The Truth Shall Set You Free

A moment of blessed peace at long last. This location seems secure, and I have enough food and water to last a couple of weeks. This old computer looks like it’ll last long enough to get this down, and there’s actually a working dot-matrix printer in here, so I’ll be able to make a hard copy for after the generator kicks the bucket. Small favors, I suppose.

My name is Sam Wilson, and I survived the financial crash of 2008.

As you might expect, “survived” is a generous way of putting it. I was just lucky enough to on the ground out of the blast zone and just agile enough to get to a stocked 50s-era fallout shelter to wait out the burning snow that fell for what seemed like months after. Since then, I’ve spent most of my time off-horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, fishing where I can and raiding abandoned coastal towns under the cover of darkness. It ain’t exactly glamourous living, but it’s living. At least it was till I cracked my keel last October and had to bumble to shore in a leaky emergency zodiac. Since then, I’ve been busy dodging bandit gangs and the local “governments.” I have to admit that if it weren’t for the blue serge and matching caps, I’d have a hard time telling the difference. So at least there’s a little consistency in the world, eh?

Don’t get me wrong. There are still good people out there. Fine people. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them, or one of their descendants. You probably work the little good soil that remains, or haul in the small fish not made poison by the radioactive sea. Maybe you got nabbed by a press gang and you’re biding your time till you can make a break for it. Whatever the case may be, you deserve the right to know why you live in the world as she is and not in some alternate universe where the fields are still green and the cows don’t bleed orange.

I recall that it was early October. The United States still existed, and George W. Bush was her final President. A minor blip in long-term interest rates exposed some pretty serious problems with the way big-time bankers had been trading debt. An otherwise-minor rash of home foreclosures exposed a staggering amount of junk debt held by some pretty immense institutions. AIG alone was worth more at its peak than the whole of the Republic of Arkansas at the time I write this.

You know what the funny thing was? The funny thing was that they could have done something at the time. I remember the news reports that the Senate had drafted up an emergency bill that would have lent the few hundred billion dollars the big banks needed to stay afloat just long enough for them to clean house and get back on their feet. Damn thing never even got out of committee. Hell of a time for American governance to have a crisis of conscience if you ask me.

Do you know how a bullet works? At the business end, there’s a little projectile made of lead and usually jacketed in copper. Behind that is a charge of gunpowder. Behind the gunpowder is a wee little primer charge that explodes when you hit it with percussive force. Holding it all in place is a brass casing. The financial crisis was the gunpowder detonating, the trigger-pull was the mild drop in 30-year yields, but the primer charge was… well, for lack of a better term, it was broken kayfabe.

Kayfabe, for those of you too young to remember pro wrestling, is the carny’s art of peddling pleasant lies to the punters. It’s a shared fantasy. “Heels” pretend to be villains they’re not, and “Faces” pretend to be heroes as they cynically bilk the audience with staged fights and campy antics. And the audiences ate it up! Of course, when it was a bunch of entertainers doing it, you can take it or leave it. No one ever forced you to watch Hulk Hogan grip The Iron Sheik in his sweaty thighs. If it wasn’t your thing, you could just as easily go watch General Hospital or bake a cake, or take a flying leap off a short catwalk if that’s your thing. But politics? That’s a different kettle of herring. If you don’t buy into the kayfabe of politics, if you turn your back on the show, the show won’t turn its back on you. The costs of not maintaining the shared illusion are, well, look around you. Those shattered cities you can’t walk into? That’s what happens when you break political kayfabe, when you reject the lies that make the system work.

And that’s what folks started to do. It wasn’t the same old, same old, “he broke his campaign promises” kind of deal. We get that every election cycle. It was more a matter of, “they cannot possibly keep their campaign promises.” And you know the damndest thing? It happened in-camp. Partisan footsoldiers on both sides dropped their guidons. No one went to the caucuses or the primaries. The Democratic and Republican National Conventions were held in a guest room at the Philadelphia Best Western and the Fresno Arby’s, respectively. The viewership for the debates was statistically indistinguishable from zero. The American public would brook no more lies.

And it was the big lies just as surely as the little lies. Everyone already kind of knew that the President had next to nothing to do with the price of gas or the unemployment rate. Everyone already had a hunch that all the “getting America back to work” jargon was just rhetoric for protecting moneyed interests. Everyone already suspected that appeals to patriotism were cynical power grabs. But never before in US history had the public just thrown in the towel wholesale and refused to, say, accept that the local police had any legitimate authority, or that school boards could rightfully enforce truancy statutes. At the time, people still acknowledged a duty to the standing ordinances of civilization (don’t kill without cause, don’t steal, &c), but they withdrew their faith from all those government institutions. Employers kept their premises safe because they wanted healthy, happy employees, not because OSHA threatened to fine them. IRS agents were chased away at gunpoint… everywhere.

So when the financial crisis hit, it sort of followed that folks withdrew their faith from the Federal Reserve Note. “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private” rang hollow once all those private debts began to hollow out the already-thin reserves dusting the vault shelves. When the 2009 bank run happened, it wasn’t a pell-mell tilt to withdraw deposits, it was a run on metal. Those who could, rewrote contracts against gold or silver. Those who couldn’t (those with international shipping contracts, for example) were stuck with piles of irredeemable green paper. A lot of people were out a lot of fruitful exchange opportunities, but foreign trading partners were out the worst. And wasn’t it just our rotten luck that one of our stiffed partner’s finger just happened to be near that big, red, shiny, candy-like button?

We perished in atomic fire. All because we forgot that the lies are the system.

We forgot that we needed to pretend that prices have some solid, objective meaning. We forgot to pretend that obedience to law, capricious and idiotic though it may be, is what makes enforcement agents’ jobs tractable. We forgot to kid ourselves into thinking that trust and trustworthiness are somehow linked. We forgot to believe that the rules of society, despite being arbitrary historical artifacts, kept alive though custom and selective, intentional ignorance, are completely indispensable for institutional and social continuity.

We forgot to lie. We forgot to lie to each other, and we forgot to lie to ourselves. And the world burned because of it. The truth set us free. It set us free to loot, to pillage, to grab whatever we could carry. We dropped the thin civilizing lie that we have a sacrosanct duty to each other, that there was a “we” at all. We torched our saints, made hamburger of our sacred cows, chucked everything into the shitter apart from a ruthless, monomaniacal dedication to ourselves and ourselves alone.

And now our cities lie in radioactive dust.

My advice to anyone who finds this? Rediscover myth. Rediscover glamour. Rediscover the joy of the shared lie. Trust even when you have nothing but the fleeting flicker of hope. Love the hardest when you are unloved. Tell stories. Believe against the evidence of your senses. The alternatives? Well, on the bright side, you have nowhere to go but up.

Good luck, and may whatever God rises from the ashes of our fallen civilization bless you.

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Gentle Death

Those few of you who follow me elsewhere, or have known me long enough in person may be familiar with the part of my professional history spent in the deep dark, beneath the unforgiving winedark Pacific, of those sunless weeks lazily circling the crushing depths as we listened attentively for Command: Submarine Group 9 to order us to warm up the gyroscopes tucked neatly away inside the 20+ multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles that may or may not have been loaded inside the densely-packed silo that acted as de facto bulkheads separating crew quarters. You may have read the occasional post or two or heard me yammer on about the wide gulf between the boring, routine everyday reality of life underway and the civilization-destroying potential locked away in the fissile material at the heart of each warhead. You may have even listened as I rambled on about how every 18 hours or so, I would bravely attempt slumber in a bunk (aboard ship, they’re called “racks”, and I’m still not sure if the allusion to medieval torture devices is intentional or not) with the soles of my feet pressed up against a device, that if used for its intended purposes, is the most gentle, most kind, most humane method of killing millions of people ever devised.

Nuclear combat isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair, as depicted in late Cold War-era cinema (Dr. Strangelove, War Games, eg). Most folks know about low-yield warheads, and about the difference between a fusion device (H-bomb) and the garden-variety thermonuclear fission bomb, like the ones Truman directed dropped on two Japanese cities in 1945. Some folks will even already know what a high-altitude detonation will do (disrupt electronics, particularly communications, rather than kill enemy civilians). Most folks, especially those old enough to recall the 50s-era classroom filmstrips featuring the ever-so-helpful duck-and-cover advice, will know the difference between being in the blast radius and being in the fallout zone. What folks may not know is that for practical purposes, unless you actually live in the wilds of South Dakota, the probability of being in the blast zone of a detonation in a total nuclear war situation, the kind where my old boat would be instructed to launch its inarguable payload, is pretty dang high. If every capable nation on earth would empty the clip, so to speak, and you lived in, say, Gramercy Park, the chances that you’d turn to ash faster than the speed with which the pain signal can travel from the surface of your skin to the pain centers of your brain are better than, oh, I dunno, getting your hat blown off in a hurricane.

Adam misapprehends my sentiments.

If by Sam’s statement, he means that we cannot speak meaningfully of “good government” or that “good government” intrinsically involves fraud and injustice, then we disagree.

Violence is not injustice. Lies are not fraud. Not necessarily anyway. When I say that the lies and the violence ARE the system, I mean simply that as long as there are rewards to being cunning or wicked, there will be cunning, wicked men on earth. Peaceful, cooperative people require defense against the cunning and the wicked. Such defense is necessarily violent, and by the logic of coalition politics, it is often necessarily deceitful. Without measured, controlled, well-directed violence, there is chaos and social disorder. Sometimes this means stuffing a couple dozen or so ICBMs inside a big steel tube and sending it out on the most dread of all possible missions. Most of the time, it means issuing select members of the community a badge and instructing them to enforce the law as she is written.

The lies and the violence ARE the system. When the system is working as advertised, this is greatly to the advantage of the peaceful and the cooperative. In very broad terms, two things can end you up on the wrong end of the truncheon: (1) the system stops working as advertised, or (2) you turn to wickedness and cunning. The counter-protests that have arisen since I wrote the post that Adam excoriated seem to suggest that the civilian protesters believe in (1) and the police counter-protesters believe in (2). I’ve written elsewhere on what I believe to be the source of the discontent, and I stand by my remarks. If legislation makes criminals of us all, we must expect that the police, who are indeed the enforcement arm of the legislature, shall with some probability and when sufficiently provoked, exercise physical force against us. This is the very essence of their jobs. We specifically hire police to be violent on our behalf. Similarly, we commission ballistic missile submarines to mutually assure the annihilation of civilization, if not all human life everywhere. It’s right there, black ink on white paper, front and center in the description.

I’m asking my GMU comrade Sam Wilson, and anyone else who might happen to read this lengthy bit of Internet rambling, to take the task of specifying a model of good government seriously. Or at minimum, take seriously the idea that such a specifically is possible, and abandon the tempting but corrosive rhetoric of negation.

This is the challenge, isn’t it? James Buchanan won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work on specifying models of good government. He was a relentless champion of the power of constitutions to constrain the ambitions of the sovereign. I would desperately like to agree with him, but I have a difficult time accepting the proposition that the US Constitution acts as a hard behavioral constraint at all. What would I substitute in its place? What tools do we have to ensure good governance? Well, when I come up with a slam-dunk plan, I’ll post it here first so that we can get all that sweet Web traffic in advance of my own Nobel Committee recognition. In lieu of that, I’ll continue to ask my readers to take seriously the import of petitioning the sovereign for redress of grievances. Each statute is, in the limit, a death sentence for truculent offenders. It can be worth killing to preserve good law and order, as it can be worth risking scouring the earth of every trace of human life to avoid, what, Communism I guess? Unfortunately, my experience parsing survey data suggests that typical respondents routinely fail to acknowledge the explicit consequences of legislation: that it must ultimately be backed by lethal force to have any meaning at all.

The lies and the violence ARE the system. The trick is for citizens of good conscience, of peaceful mien, of gentle disposition to use lies and violence to quell the cruel disorder that would be wrought by the intemperate, the deranged, the wicked. Part of this trick is to kindly ask of my fellow citizens to think deeply, think carefully on the nature of violence in society, much as I once did snuggled comfortably between the orange tubes that contained the most gentle death the imagination of mankind has ever brought forth upon this earth.

The Virtue of Sausage-Making(NSFW)

Was reading some of Sam’s stuff here and here and David’s here, and I got to thinking.

Specialization and trade is a(the?) source of our wealth. By being able to outsource much of what we had been historically forced to do to just live to others, while focusing our highly adaptable monkey brains on fewer tasks, we’ve been able to attain a standard-of-living not imaginable to our ancestors. I do not have to sew my own clothing. I do not have to butcher my own meat. I do not have to brew my own beer. I do not have to bake my own bread.

Awesome.

There are plenty of DIY and back-to-the-earth-types who ascribe a certain moral goodness to doing these things by one’s own hands. I don’t cotton to that particular thinking, but there’s something there worth investigating. One doesn’t need to have a hand in every single thing they consume to live a moral life, but I do think one has to acknowledge that when you outsource XYZ, you do not have the full picture of your own consumption of XYZ.

I’ve had some friends and family who are vegetarian, and even one is a vegan(we’ve since stopped talking*), and one reason for them having turned away from delicious, healthy, and wonderful meat and meat-products was because of factory-farming. This, obviously, is a false dichotomy. One can certainly eat meat that isn’t factory-raised, but is there something to the notion that we should be closer to or, at least cognizant of, the process of our consumption?

I’ve an 80-some-year-old grandmother who lives on a farm by herself. She wakes up every morning at the crack of dawn to do farm things. If she wants to eat some chicken, she goes to the coop, picks one up, snaps its neck, scalds it, plucks it, and then cooks it. I’m not a stranger to that process. I’m no stranger to the process by which I’m able to eat whatever else I eat, either. I’m Texan. It’s really nothing new, special, or altogether interesting to me, but it would be to those who’d never participated in the process.

With this in mind, a friend and I decided to go hunting(he lives in NYC and is surrounded by sanctimonious, emaciated vegans.) with a redneck friend of ours(it’s okay, he styles himself a redneck, so this is not a slur) who happens to work on a hunting ranch. Long story short:

Continue reading “The Virtue of Sausage-Making(NSFW)”

I Ordered the Code Red

All right, so who’s actually for torture? Not me, nuh uh, no way. However, all the shrieking over this coincidentally-timed Senate report on CIA torture tactics has me a little confused.

The shrieking has the same sound as twelve-year old boys who castrate themselves upon hearing that, yes, Mommy had sex with Daddy to bring them into being. Yes, little Jimmy, we torture. Did you really think that civilizations are brought in through the nursery room window by the stork? Or, really, that civilizations just happen? Civilizations are forged, and the edges of civilization are hot, being hammered on, and the only people who can dwell there are vile, wretched, lost souls whose job it is to encounter the barbarians.

On this side of Guantanamo is civilization, where we do not torture each other; we are justifiably upset and concerned that civil rights and law and order are coming together, lately, rather violently. On the other side of Guantanamo is barbarity, where they dwell who should be tortured. I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to justify my vile and wretched acts to myself or to anyone else.

To be sure, I’m not upset to learn that we torture, especially when we consider, with some historical sensitivities, what is being reported as perpetrated by the CIA is a warm-up lap for those barbarians who are well-versed in torture tactics. I’m more upset that someone pulled the curtain back. I don’t wanna see blood and gore while Bing Crosby winds me around the Christmas tree while I string it with lights which reflect in my tiny tots’ eyes.

There are vile and wretched people doing Bad Things in my behalf so that I can have Good Things. We have chambers in order to keep the one hidden from the other. Thus we participate in it, consciously or no. I’d rather not be conscious of it, but I can’t imagine, in my innermost, a way to maintain the frontier of civilization against barbarians without nastiness. So, add my shriek to the chorus of shrieks, but as for me, mine is so much kayfabe so that no one thinks that I’m actually for torture. Not me, nuh uh, no way.