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Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Hobbes: The American West and 21st-Century America

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm
“Thomas Hobbes” by Leon Douglas
<cross-posted to the League of Ordinary Gentlemen>
In my last post on this topic, we got through Hobbes as relative and Hobbes as overstated. To continue our discussion:

Claim 3: There is a significant difference between political and personal liberty.

Lockeans love to claim themselves the true lovers of liberty, but their liberty is political by nature: the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to rebel against an unjust leader, etc. Hobbesians are most concerned with the first of Locke’s three inalienable rights: the right to a peaceful existence, wherein personally-meaningful activities can be pursued. That is to say, peace and stability trump discussions of essentials. As long as I am effectively free, that is all that counts. Who cares about the structure of our legislative process or checks-and-balances or bipartisanship or whatever so long as I am able to pursue freely my chosen career of saxophonist?

That is not to say structural issues don’t matter, but they should be seen as means to an end rather than as ends themselves.

Claim 4: The freest nations are the ones with the most effective court, police, and military systems.

By “most effective” I certainly do not mean most expensive; nor do I mean largest or most powerful. If one dedicated protector of peace is enough to prevent Precinct 13 from being overtaken by those who threaten the social contract, then that dedicated protector is more than enough.

In the American Western, the clash between lawlessness and civilization remains a common theme. One of my favorite passages from one of my favorite Westerns, E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times, illustrates this thematic tension:

Every time someone puts a little capital into this Territory I’m called in by the Governor and sent on my way. It doesn’t matter I suffer from the rheumatism, nor that I’m past the age of riding a horse’s back. If a man files a claim that yields, there’s a town. If he finds some grass, there’s a town. Does he dig a well? Another town. Does he stop somewhere to ease his bladder, there’s a town. Over this land a thousand times each year towns spring up and it appears I have to charter them all. But to what purpose? The claim pinches out, the grass dies, the well dries up, and everyone will ride off to form up again somewhere else for me to travel. Nothing fixes in this damned country, people blow around at the whiff of the wind. You can’t bring the law to a bunch of rocks, you can’t settle the coyotes, you can’t make a society out of sand. I sometimes think we’re worse than the Indians… What is the name of this place, Hard Times? You are a well-meaning man Mr. Blue, I come across your likes occasionally. I noticed Blackstone on your desk, and Chitty’s Pleadings. Well you can read the law as much as you like but it will be no weapon for the spring when the town swells with people coming to work your road. You need a peace officer but I don’t even see you wearing a gun. I look out of this window and I see cabins, loghouse, cribs, tent, shanty, but I don’t see a jail. You’d better build a jail. You’d better find a shootist and build a jail.

The last time I used this quote in a post was a year ago after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. I wrote then on the need to take a deep breath and avoid enacting some of the hasty, emotional legislation that was being bandied about (to recap: laws promoting the involuntarily incarceration of “crazy” peopledoubling down on gun-control legislation, etc.). As it turns out, the solutions we have developed and refined over generations – the trial, the jury, the jail, the watchful citizen – are the best ones:

It’s tempting to over explain incidents like these by saying they are determined by our culture: the dialectics of the restless American Western mythology and the static comforts of modernity; men who want to watch the world burn and pundits who traffic in firewood; an individualist ethic of self and cold, indifferent pseudo-communities.  At times, it seems like we may have even summoned the monster ourselves. But then we must step back, remember where we are, and realize that further destruction comes when the rational controls that order our existence slacken.  Evil exists, and while it may be to our benefit to keep that evil away from guns, our best weapon against it is the fortitude within our own souls, the kind of fortitude displayed by Patricia Maisch and Colonel Badger, the kind of fortitude which we should all reflect on before descending into the madness of politics as usual.

Claim 5: We need to accept the existence of evil.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of evil. We need a strong, secure state that fosters peace and prosperity without itself becoming the worst kind of uncontrollable monster. The last ten years–no, the last hundred years of human existence have taught us clearly that, if we are to err on one side of things, we should err on the side of decreased central power; we should secure peace and prosperity while interfering in as few personally-meaningful, peaceful existences as possible.

I’m glad we didn’t overreact to Jared Lee Loughner, because more often than not our overreactions to evil become evil themselves.

Hobbes: Authority

In General Principles on January 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm
legitimate rule
<Cross-posted to the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.>
Since Rufus and Jason have covered Hobbes in such excellent detail thus far, my contribution to this discussion will be more about tying up loose ends.

As a student, I read Hobbes four different times in four different contexts for four different unrelated courses, and that’s how I feel Hobbes is best approached: through a plurality of heterodox methodologies and interpretive structures. We’ll attempt to do that below.

Claim 1: “Hobbesian” is a relative term.

A question at the center of any discussion on Hobbes is often: what does the eponym “Hobbesian” mean, essentially? Jason made reference to Wittgenstein in his most recent post on the topic. Rufus asked the question non-rhetorically. I’ll expand on the discussion of semantics and claim that the best definitions of “Hobbesian” stand in contrast to other prevailing ideas of the period.

Hobbes is usually studied in relation to the positions of Locke and Rousseau. Regarding Hobbes and Locke, Hobbes felt that universal surrender to an absolute sovereign is the only way to secure civil society, while Locke’s political thought went on to serve as a primary influence for the American democracy. In contrast to Rousseau’s optimism about human nature – that men are inherently good – Hobbes argued that men are inherently weak; in contrast to Rousseau’s belief in the noble savage and the morally-cancerous influence of civil society, Hobbes believed that the state of nature was a state of perpetual suffering and that only the stability of civil society could foster human flourishing.

These two ideas: (1) the Hobbesian positive (commonly called pessimism about human nature); and (2) the Hobbesian normative (the necessity of a strong, central authority) comprise an internally-consistent school of thought that stands with Lockeanism and Rousseauvianism as one of the three pillars of social contract theory. The debates hashed out centuries ago between these three thinkers still rage strong today.

Claim 2: More than Locke and Rousseau, Hobbes is overstated.

When we discuss Hobbes, the focus is on what is excluded. When we discuss Locke, we are eminently inclusive. Perhaps because our national mythos is so deeply rooted in Locke, every value judgment we’ve made on Hobbes’s normative has assumed a certain totalitarianism, that without some Seventeenth-Century despot sentencing traitors to death and razing villages for failing to meet turnip quotas the whole Hobbesian system falls apart and we all eat each other.

On the contrary, a cold and distant monarch is often a maximizing condition for liberty. It has been paraphrased that a libertarian (i.e. – one who places liberty above other societal values) is someone who wants the government to run only the military, the courts, and the police force. What are the military, courts, and police force but Hobbesian bulwarks to keep us from slaughtering each other? We tend to forget or neglect the Hobbesian base on which the Lockean superstructure is built – both in terms of American society and in terms of intellectual history. We conflate power with authority, assuming this authoritarian base must be a person – a totalitarian dictator – when it can just as easily be an institution or a shared belief.

In Case You Decided to Watch Football Instead

In General Principles on January 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Two minutes ago I was staring at the all-important Lions-Saints matchup down on the Bayou, an evening of passive adrenalin infusion ahead of me when I remembered the other game being televised tonight. Thanks to someone in my neighborhood providing unsecured Wi-Fi I am now at the dining room table, ready to hunker down with the last six of our highly-funded and eminently-talented GOP nomination pool. It is 8:58pm; I’ve got an oversized cup o’ joe in my belly and my blood is suddenly supercharged thanks to the sparks flying at me from the socket where I was hastily plugging in the old Hewlett-Packard. Add to this my uncanny political judgment, unclouded by any trace of actual knowledge, and I am ready for two uninterrupted hours of Yahoo-powered policy and bickering.

All right so I just missed the opening question because I had to go let out my coffee. Mitt Romney is talking about…ah yes, it’s nice that our economy has been creating lots of new jobs but of course Obama is not to be credited. He hasn’t yada yada, his policies yada yada… Great start Mitt, you’re debating someone who is not even in the room.

Santorum up next. No surprise that Romney took Iowa, but I was taken aback at Santorum’s showing. Iowa has one chance every four years to prove to the rest of the US they aren’t a bunch of pig punters and a quarter of them vote for a guy whose name is too close to sanitarium to be taken seriously. I’m not expecting big things, from Rick or my upcoming book-signing in Estherville, a quick three and a half hour drive north from Des Moines. 

The former Pennsylvania senator says Iran is our biggest problem. No, Iran is Israel’s biggest problem.

Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos running the show tonight. And a third guy yet to be identified correctly. I don’t know what his last name is, but it is not McElveen like he wants us to believe.

Newt Gingrich, answering a question someone asked while I was telling my kid to get back in bed so the world doesn’t miss a moment of my insight, says ‘we can’t go in and turn companies upside down and leave the workers behind.’ Well-spoken, former Freddie Mac consultant.

Romney gets another green light and makes a hard right back into Obama. I get the idea the guy is looking ahead just a wee bit.

Jon Huntsman suggests that in making decisions about who is best qualified to be a leader, voters should look at what each of them did as governor. As far as I know beer is still disproportionately expensive in Utah so right there Jon-boy has some work to do at home before he takes over the country.

Ron Paul is visibly aging as he watches the tennis match going on around him. Wait, okay he’s on and ramming into Santorum. Oops, no he’s not. Defective microphone, he’s being interrupted, check out Perry on the far right over there, twiddling his thumbs and whistling at the ceiling. Cheater.

Paul serves a hard one at Rick’s proclivity to keep voting to raise the spending limit. Rick answers with a lob over Ron’s head but Ron sees the spin and smashes it right back. My mind is so keen I don’t even have to know what these guys are actually saying, I simply know what is and isn’t bullshit. So far it’s mostly bullshit.

‘I am a cause guy,’ Santorum proudly states in defense of his record, which, he points out, includes a fight to defeat Cap and Trade, a nod to the coal industry his father worked for. Honestly it is hard for me, never having been in a coal mine, to imagine a tougher job than coal-mining. (Ironing dress shirts runs a close second.) I respect those who sweat it out every day to put food on the table. I’d rather have a beer with a ditch digger than a hedge fund manager. But can we please move on to more intelligent energy sources?

Romney is standing back a step from his podium, hands in his pockets, an easy grin on his face like the cat watching the mice fight over who is going to try to put the bell on him.

Rick Perry is spouting off about Entitlement Reform, citing the areas of health care, welfare and every other program using money we should be throwing at the military.

It just occurred to me, Ron Paul is the only one up there that doesn’t have a decent head of hair. Okay Rick is borderline. And the delineation between black and gray on the side of Huntsman’s head screams toupee.

Jon Huntsman is relating his four experiences living overseas, including once as the US ambassador to China, to his being the best leader on the stage. Mitt’s answer to that is ‘well, better than Obama for sure’ then leans on the accelerator as he unloads on the present administration’s shortcomings. Seriously, if you replace the other five with Obama – or even five Obamas – or three Obamas and two Charles Darwins – Romney would likely not change a single word from his script.

Rick Perry just said something about the military’s ‘thee-AY-ters of operation.’ If it meant I could hear him say ‘thee-AY-ters’ constantly for four years I would vote for him. He just followed that up with the assertion that putting DOD money in other places (like programs for people who think they are entitled to such absurd luxuries as food and Geritol) will put the US at risk. Okay, forget that ‘thee-AY-ter’ vote.

Newt just called himself an army brat. I don’t know, to me the guy just seems to think he only has to speak and the entire country will be enlightened. He doesn’t talk like he can’t believe people can be so stupid; he talks like it has never occurred to him that people can be anything but.

Ron Paul is too easily agitated to become the nominee. That goofball smile at the end of every mini eruption does nothing to assuage my uneasiness about the guy. I do like his enthusiastic angst when it comes to our foreign policy. ‘I was against the war but I went when I was called, I didn’t defer five times,’ he says. Newt (I didn’t know who that jab was for at first, silly me) says he was married with a kid and a father in the Mekong at the time. Ron Paul, suddenly standing so straight he’s now taller than Romney, tells Newt ‘I was married with two kids and I went.’ Cheers from the crowd. ‘I didn’t defer, I was ineligible,’ answers Chameleon.

Whoa, Ron Paul is trying to steal the black vote from Obama now with this rant about how blacks are disproportionately drafted, as well as disproportionately arrested and imprisoned on drug charges. When is the last time you heard that in a Republican debate?

Mitt is still debating Obama. Meanwhile Perry over there is debating the very theoretical possibility of human rationality. The rest are just having a verbal hair-pulling fight.

First break: commentator Neera Tanden doesn’t know why no one is going after Mitt. Matt Lewis doesn’t understand why Ron Paul can’t present as logical. Terry Moran is freaked out because he’s floating in mid-air, eighty feet above Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House in apparent full view of the snipers on the roof. What’s up with that backdrop? Neera and Matt, meanwhile, are backed by a ground-level shot of the Lincoln Memorial. This makes no absolutely sense. I don’t want to listen to these people anyway, I want to see who’s got Evian in their podium and who has Jack Daniel’s. Ron Paul will have some Pepto sitting by if he knows what’s good for him.

Two more commentators, in a gymnasium. Looks like someone dropped the ball on reserving a conference room. ‘Ron Paul is really speaking from the heart,’ one of them says. Well then I’d say he’s on his way to a heart attack.

Back to our debate. Behind George and Diane and that guy using the alias there are several men with suits on.

They have suits in New Hampshire?

Next up: A state’s right to ban contraception use. Really? This is an issue? Wait I get it, with the NFL wild card game on NBC, they need to sex up the debate to garner a few extra Nielson points. I’m pulling for the Bengals by the way, just because of that guy who did a flip into the end zone.

Romney is avoiding answering George’s question on the subject, and I think he has a point. Who cares? Seriously. Who…cares?… Mitt shifts over to the tangential matters of marriage and abortion. George keeps harping on the contraceptive thing, asking if there should be a constitutional amendment. Romney basically tells George and his hairdo that hasn’t changed since high school to take his question and stuff it.

Diane Sawyer just spent forty seconds on a blithering lead-in to her question about…Christ I don’t even know.

Newt is onto something regarding the ‘sacrament of marriage’. See, this is the whole thing I don’t get: If there’s separation of church and state, why is the word marriage even mentioned? Marriage is a religious institution is it not? The issue, properly stated, is about civil unions. Get it straight you guys. (I can say guys without reprobation now that Michelle Bachmann is gone.)

Jon Huntsman gives a nice peaceful answer; he is married with seven kids (inserts a joke about the non-issue of contraception, hardee-har) and is not ‘threatened’ by the idea of same-sex civil unions (yes Jon, one point for correct terminology usage). I guess that means he is not concerned that his wife is going to run off with Lady Gaga (yes that is a prediction)(about Lady gaga).

Sorry Ron Paul, I like some of your ideas and your fervor is admirable but I think you are going to lose your shit when you come face to face with your first veto.

Wait, the Catholic Church is being ordered to stop its ministerial service to the community (specifically in the area of adoption I think?) altogether because they are not supportive of gay marriage? This is like telling McDonald’s to stop selling hamburgers because some people are vegetarian. Or you know, something equally stupid, make up your own analogy if mine isn’t good enough. Point is, if separation of church and state means my kid can’t pray in school, then it also means the state can’t pontificate in my church.

Gingrich says we are not going to solve any huge regional problem militarily. Thank you. Newt for Secretary of State. (Did I just say that?)

All right, Santorum reminds me of someone I was friends with in college and I can’t figure it out. I don’t think I want to, since most of my friends were knuckleheads and my judgment of him is clouded enough.

Perry says we should send troops back into Iraq. Rick, if you had a snowball’s chance in hell ten seconds ago, you don’t now. What’s that? Without US troops Iran is going to go back into Iraq at the speed of light? How fast does light travel in your world Mr. Perry?

Newt states we need a new energy policy, because we need to get away from our dependence on the Middle East, then we can more effectively deal with the Middle East. All right, whoever kidnapped the real Newt Gingrich…you can keep him.

Another break: Half of the Manchester, NH skyline is taken up by what looks like a massive Motel 6.

Back to those two commentators in the gym. The guy says Perry is done with that comment about sending troops back to Iraq. I already said that. Get these clowns out of there, let’s see a basketball game. Basketball practice even. A game of horse.

Ron Paul is probably slipping into a cardigan sweater and slippers right about now.

Rick Perry sticks his chest out any further and he’s going to fall over backwards.

Third debate moderator Josh McElveen’s real last name is either Llewelyn or Sajak. Just look at the guy.

I want to know what those little things are on Mitt Romney’s tie. They look like Kewpie Dolls.

Newt looks better from the front than from the side. All things being relative.

Jon Huntsman wants to close $1.1 trillion in tax loopholes and deductions and put this money toward housing, health care and education. Rick Perry is now thinking of sending US troops to the US before such madness destroys the security of the country.

Mitt wants to bring corporate taxes down to the 25% level. This of course does not apply to oil companies, whose tax rates will remain at 0% – so they can use that money on new energy projects for the country, except not for the Tar Sands Pipeline project which, I believe I read, and someone PLEASE tell me I am mistaken, will be funded by the taxpayers as a concession the GOPers demanded in return for backing off on the payroll tax issue and letting the little people actually put a few more dollars in their pockets – temporarily.

Close-up of three people in the audience. They are either spellbound or utterly lost. With any luck they will read this in the morning and understand everything.

Perry is the only one up there who parts his hair on the right – except for Ron Paul, who doesn’t have a part. He has a combover.

Did Perry just say we need to get all the resources we can from federal land? Okay people, go visit your National Parks real soon – unless you work for Halliburton in which case you will have exclusive and unlimited access if Mr. Thee-AY-ter has his way.

Jon Huntsman: ‘No one on this stage is calling for an end to all loopholes and deductions.’ Another oddity for a Republican debate. You’d expect ‘any’, not ‘all’.

Romney just basically told Stephanopoulos to start asking better questions.

I wish Mitt’s tie was that shade of blue that doesn’t show up on TV.

The girl from Ratatouille is in the crowd, I just saw her.

Santorum: There is no middle class in America. …What? Ah, he prefers the term ‘middle income’ because we shouldn’t be focusing on class. Exactly my attitude in college. Which explains why I knew so many knuckleheads.

Romney is using his business experience to bolster his assertion that he knows which regulations kill and which create jobs. This after Huntsman has pointed out that Massachusetts ranks 47th in job creation.

Huntsman is the only one taking jabs at Mitt, who is suddenly standing there looking like his best man just got loaded before giving the wedding toast.

Romney: We simply have to tell China to stop undervaluing their currency. Huntsman: Shao shan jing jian fow shu wan wan. I think Huntsman wins.

Break time: Neera says Santorum finally took the populist argument to Wall Street. He did? When? I really need to figure out who he looks like so I can move on. The two geniuses in the gym agree that Newt needs to make sure he doesn’t blow his top and ruin his good performance. Give me a break, if the guy were any more mellow he’d be asleep. He sounds like Ron Paul slipped a prescription sedative into his Fanta.

Last question for our six hopefuls: If you weren’t here, what would you be doing on this Saturday night? Perry – I’d be at the firing range. Shooting at targets spray-painted with the word Medicaid. Newt – I’d be home watching basketball…no wait, football. Ron Paul snickering. Santorum – Watching football. True populist. Romney – Home with the family, or if they were all asleep I’d be reading an economics book. Liar. Huntsman – I’d be on the phone with my two boys, who are in the service. Cue National Anthem. Hmm, either I missed something or they skipped Ron Paul because he was still busy snickering at Newt.

And that’s a wrap, time for the master-debaters to shake hands. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum shake and look at each other with the same ‘You are stupid’ expression.

Back in the gym I hear the sound of doors opening and closing. Maybe we’ll salvage the evening with a little intramural scrimmage. Terry Moran says Huntsman speaking Chinese (it was Mandarin you twit) was a big mistake. This after saying, in the previous break, that he thought it was the best moment of the debate. The guy parts his hair on the same side as Perry, I guess we can expect a similar level of cranial acrobatics.

To a new team of analysts: Head #1 – has absolutely nothing to say and his tie is tied like he is in middle school. Head #2 – is quoting Romney’s staff and detailing his travel itinerary; no ideas of his own, and it appears from the bags under his eyes he is fresh off a bender. Head #3 – bald and not exactly attractive so he must be there for actual intellectual capabilities; starts in with a boxing reference to illustrate everyone’s seeming reluctance to throw punches at Romney. My guess is this guy was never picked first for kickball. Head #4 – Hands down the worst necktie of the night. Head #5 – her mouth is barely moving as she speaks, like she isn’t quite thawed out all the way after thirty years in the cryogenic lab. Head #6 – a democratic strategist who maintains Romney is the weakest GOP candidate which is why no one is attacking him.

To the side of the screen Yahoo has been putting up these questions. I just voted ‘yes’ for ‘Did you like when Huntsman spoke Mandarin?’ so I could see the results and make some kind of sarcastic, cynical, wildly speculative so as to be ludicrous assumption about the people who vote on questions on Yahoo. The vote was pretty dead even between yes and no.

Head #3 says Perry is wacko for his troops back to Iraq and Iran moving at the speed of light comments. Who said this thirty minutes ago? I told you I was ready. I should be in that chair, not that pasty pastry. I have much nicer neckties too. Somewhere. Also says Huntsman passed on punching Romney. Really? The guy can’t lower beer prices maybe but thanks to him I now know that Romney’s Massachusetts sucks at job creation.

Bald Head – Romney stayed out of the fray for the most part but did take a jab or two at Huntsman. This, he says, was Romney saying ‘I’m not passive. Here’s how I show strength.’ What, by tossing a last-minute bit of criticism at a candidate on the voting fringe? Forget my whole ‘he’s bald so he must be there for legitimate purposes’ theory. He has as much to say as the rest of them.

In the gym Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor, is going on about how Huntsman is the only one of the six who understands that national security depends on understanding the rest of the world. Great, now does anyone understand why this conversation is taking place on a basketball court?

The question keeps being raised: Why isn’t anyone attacking Romney?

Answer: Because no one wants to screw up their chances of being picked for his running mate.

Someone needs to hire me to commentate on the next debate.

Neera Tanden, I just realized, has bed head.

On second thought, if this is a subtle indication of what it takes to score a gig as a commentator for these silly discussions I think I’ll pass and watch the NFL instead.

Regulations Kill Industries: Porn Edition

In Specific Facts on January 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Did social conservatives think of this?

This week, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation launched a new war against porn’s potentially reckless ways, proposing a strict initiative that would require male porn stars to wear condoms during vaginal and anal intercourse.

Since California is one of two states in which porn is legal (the other is, only recently, New Hampshire), could this be the end of porn?

Immediately, the porn world was up in arms over the initiative. “Hey, dicks, it’s really quite simple,” says Jeremy. “We don’t mind wearing rubbers, but no matter how you slice it, the viewers don’t want to see them.”

“The fact that these workers’ health and safety has been neglected is a very dangerous situation,” AHF president Michael Weinstein tells The Daily Beast. “It’s a matter of fairness. Why is this the only industry not afforded protection when they go to work?”…

…But Cal/OSHA and the AIDS Health Foundation insist the initiative—a stricter version of the state law—will be easier to enforce on a smaller scale. They need 200,000 signatures by June 5 to add the measure to the November 2012 presidential ballot in L.A. County. Weinstein is confident they’ll amass the votes, since they easily collected 70,901 signatures for the citywide measure. The initiative argues that the adult entertainment industry should have to comply with the same laws as any other private employer in California. Just as construction workers are required to wear hard hats on site, porn stars should have to wear rubbers on set. Cal/OSHA even mandates that porn bosses provide employees exposed to blood-borne pathogens (seminal and vaginal fluids) with dental dams, gloves, and eye protection.

This all raises the question: If condoms are enough to drive viewers away, who’s going to pay money to watch people go at it while looking like CDC agents?

It’s a brilliant plan, if it is a plan.