others do as well. However, that belief is not the underlying support of my quibble with your posts. The source of my support is rather the question of whether there is an objective standard of morality. Note that the question of whether or not there is an objective standard of morality is wholly different from the question of how or if, we have access to this standard. My belief is that there is. I would gather from this post that you would disagree and say that either that there is no morality, morality is meaningless (i.e. morality is just a word), or perhaps morality only exists relative to a certain society or certain people.

This gets us to the first of a series of difficult questions, namely, how can we have a priori knowledge (knowledge not based on experience - of which our discussion of morals and rights certainly brings into question)? Now, although our questions are ones of morality here, there are many other areas in which the knowledge (as much as it seems to be very concrete) is still a priori. For example, the axioms of geometry, or even the truth of arithmetic are not things that we feel need to be proven, and are as such a priori knowledge. Indeed, in 1931 Kurt Gödel demonstrated that there is no way to completely list all of the necessary axioms for a complex system such as mathematics. Any attempt at a list of all necessary axioms (again a priori knowledge) will necessarily generate propositions that are undecidable within the system. These propositions could be made into axioms themselves, but then would be still more undecidable statements generated within the system.

Thus, some things we accept (the axioms underlying arithmetic and geometry) are indeed knowledge we are neither able to prove nor knowledge that we even derive from experience. This is the essence of a priori knowledge. Now, one certainly could claim that a rejection of all a priori knowledge (including such things as simple arithmetic) is valid. However, while not inherently self-contradictory, that sort of skepticism is notoriously unproductive, and not even in line with how we (or I, at least) view the world. One might instead claim that certain claims of a priori knowledge is justified (perhaps the truth of the laws of logic and mathematics) while other such claims are not (in this case, the existence of an objective standard of morality). Here we are still treading on difficult ground, as we'd need to examine why certain claims can be considered true without proof, while others cannot. For example, why should we accept that there are external objective truths of arithmetic and logic but not such objective truths of morality? The claims some make about moral truths being relative to society are intended to be such a difference. However, this seems to me to be nothing more than the claim that we cannot have objective standards of morality because people (or perhaps one of these complainants might say "reasonable people") might disagree about them. In my experience teaching mathematics at the college level, I have found the same thing occurs.

Many (otherwise) reasonable people cannot add fractions correctly, or cannot understand that IF we know that P implies Q AND we know that P is true THEN we know that Q is true. At the higher levels of mathematics, even those who have studied mathematics and know a great deal about it have disagreements, not because there is no right answer but simply because the questions are hard. Thus, either the complaint that morality has no objective standards because otherwise reasonable people may disagree on issues of morality fails or mathematics, and indeed logic itself suffer the same problem (and if we reject logic, there is little point in continuing this, or any other, argument). The fact that this sort of a priori knowledge causes disagreements is not a sign of its non-existence but rather its difficulty. This knowledge does not spring fully grown, armed, and armored from our heads like Athena; it must be sought out. Reflection is our path to this knowledge, and often it is a difficult path confusing even our greatest minds. The fact that we may be unsure of the contents of an objective standard of morality does not imply that none exists.

Indeed, at one point in your response, you do claim that there is such an objective standard, with a quote from Ayn Rand:

"A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life."

Immediately afterward you say that

"[t]hat right is, in my opinion, REAL, but it can and has been trampled, folded, spindled, mutilated, and - worst of all - unrealized, for the overwhelming majority of Man's existence upon the Earth."

This is entirely correct. The right and its corollaries ARE real AND they have been violated. One of these clauses does not negate the possibility of the other. A right is not like a law of physics; it is simply a statement of morality. It is not a statement of what CAN happen, but what SHOULD happen. However, almost immediately, you contradict this statement with:

"[Jefferson] and the other Founders may have held those truths to be "self-evident," but for centuries if not [millennia] before they were neither self-evident nor true."

This statement is only half-correct, and in that half you don't go far enough. In the millennia before, the statements were true - but they were not then, nor were they in Jefferson's day, nor are they now self-evident. These truths, like all a priori knowledge are not things that we can prove, but are things that we must discover. It is not easy to uncover reality or truth - not in mathematics, not in morality, and not in science.

Finally, in response to your statement and the following question:

"Telling a murderer that he is violating your rights won't stop him from doing it, and if he kills you is he not "taking away your right to life"? The question I have is: the claim to whom? [To whom] do we go to with our claims to our proper rights?"

The answers are as follows: No, the killer is not taking away your right to life - he is violating it. He is taking away your life, not your right to it. Rights and guarantees are not the same; rights are simply statements of what is right and wrong. The answer to your second question "the claim to whom" is a rather sad one, namely, that we can take it to no one as this is not that kind of claim. Rights are not a part of some cosmic insurance policy in which if they're violated we get a new toaster. Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough, they are simply statements of what is right and what is wrong. The rights are universal conditions "which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore" quote we have been bouncing back and forth in these emails is correct enough in its way but can be very misleading. The rights can't be taken away, the things they grant are ours can be. A tyrant couldn't take away my right to life, but unfortunately he (or she) could take away my life. Mr. Dale Franks makes this exact same fallacy in his quote. Rights are NOT laws of physics, and as much as we might hope that they should be, their nature does not prevent their violation. A right does not exist in the same way as a table, or a molecule. His questions:

"Where are your rights now? What protection do they afford you?"

are answered easily enough. My rights are "where" they always are. They are ideas, and have no physical form, much as Newton's second law has no physical form, or the number 567 has no physical form. "Where" is not the kind of thing one ought to ask about a nonphysical entity like truth or 43 if one wants an understandable answer. To the second question, my answer is again, sadly, they don't afford me protection. They never have and never will. I'll have to protect myself (or not) as I am able.

Again, I think your troubles with my post are related to an assumption that I am saying one doesn't need to defend one's self from murder or theft or imprisonment. I am most certainly not saying anything of the sort. If one wants to live, one may very well have to defend one's self. My rights won't defend me, but again, that is not what they are meant to do. They are meant to tell us what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil.

You and Mr. Franks both come somewhat near the fallacy of the logical positivists, who said "any statement not of natural science is meaningless." This was meant to put an end to all such questions of rights and morality. Unfortunately, it is self-contradictory, as it is itself a statement not of natural science. As you don't quite cozy up to it, this is not an accusation, but your continued examinations into the questions about how rights are supposed to have a physical effect (they aren't) comes tantalizingly near to it.

In the end you say that your objection to my position is that it encourages members of a society to disconnect. Perhaps it does. If we are arguing from consequences, though, I'd say your position - at least the one where you doubt the existence of right in any true universal way - encourages people to buy that whoever has the greatest might is justified in doing whatever he or she wants. Your question to me "[i]f you believe, as Dr. Cline believes, that "All rights are simply universal conditions 'which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore'" then why would it be necessary to defend them?" I have answered several times - we do not defend the right, we defend what it claims is rightfully ours. This question prompts me to ask one of my own. If you believe that rights are not real or are meaningless (as you indicate in some places but not in others and Mr. Franks flatly states in the post of his you have quoted) what is the purpose of defending them or respecting those of others, particularly those incapable of defending theirs and unprotected by society?
See why I do this? The free exchange of ideas forces you to think. It's work I thoroughly enjoy.

Back later. Maybe much later. This will be a tough one to get just right.

UPDATE: Part II is done.

Rights, Morality, Pragmatism & Idealism, Part II.

I have to admit, it never occurred to me to attack the question of rights from the perspective of mathematics. I studied physics in college, and I remember plainly the division between physics professors and mathematics professors. The physics professors were uniformly disdainful of the mathematics professors, and vice versa. The mathematicians were interested in math for math's sake, ignoring any practical applications and appreciating primarily the elegance of the science. The physicists were interested only in the practical application of mathematics to solving the questions of physical reality, appreciating the elegance mostly as evidence of the correct application of the tools.

You can imagine which side of this divide I rested on. However, as I said above, I think we're approaching consensus here, but perhaps only asymptotically.

Dr. Cline in his opening explicitly connects the question of rights with the question of morals, and I think it's important to make clear here that the two are associated, but not interchangeable. That's probably understood, but as I said, it is necessary that we be unerringly precise in this discussion.

I quoted Ayn Rand's statement that "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context." I believe this to be true, but Websters defines "moral" as "of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior." A quick study of history shows that what is moral for one society may be immoral for another, as in the example I gave of the Maori and Moriori from Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs and Steel. Yet Dr. Cline's position is that there is a single "objective standard of morality" and that objective standard is based on the rights of man which are corollaries of Rand's "one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life."

Dr. Cline believes, and makes a good case, that those rights can be determined just the same way the laws of mathematics are: through discovery by logical thought.

We're ==><== this close!

We're stuck in that no-mans-land between mathematicians and physicists, I think. Dr. Cline argues for the theoretical ideal, while I'm oriented towards the pragmatic. His "this is the way it should be," and my "does it work?" Settle in for another dissertation-length essay. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I stated in the earlier piece:
The whole purpose of morals is to ensure survival, and whatever works to ensure survival is, for that society, "moral."
This is accurate, but incomplete. There are at least two bases for morality: survival, and individual rights. For the overwhelming majority of the existence of Man, the morality of any society has been based strictly on survival - anything that worked to ensure survival was, by definition, "moral." For example, drawing another citation from Guns, Germs and Steel, New Guinean cannibalism can be pragmatically understood if you study the food sources available to the cannibal tribes. There simply wasn't enough protein available in their environment to sustain their populations without it. Even though cannibalism can be dangerous to its practitioners for biological reasons (diseases like Kuru and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, for instance), when the alternative is rapid death from starvation or slow death through malnutrition, the choice seems obvious. Since their only significant available source of protein was meat, and the only large animal species in that ecosystem was humans, and it remained thus until these tribes were reached by Europeans bringing high-protein crops and domestic animals formerly unknown, then the choice of their source of dietary protein was simple. From our perspective, cannibalism is a moral horror; involving the taboos of both murder and of the consumption of human flesh. From an individual rights perspective, the systematic slaughter of people is wrong as it is violative of their rights. We can mitigate our revulsion if the situation is obviously extreme; sailors adrift at sea, isolated survivors of an air crash, but the idea of a culture based on cannibalism is abhorrent to us.

And perfectly normal, natural, and acceptable to them.

This is difficult to square with Dr. Cline's insistence on the existence of one objective standard of morality if you do not recognize this dichotomy between the pragmatic and the ideal, and I must confess to not expressing this well or clearly earlier. The rules of a society's morality, to use a mathematical analogy, are like the deceptively simple equations that define very complex bounded chaotic systems. So long as the overall system is stable within its bounds, the morality of that society "works," despite how it might offend or even repulse members of another society, and regardless of how it relates to an ideal of individual rights. The only thing that can upset it is a catastrophic change imposed from outside, (the offended society attacking and slaughtering them, for instance) or something truly extraordinary from within.

Man has existed for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, and our social structures have struggled slowly and painfully up from the band, to the tribe, to the chiefdom, to the state over that long time period. Throughout all of it we have done so without an ideal system of morality, just as we did without mathematics, agriculture, metallurgy, chemistry, or physics. We've been too busy just surviving. A theory of individual rights is much like mathematics - something of great value that requires time and resources to explore and develop. Dr. Cline states that such a theory of rights is every bit as real and as useful as the laws of mathematics, and he may be right - though I must throw out the caveat that it is crucial to recognize that man can survive without either, and might again. I quoted Rand earlier, concerning this:
The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day.
I think it's critical that we remember it.

Dr. Cline believes that he has a personal "innate moral knowledge" and he "suspect(s) that others do as well," but by stating that I think he admits that such knowledge may not be and probably is not universal. That "innate moral knowledge" is akin to Newton's ability to develop the Calculus by his pure logic, or Einstein's conception of the Theory of Relativity through his. These are talents that are rare in humans, and when such people apply themselves to the questions of morality, we call them "philosophers" - people like Rand, Kant, Popper, and Aristotle, and also Marx, Neitzche, and Kierkegaard. It is important to understand that when humanity is the topic, "irrational" implies much more than "the square-root of 2."

During that long trek from band to tribe to chiefdom to state, it is arguable that the freedoms of individuals in those societies have been increasingly restricted, violated, and abrogated. In exchange, much of humanity has gone from a life that was "nasty, brutish, and short" to one of wealth, comfort, and health. It is understandable, then, when we see people willing to trade their freedoms for the security of even an oppressive society, and equally understandable when others would rather not. Would you rather live as a Kalahari Bushman, or as a Russian worker under Stalin? One was unquestionably more free, but the other had indoor toilets (though probably no toilet paper.) One might be killed by a lion, the other "disappeared" by the KGB. However, we have reached a point in human development where we have begun to restore freedoms once taken away, in part because the restriction of those freedoms is no longer essential to the survival of the society, and in part because we now have the time and resources to allow philosophers to think about it, and the technology to disseminate their thoughts broadly to those not so gifted.

Dr. Cline states that "rights are simply statements of what is right and wrong". I think that's a bit in error. Morals are simply statements of what is right and wrong; "Thou shall not murder." Rights are the statements of an underlying philosophy that explains why; "Each individual has a right to his own life." Conversely, the reason (as it probably was for centuries) could be given; "The power to murder is exclusive to the State. Violation of this rule will result in the execution of the non-state murderer." No right involved. Stay in line or get hammered down.

Dr. Cline and I agree (I think) that the one fundamental right can be defined as Rand defines it, "the right to your own life." The problem comes from trying to ascertain what all those corollary rights are. Dr. Cline believes that there is a single, determinable objective standard of morality, based on that fundamental right and its corollaries. I don't. The reason I don't is because we're talking about human beings here, and not theoretical concepts like mathematics and physics. Remember: "irrational." What Dr. Cline is arguing is also partially what he was protesting against when he took exception to my reference to Heinlein's Starship Troopers citation:
Starship Troopers is not the correct novel to reference - at least not unless you're a die-hard communist or fascist. The government presented therein is a fine example of a fascist/communist nanny-state, and its subjects/slaves are clearly worshippers of Nietzsche's "New Idol" - the state.
Yet it is from that citation that this comes:
"A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual's instinct to survive -- and nowhere else! -- and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.

"We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward the human race -- we are even developing an exact ethic for extra-human relations. But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: 'Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.' Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing."
That certainly sounds to me like Dr. Cline's "objective moral standard" based on "a man's right to his own life." My problem is that I don't think it's really possible to "describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts." The equations of morality are deceivingly simple in appearance, but difficult to conceive and inherently sensitive to initial conditions. Logic can lead us down inescapable dead-end paths as it did the Moriori, if we neglect to consider that others exist who do not share our morality but to whom we try to extend it because our morality is obviously the "right" one. We see it still today in the policies of governments that try to protect their populaces by disarming them, and in nations that repeatedly attempt appeasement and accomodation when their antagonists see it as weakness and lack of will. On the converse, it is possible for logic to lead to aggression to force that "single objective standard" of morality onto others, which is what some on the Left are currently frothing at the mouth about and accusing the U.S. of doing in the Middle East (while their own attempt to subvert the current American morality for their Leftist one continues to fail), and it is what the Wahabist Jihadis are attempting - and failing - to accomplish worldwide.

In his initial comments, Dr. Cline stated:
I think what I am saying is an important point, indeed it is THE important point in the American Revolution and all of Ayn Rand's writings. These rights are not things that can be removed; they are innate and inalienable; they are conditions of morality itself. If one TRULY believes that rights and morality are "socially constructed" the only sensible option is to join those in power (the always present "communist masters") and claim your share of their unjustly gained loot.

I don't believe this - I won't DO this - and I think (I hope) the same is true of you.
This is the statement that "since thus-and-so is morally right, I will not act in violation of that moral." In the main, this is true for me as there are acts that I will not perform even unto death. I was asked, in the comments of that original post, "Is it wrong to rape?" It is for me. There are no circumstances in which would commit it, and I believe its practice to be violative of rights and thus immoral and evil. But I recognize that this belief is not universally held. I believe, too, in that fundamental right to one's own life, so I don't support the idea of invading and attempting to force my morality upon those nations not so enlightened, but I have only mild objections to peacekeeping forces killing rapists out of hand when caught in the act. (The potential abuse of due process being the only one that comes immediately to mind.)

Dr. Cline also said in his last missive:
I would gather from this post that you would disagree and say that either that there is no morality, morality is meaningless (i.e. morality is just a word), or perhaps morality only exists relative to a certain society or certain people.
No. There is morality, and it is not meaningless. Nor is morality restricted to one people or society. There are MANY moralities, one for each society extant, of which the objective question is "do they work?" Do they support the continued existence of their societies? ALL societies are violative of Rand's "one fundamental right" to some extent or another. This is the objection that the Spoonerist Anarchists have - any violation of rights, they believe, is grounds to abolish the governing force of that society. It's an unfortunate truth, though, that societies that are coercive and violative of rights are successful and powerful and can easily overrun anarchic collectives. Because all societies are violative of the "one fundamental right," from my pragmatic perspective only those "rights" that are generally recognized and defended by the majority of the populace are protected. Thus the premise of the original post: A "Right" is what the majority of a population believes it is. Otherwise it is not protected and may as well simply not exist.

Because man has no innate moral instinct, we are dependent on philosophers to use reason to determine what rights are actual corollaries to that one fundamental right, and to convince the rest of us as to their existence. That's an ongoing struggle of some significance these past two thousand years or more.

I live, I believe, in a society that is the most free and most advantageous to the individual of any that has existed since tribalism supplanted free-roaming family bands of hunter-gatherers. Still, many of the freedoms that we have are severely restricted; some for survival reasons, some for reasons of societal inertia. These freedoms are being further restricted as the society ages because of the human nature of some to acquire power for the sake of wielding it, and the human nature of others to submit to such power in a search for safety.

It is not enough to believe that there is a single objective standard of morality, based on the corollaries of the fundamental right to one's own life. It is necessary to convince others of the "rightness" of that standard and those corollaries, and to inspire them to support and defend that standard against attack by others who hold different moralities as "right." No society currently exists based on that ideal single objective standard, and I honestly think it will be centuries - if ever- before one might. In the mean time, I believe that the basic rights first enumerated by the Founders of this nation are as close as we've ever gotten, and that we need to convince more of our population that they are valid and need defending. Else they may disappear as if they had never been expressed, and they will mean no more to a survivor smashing open a human thigh-bone for the marrow than would the concept of the mathematical construct; i.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

This is Why I Check The Safety Valve from Time to Time.

Even though Toren has said that he's on indefinite hiatus, he still puts up a jewel every now and then. This time it's a graphic from Cold Fury that I must steal and post myself, just so I have a copy:

Ain't it the truth, though?

I think I've found my entry for this week's Carnival of Cordite.

Outstanding News!.

Back when I was writing at the late, lamented, one of the other contributors I read with much enjoyment was Tina Blue, a college professor. (Well, she's "adjunct faculty" which means she hasn't got a shot at tenure, which sucks when you realize that assholes like Ward Churchill get to be tenured big-shots, but dedicated, devoted teachers like Tina get the dirty end of the stick.)

Tina went on after Themestream folded to her own education-oriented website, Teacher, Teacher, and if you're looking for some good reading material concerning education, that's a great place to visit (and I don't know why I haven't added it to my blogroll under the "Dept. of Our Collapsing Schools" heading. Gotta fix that.) She's archived most of her articles from Themestream at her site, so there's a lot of good reading there.

But that's not what this post is about.

I got an email from Tina this afternoon. I hadn't heard from her in a while, so it was a pleasant surprise. Here's what she sent me (and a bunch of others, natch):
Do you remember when everyone was so amazed at how brilliant John Kerry's daughter Vanessa must be to win a Fulbright Fellowship to do research in England when she was a second-year medical student at Stanford University?

Well, my little daughter, who is a second-year med student at Georgetown, just won a Fulbright Fellowship to do a year of research in Ireland! In the letter she got today telling her she had won the fellowship, it said that of those who have won Fulbrights to Ireland, 35 of them are Nobel Prize winners! These Fulbrights really do go to the crème de la crème.

Sorry to be sending out a group email about this, but I am so proud that I have to tell the world.
Well, Tina, I've told a few more for you. Congratulations to you and your daughter. Drop me an email when she wins a Nobel!

(Damn, but I love good news!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

OK, This is Cool.

Cryptic Subterranian points to a company that does a conversion of Enfield No. 4 and No. 5 rifles from the obsolete .303 British cartridge to the modern 7.62x39 Russian using single-stack 5- or 10-round AK magazines. Why would you do this? Well, the .303 isn't a real common round anymore, so ammunition for it tends to be on the 'spensive side if you don't handload. Also, the Lee-Enfield bolt action, while very slick and quick, isn't the strongest in the world. It has locking lugs located at the rear of the action, rather than at the front near the breech, so the entire action is stressed when fired tending to cause "stretch" over time. I have a No. 5 Mk I Jungle Carbine which has stretched to the point that the headspacing is unsafe now. Enfield designed the rifle to allow for this. An armorer could reset the headspace by replacing the easily removable bolt head. Unfortunately, mine has stretched to the point that the longest bolt head available isn't long enough. The 7.62x39 round has the same bullet diameter (.311") as the .303, but is much less powerful, and therefore less stressful on the action. Kicks less, too. Here's a picture of one that's been converted:

I currently load the lightweight 125 grain .311" bullets designed for the 7.62x39 round in my .303 brass for that reason (I have four examples of this rifle in my "arsenal" - two of which are actually shootable!), but if I can get that No. 5 rechambered for 7.62x39 with safe headspace, it would turn a wall-hanger into a shootable, fun rifle.

It's a wee bit pricey, though.


...which seems to be the battle-cry of legislators. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune,
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee called on Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to take “immediate committee action” in response to the mass school shooting at Red Lake High School.
“It is difficult for us to conceive of a more pressing public policy matter than protecting our children from school violence,” the Democrats wrote Tuesday.
The group, led by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the committee, identified a number of possible congressional measures, including enhanced child safety guards on guns, closing of gun law “loopholes,” renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, and limits on ammunition magazine capacity.
The Democrats also called for increased school security measures, and increased resources for state and localities to hire and retain safety officers.
Not to make this a partisan thing, but at least the Republican quoted had somewhat of a grip on reality:
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, interviewed on CNN, said he did not believe the incident could have been prevented by even “the most aggressive” gun control measures that have been proposed. He called it a “human problem.”
The Democrats fall back on their shibboleths of "gun control" and increased social spending. (Okay, I did make it a partisan thing.) But Pawlenty hits on a truth that most politicians simply want to ignore - it is a "human problem."
There is, normally, huge social pressure to "DO something!" when a horrific incident occurs. I think that's a natural human reaction. If it's a natural disaster, the normal reaction of many people is a desire to send aid. If it's a criminal act, the normal reaction is to want to capture and punish the criminal. But when it's an incident like a school shooting in which the assailant takes his own life, the urge to "do something" is in some way thwarted by the fact that the perpetrator is a child or youth, and is dead by his own hand. There is no catharsis available, no way to find any resolution. We are left with unease and a lack of closure.

I am, as any reader of this blog knows, an ardent defender of the right to arms. I am aware that the incidence of "school shootings" is a relatively recent phenomenon. This table indicates that the first of the recent incidents was in 1979. The next occurred in 1985, then two incidents in 1988, one each in 1989, 1992, and 1993, one in the U.S. and one in Scotland in 1996, two domestic and one in Yemen in 1997, seven domestic incidents in 1998, five in 1999, and so on. (Not all of the incidents listed are what I would consider "rampage" attacks, but all are disturbing.)

Gun control advocates suggest that things like "enhanced child safety guards on guns, closing of gun law 'loopholes,' renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, and limits on ammunition magazine capacity" are needed to prevent these incidents, but as Gov. Pawlenty points out, even the most aggressive gun control will not prevent those intent on evil from carrying out their acts. Gun control advocates blame these incidents on "gun availability," yet when I was growing up I and most of the kids I knew "had access" to firearms and ammunition. My father had three guns, and I knew where they were and where the ammo was. Same for a lot of my friends.

We just didn't kill each other.

I had a discussion with a co-worker back about the time of the Columbine massacre. He'd been a hell-raiser in his youth, and a self-admitted bully at times, but (to paraphrase the conversation) he was glad he was not a younger man, because:
When I was growing up, you faced each other and fought fair, and when the fight was over you were friends again - or at least you respected each other. Kicking was for girls.
Then kicking was OK.
Then kicking when the other guy was down was OK.
Then using a stick, or a brick. Then a knife. Now it's guns.
I quit when we got to sticks.
There is no doubt that there are a lot of lethal teens out there, where there once were not. The hardware is (and has been) available. Nothing up to and including door-to-door confiscation is going to change that, and we all know that's not going to happen, anyway. Metal detectors at school entrances won't stop it. John Lott, among others, recommends allowing teachers to carry concealed on campus as a deterrent. I'm not a big fan of Lott, and while it's certainly possible that some of these incidents might be averted or ameliorated, I'm not even sure that armed security will stop them. It's tough to dissuade someone willing, nay eager to die while taking as many with him as he can.

The question most people seem to want to avoid is why we have so many lethal teens? I mentioned a few days ago that I had picked up several books, one of which is Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. I chose this book for one reason because it is one of the few texts that actually addresses this question. I haven't had time to do more than scan through it, yet, but Col. Grossman appears to have a compelling argument. The book covers the human aversion to inflicting injury on another, and the intense training required to overcome this aversion in combat soldiers, along with the mechanisms involved in that training to restrict the lethality of soldiers to the battlefield. Near the end of the book, however, he looks into the rising level of violence occurring in America. (The book was copyrighted in 1995, and does not reflect the last decade of decreasing criminal violence - but I think his observation that the level of aggravated assault, i.e. assault with the intention of committing severe bodily harm, has climbed dramatically as of late is still a valid one.)

Col. Grossman states:
The three major psychological processes at work in enabling violence are classical conditioning (á la Pavlov's dog), operant conditioning (á la B.F. Skinner's rats), and the observation and imitation of vicarious role models in social learning.

In a kind of reverse Clockwork Orange classical conditioning process, adolescents in movie theaters across the nation, and watching television at home, are seeing the detailed, horrible suffering and killing of human beings, and they are learning to associate this killing and suffering with entertainment, pleasure, their favorite soft drink, their favorite candy bar, an the close, intimate contact of their date.

Operant conditioning firing ranges with pop-up targets and immediate feedback, just like those used to train soldiers in modern armies, are found in the interactive video games that our children play today. But whereas the adolescent Vietnam vet had stimulus discriminators built in to ensure that he only fired under authority, the adolescents who play these video games have no such safeguard built into their conditioning.
He goes on to note the influences of gangs, drugs, poverty, etc., but this is a general observation about the general level of violence, whereas here I am focusing on the specific incidents of rampage killings in schools.

In all of these incidents the perpetrators have been social outcasts. We've always had social outcasts - it's human nature, I think - but now the social outcasts aren't just committing suicide, they're taking their tormenters with them. I think Col. Grossman's not far off the mark in finding that the human aversion to inflicting violence has been severely reduced by our culture, which seems to worship it. Acidman had a post yesterday on the TV classic Gunsmoke, where he noted:
I've kept my television tuned to "The Western Channel" for the past day and a half. They show a lot of "Gunsmoke" reruns on there, the old black-and-white episodes that I watched as a boy. Matt Dillon was my hero back when those stories first aired, but I look at his character today with different eyes.
Between yesterday and today, I counted 16 people that Matt Dillon killed. Festus threw two more into the body count. Stop and think about that for a moment.
James Arness was EXCELLENT as Matt Dillon, except for one thing. He never had the eyes of a killer. Anybody who shot as many people as he did could not sleep well at night unless he was a complete robo-cowboy, with no sense of conscience or regret.
Gunsmoke wasn't the only western, or the only program where a lot of killing occurred, and the good guy only got "a flesh wound" at worst. The difference is, I think, is that topic I have commented on several times; the difference between violent and predatory and violent but protective. The one thing that all of these incidents share is no guiding moral hand on the shoulder of the perpetrators. There is nothing to direct them away from "violent and predatory." Combining that with the cultural conditioning Col. Grossman describes that literally permeates our society, and that may very well explain why rampage shootings by youths are a wholly modern and far too common occurrence.

But it doesn't bode well for any kind of solution other than arming responsible adults to avert or ameliorate the attacks.

And that isn't "something" that the majority of the populace is going to be comfortable with.
The 131st Carnival of the Vanities is Up.

And it's a good one. It's hosted this week by the medically-oriented CodeBlueBlog.

I'm going to have to look into joining QandO Blog's Neolibertarian Network.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I Give Him Six Months Until He's Dead or In Jail for Life.
or The British "Justice System" Strikes Again!

(Via Acidman, who put it: "A Clockwork Orange lives in England today." Amen.)
I'll buy houses and a flash car, says yob awarded £567,000

By Peter Zimonjic
(Filed: 20/03/2005)

A teenage criminal who received £567,000 in compensation after falling through a roof while trespassing boasted about his wealth yesterday, saying that he was looking forward to buying "a few houses and a flash car".

Carl Murphy, 18, got the payout last week, nine years after being injured in a 40ft fall at a warehouse in Bootle docks, near Liverpool, prompting angry protests from crime victims and politicians.

In his first public interview since receiving the award, Murphy - who has convictions for robbery, burglary and assault - said that he did not care about the response.

"I deserve this money and I don't care what anybody says about me," he said. "I'm going to buy a big house so I have a place to live with me mum when she gets out of jail. I might buy a few houses - I'll buy whatever I want." He added: "The papers just call me a yob and a thug because I've been done for robbery and assault but those were just silly stupid little things, like.
Right! Now I'm in the big-leagues, and I can do stupid BIG things 'cuz I can afford a flash barrister to get me off, like!
"I want to spend my money the way I want without people interfering and I want to have a prosperous future.
More like "prosperous 15 minutes.
"I want to take my mates to Liverpool games and get a flash car. This money is mine now and I'll do what I want. I don't care about anyone or what they have to say about it."

Murphy received his compensation after suing the company that owned the warehouse. He claimed that if the perimeter fence had not been in disrepair he would not have been able to gain entry and suffer his injuries.

He is now partially blinded in his left eye and has 17 metal plates in his skull as a result of the fall. He also claims that the incident has caused him to suffer from behavioural problems. "It annoys me that people think I don't deserve this money after all I've been through," he said. "I'm going to spend my money on whatever I want and everyone who called me 'Tin Head' can go get stuffed."

Residents of Bootle, where Murphy lives, said that they were too scared to speak publicly about the case but privately described him as the area "king yob".

One said: "He shaves his head so we can all see the scars. He likes to walk around and play the big man.

"I've seen him yelling abuse at the shopkeepers, telling them how he is going to buy the shop with his compensation money and throw them out.

"He is a villain around here. Everybody knows him but no one wants to confront him. He has a big family and they all stand up for each other."
Which is more than the State does for the other residents of the area. If they "stand up" the State would knock them down, and they know it.
In November last year, Murphy's mother Diane and her partner Kevin Parsons, both 36, were jailed for three years for dealing in crack cocaine and heroin from their council house in Bellini Close.
Well! The Crown Prosecution Service was good for something after all!
A police spokesman said: "Diane Murphy was using the home to distribute Class A drugs which was bringing a large criminal element into the suburb.

"Residents in the area are intimidated. Crime is happening on their doorstep. People like Diane Murphy and others who sell drugs disrupt the decent people who live there."

Police describe the area around Bellini Close as a "hotbed for anti-social behaviour, street-level crime and the distribution of Class A drugs". Several buildings are boarded up and vandalised - and gangs of teenagers wearing shell suits and trainers walk up and down the street shouting and drinking alcohol in the early daytime. Police make regular rounds.
But don't, apparently, stop any of this behavior.
Since Murphy's mother was jailed, he has lived with his grandmother, Barbara Murphy, who keeps a rottweiler in her home on nearby Church Grove.

She said: "He never finished school because the teachers couldn't control him. He was a nice boy before the accident but ever since the injuries he has been difficult to control. He needs this money. That is him for life now. What is he going to do without it?"
Kill himself. Or someone else.
She said that Murphy does not work or attend school. Neighbours say that they see him drinking in the park with friends on most evenings or hanging around a local cafe.

The payout has been condemned by charities, which point out that victims of crime receive far less under the Government's criminal injuries compensation scheme.

The parents of James Bulger received just £7,500 following his murder, and the family of Damilola Taylor received £10,000 following his murder.
I find this somewhat... repugnant. "Sorry about your child. Here's your cheque."
Clive Elliott, the director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "All rights to compensation should cease the moment a person breaks the law, in this case trespassing.

"Wrongdoers think they are beyond the law - and in this case they have shown they can become quite well off by breaking it."
A nine year-old goes and trespasses, climbs around on the roof of a warehouse, falls and damned near kills himself - but it's somebody else's fault. Yes, I imagine it is. Like his mother's fault. You know, the mother that's in jail right now? Sheesh.

Monday, March 21, 2005

More Pointing to Other People's Stuff.

Francis Porretto, Curmudgeon Emeritus, has another of his erudite, laser-sharp pieces up on the topic near and dear to my heart, the Right to Arms. Please read Fear of Equalizers.

That is all. I'm for bed, and a few more chapters of Guns, Germs and Steel.

(Yes, I do realize what time it is.)

Another RCOB™ Moment, Brought to You by Matthew at Triggerfinger.

Take some time to read the tale of what it takes to buy a gun - legally - in Washington, D.C.; The So-Called Capitol of the Free World. (A multipart post.) Excerpt from "Day 2":
The uniformed officer led me into the office and gave me a (poorly) Xeroxed handout that (poorly) outlined the process and proceeded to give me a verbal overview. For a first gun purchase, you take form P.D. 219 to the gun dealer, buy a gun, have the dealer fill out their portion, you fill out your portion, and then bring the completed form to the gun registration office. You then get fingerprinted, and submit the completed form and fingerprint card, take a written test, then after six to eight weeks you come back and, assuming the application is approved, you get your paperwork returned stamped "APPROVED", and you can go back to the dealer and pick up the gun. She then told me the fee for fingerprints was $35.00 and the fee for each gun registered was $13.00. She also said I needed four passport sized photos. Now I had glanced at the handout, and the fees were listed as $26.50 and $10.00 respectively. I pointed out the difference, and she put out her hand to collect the Xerox. I handed it back, expecting her to give me an up-to-date version. She took a pen and scratched in the higher costs. (This may sound absurd, but in actuality, this woman's action is the only example of workplace efficiency ever documented in the history of the Washington, DC government.)
Read it all. Pass the link around to your friends.


Some More Golden Oldies.

The latest edition of the Best of Me Symphony is up at Gary Cruse's place. Much crunchy goodness, and I have an entry, too.

Sorry on the dearth of posting. Busy and still ill.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

An Illustrative Example

or "Politeness and a Gun Will Get You Much Further than Politeness Alone."

This post is in relation to the discussions below in What is a "Right"? - Revisited, Parts I and II.

As I noted, I've started reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and it so happens that in a very early chapter of that book, he describes a perfect illustration of my point concerning the "realness" of rights. Chapter 2, "A Natural Experiment of History," opens with the following narrative:
On the Chatham Islands, 500 miles East of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835. On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected. An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one. However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council meeting not to fight back, but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. A Moriori survivor recalled, "[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep. . . . [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed - men, women, and children indiscriminately." A Maori conqueror explained, "We took possession. . . in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. No one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed - but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom."
If rights are "natural," real, and universal, why did the Maori not believe in the Moriori's "right to life"? How did their natural right not to be murdered protect the Moriori, and to whom do the Moriori put their "just claim" to for the violation of this right?

Dr. Cline argues "what barbarian invading forces did is no proof text on morality." Yet my point is that morality is society-specific. For the Moriori, what was done to them was a great evil - and I agree. But to the Maori, what they did to the Moriori "was in accordance with our custom" and not wrong. Dr. Cline postulates that "all rights are simply universal conditions 'which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore.'" Yet the rights of the Moriori were completely taken away as their entire populace was enslaved and murdered. The question of rightness or wrongness is moot, because the Moriori were not prepared to defend themselves against an outside agressor.
Terri Schiavo.

I've been listening to the radio and reading the blogs about the Terri Schiavo case, and forming my own opinion on it.

Look, I don't know what Terri would want, and apparently neither does anyone else. I do know that I would rather not live as she is living (and I intend to get a living will to make sure that others understand that - at least some good will come of this) but I am not at all happy about a judge making the decision to starve her to death over the opposition of her parents. Gerard Van Der Leun's last post from yesterday illustrated the absurdity of the situation:

In Pinellas Park, Florida , there's a man that has gotten the entire legal establishment of the state to help him starve his wife to death, and has arranged for the police to arrest anyone that's trying to bring her food or water. This man is running around free and getting a lot of attention. He has a judge working hard day and night to make sure that his wife will die.

In Homosassa, Florida a man named John Evander Couey, has confessed to abducting and killing a nine year old girl. He is in jail and under suicide watch to make sure he does not die.

In Collier, Florida, Michael Lee Swails, has been put in jail charged with starving his cattle herd.

In Florida today, I score it:
Wives get to die because their husband says so.
Child killers get extra attention so they can't just kill themselves.
Men who starve cattle go to jail.

I'm just not getting this. I'm not getting it at all.

Me either.

Mrs. Schiavo is not on a respirator. She is obviously brain-damaged, but there is more than a little question of just how severe that damage is, if this NRO column is accurate.

So what we have is a husband who apparently believes deeply (and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt - huge benefit of the doubt) that his wife would simply rather die than continue living as she is, but because of her brain damage she is unable to end her life herself. As a result, he has sought refuge in the courts, and the courts - for whatever reason - have accomodated him. Actually, one judge has accomodated him.

That's the problem I have here. How did this end up in the hands of one member of the State?

I put myself into Mr. Schiavo's position, mentally - at least the idealized one that he wants to present to the world. My wife has suffered a severe incident which has resulted in severe brain damage. She and I have discussed it, and I know that she would not want to continue her existance in that state, but there is no documentary evidence of this wish.

I do not believe that the State should have the power to decide that she should be starved to death. If shooting her with a shotgun would be illegal, if injecting her with poison would be illegal, if smothering her with a pillow would be illegal, then starving her to death should be equally illegal. The State ought to err on the side of life.

THEN, when all other options are removed from me, if I truly believed that what she wanted was to die, then I would have to decide whether to leave her to exist against her wishes, or I would have to end her life and plead my case before a jury of my - and her - peers.

I trust twelve average citizens far more than one black-robed tyrant.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

What is a "Right"? - Revisited, Part I.

Reader Dr. Danny Cline stumbled across my early essay What is a "Right"? and had some objections to it. His opening comment:
Most of what you post on this blog seems to have the right goals in mind. However, your comments on rights, particularly what you claim about the source of rights:

"A "right" is what the majority of a society believes it is."


"Like all "Rights of the People" the right to arms is a social construct - a declaration by a society of what is "right and proper," and generally agreed to by the population."

is a dangerously Marxist/fascist idea (really it is THE Marxist/fascist idea), which comes very close to a justification for those who claim to be working on behalf of the government to remove whatever "rights" (quotes in honor of yours) they want to, in the name of "the will of the people" or "majority rule." The concept of "rights" being a "social construct" is exactly the kind of nonsense preached by the Hegelian/Marxist aristocracy in college humanities departments throughout the US, and is exactly the justification for the removal of gun (and other) rights. Furthermore, the "majority of a society" or a "population" cannot believe anything - groups have no mind. This you should know - the quote from which you gain the title of your webpage says it all here.

Whether someone can or does violate a right of yours (or mine) says nothing about the content of the right itself. It is a mistake (leading to your straying near the idea that whatever "government" does is OK - as long as it has the force to back it up) to consider the question of what is a right to be a question of what is rather than what should be. Rights are not at all like physical laws; they are answers to questions of morality, which science (the realm of physical laws) has never been able to answer. The fact that many people considered (or still consider) rape, murder, and slavery to be morally acceptable is irrelevant to the correct answers to questions of morality. Many people have incorrect beliefs regarding morality (or even regarding physical laws for theat matter), and moral questions are notoriously tricky to answer. (This is quite probably the reason some philosophers decide to eventually go with the gibberish about rights and morality being meaningless, only a result of an act of will, or a "social construct" - out of laziness.)

I'm a fan of Heinlein as well, but in the case of questions about rights and morality, Starship Troopers is not the correct novel to reference - at least not unless a die-hard communist or fascist. The government presented therein is a fine example of a fascist/communist nanny-state, and its subjects/slaves are clearly worshippers of Nietzche's "New Idol" - the state. The criticism of the rights I hold dear (and I believe from the rest of your site that you hold them dear as well) in your quote misrepresents some rights and is simply wrong on others. The "right to life" described in the Declaration of Independence is not a "right not to die", a "right to be immortal" or anything as silly as that. It is simply a right not to be murdered - further such a right does not state that it is impossible that you could be murdered, just that it is WRONG. The fact that rights can be unjustly violated does not mean that they are meaningless or incorrect. Nor does the fact that we sometimes need to defend our rights mean that if we do not defend them or fail in our defense that they dissolve. The final quote on rights from Heinlein comes closest to revealing his mistake (and by extension yours):

"The third 'right' - the 'pursuit of happiness'? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can 'pursue happiness' as long as my brain lives -- but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it."

All rights are simply universal conditions "which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore." Even your Webster's definitions make this clear:

1: qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval

2: something to which one has a just claim: as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled b: the interest that one has in a piece of property - often used in plural (mineral rights)

3: something that one may properly claim as due

The words "moral," "just," and "properly" are the key here. The claim doesn't cease to be "moral," "just," or "proper" simply because it is violated. The beliefs of the evil and the wrong do not make a thing right.

I do appreciate that you hold to a (probably) unpopular belief just because it is right (the right to bear arms). However, you need to rethink the premises you use to justify your beliefs, as they actually justify the opposite of your beliefs. Oddly enough, all of the comments your readers left were far more on the money than your article on the question of the source of rights. John T. Kennedy and Don Linsenbach in particular are spot on as far as they go. Even Rob G, who comes to the opposite conclusion from yours at least gets part of what he says right:

"what barbarian invading forces did is no proof text on morality."

even if he reaches the wrong conclusion.

Perhaps you are trying to argue a different point than what I am reading, and you actually agree with what I am saying. If so, or if I have missed subtle evidence of parody or satire, I apologize for bothering you. However, if not, I think what I am saying is an important point, indeed it is THE important point in the American Revolution and all of Ayn Rand's writings. These rights are not things that can be removed; they are innate and inalienable; they are conditions of morality itself. If one TRULY believes that rights and morality are "socially constructed" the only sensible option is to join those in power (the always present "communist masters") and claim your share of their unjustly gained loot.

I don't believe this - I won't DO this - and I think (I hope) the same is true of you.
My reply:
Excellent comments, very well put. The purpose of this essay was to illustrate the pragmatic vs. the ideal. Perhaps the wording "majority believes" should have more accurately been "majority shares a belief," but I thought it fairly obvious.

If you live in a society that does not have a majority that shares your belief in any particular right, then from a pragmatic standpoint that right is not exerciseable. You have a right to not be murdered, but if the State will do nothing to protect you from being murdered, and in fact may be the perpetrator OF your murder, what value does your right to life have?

If you've read the current main page of the blog, then surely you've seen the link to QandO Blog's discussion of the "reality" of rights. As others have said, rights are like money: the more we believe in them, the better they work. "Moral," "just," and "proper" are all values, and as such they vary from society to society. For the ancient Romans, it was moral, just, and proper to practice infanticide by exposing deformed newborns, a practice that is considered criminal today.

I live in a society that is based on a concept of individual liberty heretofore unseen in the world. This belief was severely marred by its simultaneous support for slavery. We fought a war over that dichotomy, and as a result it was freedom that won out.

The purpose of this essay (and it's unusually short for one of my pieces because - as I noted - I was restricted in length) was to illustrate to readers that if they want to preserve the rights this society is based on, it requires active involvement - because those rights are protected only as long as we protect them.

The problem I have is that when people hear about "natural rights," they think that they're something that is truly "unalienable" - when this is patently untrue, as history illustrates in bloody detail.

As I concluded the piece, "If you want to keep your rights, it is up to YOU to fight for them. Liberty is NEVER unalienable. You must always fight for it."

I think the evidence shows that we've largely stopped fighting for it, and we're suffering a decay of our rights because of it. If the barbarians win, our rights are GONE.

If you'd like to discuss this further, I'm willing.
Well, he did, and his reply was as follows:
I'll try to keep my comments about what we'd discussed as short as possible, while still making my point as clearly as I can. First, I do appreciate your interest in the pragmatic side of human rights and political rights, and indeed, one should never become complacent enough to believe that another (or a group) will not try to violate one's rights. This is without a doubt, a wise caution and an important point to make.

However, the point I was trying to make is that although such a pragmatic view is important when dealing with the realities of those who may not have my (or your, or anyone's) best interests at heart, is that it is also important not to view such pragmatic beliefs as the SOURCE of rights. A view rights as a "social construct" or as only what can be defended is a dangerous view to have, primarily because of where it leads. If one views the only true rights are those that can be defended, as it seemed to me (perhaps incorrectly) you were doing in your article, then an immediate following question becomes apparent. Namely:

1. "Is it wrong for a thug to do whatever he (or she) wants to me or anyone else if he (or again, she) can back their actions up with force?"

Also, if one views rights as simply a "social construct" that has no meaning apart from what is practiced in the culture in question, we are again immediately provided with a question (or perhaps several):

2. "Are (or were) the governments of communist China, North Korea,Soviet Russia, or Nazi Germany wrong in controlling all aspects of their subjects lives?"

3. "Was (or is, as the case may be) slavery (or murder, or the forcible confiscation of an individuals property by a government) wrong?"

My suspicion here is that your answers to these three questions would match my own, namely:

1, 2, 3. "Yes it is (or was) wrong."

to all three questions. However, if we view a true right as being only what can be defended or somehow tied to what a society in general believes or accepts, we are forced to accept the following answers:

1. "No, it is not wrong. Unless you can defend yourself, you deserve what you get."

2. "No they are not wrong. (At least in the case of China and North Korea; perhaps they are wrong in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, but only after the fact.)"

3. "No, the people of the time believed it was OK, and so it was OK for them."

This is not to say that this answers the question of what the ultimate source of a human's rights are. This is a much trickier question, one that is almost certainly impossible to answer definitively, though we can use questions like the one above to ultimately eliminate certain potential answers. (Here we can eliminate "There are no rights so they have no source" and "The source of a human's rights is the will or good nature of its community or government.) If a claimed source of rights leads to a statement that violates what we know of our rights and morality in general (and I do believe we CAN say we know certain things about both of these topics), that claimed source cannot be the true source.

Unfortunately, I seem to have failed in my attempt to keep my discussion of these matters short. I guess my main point is that although it is wise to consider what one needs to do to effectively defend one's rights, these sorts of pragmatic questions should not be confused with the source of one's rights in the first place. I guess my answer to all of these questions marks me as a moral absolutist (which I won't deny). Though sometimes that is hard to admit, especially as it often is viewed as implying an intolerance of others (especially for trivial reasons) that I believe is wrong, the moral relativism and moral nihilism that are the other options lead to places - bad places - that are well known throughout history, even in the twentieth century. This difference between what is necessary to defend rights and the source of rights may seem an unimportant issue to you, and admittedly, it is kind of a fine point when we seem to agree on much else. I also could be mistaken in some of my points here - the study of morality is a difficult one and I am only an amateur philosopher (though I have done a fair amount of study on my own and I do have a pretty good background in logic from my training in mathematics). However, I don't think I am wrong in any important point.
Dr. Cline, I believe, has a Doctorate in Mathematics but not in philosophy, and I don't have a Doctorate in anything, but his questions have caused me to reexamine my thoughts on this topic, and in the wee hours of the morning the last few days I have composed and recomposed my response in my head. (Brilliantly, I'll have you know. Only when I wake up again at 5:40AM, I seem to have misplaced the precise points I wanted to make, and the eloquent and compelling phrases with which I was to make them.)

This promises to be a rather long piece, (I know, so unusual for me!) so I have decided to split it into two posts. I will pre-date the second piece so that it appears immediately below this one, and it will follow along (if I'm lucky) sometime later this evening. (It's up, concluded below.)

And y'all? I expect comments.