Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Desert Island, Part 1

  If I woke up on a deserted island, what rights would I have? For my immediate survival, I would need to be mindful of things like food, water, and shelter.  The building of shelter, the gathering of food , the  securing of water would all involve a certain amount of labor, probably a great deal of labor in the beginning. Would anyone deny that I have the right to the fruits of that labor? Or would someone honestly say that having lashed together some branches to keep the sun off of me, that I then have no natural right to expect to be able to sit under those branches?  Having   trapped a small animal or dug up an edible root or picked an edible plant, would any sane person then deny me the right to eat? Would it be immoral somehow to drink from the fresh spring I find, or to consume the rainwater I’m able to pool up? 
  After a few days on the island and with the immediate needs met, my thoughts would probably turn to escape and rescue, or in the interim, improving my lot on the island. I might invest some labor in making my shelter a bit sturdier or a bit more comfortable. I might begin construction on a pen in which I can raise animals for food.  I might attempt to devise some sort of signaling mechanism by which a passing ship could be notified of my plight. Would anyone with a modicum of human decency deny me the fruits of this new labor, and if so, on what grounds?  Have I violated some moral code by using the tools and talents available to secure my survival and then improve upon my condition?
  Months go by, hypothetically, and one day another castaway arrives on the island, whom we’ll call Friday. What rights does he have? Does he have the same rights to his own food, water, shelter? Does he have the same rights to improve his situation?  If not, then why not?  His presence on the island doesn’t   suddenly change my rights or grant him new ones.  It would be immoral for me to steal the fruits of his labor, just as it would be equally immoral for him to steal mine.  Whatever parts of the island not currently being used by me he has full rights to use just as I had full rights to use what wasn’t being used when I arrived. Assuming he’s not a thief, his arrival on the island doesn’t detract from my life; rather it has the potential to improve it as I now have companionship.
  Should the new castaway turn out to be a thief or prone to violence, do I have the right to defend myself and repel whatever force he  chooses to  bring to bear against me, or am I morally obligated to  simply passively allow his plunder? Should larceny enter my heart, does the new arrival have the same right to repel my advances? If not, why not? Barring any threat of violence, or larceny on either of our parts, is there any moral reason why this new arrival and I might not co-exist indefinitely?
  As time passes on our island it becomes apparent that the castaway and I have different strengths and abilities. I notice his signaling device seems to be more efficient than mine while he might notice that my animal herds produce more meat than his due to my advanced husbandry skills. . Now of course, I could simply take his signaling device for myself, but not only would that be immoral, but I would be at a loss to fix it if it breaks.  Is there a moral way to   rectify this discrepancy? Of course there is! I could trade him some meat in exchange for his mechanical skills, or we could exchange mechanical knowledge for husbandry knowledge. Through mutual trade, I wind up with a better signaling device and he winds up with better meat. It benefits me to find something he wants that I can trade for something I want, and rather than engage in plunder, use my new companion as a resource.  With respect to our natural rights, both of our lots can improve.   The island itself becomes more productive and conducive to sustaining life by our pooled energies. We could cooperate when it benefited us, and still keep to ourselves. No one would lose their rights, and everyone could live in peace.
  Notice that I and my imaginary companion exist with no legislature, no constitution, no president, no parliament. Our rights flow not from a piece of parchment, or some assembled body, but rather from our inherent position as living men. As long as we understand what does and does not belong to us, and we both exercise morality, life continues on. We are free to exercise charity towards one another, and may find some benefit in doing so, but neither of us lives at the expense of another.
  But suppose one day a third castaway arrived on the island, and from the very beginning he was trouble. This castaway decides that the resources on the island being infinite, someone should decide on the distribution of those resources. This new arrival is deaf to my explanation that things have been running fine until now, and that he is more than free to exercise his talents and labor to his own benefit until the day of our mutual rescue. This new arrival begins to talk to Friday. He tells Friday how unfair it is that I, being the initial island resident, have a more established structure, and a more established way of procuring food.  This new castaway, whom we’ll call the State, promises that, if Friday will support him, he will take from me and give to Friday.   For the first time since his time on the island, larceny enters Friday’s heart.
  Now I will probably look at the newcomer with the same pity that one would bestow upon a madman. After all, simply proclaiming that my labours belong to Friday has about as much real impact as proclaiming the sky to be green.  Then I notice the real danger of the State when I begin to count weapons on the island, and realize that I am outnumbered in both weaponry and sentiment.
  Now the State needs to confer legitimacy upon what he’s doing because although larceny has entered Friday’s heart, he still doesn’t see himself as a thief. So the state talks a great deal about fairness and equity, and the common good, all of which are obviously code words for plunder, but the thin veneer of these words provide enough of a protection from Friday’s conscience that he goes along. In fact, the state proclaims, to make certain that all is fair and equitable, we should have a vote. What could be more fair than a vote in which the majority prevails? I try to reason with Friday, and point out the madness of deciding by a vote whether or not it is moral to plunder. The State tells Friday after our discussion that my resistance is rooted in my own selfishness, and that it’s imperative that the vote happen, and redistribution commence. When the vote finally does happen, I   cast my vote lest I have no say so whatsoever, and the final result is 2 to 1 against my rights.  Under threat of violence, the State takes some of  my best animals and  gives the meat to Friday, after taking the  first portion for himself.
  The vote casts legitimacy upon the plunder, as do the carefully chosen phrases, but the act itself is still plunder, and by promising to steal on Friday’s behalf, the State has afforded tremendous power to himself, and destroyed not only the relationship previously enjoyed by the two of us prior to his arrival, but he has set a precedent of plunder. Friday’s newly enflamed idea of fairness knows no bounds, and every slight, real or imaginary, every  disparity between my abilities and his is seen as an affront to this false  fairness.  Over and over again violence or the threat of it is  employed while the siren song of fairness and equity  slowly sears Friday’s conscience. Plunder can’t be plunder if its done to level the playing field, can it?
  The State at some point in this nightmare begins to confer upon himself special privileges and powers, instituted solely in the pursuit of fairness of course.  He begins to wear special , rather silly clothes with   badges and vestments of his own design draped all over them. These trinkets, the State tells us, are just symbols of the high trust he carries. He may even bemoan a bit the burden he carries, and demand our respect as he plays his twisted game. Any insult to him is an insult to the very idea of fairness, and any opposition to him is an opposition to his brand of legalized plunder.  His opponents are enemies of the State, and Friday, my once stalwart companion becomes his most devoted acolyte.  Any attempts to overthrow him are met with force, and after a time on the island, he claims that for the greater good, he should exercise a monopoly on force. My weapons are taken first, but soon after Friday hands his over.
  The State claims that if anyone is unhappy with the job being done, they are free to leave. It doesn’t seem relevant that Friday and I were there first, or that life was better when two free men lived under a code of morality at peace with each other or that our rights predate the State’s arrival.  All that matters in the revisionist island history that the State trots out, is the State’s idea of fairness. After a while, my ingenuity and drive wither away as I watch   the State plunder me on someone else’s behalf. I begin to produce just enough to survive the rapacious State appetite. This, the State claims, is also selfishness.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Note to Self

You know what your problem is? You are your problem. You have always been  your biggest problem. Remember when you thought that a change of  jobs, or a change of  churches or a change of spouses would fix the problem? Things might have run  smooth for some time following the change. But after a while, the same problems showed back up.  The only thing the  two jobs or the two churches or the two spouses had in common was You. You are the problem.
  Oh trust me, I know how this works.  You  doesn’t want to be blamed, so You blames everybody else. I wouldn’t lose my temper with my  kids if they were better behaved, You pleads. My marriage would be better if my wife was more receptive, more understanding, You claims. You offers evidence that you would be a better employee if management would only listen, or more money was offered. Those might be valid concerns, but they aren’t the problem. You are the problem. See, that's You's  modus operandi; You demands that the solution to every problem is for somebody else to change, somebody else to adjust, somebody else to structure themselves around who? Why You, of course!  Why is everybody else expected to adjust why You remains the same? See what a troublemaker You is? Can you begin to see why sometimes other people  don't  really want You around? You really want to know why your kids drive you bonkers sometimes? it's because they act just like You, and them acting like You  keeps You from doing what You wants to do!
  Oh sure, You can be  quite pleasant when You are getting your way.  And You might even be able to endure a bit of discomfort if You can convince yourself that  its worth it, or that its temporary. But let that discomfort carry on for any  significant length of time, and You's true colors start to show. It's all about You, and extensions of You such as Your wife, and Your family, and Your job and Your ministry, and Your preferences and Your standards. You can produce , on demand, a custom fitted list of excuses and alibis to excuse You's behavior and  cast the light of scrutiny somewhere else. You can be quite hard to live with, you!
  A subset of the  villainy that is You can be found in Me. I personally get so sick of Me sometimes that I (not that I is  really any more pleasant) have tried to leave Me at home  so that  Ic an  act like a civilized person for a while instead of an 160 lb  4 year old.  But it seems  like no matter where I go, Me is there when I arrive.
  That’s the bad news, but the good news is this, not only is You the problem, but You is the only  one in the  scenario that You have any control over anyway! Now that brings us to the big question: what are you going to do about You?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Wrote a Book

 While I struggle to figure out  what exactly I hope to accomplish here, it might be worth  mentioning that, in addition to being a father, a preacher, and an armchair economist, I also wrote a book. The title is SWINDLED: How the GOP Cheated Ron Paul and Lost Themselves the Election. It's currently  available in  2 different editions from Amazon, so please  take a look and let me know what you think!

Taxation is Theft

  It’s almost tax time again, and with it comes the peculiar American ritual of grumbling about something they have no intention of changing. Most people regard taxation as a necessary evil, a civic duty that must be borne in order to finance the various public services we all enjoy.  Most people are too good-natured, and perhaps even a bit too fearful to ever name the beast for the monstrosity and affront to liberty that it is.   In its current form the tax code is a jungle of red tape, a labyrinth of regulations and hazards that even an expert can barely navigate, a regressive, heavy handed hammer held by your government who says “You will pay what we say you will pay, or we will throw you in jail.”   It is used to punish achievement, redistribute wealth, and fund a variety of schemes and boondoggles that no rational person would ever agree to spend their money on.  It demonizes those whose blood, sweat and tears keep feeding it.  It is a wealth engine for those who cannot generate wealth on their own and a perpetual power source for lobbyists who are paid to steer it in their clients favor. It has an enforcement arm staffed by a veritable army of bureaucrats who wield unheard of power to confiscate your wealth with no trial and little hope of appeal.  Stories abound of IRS abuses regarding property seizures, wage garnishment and even false imprisonment.   For many, the money is taken from them before they even see it, and for others, it is up to them to determine how much they owe, with the constant specter of the jail cell hanging over their heads if they are mistaken.  It differs from armed robbery only in the details of collection. During an election cycle, politicians will make grand speeches about modifying this part of the code or that part of the code to benefit their particular power base. They will pit one group against another and talk of the great reforms that will happen once they are given the levers of power, but what we get is more of the same.  Once the campaigns are over, and the banners packed away what remains is the same dynamic; “Your money or our jail cell.”  The system cannot simply be ‘fixed,’, for the  system is the problem. And while most people just go through their day, reminding themselves in quiet desperation that the nail that sticks up is the one that gets hammered down, the atrocities continue.  Anyone who discusses real tax reform, like the abolishment of the code in favor something else, is treated as some wild-eyed radical.  Let me remind you, fellow Americans, that it was wild-eyed radicals that dumped tea into Boston Harbor. Are we really their legacy, or are we just some people who happen to live in the same place that they lived? “Your money, or our jail cell.”  That doesn’t sound much like freedom to me.

An Editorial to Kick Things Off..

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers - and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce - and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution - and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.’- A. Tocquueville

  When Tocqueville toured America, he marveled at the differences between America and France. The French Revolution produced bloody streets and socialism while it's American counterpart yielded peace and prosperity. He concluded that the difference lie not in the shared liberties of the two lands, but rather in the moral character of the American citizenry and the use of those liberties.
 We stand here at the 232nd anniversary of our nation amidst a spiraling currency
, dubious foreign policies, domestic unrest, a decline of American influence overall
 and what some are calling 'the post-American era'. It behooves us to ask whether or not the sun is setting on the great American experiment, and if so, why? Is America doomed to stop being great because America has stopped being good?
  Enshrined in our founding documents is the idea that our freedoms are gifts from our Creator, but what happens when we as a nation live contrary to the will of this Creator? Is history not filled with examples of once mighty countries that faded away?  Why would we be exempt? Might not the hand of blessing be withdrawn as easily as it was extended? Might not we find ourselves deprived of both liberty and discernment until it was too late? Could it be that the most pious among us live lives riddled with hypocrisy and iniquity? Perhaps we fill our live and homes with things that do not exalt that which is right, but encourage our baser nature. Perhaps the pulpits which once thundered with righteousness have become hollow sepulchers, populated by hirelings and attended by a congregation less concerned with seeking the blessings of heaven than those gone before.
  If the secret to America being great lies in America being good, then the secret lies not with the new President or new legislation, but in each one of us and our personal behavior.  As those before us did, we must use our liberty as an occasion for righteousness, not as a cloak of maliciousness. Liberty misused can be withdrawn by the Author of liberty.  Unless we as individuals change our ways and beg the blessings of freedom for another generation, the once proud land will be a footnote, and we will be responsible for our part in it’s demise.