International Commentary – The Cultural Abyss

By The Bionic Mosquito (www.lewroockwell.com), 22/12/2014

Preamble

Libertarian theory is focused on answering the question: when is aggression justified? The foundation of libertarian theory is the non-aggression principle: aggression is justified only in self-defense.  This foundation leads to several corollaries; most fundamental is the absolute right to private property.

Libertarians will be the first to suggest that libertarian theory does not answer every question in life; it does not offer a complete philosophical or moral framework for man to live as an individual, to live with his fellow man, most importantly to develop a thriving community.

I have struggled in thinking through these additional necessities – more specifically, I have struggled through what is and isn’t derivable from libertarian thought; call these necessities “thick” – not for the purposes of turning libertarian theory into an unrecognizable bloated mess, but for the purpose of thinking about what is necessary to develop a thriving community – one able to sustain and enhance life, as opposed to one withering away in a slow death.

“Thick” can be called by another, better known term: call it culture.

The Culture of the West

Relative to the small surface area I have scratched regarding libertarian theory, I am rather unqualified to discuss with any knowledge the cultural history of the West.  Not knowing much about a subject has never stopped me before….

Western culture as it has come to be known cannot be explained without understanding the impact that Christianity has had; of course, there was Greece and Rome before, and there were valuable contributions made by Muslim and Eastern thinkers, scholars, scientists and philosophers.  But the basic story can be told without these; I don’t believe it can be told without Christianity.

Don’t believe me?  I wouldn’t either; I already admitted I am not qualified.  Ask Jacques Barzun.  Seventy years of his scholarly work is summarized in his magnum opus, “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life.”  His opening chapter – his “dawn” of “Western Cultural Life” – begins with Martin Luther.

But Luther wasn’t born from a virgin.  He didn’t nail his 95 theses on the post of the rathaus.  It was a church, a Catholic church.  For one-thousand years before this event, the Catholic Church played a major role in the culture of the west – some good, some not so good.

It seems to me, mostly good.  Absent the Church, the misnamed Dark Ages might not have given us anything more than scattered tribes such as lived in North America when the Vikings, Chinese, or whoever first touched the land.  Instead, there was civilization. Law, not based on edict, but law that was grounded in the old and the good.  Laws based on oaths – sacred oaths.  These oaths were the foundation of interpersonal relationships. More than contracts, they were binding promises between men with God as a party to the agreement.

Further, progress in the time included inventions and mechanizations; development of a society more liberal than the Rome that preceded it or the Europe that followed it; the preservation of the Greek and Roman classics.  Much of this discovery, this foundation, was to be formed in monasteries.

The Middle Ages ended in a convulsion – what is now remembered as the stereotype of the period was primarily to be found only in the later years, beginning in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Wars, famine, plagues.  After this came Luther.

The Reformation, Renaissance; enlightened liberal – and liberalizing – thinking.  Italian banks, Dutch trading companies, British (to include all people of the Island) political and philosophical thought.  By the time of the American Revolution, the white, Christian populations of the Empire lived in perhaps the most free condition on earth – at least if considering the developed, division-of-labor economies.

The Peak is Glimpsed

The west was so close.  While certainly not extending the franchise to the non-white, non-Christian, significant progress was achieved – culminating in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Slavery abolished peacefully in much of the west; international arbitration often used instead of war; international commerce peacefully regulated by gold.

Wars were kept brief – at least when European against European; treaties designed with the future peace in mind, not as punishment for past (perceived) transgressions.  Citizens were as well-armed, relatively speaking, as those who governed.

This achievement – centuries, if not a millennium, in the making – would not be celebrated long.

That’s One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind

So, what happened?  Some of the colonists of North America decided that they had enough of King George’s liberal society.  Fair enough.  Unfortunately, the big government sort did what they always do after violent revolutions – they took over and installed big government.

The Articles of Confederation – papier-mâché compared to what was shortly to follow – was a small, centralizing step.  It was easier to ignore a king from 3000 miles than it was to ignore a legislature from 30 miles.  The coup in Philadelphia shortly followed; a much larger step.

Slavery.  Certainly not born in Philadelphia.  But preserved; given legal standing, permanence – three-fifths of them, anyway.  It had to be preserved to form the union.  But why did the union – this specific union – need forming?  Why not a document supportive of free people – ALL people?  States that choose to climb aboard are welcome, those who don’t like the idea, go another way.

Not only was slavery institutionalized in the founding.  Imperialism, on the hearts and minds of the founders – not born in 1898, but born in 1787.  An attempt at supercharging it in 1812; a failure.  Canada, Cuba, the entirety of territory west of the Appalachians.  All could be served by the same Constitution – ask Jefferson, with his oxymoronic “Empire of Liberty.”  The will of the people already occupying these territories was irrelevant.

Different Continents, Different Timing

In Europe throughout the nineteenth century, war remained, relatively speaking, civilized. Non-combatants were not made targets; surrendering armies were given quarter; losing generals treated according to position, not flag.  In 1871, a peace that survived over forty years, supported by a treaty designed to maintain peace.  Lorraine continued to be a sticking point for the losing side, but this was more or less true ever since Louis the German and Charles the Bald decided to gang up on Lothair 1000 years earlier.

North America.  1861 – 1865.  No state left free.  Born in war, the union would be cemented by war.  There was nothing civilized about this war – combatant and non-combatant alike were targeted.  Prison conditions worse than the battlefield.  Starvations, burning, looting.

Why divergent paths for these people born from the same mother?  Perhaps because the Europeans, when fighting their wars (against each other), fought like gentlemen against their (Christian) brothers; whereas in North America the wars were fought against the brown-skinned, the unsaved.  The North Americans did not have a history of civilized warfare.

The divergent paths would converge in full in 1914.

One Slip, and Down the Hole We Fall

The aforementioned Barzun marks the Great War as the beginning of the end for western cultural civilization – at least as it was.  I will not disagree.  The ending was not brought on by Muslim or Mexican immigrants, imports from China, or welfare queens.  It wasn’t the Jews or the Zionists.  All diversions to distract from the truth.  Instead, the end was brought on mostly by WASPs.  The west committed suicide – death by politician, I guess you could say – without any outside help.

The end of gold; the foundation of central banking; the individual taxed on income; movement limited by government-furnished documents.  Wartime slaughter merely for the sake of slaughter.  All have birth, or the franchise greatly expanded, during this war.

The still-not-satisfactorily-explainable Great War was never supposed to be so destructive.  Cousins fighting cousins, for goodness sakes.  Recent history of European wars – say since the century-long event from five centuries earlier – offered little hint of the coming disaster; after the battles, the leaders would all share a fine meal with wine, and make nice.

It almost could have happened, if they only listened to the privates during the first Christmas. They sang Christmas carols, played football, shared a smoke and a beer.  The generals and political leaders would have nothing of it; they did what they had to do to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

Yet, there was another opportunity – sadly, after three more years of bloodshed.  After three years of going nowhere, there was growing desire to end it all.  Wilson and the Brits – the same Brits that brought so much liberal living into the world – decided to put their thumb on the scale.

The newspapers bought in; the intellectuals bought in; the church leaders bought in. Dissenting voices were drowned.  The prize for those who bought in?  I don’t know: power, prestige, standing for the intellectuals more than the market would provide.  They all failed in their duty; they failed their culture.

Then the treaty; not designed to engender a future peace, but to ensure a future war.  This reality was well known even to those who participated.  It had to be so.  The “democracies” had to feed the monster they created.  Those who fought in the war for the noble cause would accept nothing less; mothers who lost their sons would accept nothing less; those who remained behind, enscathed, would accept nothing less.

The only people at the table were Westerners from the victorious side – no “other” forced this monstrosity of death, born in 1919 Paris, upon the people of Britain, France and the United States.

There was one attempt in 1928 – perhaps the last of the old guard trying to bring back the “civilized” that the prior generation held.  They even signed a treaty – including every major belligerent in the last war and the coming World War.  The terms didn’t last but a few years.

The rest of the twentieth century would go on to be rather bloody.  From the convulsions preceding death came communism, fascism, imperialism on a scale never before imaginable.  Hundreds of millions dead.  Centralizing powers born – one world government’s peak: the UN, IMF, World Bank, NATO.

O Culture, Culture, Wherefore Art Thou Culture?

Consider all that is acceptable today that was unheard of in civilized western society two hundred years ago.  Torture; armed government agents killing unarmed civilians with no fear of punishment or retribution; threats of war bordering on global Armageddon; sanctions and blockades causing mass starvations; money from nothing; the monitoring by the state of every single aspect of the lives of every single individual.  Throw in abortion as a measure of society’s willingness to defend the undefendable.

Such was not possible or even considered desirable even in the Middle Ages – a king who tried such things would soon enough be dethroned; to the extent it occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the West, it was minimal and short-lived.

Today all of these are condoned and even advocated – all of it – by the intellectuals, the religious leaders, and the politicians.  The cultural leaders.

Culture.  There is certainly a culture in the West today.  I suspect it would be unrecognizable to anyone from the time of the first Merovingian kings to Victoria’s grandsons just prior to the assassination of an Austrian prince.

My Doldrums

I wrote recently about my writing doldrums.  I have written very little in the last two months – somewhat influenced by too much of real life intruding on my ability to think through any of my favored topics and current events.  Perhaps more influenced by feeling overwhelmed by the recent news of the world and not being able to focus due to the real life stuff.

Russia, Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, torture, spying.  In every case, there is a peaceful path – one leading toward peace – and a destructive path – one leading toward war.  The west continuously chooses the destructive path.

In response to this “doldrums” post, I received some encouraging and valuable feedback. One comment, from John Howard, is perhaps at the root of this current post:

…pretend that you will only be allowed to write one more article and so you must summarize everything that you think needs saying and further pretend that your only reader will be 12 years old and you must depend on that reader to remember your message and present it to the world.

I don’t know about the 12 year old part.  But the thought about one more article I believe helped me get to the root of my doldrums – it begins with culture and how recent events are a stark reminder of how far the West has fallen – the bankruptcy of the West is not merely economic.

There is no doubt which path the politicians of the West prefer – if they didn’t want war, why do they engage in it so often and so gleefully?  Being health conscious, those in the state know wars and rumors of war are healthy to their bottom line – the bottom line of ever-more state power.

But politicians reflect the culture, the people; they must, as they cannot continue without the consent of those governed.  Certainly there is a well-developed machine designed to propagandize the population; but any individual willing to perform even a modicum of independent research can break through this veil easily enough.  The lies are so numerous – even by accident anyone can stumble over one or two important truths.

The people demand the wars, the violence, the tough talk, the torture.  The psychopaths are only too happy to deliver: “You mean I get to do all this and not get strung up?  Count me in!”

I recall feeling a pretty good high – as if being witness to a real turning point.  Bombing Syria was called off.  The people pressured the US Congress.  When has an American president been dissuaded from lobbing a few – even to distract from a soiled skirt?  Even the British parliament voted no.

Then came ISIS, Ukraine – I could even toss in Ebola as the justification for invading western Africa.  And those same people – in the US and in Britain – who previously pushed their political representatives into a “no” were now, once again, clamoring for a “yes.”

This comes and goes.  After Vietnam, who would have ever thought that the same generation who chanted “Hell no, we won’t go,” would be on the front lines calling for action in places like Yugoslavia and Kuwait in just two decades.  Yet, they reverted to state-worship rather quickly.  Perhaps the elimination of the threat of being drafted, combined with the guilt of not volunteering to die was motivation enough to get them to cheer for those who go in their stead.

Still today’s calamities are survivable for most of us – as long as neither side reverts to nukes.  If they do, I long ago accepted that there was nothing to be done about it besides write in the meantime.  So I don’t worry about this.

At the same time, thousands are protesting the immunity for those with badges to kill.  It warms my heart – I Can breath!

Inhuman Action

The competition for the production of goods is well described by Ludwig von Mises in Human Action.  We live in a world dominated by those who are competing for the production of bads.  I guess the story will one day be told in a different book, Inhuman Action.  The opening chapter, at least for this generation, can be entitled 911.

Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo; Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya; Syria; Iran; spying on everything done by everybody, every minute day and night; naked viewing and sexual abuse at airports. The answer to why?  911.

A report on US government torture has recently been released.  The depths of the cultural abyss are plumbed in its pages.  More importantly, the depths of the cultural abyss are found in its apologists.  It is the apologists that enable the torturers.

We could consider the co-authors of this book, Inhuman Action, will be Dick Cheney and John Brennan.  First, the man who set the wheels in motion, at least for this round:

As vice president, Dick Cheney was the most enthusiastic sponsor for the brutal C.I.A. interrogation program used on Al Qaeda suspects, protesting when President George W. Bush scaled it back in his second term.

“Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said…

Technically, that wasn’t torture.  But I digress.  Chapter One: 911.  The answer to every question, the justification for every evil, is 911.

Now for his co-author, CIA Director John Brennan:

Over the past several decades, and especially since the terrible tragedy of 9/11…

The answer to every question.

…six days after 9/11…

Just in case you didn’t get it the first time, like a mantra, the chant is repeated.  911, 911, 911, 911….  I want to bomb, 911; I want to spy, 911; I want to watch naked people, 911; I want to shove hoses in places where the sun doesn’t shine, 911.

As a result of these efforts, including the many sacrifices made by CIA officers and their families, countless lives have been saved and our Homeland is more secure.

It is up for debate – even in the Senate’s torture report – how many, if any, lives have been saved.  Then again, it is also up for debate how many lives have been lost in this crusade as well.  Hundreds of thousands?  Millions?  We don’t know, because no one bothers to count.  Brown lives don’t matter – this is the burden that the white man lives with.  Don’t you feel sorry for him?

Certain detainees were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs)…

In a culture not plumbing the depths of evil, these “techniques” are referred to as torture; in civilized society torture is shunned, with those guilty of torturing placed in shackles. Calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques” changes nothing.  A rose by any other name would smell and all that…

…which the Department of Justice determined at the time to be lawful and which were duly authorized by the Bush Administration.

Cheney chimed in on this point:

He denied that waterboarding and related interrogation tactics were torture, noting that three of the last four attorneys general have agreed with his view.

There you have it.  Agents of the government said that other agents of the government could lawfully perform enhanced interrogation techniques.  You know, shove on-ramp tubes up the off-ramp of the digestive tract and reverse engineer, so to speak, the dietary absorption process; that sort of thing.

Cheney continues:

There is no comparison between that [911, what else?] and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.

In other words, Cheney might be a monster, but those who committed 911 are grotesque monsters.  So shut up and leave me alone.  (But who committed 911?  Don’t ask – we can’t even get a straight answer to Building 7.)

Cheney doesn’t even know torture when he sees it; when asked about the following examples, taken from the report:

Holding a prisoner in a coffin-sized box for 11 days? Handcuffing a prisoner’s wrists to an overhead bar for 22 hours a day? But Mr. Cheney gave no ground.  “I can’t tell from that specifically whether it was [torture] or not,” he replied.

Perhaps he can try a dietary supplement for a few days.

Asked again whether he was satisfied with a program that erroneously locked up detainees, [Cheney] replied, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”

The gospel according to evil is revealed; the ends justify the means.

If you give Cheney a chance, you will find he is a humanitarian – a real Hippocrates of healing:

He even declined to criticize C.I.A. practices used on prisoners called “rectal feeding” and “rectal rehydration,” though he noted that “it was not one of the techniques approved” by the Justice Department. “I believe it was done for medical reasons,” he said.

I wonder if the procedure was covered by Medicare.

At least Brennan now admits some fault:

As noted in CIA’s response to the study, we acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.

Think about this…did the agents think they were just holding a bright light over the suspect’s head, and accidently broke his legs?  Made the suspect sit on frozen concrete by mistake, thinking it was a mattress lined with Egyptian cotton sheets?  Like they thought it might be OK, but later figured out it was a mistake?

It doesn’t sound like Cheney thought it was a mistake:

“I would do it again in a minute,” Mr. Cheney said in a spirited, emotional appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Back to Brennan:

The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies…

They didn’t know what to do or how to do it, so this is what they came up with?  They couldn’t come up with anything else?  They made this up as they went along?  Just trying out some ideas?

In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us.

Don’t worry, Director, many American people don’t hold you to high standards or any standards.  It’s the culture.

Torture, in the Name of God
Justifying violence

Citing from the Holy Book

Teaching hatred

In the name of God

John Petrucci

Here is the culture – say it loud, say it proud; D.C. McAllister offers only one of many examples:

Yes, Christians Can Support Torture: Majorities of Christians support the use of torture in some instances.

The problem isn’t with Cheney or Brennan.  It is the culture; even McAllister is just a reflection of this culture.

She begins by citing Pastor Brian Zahnd, who has the nerve to suggest that “torture” and “Christian” don’t mix:

There is no possibility of compromise. The support of torture is off the table for a Christian. I suppose you can be some version of a ‘patriot’ and support the use of torture, but you cannot be any version of Christian and support torture. So choose one: A torture-endorsing patriot or a Jesus-following Christian. But don’t lie to yourself that you can be both. You cannot.

Of course, you cannot be.  See if you can envision the Man who said these words conducting a water-boarding.

But I guess hearing it straight from the Son of God isn’t good enough for McAllister, and not for many so-called Christians either.  Apparently there are plenty of so-called Christians who side with Cheney and against Christ:

… 79 percent of evangelicals in America and 78 percent of Catholics (along with 68 percent of all Americans, according to a recent poll)—who say torture can be justified.

Get that – a higher percentage of so-called Christians support torture than the percentage of the general population.  Christ would be rolling over in his…well, never mind.  You get my point.

McAllister doesn’t merely present the blasphemy of the so-called Christians; she is a full-on supporter:

Torture in some forms and in some circumstances—conducted by the police and military officials—can be morally justified because (1) torture is not necessarily morally worse than killing (i.e., the death penalty); (2) the terrorist has forfeited his right to life and his dignity by his own evil actions; and (3) the innocent lives that can be saved are of higher value than any moral claims by the terrorist who has committed atrocities.

There are those badges, providing a force-field of protection against the Ten Commandments.

McAllister proceeds to write a tortuous justification for these claims.  Let’s dispatch with these quickly: regarding item (1), McAllister might as well write any of the following:

  • rape is not necessarily morally worse than killing (i.e., the death penalty)
  • child abuse is not necessarily morally worse than killing (i.e., the death penalty)
  • slavery is not necessarily morally worse than killing (i.e., the death penalty)

All can be justified using her moral standard.  We are all saints compared to Stalin, so back off, OK?

As to her items (2) and (3), the next time we read of a proper trial for those being tortured before they are tortured will be the first time.  She attempts to deal with the lack of due process, claiming that a terrorist is neither fish nor fowl: neither a member of a recognized military, nor an individual (loosely banded with other individuals) committing a crime. Torture is not justified in either of these situations.  So, out of thin air, McAllister and those of her ilk have created a new category – a terrorist!  A catch-all for when criminals want to ignore laws and treaties so they can do things like…torture!

But she saves her most tortuous thinking for her apologia to the state.  She offers the regularly abused Romans 13:

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Others much more qualified than I am have written about the fallacy of using this passage for the purpose used by McAllister.  My response is much simpler: explain Stalin, Hitler and Mao, then get back to me.  Paul’s words are not written in a vacuum.

Not leaving blasphemy-enough alone:

People like Zahnd who speak of God’s forgiveness and mercy and the many commandments in Scripture for God’s people to turn the other cheek and love their enemies make the mistake of applying these commandments meant for individuals also to the government.

I have yet to find one verse in the Bible where God says that an individual can ignore His Word as long as he wears a badge and uniform.  Not one.  But McAllister is right, many so-called Christians believe this.

Conclusion

Many reading this will say “Duh”; there is nothing new today about this “culture.”  I agree. So, why now?  Why my writing doldrums?  I think perhaps I have internalized events too much, and it finally weighed too heavily – certainly more than enough given my real-world events that are also in the way.  This helped to make it difficult not just to write, but also to read.

There will be no straight line from where we are to where we will be.  And at times, I guess this will overwhelm my ability to process and therefore write.  Those of us on the libertarian, anti-state, Austrian fringe have recognized for some time that the world is headed toward some traumatic times.  We have seen this in the economy, and continue to live in it.

We are also seeing it geo-politically.  Times of transition in the West, from Rome to the early Middle Ages, from the late Middle Ages to the Reformation, and from a very liberal society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to what we have gone through in the last 100 years – All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state – have each come with tremendous upheaval and pain.

In each case, the transition required and was preceded by a transition of the culture – a dedicated segment of the population believing in and supporting some fundamental principles.  We are slowly seeing a transition, it seems to me – globally, libertarian thought is better discussed, understood, and accepted today than at any time in history. This is a start.

Rothbard is convinced we will win.  I am convinced he is right – not resulting in a world of anarcho-capitalism, but a world of great decentralization – nothing to sneeze at.  This, it seems to me, is inevitable.  But for at least some of these decentralized societies to thrive, it will require a change in thinking, a change in culture.

I am glad that there are many who write and speak to this every day; more Biblically-sound thought can be found here than is apparently available at 78% of the Christian churches in the United States.

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