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In Defense of ‘Seditious Traitors’

The Constitution should be up and running again in no time

The Siege (1998)

Not long ago, a poll by the British outfit YouGov purported to demonstrate that roughly a third of Americans could imagine a scenario under which they would support a military coup against the U.S. government. I say “purported” because any question that asks respondents if they “can imagine” a scenario is dependent for its results on whatever alien invasion scenarios or political fever dreams people might cook up. Still, YouGov did come up with some interesting data:

The proportion of the country that would support a military takeover increases when people are asked whether they would hypothetically support the military stepping in to take control from a civilian government which is beginning to violate the constitution. 43% of Americans would support the military stepping in while 29% would be opposed.

And we have headlines! Or at least a press release to send around — which YouGov did.

An acquaintance promptly sent around an article about the poll, prompting this odd response by an old college classmate: “Interesting. Nearly 1/3 of Americans are seditious traitors? I find that surprising and alarming.”

I suggested that the problem might be a government that alienates huge swathes of the population, and that throwing names at the ticked off recipients to a survey wasn’t helpful.

Calling them seditious traitors is the literal truth. They support overthrowing the government, which would make them traitors, and since they’re ‘supporting’ it, I presume that means encouraging it, which is sedition. No hyperbole there.

I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I transitioned to explaining the legal requirements for treason and sedition charges under U.S. law, and that he might have a hard time making charges stick.

So we never got around to an important point: Even if he’d been right that “nearly 1/3 of Americans are seditious traitors,” would that have been the damning condemnation that he intended? Or just a description?

What is “sedition“?  It’s “overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order.” Likewise, “treason” is a more extreme point along the same continuum: “‘…[a]…citizen’s actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the [parent nation].’ In many nations, it is also often considered treason to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, even if no foreign country is aiding or involved by such an endeavor.’

In both cases, you can definitely see why governments would dislike sedition and treason, but they’re not like murder and rape, which are inherently wrong. The moral content of an act of sedition or treason is entirely dependent on the quality of its target. If a government is good, working to overthrow it is morally wrong; if it’s evil, committing sedition and treason against it might constitute your righteous deed for the decade.

Presumably, people contemplating seditious treason against the government have lost respect for the institution and think it might need to be tossed out. Pointing out their seditious, treasonous ways isn’t a criticism; it’s just a description. They’re potential revolutionaries intending to replace a government they dislike with one they think will be better.

You know, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and company.

This poses a problem for people like, I’ve come to realize, my old classmate, who personally identify with the state. They believe, like Bernie Sanders, that “The government, in a democratic society, is the people” and that if you resent intrusive officials in any way “You’re assuming that the government is some kind of foreign entity.” To them, to challenge the state is to challenge their sense of selves. That strikes me as freaky to the point of pathology, but it explains responding to the YouGov poll with charges of “treason” rather than a more reasonable, “I’m having trouble imaging a committee of colonels as a better alternative to anything.”

But much of the population does see government as an “other.” When it offends us, we no longer want to be subject to its abuses. That doesn’t mean that every “solution” somebody answering a survey might imagine is an improvement. But it does mean that contemplating something other than the political status quo is not a bad thing.

What Happens When Employers Decide That University Degrees Are Worthless?

With regard to the title of this post, we may be about to find out. The UK branch of Ernst & Young–one of the world’s top accounting firms and a major (and well-regarded) employer–is reducing the importance of higher education credentials as criteria in hiring. And the company isn’t doing it quietly–the move was trumpeted in an August 3, 2015 press release announcing that they’d “found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.” Instead of academic credentials, the company will emphasize its own assessments.

EY will remove academic qualifications from their entry criteria for their 2016 graduate, undergraduate and school leaver programmes, which open for applications today.

Students will no longer be required to have a minimum of 300 UCAS points (equivalent to 3 B’s) and a 2:1 degree classification to make an application. Instead, EY will use a new and enhanced suite of online ‘strengths’ assessments and numerical tests to assess the potential of applicants for 2016.

The HuffingtonPost UK reported earlier this year that PricewaterhouseCoopers, another large employer, made a similar announcement, wrapped in progressive verbiage.

I don’t know of any major U.S. employers making similar announcements about deemphasizing academic credentials in the hiring process, nor has anybody come out and said that university degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on (though the EY statement comes awfully close). It’s not hard to imagine, though, that the shift in the UK has its counterpart in the U.S.–both countries share similar concerns that academia has become divorced from reality. When even the liberal president of the United States denounces the stultifying political correctness of college campuses, there’s a big damned problem.

And Americans, at least, pay a soaring price for higher “education” that is being left behind not only in its respect for the values of an open society, but also in innovating to meet student needs in a changing world.

My guess is that PricewaterhouseCoopers and EY are only high-profile peeks at a change that is already underway, as employers lose respect for the value of college degrees and substitute other criteria in their hiring process. Some people will decry that as anti-intellectual, but it’s not. Too many jobs have come to require college degrees in recent decades–an expensive and unnecessary hurdle in most cases. When my father became a stock broker back in the 1970s, anybody who could study and sit for the exam was welcome. The later addition of a bachelor’s degree as a requirement did nobody any favors, and dropping it won’t be the end of the world.

And then, maybe, colleges will have to choose between providing actual value to intellectually curious students who want a real education, or else further degenerating into insane asylums for voluntary inmates.

Either way, research and inquiry will continue among people who want to understand and engage with the world. But that sort of activity may have to switch venues.

Is Bitcoin the Key to Evading Capital Controls?

My first post-staff weekly column is up at Reason.com, and it’s about the potential cryptocurrencies show for dodging capital controls and evading the worst effects of intrusive monetary policy. Some news reports suggest that it’s already happening in Greece, and on a small scale it probably is. But I suspect those headlines resulted from financial journalists looking at the situation and figuring out how they would hedge risk and get money past the authorities. More people are likely to see and have access to those solutions in the future.

To read the full article, click “Bitcoin May Be Too Late for Greece, But Not Other Countries Headed In That Direction.”

Compassion Means Stealing Shit From People Who, Unlike You, Thought Ahead

You are welcome in the community if you have the secret Christian decoder ringYesterday, a Facebook “friend” (in the broad social media sense of the term) posted a brief musing about the current flurry of apocalyptic fiction.

If the apocalypse-books industry was a little less “arm yourself to the teeth so your family is the only one in town that doesn’t starve in our far-fetched psuedoscientific global economic collapse” and a little more “use battle-tested American Red Cross first aid and community response training to save as many people as possible during a plausible natural disaster scenario,” I’d have a lot more respect for it. I mean, I’m not going to be the guy who shoots some stranger’s kid over a can of string beans, and people who write books where they fantasize about that sort of thing scare me more than the idea of an actual apocalypse does.

Now, personally, I understand wishing writers catered more to my tastes. If the romance novel genre had more sex scenes and less heartwrenching relationship contrivance, I’d “have a lot more respect for it” too. In the morning, I mean. But romance novelists have hit on a formula that works, and they don’t need my respect. The same goes for apocalyptic fiction and my Facebook acquaintance’s complaints.

I’m also not entirely sure what this guy is talking about. I’ve read a few shit-hits-the-fan novels, and they boil down to ant-and-grasshopper morality tales, though the ant usually (unlike in the original fable) rises to the occasion to help out neighbors and rebuild a community. There are lots of books and lots of takes, of course, and maybe Facebook guy has a specific dude-in-his-bunker book in mind. But the granddaddy of the current apocalyptic fiction flurry is probably Patriots by James Wesley, Rawles (no, the comma isn’t an accident). Patriots, once you get past the use of “are you a Christian?” as the gag-inducing secret handshake of the economic collapse, focuses on people who planned ahead to survive the worst and reconnect with others.

Anyway, that’s an aside, the real point is that the first comment on this musing was:

If an apocalypse ever happens, I’m going to make it my sole mission in life to gather together an enormous mob of people to take out all the survivalists, and then use all of their stockpiles to build a socialist utopia.

And then Facebook guy answers, “I like the way you think!”

One utopia, coming up!

Photo by the U.S. Government

Why do I care? Because Facebook guy is a civil liberties columnist and advocate. In fact, he inherited a civil libertarian gig I had years ago, though he writes from more of a progressive/SJW perspective. He’s also very active as a political lefty in his community (the one that preppers apparently plan to barricade the doors against). This progressive “civil libertarian” perspective apparently includes the idea that if people have more foresight than you and put aside some provisions for hard times, it’s OK to gang together with other dumbasses who didn’t stick some canned soup in the pantry, kill the prepared types (I’m interpreting “take out” by its usual usage), steal their shit, and use the stuff to impose your preferred political and economic system on the survivors. This is a whole step beyond just wishing the SHTF fiction genre was nothing more than a series of boring tracts about the Red Cross’s good deeds. I’d have to turn my bitching about romance novels into a rape fantasy to achieve the equivalent, and I’m not a sufficiently shitty human being to do that.

To give this guy his due, he does advocate for civil liberties in an effective way on a lot of issues. He’s generally very good on police abuse, search and seizure, and free speech. But it’s interesting how overtly thuggish a professional civil liberties advocate can be in an unguarded moment–to the point of high-fiving the idea of mass violence and totalitarian impositions against those who rub him the wrong way.

Is there a take-away here?

Yeah. Be very cautious of those who set themselves up as guardians of your liberty. You never know when their personal preferences in some other area will overcome their regard for your freedom.

Oh, and I know Fifty Shades of Grey has sex scenes. I just can’t… No thanks.

Jim Bovard Digs High Desert Barbecue

Recently, the most excellent journalist and scrutinizer of creatures governmental, James Bovard, had some kind things to say about High Desert Barbecue. In a review on his blog, he described the novel as “a zesty subversive romp through the woods and deserts of northern Arizona.” He goes on to write:

It is hard not to like a book that warns readers in the preface to not “use this novel as a hiking guide.” One can easily understand why the author resettled in that part of the world. Ridge lines stocked with Ponderosa Pines sound far more pleasant than either the Capital Beltway or the New York subway. The novel sparkles with a spirit of resistance to oppressive authority that is rarely encountered on the East Coast.

If you’ve read any of Bovard’s boooks, you know that he does an excellent job of dissecting the foibles and (more often) horrors committed by the state and its enablers. His latest work, Public Policy Hooligan, describes his journey to where and who he is today.

I appear on RT to discuss matters of military corruption and intoxication

After a disturbing video turned up of military contractors in Afghanistan blotto on booze and ketamine (and what good is a war zone if there’s no party?), I was invited on RT to discuss that matter and the tangentially related issue of corruption in the awarding of military contracts. If the discussion seems a little disjointed, it’s likely because anchor Liz Wahl was having technical difficulties. I suspect she couldn’t hear me at all, so I think she carried it off pretty well.

Live and learn

You’ll notice that Disloyal Opposition looks a tad different today. Well … Many years ago, I was warned to back up my files before screwing around with anything computer-related. This morning, I noticed that WordPress had a number of pending updates sitting in the queue, waiting my approval. I wanted to get on with my current project with minimal delay, so approve I did. Without backing up files.

It seems that the updated version of my WordPress theme conflicts with … something. I don’t know what, and I’m not so in love with the theme that I care to troubleshoot and dig through code. And, since I didn’t backup my files, I can’t roll back to the old version.

So I chose a new theme that includes the features I want and doesn’t conflict with … something. I hope you like the new look.

In ‘The Churchill Memorandum,’ freedom comes with trade-offs

I’ve always had a weakness for “what-if” or “alternate-history” fiction — stories turning on random accidents removing people who would otherwise have become the major figures we know, or important decisions made in a way other than what history records, culminating in worlds very different from the one we inhabit. Of course, as with all books, some such efforts are more worthy of my time than others. I would very much like back the several hours I once spent on a Harry Harrison alternate Civil War novel that left me wishing I could scrape literary residue off my eyeballs and that the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind could bleach the plot from my memory.

Other alternate-history books, happy to say, are much better.

Sean Gabb’s The Churchill Memorandum (Kindle version here) is one of the more sophisticated, cynical and well-written takes on the alternative-history theme that I’ve read. Imagine a version of the 1950s in which Nazi Germany still exists, as a superpower, but has followed a path similar to that taken by China in our world: some political loosening, a lot of economic liberalization, and a complete about-face on anti-semitism (Hitler died before implementing the Holocaust, or embarking on World War II). The other major superpower is Great Britain, which remains mostly free, prosperous and still settled in its colonial ways and attitudes.

In this alternate world, America is a second-rate power under the rule of Harry Anslinger, of alcohol- and, later, drug-prohibition fame. While almost a laughable figure now, Anslinger at his height was a dangerous and fanatical creature, and his fictional regime strikes me as a likely extrapolation of the real man’s style, if he’d succeeded to such power. The reason for that twist is the driving force for this novel, as young historian Anthony Markham — more snobbily English than thou as he compensates for his frowned-upon homosexuality and ethnically mixed heritage — is drawn into an international conflict over the possession of a document penned by the (in alternate reality) obscure Winston Churchill, revealing just how the world was divvied up and the U.S. pushed into totalitarianism and international irrelevance.

Markham technically violates one of my rules for fiction, which call for a main character with whom I can identify, or is at least likable. He’s too cowardly and self-involved to satisfy that requirement. But he’s written with such humor, and required to run such a gauntlet of trying circumstances, that it’s easy to forgive his flaws — especially when he longs for another shot of morphine to carry him through the inevitable next set of tribulations.

Familiar twentieth-century figures abound in this world — though in appropriately skewed ways. German prosperity can be attributed to the political ascendancy of economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Ayn Rand is an imprisoned dissident in the U.S., and young Margaret Roberts is being groomed for an unprecedented future as a woman prime minister.

Americans unfamiliar with British political or journalistic life should keep Google handy to look up the names of conspirators willing to use the most brutal means to win or keep political power in this alternate U.K. Gabb’s treatment of his characters suggests a well-informed insight into the personal failings of their real-world counterparts.

As you might guess from some of the names dropped above, Gabb is a libertarian — director of the Libertarian Alliance in the U.K. He’s also an accomplished novelist; as Richard Blake, he’s authored the excellent Aelric series of historical novels set in the later Roman empire. And he’s a historian. The combination seems to have made him an author who cares about freedom, but is too aware of the realities of world events to believe that a world that he (and other British libertarians) might find more attractive than our own could have been achieved without important trade-offs.

The result is great entertainment and very much worthy of a read.

The Churchill Memorandum (Kindle)

The Churchill Memorandum (paperback)

A chill runs down my spine

I know that I’ve been distracted recently, so can I digress from my usually scholarly and restrained well-spoken self and say: I’m just a tad scared?

Seriously. Ben Bernanke seems to have adopted Kevin Bacon’s first movie appearance as his guide to holding a press conference, gold bugs look prescient as the dollar slides toward Weimar territory and Donald Trump … holy shit, Donald Trump?

It’s as if we’ve entered the period of the decline of the republic — but without the reliable money that kept the Gracchi brothers fat and happy. And without the cool architecture and classy duds, of course. It’s the fall of civilization, but with everybody sporting wife-beaters in a strip mall. Come to think of it, it’s the fall of something, but maybe not civilization.

I know that “the end is nigh” is a reliable fall-back for everybody who really means, “things were better when I was a kid,” but do we really have to flirt so closely with stupid and disastrous just to call me out as a false Cassandra?

Actually, I don’t think “the end is nigh” – but I do thing that suckage is here, and likely to stick around for a good, long while. Good times more often end with a whimper than a bang, and I expect that we’ll slog through the same. Our kids will be heading out in our cast-off suits for long-shot job interview number 197 — at a Tongan corporation (the new superpower in 2031) — and we’ll still be telling them that things will likely turn around soon.

Well, they could turn around, but we’re idiots.

I don’t feel optimistic about the future, if that’s not obvious from the above. But I think I and my progeny are relatively well-positioned to slink in the future — scathed, perhaps, but not destroyed. Family history records that we’re pretty adept at slipping across borders: Spain to Italy, Germany to Serbia, Italy to Argentina, Serbia to America, Argentina to … well … the Bronx (we don’t always choose well).

So descendants of mine are likely to skulk through the future, ignoring the powers-that-be, making their own way and prospering on the margins.

But, damn it, I’m stuck here and now!

Is post-partisanship just amoral or outright sociopathic?

There’s a certain hankering in American political culture for governing stripped of arguments and ideology, and dedicated to just getting things done. Of course, that overlooks important questions about what should get done and how it should be accomplished.

The current issue of Esquire contains what initially comes off as a journalistic blow-job titled, “Michael Bloomberg Will Save Us From Ourselves If Only We Let Him.” The piece starts off in the tone of just the latest eruption of can’t-we-just-get-along pining for a world in which people just let the government get on with the business of getting into our business without arguing over the propriety of the micro-controlling fever-dreams of the the sort of technocratic dominants who make the compulsively submissive journalists at national publications cream themselves.

But John H. Richardson’s Esquire piece is much more interesting, and much more revelatory, than that. In an article that continually portrays a politician who has absolute faith in his own rectitude, Richardson hints not just at the core of Bloomberg, but at the problem of non-ideological politics itself: “Bloomberg is the ultimate independent, the calm modern technocrat rooted in metrics and cleansed of ideology, come to drain the swamps of government with his amazing modern business-management techniques … unless he’s actually just an old-fashioned autocrat looking down on us from above and tinkering with our lives like a science experiment, stripping our noisy polis of all its native poetry.”

As Richardson suggests, the problem with pragmatism, technocracy and post-partisanship is that they breeze right by the important truth that all of our messy political arguments are rooted in real debates. These debates aren’t (or shouldn’t be) just cheerleading for Team Red or Team Blue — they’re about the wisdom and propriety of government programs that can massively affect the lives of millions of people. Stripped of fripperies, ideology is, at its core, morality as applied to the use of coercive government power. That means political debates are, or should be, arguments over the morality of political programs. Viewed in those terms, post-partisanship is arguably amoral, if not outright sociopathic.

I think most people understand this point. It’s not enough to put a technocrat in charge of getting that new facility down the road open on time and running efficiently if you haven’t yet had a full discussion over the fact that it’s a concentration camp and that forcing people into it may just be fundamentally evil.

So pining for non-ideological, pragmatic, post-partisan politics isn’t just missing the point, it’s an exercise in discarding what may well be the most important factor in the process.

Recently, the importance of ideological debates have been emphasized by research that shows that people with different political views possess very different moral foundations. So we’re not just arguing over the details, but over fundamentals. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, of the University of Virginia, has profiled the moral thinking of liberals, conservatives and libertarians. Of interest to me is that, in a recent paper, Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Roots of an Individualist Ideology he and his co-authors write that libertarians like yours truly place great emphasis on liberty as a value — scoring higher on economic liberty than conservatives and higher on social liberty than liberals. “[T]hey endorse a world in which people are left alone to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, and in which nations are not tied down by obligations to other nations. They also exceed both liberals and conservatives (but are closer to liberals) in endorsing personal or
lifestyle liberty.” By contrast, liberals tend to emphasize worries about harm, benevolence, and altruism, while conservatives are concerned with conformity, loyalty, and tradition. There’s overlap among all three groups, of course, but you can’t disregard not just the important differences in values among these three groups, but the likelihood that those values will come into conflict. As the paper states, “Libertarians may fear that the
moral concerns typically endorsed by liberals or conservatives (as measured by the MFQ) are claims that can be used to trample upon individual rights.” Liberals and conservatives may correspondingly see threats in the values held dear by others.

So political debate becomes ever-more clearly rooted in disagreements over the rightness or wrongness of using the power of the state in any given situation. It isn’t just squabbling over who should be in charge, but whether both the ends and means of proposed and existing policies are good, bad, or ambivalent.

Once we see how deep the moral fissures go, Bloomberg’s “pragmatism” becomes, if there was ever any doubt, an intolerance for points of view other than his own. He wants to use government power without entertaining discussions about right and wrong. That’s not non-ideological, it’s authoritarian.

And so it is with other calls for politics stripped of partisanship.

Incidentally, Haidt sees the Tea Party movement as driven more by a passion for “karma” than a desire for liberty. You can participate in his research here.