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This is the archive for March 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

...but I wasn't drunk so...

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has done us all a great service. In this day when would-be oppressors of all stripes seek to hide their real motives, the TABC has sent us a clear and unambiguous message.
TABC officials said the sweep concerned saving lives, not individual rights

The chilling thing is not that they believe it. That's always been true, it's the core principle of government, even one supposedly guided by things like constitutions and bills of rights. No, what's scary is that they no longer feel that they have to hide it. They have enough confidence in your ability to rationalize it away that they aren't worried in the least about any complaints from the Peanut Gallery.

In my last article, V for Vendetta, I talked about losing your fear of your government. But for some of you, the next step is to start fearing your government. If you plan to see the movie, watch it with this in mind: How does a society get to that point? Watch V's broadcast speech in the first half, and compare his accusations against your reaction to the TABC quote.

That is where and how it starts. Don't worry about how everyone else is reacting to it - look at how you react to it. Is fear preventing you from understanding the meaning of something even this crystal clear? Is it fear of admitting that this country is no longer the free country it perhaps once was? Are you afraid that if you admit this fact into your conciousness that you will then be helpless to avoid the avalanche of such facts that you've been able to remain blissfully ignorant of all your life?

We are not yet the society of V, even in light of this. But there are many turning points along the road to it, and this is one of them. Your reaction to this is a very personal turning point. You don't have to take to the streets and protest - that kind of thing is of no significance whatsoever, and for reasons more complex than I'll get into now, does more harm than good. What you do have to do, what there is no way to avoid doing no matter how badly you might want to, is to make a personal choice.

Your choice may not prevent this country from becoming that of V. But it will determine whether you live in it with integrity or with fear. It will determine whether you remain free - now and in the future - even within a totalitarian society.

You won't have many chances left to make that decision. Understand this, or pretend you don't. Embrace its meaning or rationalize it away. There's plenty of rationalizations available: They're just drunks and they should be locked up... They might have gone out and driven a car, or gotten rowdy and hurt someone... The law says you can't be drunk in public, and we have to preserve the rule of law... I don't spend my time drunk in bars, so it doesn't affect me...

Go ahead, choose one of those, or make up one of your own. But don't you dare, decades from now, ask me "how did this happen?". Don't you dare pretend that it was some rogue scoundrel who took over your free country and made it into a true police state complete with curfews and gulags and roving rape squads. Don't you dare. It will have been your fault.

P.S You may want to read (or re-read) a previous article of mine that talks about the same kind of thing, from a different angle: On Being Made

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I don't even know how to start without sounding like a 14 year-old girl after her first Britney Spears concert. I've been home about twenty minutes and I've been frantically pacing the house trying to digest it.

I didn't think Hollywood was capable of this. Right at the start, V is talking to Evey (Natalie Portman) just prior to blowing up a London monument, and he points to a statue of Justice. One brief line "...the imposter who stands in her place", and already I love this guy. It's primarily a movie of philosophy, as much so as the first Matrix movie, but this time they get the philosophy right.

Well, mostly. It gets nothing really wrong, it's only sins are those of omission, and a slightly misplaced focus. The back-story eventually comes out that this is a right-wing government, with (too frequent) references to the oppression of gays and Muslims, and one minor mention of the "war that America started" being a fundamental catalyst that led to Britain's current state. It is also integral to the story that his particular vendetta is against those individuals who were instrumetal in running a prison camp that would make Josef Mengele proud, where he was imprisoned, tortured, and made the subject of horific medical experiments.

Looking only at this backstory, V's actions, and at the targets he has in his sights, might lead an audience to come out of the theater thinking that government per se gets off the hook - after all, it is only the actions of a small right-wing group abusing their power and carrying out a grotesque plan to seize and hold absolute power that have led to this.

That would be a mistake. His words tell a different story. His explanations of what he is doing and why consistently go to the larger picture, to the fundamental things that make those individual atrocities possible. To principles.

The movie is too subtle on this, and even undermines it to a small extent, but it is implied throughout: It is government itself that is capable of such atrocities. It is government that enables them, that creates them. It is not right-wing or left-wing governments alone that seek absolute power, it is not a few evil men that abuse power. It is the existence of that kind of power in and of itself, power that continually strengthens itself, becoming more and more attractive to those who want to use it, that makes it inevitable that it will eventually fall into the hands of those, both great and petty, to whom such atrocities are means to their ends.

V does not spare the huddled masses. They share the guilt - they allowed it to happen, even asked for it to happen. Still, his vendetta is not directed at them. He is not a terrorist, even though he is repeatedly described as such both within the movie and from without by many real-world reviewers. He is not out to terrorize the population, he is after the real power. Like a true individualist, he will give them hope, and eventually free them - despite their complicity - but as a side-effect of pursuing his own interests.

This movie is as much about a personal attitude of freedom as it is about freeing the country, the people. He comes out of the prison transformed, physically mutilated, but no longer afraid of death. Evey goes through a similar, though far less horrific, experience and is similarly transformed - physically, but much more important emotionally - to the point where even old friends don't recognize her face. It is this that allows her to do what she does at the end.

It does more than allow it, it makes it inevitable. This is what governments should fear - not the actions of those who decide that integrity is that "last inch" of their lives that they will never give up, but the decision itself. Integrity can only be voluntarily abandoned, it can never be taken by force. It is the one thing every individual has the power to keep, even when they no longer have the power to preserve their own lives. It is this realization that strips government of all power, that leaves the wielders of its instruments at the mercy of those whom they try to control.

This is what the movie is ultimately about. "People should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people." Once people decide they have nothing to fear, then governments have everything to fear.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I had my first contact with the medical system in many, many years on Friday. Very few things in this country are more depressingly Sovietesque than the FUBAR'd mess that is health care today. You've surely heard the scaremongering that nationalized health care would make going to the doctor or hospital every bit as bad as going to the DMV.

Well, they're wrong. It's already that bad, with the big difference being that the professionals in that system are intelligent and aware enough to be obviously and painfully aware of the black hole they're being inexorably sucked into. I saw it in their faces, and in their reactions to some politically incorrect comments during my ordeal. Some had the look of death row inmates whose only remaining hope is to get it over with.

I could go into all the details of how fucked up the system is, but I won't. There's really no point in wallowing in it. But I did make one notable observation:

You definitely, positively, no exceptions, need to show an official state-issued picture ID to buy Robitussin. You do not, however, need to show any form of ID whatsoever to receive medical treatment, be issued a prescription, and to purchase controlled drugs.

Lots of people fret over what use details of their "confidential" medical history will be put to, and to whom it will be revealed. It seems that this observation presents an obvious solution to that worry.

Unless, of course, you are one of those people who think that a low co-pay for doctors' visits is something you get from anything resembling "insurance".

Saturday, March 18, 2006

This commenter over at Richard's place, judging from his previous comments, is not some commie pinko. At least he's taken pains to differentiate himself from the left, so I'll assume he puts himself somewhere on the right.

He's living proof of the idea that politics can never solve our political problems. He's on the right, but he accepts all of the left's premises, hook, line, and sinker. Those principles are, fundamentally, collectivist metaphysics, zero-sum economics, and altruistic ethics. They're all right there in his arguments, if you care to lift up the rock and see the worms that live underneath. You can't make the arguments he did without those premises.

Strip away all the sound and heat, and what you are left with is the fact that the only disagreement between the left and the right is over what is the best way to implement communist principles.

But those principles - collectivism, altruism, and zero-sum economics are the root cause of our political problems. Politics itself is only possible under those principles. The elimination of those principles - the only problem in politics that matters - is not possible starting from those principles, any more than the problem of being trapped in a hole can be solved by digging faster.

UPDATE: The debate continues in the comments over at Uncommon Sense. Do read them all if you are interested. Also, my earlier article "The Most Important Economics Lesson You'll Ever Learn" explains away the fallacy of zero-sum economics, and forms the basis of my argument in the aforementioned comments.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I can't drive... 55! - Sammy Hagar

"By the book" slowdowns have always been one of the most effective forms of protest. I helped organize one once for some really stupid work rules, and those rules were reversed before the shift was even half over. Doing what someone tells you to do rather than what they want you to do is a great way to reveal hypocrisy and unacknowledged contradictions, not to mention pointing up the fallacy of giving orders when the real power is not in your hands.

This video pretty much speaks for itself. The most telling quote, at the end:
I'm just glad no-one got hurt.

Hat Tip: BureauCrash