Monday, August 31, 2015

The Rule of Law

[Based on Chapter 21 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom? The Case for Limited, Constitutional Government and Against Statism]

Rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances and to plan one's individual affairs on the basis of that knowledge. (F.A. Hayek)

It was the most boring high school assembly in memory, at least the first part. Our congressman spoke and blew enough hot air to bake Alaska. I don't remember what he said, but I do remember thinking it was about as useful as a snowmobile in the Amazon jungle. It was so bad that the principal had our government teacher speak after the congressman finished. He was much better; he compared the rule of law with the rule of men. He explained that we have fixed laws, established by duly constituted legislative bodies. We can depend on those laws, both to protect us and to allow us freedom to engage in legal activities. No arbitrary authority changes the law on a whim. Violations of law are prosecuted on the basis of evidence.

I found our teacher's comments very impressive; that is the way the law should work. Only later did I see the problem: any government is ultimately a rule of men. It is men and women who make laws. More importantly, it is men and women who enforce them, who decide if the accused is guilty or goes free, who decide if the law shall be enforced on everybody or only on some of the people. In short, it is men and women who decide if the law shall be only so many words, or if we will really abide by the rule of law. And those men and women are subject to temptation. They may apply their own desires and prejudices rather than what the law actually says. Unless restrained, powerful politicians and bureaucrats will create a rule of men. We will have rule of law only if we insist that our officials follow the law and constitution.

As I write this, we have a president who has decided that he can pick and choose which laws he will enforce and which he will ignore. He has unilaterally changed immigration law, the requirements for being on welfare for a limited time, and even parts of his own signature health care reform law. The health care law is especially interesting. That law makes it illegal to sell health insurance policies that do not meet certain requirements.  After many complaints, the president decided, unilaterally, that he would allow the sale of policies that do not meet requirements. Then, when some in Congress suggested officially changing the law to allow what the president was doing, he threatened a veto. That is rule of man, not rule of law.

Did the president help the people with his unilateral decision on which insurance policies can be sold? Maybe, maybe not. It is certain that he created the confusion normally attendant to rule of men rather than of law. Citizens do not know if the president is going to change the law again tomorrow. He could decide that the law applies after all and invalidate all those insurance policies.

Sadly, we have people in positions of power who ignore Constitution and constitutional law, and instead use their power to change the law to their own taste. Those people also often change their rules to fit the situation; citizens cannot know what the rules say at any given time.

Unless we use both our power of the vote and our ability to write our representatives, they will rule as men or women, not rule of law. We must think about our vote and then hold our employees accountable.

[And I have a favor to ask of my readers, if there are any. The frustrating aspect of blogging is that I do not know if anyone is reading. If you do read this, please click the comment block and let me know. Just a couple of words such as "I'm reading" will let me know that I'm not talking to a vacuum. Thanks.]

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream - Part 8 (The final part)

[This concludes the series of blogs quoting Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.]
Sour Cream in a Free Country
Are free countries immune to sour cream? Would that it were so! Even there the narcissist, the psychopath, the control freak, sees possibilities for power in government; he sees voters as fodder for manipulation. Even the honest politician can become addicted to power. All those try to increase their power at the expense of freedom. The power-hungry exist in free countries as well as in dictatorships.

As described in Chapter 1, freedom is an unstable state. Like a man working on a steep roof, we must fight to keep our balance in a precarious place. Unless we work at it, our home-grown control freaks will lead us to statism. Only constant alertness and effort will restrain their nefarious ambition. And we have reason to remain alert.

Power Seekers in the United States
Much as I wish it were otherwise, deception and demagoguery are alive and well in the U.S.  I must mention the characteristics of some U.S. leaders, including a deception that affected me personally.

In 1969, along with millions of other young men, I received an “invitation from the president,” a draft notice. The Vietnam War raged and the army needed cannon fodder. Though I went to Germany instead of that “tropical paradise,” it took two years of my life. The U.S. got heavily involved in that war because of an event that never happened. Allegedly, North Vietnam twice attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. The first attack was real, but the second was not and commanders knew it. However some officers twisted the facts and Secretary of Defense McNamara lied to Congress to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president to do whatever he deemed appropriate.[1]
Would the United States have been as heavily involved in Vietnam without that deception? There is no way of knowing. However, it is certain that our leaders mislead us at the time. And that is not the only lie our leaders told us.

 Sadly, at this writing (2014), we have a president who seems not to hesitate to lie, and some congressional leaders and media people who support him in that. The president knowingly misled the citizens with a claim that, under his proposed health insurance reform, they would be able to keep their insurance and doctor if they wanted. In another case, when an Islamic fanatic murdered our troops in Fort Hood he blamed “workplace violence,” refusing to acknowledge that the murderer was an Islamic fanatic who had openly expressed his desire to aid our enemies. In yet another case, his administration flagrantly and knowingly blamed the murder of our diplomats in Libya on a video that the murderers had probably never seen. Authorities refused to mention the fact that our own intelligence had determined that the killers were Islamic terrorists and that the video in question had nothing to do with the attack. Other examples abound. Our president seems to regard truth as optional at best.

By the time you read this, will we have an honest president, or another liar? That depends on citizens, citizens who either vote wisely or swallow the line of demagogues.

We have not yet descended to the state of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, but it is ominous when our leaders lie so facilely. Their ethics seem to approach those of the statist/collectivist system. The honesty required in a free country is nowhere in sight. How long can we maintain any semblance of freedom if we do not replace such people with leaders whose values are more compatible with a free people?

Innocent until Proven Guilty?
I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. (Lord Acton)

I close this chapter debunking another misconception. Politicians accused of misbehavior often claim that they are innocent until proven guilty. For example, some in Congress so defended President Clinton during the latter's impeachment.[2] Utter nonsense! A person is either guilty or not guilty, and no verdict will change that fact. The accused is not innocent until after the trail, he only has a right to be considered innocent in the court of law. An incorrect verdict means a miscarriage of justice, but changes underlying guilt or innocence not at all.

In the second place, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty applies specifically in courts of law and to those accused of a crime. It does not apply to politics. We must hold our politicians to a higher standard. They come to us seeking our votes, essentially asking for a job. Like any job applicant, it is up to them to show us why we should hire or retain them, and it is up to us to investigate their qualifications. If they are accused of bad behavior, we have no obligation to look at the evidence – and the burden is usually on them to show why the accusations are false. There is one caveat however. Politicians have been known to make false accusations against their opponents. We must be careful about accepting such accusations.

In a democratic system we get the leader we deserve, a George Washington or a Joseph Stalin. Only by actively seeking and supporting candidates of integrity and wisdom, candidates committed to freedom, will we overcome our current problems. We must thoroughly investigate those candidates, their backgrounds and integrity. And we must cut through the fog of mis-communication they so often use to hide their intent. Our freedom depends on it.


Monday, August 24, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 7

[This continues the series of excerpts from Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.]

Powerful Problems
Not only psychopaths but other power-seekers often reach high office. Why are the powerful so perverse? What keeps the nice guy, the person of integrity, from reaching the top in a statist system? In one word: conscience. Statism is founded on the idea of a powerful state, superior in every way to the individual. One question and one only determines if an action is good or bad: does it advance the state? Lie to the people? Fine, if it helps the cause. Murder opponents? Do it, they cannot be allowed to spread their nefarious ideas. Lock up citizens in the gulag and treat them like slaves? Certainly, if that helps the collective. Have children spy on their parents? Of course, the state must know if those parents are considering anything rebellious.

The Power of the Unethical
This leads directly to the reasons why the unethical rule in statist societies. Suppose that, in a free country, your boss orders you to do something highly unethical. Your conscience objects and you can refuse; but what if you live in a collectivist country? There, your individual integrity is worse than useless; it only gets in the way of doing what the state demands. If you want to advance, or even keep your current job, you must ignore that integrity; bury it so deeply that nobody will even suspect it exists. You must never oppose the state, no matter what it demands of you. The state and only the state will decide what is good and what is bad; and the only question will be if it helps advance the state. If it does, anything goes, and you may not question your orders. Everything from small lies to murder of opponents is fair game. Indeed one prominent “manual of tactics” for collectivists explicitly states that action for the masses must supersede conscience; ethical standards must stretch with the times.[1]

This is a conflict of interest – big time. Monopolistic government decides what is right and what is wrong, and that same government benefits from what it decides. Historically in this country, churches and philosophers have taught right from wrong, then government made laws on that basis. When government declares that it has a monopoly on deciding right and wrong, the potential damage is again unlimited. Government, unrestrained by independent thinkers, will decree a ”morality” to its own benefit.

Up the Statist Ladder
Who can move up in such a system? Not the man who insists on mercy, kindness, and treating everybody with respect. No, promotions go to the ruthlessly obedient, to the person who obeys without question. If he has a conscience at all, he has learned to ignore it. This is tailor made for the psychopath. Murder, deception, anything to carry out the wishes of the state, it won’t bother him at all. Non-psychopaths can advance only if they have, as the Bible says, “their conscience seared with a hot iron.”[2] The psychopath has no conscience to sear.

It is no accident that the Stalins, the Castros, the Hugo Chavez types rule the statist countries of this world. They and only they are willing to do what is necessary to advance in such systems. Their only ethic is power and serving themselves. Our collectivist friends are fooling themselves when they think that tyrants rule only by accident in statist countries.

An Attack of Conscience?
And what if someone in the ruling circle of a statist country should have an attack of conscience? Will he dare voice his doubts? Not if he is wise. Even if the others in that ruling circle agree with him, they will not dare say so out loud. Instead they will ostracize him, probably purge him and send him to the gulag.

Leon Trotsky learned that lesson the hard way. Though still a committed communist, he opposed Stalin's version of communism. Stalin first removed him from office, then exiled him, and finally murdered him and his family. Nor did that sort of enforced groupthink end with Stalin's death; statists continue to murder dissidents abroad. For example, in 2006 Alexander Litvinenko died a painful death in London, poisoned by polonium-210 after he had the temerity to defect from Russia and to speak out against his former bosses.[3]
Groupthink is mandatory in a statist country. Nobody dares express any thought contrary to the accepted doctrine. The entire group may want change, but nobody will dare mention it aloud. The status quo stays stuck on quo, no real progress allowed. And that status quo includes repression of the people.

Collectivist Rulers
Put all the above together and what have we got? Statist or collectivist rulers self-selected from the dregs of humanity. They obtain power by unethical actions, and they punish their fellow-man for any desire for freedom. Even should they have a change of heart, they find themselves trapped, forced to continue those unethical actions. The survivors, the people who reach the top, are the people willing to lie, steal, spy, deceive, and otherwise cheat to acquire and retain their power. Some are psychopaths; some have just learned to ignore their conscience. All place their own desires above the good of the country.

Castro in Cuba, Allende in Chile, Stalin in the USSR, the Kim family in North Korea, Chavez in Venezuela, all those and more got their power by actions that would violate the conscience of most free people. It is no surprise that their selfish desires continue to govern their lives. As it must in any collectivist country, the sour cream rises to the top, and there it stays.

Next, we shall consider specifically the sour cream in the United States. Mercifully, that will probably be my last blog on this topic.

[1]      Alinsky, op cit. P25, 30-31. The entire second chapter of that book tries to show that normal ethics can be ignored to reach the goals of the collectivist organizers
[2]     Holy Bible, 1 Tim 4:2

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 6 (Psychopaths)

[This continues the series of excerpts from Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.]
The Poison Cream

“It's all about me, and nothing is my fault.” That could be the motto of any narcissist, but especially of the psychopath. Not all psychopaths are violent. Some are white-collar criminals. Some stay within the law, though seldom within normal ethical boundaries – and they fool people with ease. The white-collar psychopath is a talented deceiver. He uses his personality, his mind, and his silver tongue to separate people from their money, to acquire high-paying jobs, or to reach positions of power. He is the ultimate narcissist; and as far as can be determined he has, literally, no conscience. He is, however, charming, persuasive, often charismatic – and a world-class liar. He could run a red light, hit your car, and convince you that it was your fault. He is “cream” that is not only sour, it is poisonous – and he uses that characteristic to climb the ladder of power.

Psychopaths are almost certainly over-represented in political office. They like power, and their charm and lack of conscience help them obtain it.[1] They use that charm to distract citizens from the real issues, and to gloss over illogical thinking. They appear so wonderful that we seldom notice their logical fallacies, dishonesty, and other problems. Should we notice those defects, they are good at diverting our attention, making us ignore obvious problems.

The political psychopath is essentially a white collar criminal, expert at manipulating others. He is outgoing and makes friends easily, though the friendships are often short-lived. He creates an image of himself as a wonderful and inspiring leader – and inspiring he is! He collects dedicated followers who fail to think critically. He will typically have a group of pawns and patrons who pave his way to advancement. Those pawns and patrons refuse to believe any evidence against him.[2] He gets things done, but seldom to the betterment of the country. His motivation is his own selfish ends, and he will do what it takes to reach those ends. Our liberty depends on keeping him out of office.

How can we, citizens untrained in psychology, recognize the psychopath? Sorry, we can't. Even those qualified to diagnose the condition cannot do so at a distance. That is the bad news. The good news is that we do not need a solid diagnosis. We need only know that a candidate has signs consistent with the condition. Any candidate having most of the characteristics of psychopathy is qualified only for rejection, be he a true psychopath or not.

Psychopaths are described as “without conscience, incapable of empathy, guilt, or loyalty to anyone but themselves.”[3] They will have most of the following traits:

Lack of remorse
Lack of empathy
Refusal to accept responsibility
Lack of goals
Poor behavioral control
Adolescent antisocial behavior
Adult antisocial behavior[4]

Those traits are red flags, the growl before the dog bites. They warn us to avoid the candidate, though the personality of the psychopath distracts from that warning. Note, however, that lack of goals will not show up in the political psychopath. That psychopath does not lack goals, he has very ambitious goals – all relating to himself.

Psychopaths may even fool the experts. For example, a former policewoman with psychological training worked on a crisis line two nights a week. She prided herself on her “ability to detect aberrance in other humans – both because [she] had that innate skill and through experience and training.” She was greatly impressed with a wonderful young man who worked with her. Even when evidence of heinous crimes emerged, she had difficulty accepting his guilt.

The former policewoman was crime writer Ann Rule. Her young coworker was Ted Bundy, one of the most prolific and cruel serial killers in U.S. history.[5]

Like Ted Bundy, non-violent psychopaths and similar people are world-class deceivers; they will snare us unless our caution matches their deception, unless we look beyond the facades. Difficult though it may be, we must keep psychopaths and similar people far away from positions of power.

At present psychopathy is poorly understood, even the terminology is a bit uncertain. Psychopathy, sociopathy, personality disorder, and perhaps others names can apply. We know neither its cause it nor how to treat it. Indeed we know of no good way to recognize it. That lack of knowledge is a disadvantage, but with care we can keep such people out of office. Research is ongoing; maybe by the time you read this we will know more.

Next we will discuss why the perverse have an advantage in seeking power.

[1]  Although this is a popular treatment, it does draw on some research. However as far as I can determine, research in this area is still in its infancy.
[2]      Paul Babiak, PhD and Robert D. Hare, PhD, Snakes in Suits, When Psychopaths go to Work, Harper 2006. Those characteristics are described throughout the book.
[3]      Ibid, p19
[4]      Ibid, p17
[5]     Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me, Pocket Books 1989, pxxxvi. Note that this book has been re-published several times with added information and commentary each time. Previous editions may lack this particular quote.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 5

[This is the fifth part of a continuing series, excerpting Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.]

Paving the Way for Tyranny

In the latter part of the 1980s Nancy Foner studied nursing homes by volunteering in a non-profit home regarded as above average. She noted two nursing aides, Gloria and Ana. Gloria was mean and abusive to the residents. She would yell at them, order them to eat, and even went so far as to leave an immobile resident in an awkward and precarious position, supposedly as a joke. Another aide intervened and prevented a possible fall. Ana, on the other hand, was kind. She called one resident “Mama” and gently coaxed her to eat.  She applied makeup to a resident who was unable to move her arms, and showed other kindnesses to those elderly residents.

It is obvious which care-giver most of us would prefer, but what did the nursing home administration do? Gloria was highly regarded and even put in charge when the supervising nurses were away. Ana? She was constantly in trouble, reprimanded for taking the time to be kind to the residents. Ana failed to meet bureaucratic regulations while Gloria complied to the letter.[1]

That, on a small scale, demonstrates how bureaucratic rules give advantage to the heartless and punish people for kindness and personal integrity. Government unrestrained lives by those bureaucratic rules and provides a similar advantage to heartless power-seekers. They are the people willing and able to manipulate the system for their own advantage.

Personality Problems

What kind of person is attracted to politics or other positions of power, and has what it takes to obtain that power? Be it a candidate for high school class secretary, president of the United States, or prime minister of some socialist country, what is that person like? Most likely he is an extrovert. He thrives on attention, and people are attracted to him. The contemplative, less extroverted type is easy to overlook – and much less likely to seek public office. That biases elections toward the extroverts, the back-slappers, the charismatic. They get people excited – but then what? Are such people the best leaders? Allow me to tell you about one of them.

I stood at ease with the other soldiers, enthralled as the commandant of the jump school spoke. One of the most effective teachers I ever had the pleasure to meet, he not only helped us learn the techniques of parachute jumping, he motivated us to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, a thousand feet above the ground. His charisma was amazingly effective, both as a teacher and as a motivator. Because of that charisma he never got another promotion.

In a previous assignment he commanded a brigade of paratroopers. The wind was blowing, hard enough that regulations prohibited airborne operations. You can guess where this is going. Yes, he got his troops fired up. They were tough paratroopers; a little wind wouldn't bother them. Let the wimps follow that silly rule. Out of the C-130s they went – two of them to their deaths. His charisma, unrestrained by wisdom, was dangerous as long as he was commanding officer.

Charisma can be a problem. Timothy Judge of the University of Florida business school says that being an extrovert is correlated with being chosen as a leader, but not with being a good leader. “We go for these effervescent leaders when what's really needed is a dull, focused, plodding [type] building effective groups and organizations.”[2] Leadership requires two distinct but unrelated abilities. First and most important, the leader must make wise decisions. Second, he must motivate people to act on those decisions. Motivation without wisdom only leads people to Hell faster. It is the demagogue, the potential tyrant, who is most likely to motivate without wisdom.

 Charisma attracts votes. It also causes people to act without thinking. Extroverts are the people likely to win elections, but not the most likely to make good decisions. The only possible solution is for voters to pay more attention to substance and less to image.

Beyond Personality
There are two opposite reasons for [supporting democracy]. You may think that all men are so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice... On the other hand you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. (C.S. Lewis)

Charisma alone does not a successful politician or tyrant make. The life of the party, the guy who entertains co-workers, the neighbor who enthralls us with his stories, all spice up our lives without seeking office. Political power requires something more. Not every charismatic wants political office, and even many who have such desires lack the requisite drive. The people who obtain that kind of power pay a price to get it.
Be it a democracy or a dictatorship, advancement requires determined effort, including acquisition and organization of supporters. In a democracy, those supporters are voters and the campaign workers who convince those voters. In a dictatorship supporters must be those already in power, or people with the ability, often military ability, to overthrow those in power. In either system, competitors must be removed or rendered powerless. Only the most able and determined reach the top. That ability and determination can be used either to advance freedom or to enslave the people.

Who has the motivation, the drive, to make that effort? Only those most committed to their goals. Some of course want to help others. Some want power. Some are worse than others but all have a tendency to run roughshod over competition to reach their goals. 
Next time we shall discuss the worst of the worst in government rulers, the “cream” that is not only sour, it is downright poisonous.

[1]      Howard, op cit, pp78-79

[2]      U.S. News and World Report, November 2009, p26

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 4 - A Demagogue

[This is the forth part of a continuing series, excerpting Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom.]

Ceylon, 4 February 1948. One hundred elephants, decked out with white pantaloons and ruby necklaces. Golden-robed chieftains. Maidens and bare-chested youths dancing with bells on their ankles. All are celebrating freedom from British rule. Even Britain's Royal Duke & Duchess of Gloucester join the celebration. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake raises the Lion Flag.  Ceylon, later known as Sri Lanka, is no longer a British colony.[1] The celebration goes on for a week. Optimism reigns, and why not? The economy is good, the people educated, and the two ethnic/religious groups get along well

Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), 1984. Civil war rages, the culmination of decades of turmoil and discrimination. Peace and optimism? Only distant memories. The misery of war goes on. Why?

Before we look at the cause, we need to know a little about that new country. The population consisted largely of minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese, differing in religion and language as well as ethnicity. The better-educated Tamils held a majority of government positions. The Sinhalese, whose native territory was more fertile than that of the Tamils, gravitated to agriculture. During the colonial period that worked well, there was essentially no animosity between the two groups.

Enter the demagogues, prime culprit one Solomon Bandaranaike. Sinhalese by birth, raised as a Christian and educated at Oxford, he did not even speak Sinhalese until he decided on a “divide and conquer” strategy to gain power. He converted to Buddhism, learned Sinhalese, and became an extremist for the Sinhalese language, culture, and religion. He used the classic technique of the demagogue: create a victim class, then stir up that class against its supposed oppressors. If done “right” the “victims” do not even think about why they lack the advantages of their “oppressors,” they simply follow the demagogue.

Bandaranaike did it “right.” He had little in common with the low-paid people he claimed to represent, but he promised to help them against the Tamil “oppressors.” It worked. He became prime minister, then set out to increase his power by more demagoguery, more blaming of the Tamils for all the country's ills.

With the populace polarized, peace fled. The Sinhalese took complete control of the government and only Sinhalese was allowed as a government language. Other demagogues piled on, treating the Tamils as outcasts and restricting them from education and employment. Government power increased and freedom was restricted – steps toward serfdom. The rulers confiscated and attempted to manage businesses, predictably worsening the economy. All the fault of the Tamils, of course.

The Tamils complained and trouble brewed. Bandaranaike finally realized that he had gone too far, but fanaticism unleashed is a wildfire in dry brush. Attempts at compromise came too late.

Eventually poetic justice prevailed. Bandaranaike died at the hand of his own creation, assassinated by a Buddhist fanatic who believed he had not gone far enough. His death did not end the trouble. Ethnic strife fed on itself and unleashed a civil war that lasted until 2009.[2] At least that was its official end; racial strife torments those poor people to this day.

Bandaranaike is only one example. Milosevic caused similar problems in the former Yugoslavia. Hugo Chavez used class division to gain and maintain power in Venezuela. Others created similar tyrannies. Compiling a reasonably complete list would take more time than I want to spend, nor would you want to read such an account. This blog is depressing enough already.

Any politician who bases his campaign on emotions, class division and similar distractions should get a big boot in the backside. We must think carefully about the type of people we are electing. Demagogues tend to rise to the top in any statist system, or even in free governments if we allow them to do so. Power attracts them, and they are willing to do what it takes to obtain that power. If we understand their motives and methods, we will be better able to counteract them. What gives demagogues the ability to advance at our expense? Next time we will look at that.

[2]      Thomas Sowell, Affirmative Action Around the World, An Empirical Study,Yale University Press, 2004, pp78-79, 85-89

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 3

This is a continuation of the two previous posts here.

Passions.  Prejudices.  Loaded words. Meaningless words. Imprecise words. Implying that aberrations are the norm. Behind a smokescreen constructed of such deception lurks the demagogue. With appeal to emotion he obscures reason. With loaded, meaningless, or imprecise words he persuades the unthinking. With passion and prejudice he sets us against each other. Making isolated aberrations appear the norm, he divides and conquers. Power is his goal and he cares not for the trouble he causes. Adolf Hitler plunged the world into the most destructive war in history. Jim Jones led his followers into mass suicide. Pol Pot created a hell on earth for his people. Other demagogues have caused similar problems.

Nor is the U.S exempt. Campaign ads and slogans typically appeal to emotions but say little or nothing. “Hope and change?” Hope for what? Socialism? Freedom? Tax-funded gifts to everyone? That was left to the voters' imaginations. Change? That could mean anything from absolute dictatorship to anarchy. The slogan was meaningless.

Are Republicans exempt? Hardly. I remember a full-page ad with the republican candidate's name in large print, along with the office he was seeking. It showed him beside a tractor with a farm in the background. A nice, pretty picture – and nothing else. Not a word about his qualifications or what he expected to do if elected. What did that tell the voters? Nothing! All image, no substance.

Pick a politician at random; look at his campaign slogan and advertising. Chances are it will have no real meaning. If you want to know his qualifications and intent you have to look elsewhere – and really work to get the information.

Nor is this limited to politicians. We have race baiters and others who encourage us to jump to conclusions before the facts are in. By so doing, they distract us from the more important issues while gaining power or money for themselves.

In Chapter 5 [of Freedom or Serfdom?] we discuss the false rape accusations involving Tawana Brawley, the rape charges against the Duke Lacrosse Team, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Those cases became national scandals, to the detriment of the falsely accused and even of at least one witness who refused to toe the party line. The race-baiting demagogues picked those isolated cases and used them to present an overblown perception of racism – while lining their own pockets and enhancing their own celebrity.

Meanwhile, the greatest danger to Blacks is not white men or police, but other black men. Of every thousand Blacks murdered, some 930 are killed by other Blacks.[1] That fact holds the key to prevention of many murders, yet it is hardly ever publicized. That is not to say that prejudice does not exist, it does. It is only to say that the major cause of Blacks being murdered is not white on black prejudice, but the behavior of some Blacks. Failure to address that problem sentences many young Blacks to death.

Unless we ignore the demagoguery and demand real information, we will fall victim to misinformation and bigotry. It may or may not become as bad as what happened in Ceylon, but it will harm us.

Next time I'll discuss an example of demagoguery, what happened in Ceylon/Sri Lanka


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 2

This is Part 2 of the series. In part 1 I promised to correct an erroneous belief about the dangerously powerful. Here it is, continuing to excerpt from my book, Freedom or Serfdom? The Case for Limited, Constitutional Government and Against Statism:

“We're for the people, they're for the powerful.” During the 2000 presidential election, that was Al Gore's campaign slogan. It was a lie. Gore wanted to increase the already stifling power of the most powerful organization in the country. He and other demagogues would have us ignore the real power, the danger that threatens our freedom. They distract us with attacks on lesser threats while they increase the most dangerous power of all.

Statists claim, without evidence, that corporations and the wealthy are dangerously powerful. They never mention the most powerful entity of all: the federal government. If we really want freedom we must limit that government power. Statists want to go the opposite direction. They propose a transfer of power from individuals and businesses to a monopolistic government. That is a change not just in location, but in the very nature of power. No corporation can force people to obey its edicts, but the humblest government bureau can do just that. And the bureaucracy has no competition.

You don't like General Motors cars? Fine, buy a Ford, a Dodge or a Toyota. In fact, you need not buy a car at all. But what if you don't like the type of baby crib that the Consumer Product Safety Commission approves? Tough, nothing else is available. Or you don't like your local school system? At least you are allowed to send your children to private school – but in most cases you must still pay the government school, just as though you were sending your children there.

The power of government is inherently different from what any corporation or other private entity can have. It is a concentrated power, with no competition. Even if that government is not run by demagogues, it will have power over our lives that corporations can only dream of. The exception is the crony capitalists, those corporations in alliance with government and which get their power from government. For example, many insurance companies expect to gain more customers as Obamacare forces people to buy insurance. Such abuses will increase as government power increases. The potential damage is unlimited.

Our Defense Against the Nefarious
What can we do about it? There are two defenses. First, we must jealously defend constitutional, limited government. Limiting government power will limit the damage any demagogue can do. Second, we must carefully examine political candidates and reject the demagogues and the power hungry. That last may be difficult; often we face an unhappy choice between two statists. Sometimes we have to hold our noses and vote for the lesser of evils.

And we must stay in contact with our representatives. They want to get re-elected; they will pay attention if the voters demand it. One state senator gave some friends of mine a lesson on that fact. They had been in the state capital testifying against a bill. After hours of that, the senator finally took pity on them. She took them aside and said in effect, “You need to understand that we don't care about your charts and statistics. What we care about is getting re-elected.”

If we make it clear to politicians that their re-election depends on defending freedom, they will respond. As described in Chapter 10, we must maintain our Constitution by constant vigilance, and by keeping our representatives on a short leash.

The first line of defense is keeping demagogues out of office. The second is constant oversight of our hired help.

In the next part of this series, we'll look at how demagogues work and how we can keep them out of power.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 1

(Note: this and some subsequent blogs are excerpts from Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom, The Case for Limited, Constitutional Government and Against Statism.)

People took the favorable developments [created by freedom] for granted. They forgot the danger to freedom from a strong government. Instead they were attracted by the good that a stronger government could achieve – if only government power were in the “right” hands. (Milton & Rose Friedman)

That's all we need, leaders wise enough to manage all the complicated details involved in big government, and moral enough to work for the benefit of the people rather than for their own selfish interests. Do you know of such people? If so, please tell the rest of us where to find them and how to put them in positions of power and keep them there. Meanwhile, government officials will come from the people actually available in this imperfect world. Some are well-intentioned and wise. Some are well intentioned but foolish. Some are tyrants. Perfection eludes them all.

In fact our leaders come from a self-selected group: from people who seek positions of power and who have the ability to obtain that power. Some honestly seek the welfare of the country; some seek their own selfish ends. Do they have greater wisdom and integrity than the rest of us? History regards that question as a bad joke. Rulers, especially statist rulers, are seldom paragons of wisdom and integrity. This is most obvious among the dictators of the world, but even free countries are often plagued by the perverse.

Types of Statists
Statist rulers vary in cussedness. There are the “soft dictator” or “overprotective parent” types who genuinely want what is best for the people. They impose their own ideas on the country, from controlling what is in school lunches to forcing citizens to save for retirement and to buy health insurance, even telling them what that insurance must cover and that they must put retirement savings in a government run system. To “help and protect” the people, the soft dictator will set up a nanny state, including systems that provide oversight of the population – you cannot protect the people from themselves without some means of controlling them. That fosters dependence and prepares a people to acquiesce to whatever the authorities decree.

At the other extreme is the slave master such as the Kim family in North Korea or the Duvaliers in Haiti. They treat their people as property, forcing them to support extravagant life styles for the elite. And should a slave master take over a soft dictatorship, he will inherit the existing nanny state mechanisms and turn them into tools of tyranny.  Overprotected citizens, like overprotected children, are easily misled.

So what kind of people rise to the top in a collectivist country? Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and others. Misery makers all, they ruled with iron fists and treated their people, not as citizens to be served, but as pawns to use as they saw fit. Why are so many collectivist rulers despots? Is that accidental, or do the tyrannical have some advantage in the quest for power? We shall see why the latter is true.

Sour Cream
“The cream rises until it sours.” The delightful book, The Peter Principle, uses that term to describe employees who get promoted into jobs they cannot do. There they stay, ineligible for further promotion. That is an interesting and useful concept, but not our concern here. We are concerned with the “cream” that is sour before it rises, the cream that rises because it is sour. Control freaks, tyrants, people who would force their ideas on others. Those people are the “sour cream,” who obtain power because they want to control the rest of us.

Honey attracts flies.

Money attracts the greedy.

Government attracts the power-hungry.

That is just the way things are. And the more powerful the government, the more it will attract those of tyrannical mindset.

There are two reasons despots rise to the top in statist systems. First, they want that power – badly. Second, they are willing to do what it takes to reach the top, ethics be damned. Their favorite tool is demagoguery, which we shall discuss shortly. However we should first correct a common misconception, an erroneous belief about the dangerously powerful.

(Continued next time)