Society v. State

Society, State, and Man:

A side discussion below deserves a top-line response. One of the things I've learned over the last few years is that we need to do a better job of balancing powers. We have a system of checks and balances between the executive branch, Congress and the judiciary; but, as we've often discussed here, we've largely lost the comparable balance between Federal and State authority. We need to recover a balance there.

By the same token, there are three other groups that need a system of checks and balances: the state, society, and individuals. We have balanced much too far toward the state, and to some degree too far toward individuals, while society has lost almost all of its power.

One of the chief tasks ahead of us, if we are to recover a decent way of life, is to find a way of rebalancing power. Frankly, I don't think our accountability mechanisms for the police work very well at alll; dismantling the police state we've built is very important if we are to make policing honorable work again. The police as peace officers are meant to be one of the balancing functions that affords some negotiation between the interests of the state ('the lawful order') and society ('the common peace'). As law enforcement officers, they've become enforcers of the state: and, to the degree that they are that, enemies of both society and the individual.

Cassandra suggests a way of thinking about society (the brutality exercised by certain proponents of a rather impoverished version of Islam) that suggests it would be bad to let society have a say in how individuals live, or the state is ordered. That comes from the wrongful assumption that a monolithic society is necessary or desirable as a standard. I love the idea of lots of little societies which have their own standards: and we have a way of balancing that concept with the interests of the state (and the States) in the Federalist system. Provided that certain basic rights are absolutely protected, it's OK if we have different social standards here and there, and different legal orders as well.

Why should society be given a voice in how individuals live? Consider this example. From the individualist point of view, this is a great story: the guy's personal actualization has been fully supported by the state. From the state's point of view, it was following its rules, so all was well until he actually started killing and eating women.

Yet that's half the picture. The individualist standard is violated here because the women didn't want to be killed and eaten; but some people have consented to being killed and cannabilized. If individual self-actualization is the answer, we have no standard to criticize two people consenting to such a system.

The state is (supposed to) follow the law; and the law says whatever it says. If we changed the law to say that it was OK to kill and eat women, then there would be no standard for challenging his behavior.

Could a society be subject to the same complaint? If a society chose to endorse such behavior, it would vanish in a few generations. This fact points to something important about society, and the reason that we see the destruction of the West's 'Culture of Life' at the same time that we see society disempowered before the state and the individual.

All individuals die. It is a matter of complete indifference to the state as to whether it dies or lives. Societies are what live across time, and link lives together. It is only in society that we find life expressing itself as an evolutionary control on behavior and standards.

Another way of saying that is this: society is how humanity rubs up against natural law. Life-affirming values come from here, or from nowhere. The state doesn't care; it will accept whatever set of laws exist, at the convenience of its masters. Individuals may well find that death-affirming values (such as abortion) are more convenient and pleasant for them.

Only society brings us into touch with the natural law governing humanity, as opposed to a single man or woman, or the unfeeling machine of the state.


Why would Paul Revere...?

Legal Insurrection makes an observation, and then forwards a question.

In fact, as pointed out at Conservatives4Palin, Revere did in fact tell the British that the colonial militias, who had been alerted, were waiting for them. Here is the original historical text written by Revere (spelling in original, bold added):
I observed a Wood at a Small distance, & made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back,and orderd me to dismount;-one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from,& what my Name Was? I told him. it was Revere, he asked if it was Paul? I told him yes He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then orderd me to mount my Horse, after searching me for arms.
Palin's short statement on the video was less than clear; that sometimes happens but the part of the statement which has people screaming -- that Revere warned the British that the colonial militias were waiting -- appears to be true.

I've learned something new today, about Paul Revere.

The leading lights of the left-blogosphere have made fools of themselves, as have people who are not of the left-blogosphere. I presume they all will be apologizing.

Update: Aaron Worthing at Patterico has a round-up of all the hyperventilated left-blogospheric reaction, including by Think Progress, which writes:
It’s hard to imagine why Revere would warn the British of anything, or why he’d do it with bells and gun shots.
As to the question, I will answer it: the reason is that this was before the modern age of war. The modern understanding is that war is won with a combination of maneuver and concentrated firepower. The interplay of these elements has varied at times in the modern period, but the elements have remained consistent. Thus, concealing your maneuvers is a crucial part of modern warfare.

That was not always true in earlier periods (or, indeed, the current period: contemporary war has been much less about maneuver and concentrated firepower, and much more about intelligence and a judicious use of force). Consider the famous chevauchee, the heavy cavalry raid that was intended to force the enemy to acknowledge your position and do something about it. This tactic, used in the Hundred Years war to force the French to abandon fortifications and come to the field, was also used by us in Iraq. Our famous "Thunder Run" into Baghdad was a heavy cavalry raid intended to force the enemy to abandon their hiding places and come into the field. It worked beautifully on the Fedayeen Saddam, as we all recall.

Some medieval mercenary armies in Italy and Germany were professional fighters who preferred on the whole to win by maneuver alone. For that reason, once a good maneuver had been achieved, it was wise to notify your enemy so that he might retire without the need for everyone getting killed. You could win the point, and the field, without losing strength by having your force damaged in battle. (Reference Sun Tzu, on the wisdom of generals who win without fighting.)

That's what Revere was doing here: telling the British they might as well give it up, because the country is already alarmed and hot. As history knows, the British didn't choose to listen.

What's the Crime Again?

What's the Crime Again?

I'm not a John Edwards fan, to put it mildly. But I confess I can't quite understand what crime he committed under the federal election laws. Sleazy, yes, to knock up his girlfriend while using his ostensible devotion to his dying wife to buff up his presidential image, then paying the girlfriend off to keep her quiet. I'd like to think it permanently disqualified him from success in politics. But the criminal charges arise out of money contributed by friends/donors directly to his mistress, without passing through his campaign fund. The theory is that these were disguised campaign contributions, because he wouldn't have cared about hushing up his mistress if he hadn't been running for president. Obviously that would have been part of his motive, but I should think he'd have been plenty motivated just on general grounds. Mrs. Edwards showed real restraint in letting him live, for instance.

I suppose it's fair to say that rich donors wouldn't have been expected to get involved if his campaign hadn't been at stake; he'd have been left to his own devices. So this could be called an undisclosed campaign donation in the form of "payments of personal expenses of a candidate unless they would have been made irrespective of his candidacy." Still, it seems a little too tortured to be a fit subject of criminal prosecution. I felt the same way about Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby: more about high-value targets and careers than about justice.

Stating the obvious

Stating the Obvious:

It's always nice when a comprehensive and expensive study proves what everyone already knew.

Decline of Violence

The Decline of Violence:

I generally think there isn't enough of it; and perhaps I am right:

Steven Pinker is currently working on a book about the decline of violence through human history. We like to think that we are living in a very violent time, that the future looks dark. But the data says that violence has declined every millennium, every century, every decade. The reduction in cruelty is just astounding. So we should not focus too much on the violence that has marked the twentieth century. The interesting question is how we can continue that trend of decreasing violence into the future. What options are open to us to make the world more peaceful?
It's far too peaceful already, if you ask me; there are plenty of rude and miserable people running around abusing others, because of the lack of a good punch in the mouth as a counterweight.

However, I can't believe the statistics being forwarded are accurate. It seems more likely that we are living in a remarkable moment of peace than that violence is on some sort of permanent decline.
The major military powers continue the Great Nuclear Truce (GNT) that began in the 1950s, when Russia got nuclear weapons, and suddenly realized they could not afford to use them (without risking more destruction than past foes like the Nazis or Mongols inflicted). As more major powers got nukes, the "we can't afford to use them, but they're nice to have" attitude, and the unprecedented truce, persisted. There have been wars, but not between the big players, with the largest and most destructive conventional forces. A record was broken in 1986, as there had never before (since the modern state system developed in the 16th century) been so long a period without a war between a major powers (the kind that could afford, these days, to get nukes). Since the Cold War ended, there have been fewer wars (in the traditional sense) and more low level conflicts (rebellions, civil wars). Most people are unaware of this situation, because the mass media never made a lot of the GNT, it was something that was just there and not worth reporting. Besides, "nukes (bombs, power plants, medicine) are evil" sell, if you are in the news business. Calling any incident, with a lot of gunfire and a few dead bodies, a "war" has also been misleading. The fact is, worldwide violence has been declining since the end of the Cold War (1991) and the elimination of Russian subsidies and encouragement for pro-communist rebels and terrorists.
The end of the Pax Romana was the end of a similar period of peace; the end of the Pax Americana, if it comes, will bring more war and not less.

The Pax Americana is sustained by violence, but at the same time results in smaller violence than it puts out -- or, to paraphrase General McChrystal, we've killed an amazing number of people, but fewer than would have been killed otherwise. I think a similar importation of socializing violence into the system would be similarly healthy. We might have a more pleasant society if we were more empowered to deal with, say, Westboro Baptist Church in the gentle and honorable fashion that they merit.


Now This Sounds Like Fun:

When I was younger, I once ran down a deer until it turned to bay. It was only a baby. I let it go, of course -- I only ran it down to see if I could do it -- but the fact that I could do so in those days suggests to me that these guys are on to something.

The pronghorn is the second-fastest animal on earth, while the men are merely elite marathon runners who are trying to verify a theory about human evolution. Some scientists believe that our ancestors evolved into endurance athletes in order to hunt quad­rupeds by running them to exhaustion. If the theory holds up, the antelope I'm watching will eventually tire and the men will catch it. Then they'll have to decide whether to kill it for food or let it go.
Speaking of which, I hear from my sister the marathon runner -- who is staying at Grim's Hall while I am out on this little adventure -- that my dog ran down and killed a raccoon today, with the help of another dog. Well done, Buckaroo!

Key graf:

The life size "Dungkey" introduces our custom made, one of a kind, large garden sculptures. There are three donkeys placed in gardens around Denver to welcome the DNC this August.

...if I ever decide to do a DITY move again.

I'd Buy Tickets

I'd Buy Tickets

Westboro Baptist Church vs. the KKK.

H/t Daily Caller.



A book review of "Berlin 1961" (Frederick Kempe) in the Wall Street Journal describes the long-term damage that can result from callow young presidents who get in over their heads:

"Berlin 1961" revolves around the question of whether Kennedy's decision to countenance the erection of the Berlin Wall was, in Mr. Kempe's words, "a successful means of avoiding war, or . . . the unhappy result of his missing backbone." On those terms, the book is a scholarly history of the crisis that culminated on Aug. 13, 1961, when East Germany, convinced that its economic and political survival depended on stopping the hemorrhage of refugees to the West, cut the city in two with the Berlin Wall, thereby imprisoning its people for the next 26 years. Since 1945, 2.8 million, or one in every six East Germans, had fled their benighted country. . . . Mr. Kempe's point is that Kennedy's indecisiveness in the early stages of the crisis produced the wall itself, an exponential increase in East-West tension, and, in the half-century that followed, other fateful consequences that included the Cuban missile crisis — and, though Mr. Kempe doesn't say so, the Vietnam War, along with social and strategic spores that lodged in the American psyche and darkened world opinion with results yet to be revealed. It also provided, as Mr. Kempe puts it in the final sentence of this mind-shaking work of investigative history, an example "of what unfree systems can impose when free leaders fail to resist."

H/t Maggie's Farm

Scientific Tribalism

Scientific Tribalism

Assistant Village Idiot has linked to an article in The Week entitled "Made-Up Minds," about the distressing resistance of certain people to persuasion by facts of logic. What kind of people? Well, you know. The kind who can't be made to understand what's wrong with the free market, gun ownership, patriarchal families, restrictions on abortion, or global warming, all of whom are very similar to end-of-the-world fanatics who cling to their delusions even after the world doesn't end on the scheduled day. Although, in fairness, the problem is not 100% about them; there are also those prominent leftist believers in vaccines as the cause of autism. And now back to conservatives: aren't they funny?

Articles like this one, with its discouraging comment thread, tend to make me take stock of my own prejudices. Lord knows I'd never claim to be free of confirmation bias, but I've been known to change my mind even on firmly held beliefs, when mugged by reality. It does take more than someone screaming "Denialist!" or "Rethuglican!" at me. They have to be willing and able to answer questions to my satisfaction. Questions like: "Suppose you're right -- is your proposed solution likely to do more good than harm?"

A big problem with the idea of scientific proof, and the question whether liberals or conservatives are the worse offenders at ignoring it, is that most people have almost no contact with the proof in question. They're getting their facts from a cloud of popularizing sources, from which they derive the hazy notion that "all that stuff has been proved by someone somewhere." The recently popular phrase "peer-approved" is very useful shorthand for this approach. It's a naked appeal to authority, but it makes its users feel that they're members of the great priesthood of the rigorous, skeptical scientific method. You don't agree? Why, you're no better than the Church fathers who persecuted Galileo! In fact, you're a heretic, and should be burned.



Dr. H. Mansfield speaks of Harvard's:

“Adjusting to change” is now the unofficial motto of Harvard, mutabilitas instead of veritas. To adjust, the new Harvard must avoid adherence to any principle that does not change, even liberal principle. Yet in fact it has three principles: diversity, choice, and equality. To respect change, diversity must serve to overcome stereotypes, though stereotypes are necessary to diversity. How else is a Midwesterner diverse if he is not a hayseed? And diversity of opinion cannot be tolerated when it might hinder change.

In the same way, choice in our curriculum is displayed in a dizzying array of courses that make it easy for students to indulge their whims and protect their leisure. Choice is best when it does not produce devotion and leaves one’s options open. A devoted student makes himself unready for change. Respect for merit remains, but it wavers and yields to the conventions of flattened self-esteem in which everyone is entitled to a point of view—and, need I add, a high grade. Thus equality is prized not because equality is good, but because nothing is good. Harvard is not so great either, though it’s not so bad. Perhaps our embarrassment at being there is sincere? No, that’s unlikely.
Things are getting better at Harvard, in spite of these remarks. It was only six years ago that they were mocking MIT for having a rifle team, having apparently disposed of their own; but these days, they have one again. The other thing they're welcoming back is ROTC.

The changing tide does not signal itself with a sudden surge.

Why should we care? For the same reason Roosevelt cared -- Teddy, I mean, the real Roosevelt. These universities have networks that ensure that a vastly disproportionate number of their graduates will occupy positions of power and authority. Their culture is therefore of great concern to us, even if we doubt their prestige is deserved. The return of ROTC -- worth noting, this Memorial Day -- will subtly but powerfully change that culture, and for the better.

Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire

Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire

From a speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on Memorial Day, 1884, from which my pastor quoted this morning:

[T]he generation that carried on the [Civil War] has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.
Such hearts -- ah me, how many! -- were stilled twenty years ago; and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year -- in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life -- there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death.