Friday, June 29, 2007

Resist the collective

With his essay "Identifying With the State," Butler Shaffer articulates where I was trying to go the other day with "ism, shmism." Thanks to Sunni for the link!

By identifying ourselves with any abstraction (such as the state) we give up the integrated life, the sense of wholeness that can be found only within each of us. While the state has manipulated, cajoled, and threatened us to identify ourselves with it, the responsibility for our acceding to its pressures lies within each of us. The statists have – as was their vicious purpose – simply taken over the territory we have abandoned.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A few minutes with Mr. Paul

At the end of this eight-minute segment, host Tucker Carlson tells Ron Paul, "I hope you can come on regularly just for a tutorial on what it means to be free." I have some quibbles here and there, such as when Paul said he doesn't mind giving Continental Airlines his fingerprint to get on a plane because that's different from giving it to government. But the Paul candidacy is good for raising the profile of the idea that liberty is something government takes away, not something government protects and nourishes.

Paraphrasing, Paul says to refuse to be so afraid that you tolerate an abridgment of liberty. Nice to have someone out there saying that.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ism, schmism

I know it's important to have a clear sense of what I believe, but I don't believe exactly what anyone else believes. And neither do you.

I wrote about this once before, and the money line was: "All this talk about liberalism and conservatism and libertarianism and statists and individualists and anarchism and agorists and Randism and Rothbardists and Istism is kind of interesting - but in the end we are 6 billion people who view life 6 billion different ways."

Each of us is exposed to the various "isms" in different ways and by different paths, and we adapt what aspects of each ism are comfortable to us. No one is a "pure" anything-ist, and maintaining a foolish consistency within a supposedly one-size-fits-all philosophy seems a bit hobgobliny to me.

If we are to celebrate the individual and abhor the state, we must be prepared to accept an infinite variety of individuals. It may be helpful shorthand to say "I am a Randian" or "I am a conservative on fiscal issues and a liberal on social issues," but such labels do not substitute for understanding that particular individual's stance on anything in particular. If you are comfortable in the company of people who call themselves anarcho-capitalists, fine - just don't expect unanimity among the group on any single subject.

Don't be surprised or hurt or even offended if one of these anarcho-capitalists says or does something that strikes you as especially not an anarcho-capitalist thing to do or say - because that person's anarcho-capitalism is not yours. Each of us comes to the table with a different set of experiences, exposure to a different set of individuals from the billions who have lived, and each of us is comfortable with a different set of beliefs. We are snowflakes, not stamped and pressed machines.

I am more comfortable with the opposing labels individualist and statist rather than liberal and conservative - but that doesn't mean I'm right or wrong. Those labels just help me best understand the interplay that I observe daily, and I try to be constantly aware that I may encounter some amazingly statist behavior in an individual, and some astonishingly individual behavior in a statist.

Yes, this is a response to recent conversations here and there about whether anti-statists should vote and, specifically, whether to vote for Ron Paul. I'm among those who have lost faith in the system of voting and don't expect that I will trudge to the polls like a good little slave - and Paul is the only name I can imagine putting a mark next to - but why waste energy being dismayed by those who do make that trudge? At the very least it will be a measurement of how laissez-faire our society is willing to be - not the be-all and end-all measurement, mind you, just a measurement.

I could probably help people understand me better by declaring myself a member of the Alliance for the Libertarian Left, or a Rothbardian or a Congerian or a Maravillosite or some such, but the truth is always that my philosophy is an amalgamation and sifting of all the thought I have been exposed to, and I agree with much of some and disagree with much of others, and agree and disagree with some of all of them.

To me, it's enough to say "I'm B.W." and let you figure it all out from there. Even to say I'm an anarcho-capitalist puts me in company with SOME stuff I don't necessarily embrace - just as your saying "I agree with B.W." tends to commit you to a whole lot of stuff that may drive you crazy. Such labels are another way of putting us into cubbyholes and groups - and lumping people together philosophically, spiritually and politically is what got us into this mess to begin with.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The whole thing in a nutshell

Wally puts us in touch with a succinct little essay by Karen DeCoster that pretty much sums it all up ... the money segment for me:

This is where I disagree with Murray Rothbard that the state is all of the problem, and the masses really aren't that bad at all. True, the masses have been inculcated with so much establishment hogwash (from the state), they have indeed become disseminators of the establishment's behavior-and-thought control. But, at the same time, I am a believer of free will and personal choice, and as such, the citizen tyrants have the ability to accept or reject the propaganda, tyranny, and conspicuous abrogation of individual liberty that a total state brings forth. I reject such nonsense, yet they do not. They rubber-stamp the state's agenda with delight.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ron Paul on Iran

Rep. Paul on Resolution 21, the latest saber-rattling nonsense aimed at Iran:

" Clearly, language threatening to wipe a nation or a group of people off the map is to be condemned by all civilized people. And I do condemn any such language. But why does threatening Iran with a pre-emptive nuclear strike, as many here have done, not also deserve the same kind of condemnation? Does anyone believe that dropping nuclear weapons on Iran will not wipe a people off the map? When it is said that nothing, including a nuclear strike, is off the table on Iran, are those who say it not also threatening genocide? And we wonder why the rest of the world accuses us of behaving hypocritically, of telling the rest of the world 'do as we say, not as we do.'"

Why is it that so few elected representatives "get it"?


Monday, June 18, 2007

Rise of the Fantastic Four

Half of the genius of the Marvel superhero movies at their best is that they re-create the tone and spirit of the original books. The X-Men series has captured the earnest drama of the comic books, with their constant undertone of discrimination against people who are different from most of the rest of us. The Spider-Man series has amazingly and spectacularly captured the spirit of the comics. Even the Hulk movie and, to a lesser extent, the Daredevil and Elektra films, have caught in the movie theater the thrill of sitting and reading the stories in four-color printed glory. And the first Fantastic Four movie captured the adventure of the superheroics along with the teamwork and the playful family interplay of the four main characters.

But with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, this particular series has risen to the level of the wonderful X-Men and Spider-Man flicks, and, I would argue, gone them one better in one important aspect. It took me a little while to accept Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Hugh Jackman is the perfect Wolverine, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are downright awesome, but some of the other casting choices for the various X-Men are somewhat suspect.

Not so with the F.F. After two films, I can't imagine any other actors playing this crew than Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and, yes, even Jessica Alba. These folks are Reed and Sue Richards, Johnny Storm and Benjamin J. Grimm. They remind me why, lo these 40 years ago, a teenage B.W. glommed onto every available issue of the World's Greatest Comics Magazine. They were friends, they were family and, despite adventures in the Negative Zone and outer space and ancient Egypt against preposterous world-killing menaces, they were real.

How they manage to accomplish this within the confines of the shortest Marvel movies of them all (89 minutes? To quote Mr. Storm, "Come on!") is nothing short of breathtaking. The distance the characters manage to travel in such a short time is remarkable.

A big thumb's up and a barrel of popcorn, heavy on the "butter flavoring," for Rise of the Silver Surfer. I gotta see this one again and again.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stevie Wonder meets Sesame Street

Oh ... my ... god. Stevie does "Superstition" for the kids. Just when you don't want it to end, it keeps on going. I love the Internet.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How about that ... freedom IS slavery

Robert Novick asks: " The question is: Which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bradbury meant what he said

When you have a blog named Montag that purports to be "a place to explore ways to carve out what freedom we can in this nanny-government, corporate Big Brother world," it's a bit of a shock to the system to learn that Guy Montag's creator claims he wasn't talking about nanny-government censorship or Big Brother when he invented a world where firemen burn books.

An interview with L.A. Weekly that was posted at Endervidualism last week is titled "Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted." It turns out I'd missed a video at Ray where he says essentially the same thing, which is that he was writing about how television destroys interest in literature:

"... the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as 'walls' and its actors as 'family,' a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends."

I'm fairly sure Bradbury isn't yanking our chain and really believes his purpose was to warn us about the sedating qualities of TV - in fact, that's one of the scary things about his future world: the firemen burn books because the sedated TV-watching majority wants it that way. In a country where "We The People" are supposedly in charge, Bradbury envisions a world where We The People hire people to protect us from ideas more complicated than who gets kicked off the island next.

But how do you separate that message from a warning about an overreaching government? Look what Beatty tells Montag when he's explaining how it all works: "If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year."

In the video, Bradbury says he always advises librarians who have been forced to take his books off the shelves just to quietly put them back. Works every time, he says, because we don't really have government censorship in this country. (I'm paraphrasing.) I think I see his point: What "censorship" exists is because We The People don't want to be bothered by complicated thought. It's not censorship, it's market forces at work: The audience responds to Paris Hilton, not so much to the minutiae of a repressive tax code.

By insisting his work has been misinterpreted, however, Bradbury loses sight of the plain fact that the author loses control of a work of literature the moment he turns it over to another human being - often even before that, because in the process of writing, the characters take on a life of their own and act in ways that the writer didn't foresee when he started. In Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury urges the reader to wake up! start reading! look at what's going on around you! and if thousands of readers woke up and discovered the government is inefficient, top-heavy, tax-mad and happy that people have forgotten there's such a thing as war, well then, the novel hasn't been misinterpreted at all. It's had the desired effect of turning the reader away from the screen and exploring literature and life.

One of the first Bradbury books I purchased was the short story collection The Golden Apples of The Sun. The second story in that book is "The Pedestrian," which envisions a police state where a guy walking alone at night is stopped, questioned and - when the answers to the questions aren't what the officer expects to hear - hauled off to a psychiatric center. Now, the author could argue that his intention was to get the reader to step away from a night of television and go out, that it's perfectly normal and downright healthy to enjoy a solitary evening walk, but by having his character arrested, deprived of his freedom and institutionalized, he's again issuing a warning about the extremes government could take if We The People don't wake up - indeed, about the extremes We The People will tacitly approve.

Writing within years of the fall of Nazi Germany, and with the rise of the Soviet Union and Communist China in the daily news (Fahrenheit 451 began life as a short story in 1950 and Golden Apples appeared in '53), Bradbury was well aware of what could happen if the people fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe he believed, and still believes, that the US of A has not reached those totalitarian extremes, but he certainly intended to warn us it could.

So, thanks for the clarification, Mr. Bradbury, but I think you made your point better than you even intended. By turning off the television, picking up books and studying where great minds like yours have gone before, we will find that we've enabled a nanny-government, corporate Big Brother world - just as your book describes.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Symptom of information overload

She's still a beautiful woman; when I interviewed her for my media-related day job quite a few years ago now, I remember getting the flutters most men get (but perhaps don't admit) when attempting to communicate with a woman who is "out of his league." I remember liking her personally and being a bit surprised about that, seeing as local TV anchorwomen I'd met previously seemed a bit overimpressed by themselves.

What I couldn't remember was her name, and so if the opportunity had arisen I wouldn't have been able to introduce her to my houseguests. Fortunately I don't think she saw us in the corner of the establishment. At least I hope not; I'd hate to think she thought I was being rude and aloof when I was just being embarrassingly forgetful.

About 10 minutes later, and after she'd left, her name did bubble to the surface of my brain, which created some relief. It was one of the worst cases of aging brain to afflict me in a long time. Or was it?

I don't watch local TV news very often, and it has been literally years since I saw her on television, and much longer since I saw her in person. Could it simply be that my brain filed her name in a dusty file of unneeded information, and it simply took longer to access it? I did, after all, eventually remember her name - and I recognized her immediately.

I'm going to choose to file this incident that way, rather than spend much time fretting that my brain is aging beyond control (since the aging process IS greatly out of my control) or that something worse than simple aging might be happening. Even the most sophisticated hard drive reaches a point where it has to be purged of files that it rarely, if ever, uses, and I have been trying to wedge a lot of information into my brain over the years.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Talkin' Bout My Generation

One week after this video's release on YouTube, the Zimmers have hit the Top 30 in Great Britain. How cool is this?