Saturday, December 5, 2015

You the Schmucks...

With the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)--who calls himself a "democratic socialist"--the term "socialist" has been somewhat normalized and has firmly entered the mainstream discourse as something approaching a respectable epithet.

Without examining Sen. Sanders' platform in great detail--beyond reproducing a popular online meme below--it is the notion of socialism itself that merits scrutiny.
If you cut military spending by 100% and taxed all $1million+ earnings at 100% for ten years, you STILL wouldn't pay for Bernie's promises.

The instant analysis will, in the first instance assimilate socialism with Communism, Marxism, Maoism, Stalinism, Leninism, and any other similar -ism.  "Communism" will initially be employed as a catch-all term for the foregoing.  Foremost attention will be given to the global experience and rational deductions rather than technical economic theories and calculations.

The first, ineluctable, observation that has to be made is that Communism has been an abject failure everywhere in the world it has been implemented and operated.  The Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact states, pre-1990s India, Cuba, Venezuela, Viet Nam, and dozens of countries at different times in Central and Latin America, Africa, and Asia all experienced Communism and, given a chance, all, down to the state, resolutely spurned it, after years or decades of iron-fist Communist rule.  Despite that, there are still fervent advocates for Communism, not least among the self-styled intelligentsia on college campuses in the West.  (The supreme irony is that intellectuals were almost always the first to face the Communist purges and firing squads, but, then, logic and intelligentsia are these days not always in the happiest of marriages.)

Tomes upon tomes of academic and popular material has been written examining, pontificating about, and apologizing for the causes of the disintegration and invalidation of Communism.  The most fundamental explanation is very simple, however.  The theory of Communism fails to take into account human nature.  The average person wants to own things.  The average person wants to own nice things.  The average person wants to own nicer things.  The average person wants to wear nice clothes and visit nice places and reside in nice houses.  The average person wants to get wealthierThe average person wants to express his/her individuality.  The average person wants to compete.  The average person wants to improve him/herself.  The average person wants to get better: better autonomously (self-actualize) and better than othersThe average person does not want to be a mindless automaton, an anonymous cog in a nondescript wheel, one in millions of such wheels, without a personality, without anything to work toward, purposed only with playing a minuscule part in making the whole plod along.

That is what Communists do not understand wherefore, whenever the Communist theory came to be enacted in practice, it encountered the brick wall of indomitable human nature.  The Politburo's functionaries' answer to this conundrum was predictable: endeavor to change human nature.  That was invariably done in several stages:
  1. Relentless propaganda and brainwashing: "Yes, we want to be gray, mindless drones!  We want to be an amorphous mass called the Working Class!  We want to fight the endless [though the "endless" part was never openly admitted] fight to create a People's Utopia!"  En passant, it is always amusing and telling how Communist regimes feel the need to prefix just about everything with the possessive "people's": the "people's" army, the "people's" republic, the "people's" assembly, the "people's" museum, theater, supermarket, etc.  The chuckle-worthy part is that The People under Communism have about as much stake in the above as they do under an absolute monarchy.
  2. Fear: "Enemies external and internal are chomping at the bits to subvert our glorious struggle!  Capitalist, imperialist swine lurk in the shadows--indeed, possibly in every shadow--scheming to make you their slaves!  Resist!"
  3. Threats: "Better watch what you say and do, or we just might start thinking you might be one of those enemies we talked about!"
  4. Coercion and force: blacklists, punishing entire families, show trials, disappearances, gulags.
There is not one single Communist society that did not adhere to the given paradigm.  Yet, despite having the most extensive surveillance and oppression apparatuses humanity ever saw, one after the other, the Communist regimes collapsed.  Stirring images of East Germans attacking the odious Berlin Wall with their bare hands, the fire of FREEDOM blazing inextinguishable in their eyes, are Communist ideologues' worst nightmare: That is the threat they are forced to continuously--and ultimately in vain--try to forestall.

There is also the small matter of the Communist economics, which are antiquated and irrelevant to the modern world.  The vaunted Working Class, insofar as it even exists anymore, no longer encompasses the majority of those in gainful employment of a country nor are countries (especially the developed world) anymore replete with tractor drivers, assembly-plant workers, and coal miners.  Manual labor is of marginal importance in the today's knowledge-based economy and information-based society.  The service sector does not require a Revolution!, and the call center workers, Walmart shelf-stackers, and McDonald's burger-flippers will be replaced with robots and online processes within the next decade anyway.  Other than the permanently unemployable, Communism has nothing to offer to an increasing proportion of people with jobs or those willing and able to secure one.

Two retorts are commonly given to the above: (1) That was not real Communism, and (2) Communism is one thing; socialism is quite another.  They will be addressed in turn.

#1: The U.S.S.R., China, Cuba, Nicaragua, India, Viet Nam, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, North Korea, dozens of Soviet satellite states, Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, and several dozen others were not a genuine representation or faithful reflection of an unadulterated form of Communism.  Whatever the system those places had may have been, it was at best a warped, perverted version of the true ideology of Communism, which is nothing if not humane and humanistic.  If that sounds familiar, it is because the selfsame assertion is trotted out with tiresome frequency in an attempt to whitewash the indelible link among Islam, the dozens of Moslem terrorist groups worldwide, and the tens of millions of active supporters and sympathizers (also, of course, Moslems) of those groups.  Indeed, it seems that the more destructive, barbaric, and brutal an ideology is, the more vocally this argument is propounded.  It is, however, fundamentally wrong.
  • Firstly, it is the archetypal, textbook-perfect No True Scotsman fallacy.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and has little ducklings for offspring, then chances are extremely good it is indeed a duck rather than an elephant wearing a duck costume.  The various iterations of Communism globally can be safely adjudged to have been "genuine" enough.
  • Secondly, even if it be accepted that, somewhere along the process of implementing the said system, the protagonists deviated from the [insert favorite Communist dogmatist]'s vision, it is indisputable that their initial design fully was to implement Real Communism®.  It would be ludicrous to suggest that millions of revolutionaries and their leaders, all across the globe, were only paying lip service to Communism, all the while plotting to establish a grossly bastardized version thereof.
  • If, therefore, it is the case that, in spite of the best intentions of the comrade leaders, one nation after another after another fell victim to a phenomenal misapprehension of
    Real Communism®, then the logical corollary must be that Real Communism® itself is fundamentally flawed.  Surely a viable, feasible, practical ideology would be more immune to corruption than Real Communism® has consistently, yea exclusively, demonstrated itself to be.
  • The risible and pitiable cheerleaders for Communism, however, breezily ignore all the antecedent.  Their gambit is, in essence: Relinquish your freedoms, liberties, wealth, individuality, personality, ambitions and dreams, forget history, and just let us take yet another crack at setting up this system sure to rectify so many wrongs and benefit all.  In other words: Hand over your money, shut up, and... - revolution, comrade!.

#2: Communism is altogether different than socialism, so criticism of the former does not--can not--apply to the latter.

There is some merit to this rebuttal.  On paper, socialism and Communism are indeed quite dissimilar.  Communism is an all-pervasive, intrusive, control-freak-y regime, which seizes and maintains an ironclad grip on every facet of individual and collective lives, education, commerce, politics, law, the economy, and even philosophy.  Socialism, on the other hand, is a collection of so-called "social programs" that is large enough--yet unquantifiable--to merit being labeled as socialism.  It is unquantifiable because, while to many the eponymous ObamaCare warrants the label socialist, to others even trippling all the current federal programs would not constitute socialism.

In practice, however, this protestation rings hollow.  The more "social programs" are instituted, the larger the bureaucracy and machinery necessary for operating them.  That in turn requires a bigger government and a more bloated public sector in general, as well as more material resources.  All that ultimately leads to having to take more money from the working people.  Unremitting raids on the taxpayers' pockets sooner or later call for indoctrination, which the more observant of the readers will recognize as the first step in establishing a Communist hegemony.  One would certainly not wish to commit the slippery-slope fallacy by proposing that socialism invariably evolves into Communism, and examples to the contrary do abound.  It is, nonetheless, beyond controversy that socialism is close on the ideological spectrum to Communism and that the difference between the two is not conspicuously demarcated.

#3: Bonus argument: The Scandinavian states are social democracies, so surely America can be, too.  The Left in America likes to flaunt Scandinavia as an example, indeed paragon, of many desiderata: from anti-gun laws to multiculturalism to the socio-polito-economic system.  Yet, if comparing Communism and socialism be a false analogy, then so is comparing Scandinavia and the United States.  The Scandinavian states' combined population is around 7% of America's and, until very recently, they were all highly homogeneous demographically and, crucially, psychographically.  In other words, those countries had comparatively few people and they were all, colloquially speaking, "on the same page" as regards their values, including diligence, interdependence, taxation, etc.  America's population as well as inimitable diversity--most importantly in values and lifestyles of its inhabitants--mean that replicating the Scandinavian system would be implausible.  Indeed, following the unprecedented and seismic changes (read: prodigious non-Western immigration) those states experienced in the past decade or two, reports are now plentiful of the social democratic system bursting at the seams.  Warnings, each more dire than the previous, are coming thick and fast about the working Scandinavian population no longer being able (or even willing) to support its unemployed, unemployable, and employment-averse counterparts.  This, to anyone who ever participated in a group project of any sort, will be unsurprising: Five motivated people get along fine and work like a well-oiled machine.  Twenty people working on the same thing, and with varying levels of motivation, evidence a considerable incidence of "freeloading," sometimes to the extent of making the group unworkable or causing it to disintegrate beyond the committed core.

If the foregoing has veered between scholarly and demotic in tone, it is only because it is difficult to ascribe full seriousness to this type of topic.  In 2015 no-one except the ignorant, the indolent or the malevolent should be extolling or prescribing Communism, socialism, fascism, or any kind of an oppressive, forcibly-collectivist ideology.  The fact that so many do means that the lovers of freedom must remain vigilant because the battle for common sense is never-ending.

©2015 Michael L.S.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Of Guns and Men

On the heels of the San Bernardino shooting perpetrated by two Moslem terrorists, tiresomely and predictably, President Obama and the chiefly liberal sections of the political establishment were on point railing against the supposedly too great availability of some or all types of weapons.  Their trope is: Guns should be banned or restricted because, intuitively, fewer guns means fewer gun-related deaths.

In making such assertions, however, no hard data are ever adduced.  Rather, they munificently deploy one emotionally-laden appeal after another, hoping to sway public opinion with sentiments that devolve to: "We must do something about it."

Following is just a selection of the factual arguments germane to the issue to be considered:
  • Historically, the U.S. has been a "gun-toting" nation.  Indeed, after the Second World War, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and others, America was awash with both weapons of every kind and with war veterans suffering from P.T.S.D. and many other mental ailments onset by the traumas they endured in the conflicts in which they fought.  One would have expected those mentally-unstable people with ready access to destructive weaponry to have been shooting up America with terrifying frequency.  Yet, prior to the 1980s there were only two mass shootings of note: A WW2 veteran killed 13 people in 1949 and a discharged Marine killed 16 people in 1966.  Even in the 1980s there were still only a handful of such incidents.  The prevalence of weapons and gun crime (especially high-profile, mass-casualty gun crime) clearly do not correlate historically.
  • Case in point: Russia.  The country has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world where it is virtually impossible to obtain a gun.  Fewer than nine out of 100 Russians possess a firearm.  However, its overall homicide rate is almost four times that of the United States.
  • By contrast, apart from having a lower homicide rate overall than Russia, despite there being 100 firearms per 100 population, only 10% of all violent crime in America involve firearms.
  • The various recent trends in the United States also undermine the anti-gun narrative.  The rate of gun ownership has been on a steady increase over the past two decades.  Simultaneously, the homicide rate has been on a distinct downward course.  (On a point of interest and without necessarily suggesting a causal relationship, home robberies have also been decreasing as gun ownership has been increasing.)
  • Consider the following chart:

    This chart is frequently employed by pro-gun advocates to argue that gun-"control" measures cause an increase in homicide, rather than a decline.  That argument is a post hoc fallacy; much more additional study would be required to validate it.  However, the chart does prove beyond a doubt that gun-"control" does NOT decrease homicides.
  • Turning to history again, it demonstrates unequivocally that banning something deemed undesirable does not make it disappear.  The examples are innumerable, and the range includes everything from alcohol and drugs, to pornography and homosexuality, to speeding and D.U.I.  A ban on guns in Denmark, Belgium, and France very tragically did not prevent Moslem terrorists from massacring hundreds of people in cafes, trains, restaurants, and theaters there.  Indeed, arguably, if even a fraction of the victims would have been armed, it is likely that the death toll in all such attacks would have been considerably lower.  Likewise, astringent anti-gun laws in e.g. Chicago, Washington, and Detroit do not prevent those cities from having the highest gun-caused homicide rates in the nation.
  • On the subject of D.U.I., more deaths are caused by intoxicated drivers than by guns.  Yet, no proposal has been advanced to further restrict the availability of automobiles or driver's licenses or even to mandate installation of additional safety mechanisms.  The reason why that should be so is self-evident: The overwhelming majority of drivers are law-abiding and responsible citizens.  It would, therefore, be unconscionable to penalize them for the excesses of an exiguous and statistically-insignificant minority, notwithstanding the suffering the latter group causes.
  • As far as safety, only 0.025% of the guns in circulation in the United States are utilized for illicit purposes.  That is a safety record of 99.975%, which eclipses many common items in everyday use.
  • Per 100,000 population, statistics show that such objects as swimming pools, scissors, stepladders, automobiles as well as many medical procedures are more lethal than guns.  In other words, many--sometimes on the order of magnitude of several tenfold--more deaths are caused by the items aforesaid than by guns.
    • The standard retort to the foregoing is that, unlike guns, those objects are "not designed to kill."  That is correct; however, if the focus is on saving every precious life possible, then surely the most prolific provenances of death should be addressed in the order of priority.
    • Another stock rejoinder is that people "do not need" firearms.  Surely such advocates recognize that government apparatchiks deciding what people "need" and "do not need," particularly pursuant to their personal beliefs, is the very definition of totalitarianism, indeed, fascism.
  • The overwhelming majority of firearms use and fatalities involve the criminal underworld (more than 80%).  By its very definition, that milieu would not be affected by legislation restricting or banning guns.
  • On a related note, far more crimes are prevented by the use of firearms than are committed.  The most conservative ratio is 10,500 : 1.  Recently, in Chicago--which, (in)famously has some of the harshest gun-phobic laws in the country--a conceal-carry citizen prevented a mass shooting.
  • For years the pro-gun lobby's reflexive retort to attempts to institute gun-"control" has been to advert to the Second Amendment.  For most of the time, the anti-gun campaigners ignored that point and deployed other arguments to support their position.  As of recently, however, that has changed and it is now more common to witness rebuttals along the lines of: "The Second Amendment concerns the right of a militia to bear arms rather than ordinary citizens" and variations on the theme.  Unfortunately for the proponents of that line, the U.S. Supreme Court already issued a crystal clear ruling on the matter (District of Columbia vs. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)), which affirms that the Second Amendment does apply to individual citizens outwith any reference to any militia (s. (1)(f)).
  • A favorite anti-gun exponents' mantra--and one coopted by Pres. Obama himself--is that, if countries like Australia and England can "do it," then so can the United States.  "Do it" is either left undefined altogether or its meaning is made suspiciously vague.  The tenor behind such statements is that, basically, countries such as Great Britain and Australia banned gun ownership outright, and their rates of homicide are lower than America's, ergo... - it should be easy by now to fill in the rest.  There are two major problems with this statement:
    • England and Australia effected a complete ban of firearms.  Unless mainstream politicians, including the President and highest-ranked lawmakers are lying, that is by no means the goal behind any gun-"control" initiative under even theoretical consideration.
    • More importantly, statistics controvert the main premise of the argument, to wit, that the bans in the two countries had any salutary effect on their rates of homicide.  Survey the following charts:
      It is obvious that, in both cases, anti-firearms measures did not entail a decrease in homicide.  The same conclusion emerges from this, just as it does from every set of data: Banning guns does not reduce homicide.
  • The moral of the story is that these highly selective attempts at comparison between the United States and a few carefully picked countries is an exercise in futility.  A far more productive endeavor would be to cross-reference the rate of gun ownership with the rate of homicide, worldwide.  The result of such a study is astounding: The United States is the undisputed leader as far as gun ownership (112.6 guns per 100 residents), leaving Serbia a distant second at under 70 guns per 100 residents.  In terms of the intentional homicide rate, out of 218 states and territories, America is 121st.  So 1st in gun-ownership, 121st in homicides: That does not sound like a country that has an intractable gun problem.
  • On a final note, Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership: little over a half of the U.S.  However, there have been no mass-casualty firearm-related incidents in Switzerland.  Conversely, Spain has a rate similar to Russia (i.e. less than 10% of that of the U.S.).  Hypothetically, if the rate of gun ownership in Spain was similar to Switzerland's or America's, is it likely there would be mass shooting incidents there?  While speculative, logic and extrapolation dictate that the answer be negative: The culture and nomos of Spain are different to that of America.  The familial and societal structure are different, the values (such as individualism) are different, the quality and quantity of crime are different; all of those conspire to create an environment in which people simply do not act out in the way in which they act out in the United States.  That involves not just mass shootings but many aspects of individual and collective behavior.  Indeed, it answers the conundrum with which this piece opened: Why were there almost no mass shootings prior to the 1980s despite the prevalence of guns?

It is incontrovertible that, despite high-profile and widely-publicized incidents, the absolute and overwhelming majority of firearms in the United States are used legally, legitimately and responsibly, and that there is no scientifically-justified cause to believe that restricting or banning them would have the desired effect of significantly reducing gun-related violent crime.

The facts and figures above (all readily available and easily verifiable with simple Internet searches) cannot be rebutted by reiterating that, essentially, "guns are bad."  Anti-gun advocates need to counter the foregoing data with data of their own, which are more scientific, more credible, more reliable, and more plausible.  However, that is consistently and conspicuously not being done for the simple reason that such data do not exist.  The said advocates, accordingly, fall back on the tactic of using interminable argumenta ad misericordia, false analogies, non-sequiturs, and other logical fallacies, i.e. they essay to impose what are mere personal prejudices and values on the rest.

That is anti-intellectual, anti-academic, and disingenuous.

It has also, thankfully, been ineffective in swaying public opinion.

Selected Bibliography (not formatted to standard):

 ©2015 Michael L.S.