The Libertarian Standard » Lucy Steigerwald Property - Prosperity - Peace Sat, 16 May 2015 17:42:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace The Libertarian Standard » Lucy Steigerwald TV-G Maybe It’s Not Paranoia If We’re All Paranoid: A Review of Jesse Walker’s New Book Wed, 11 Sep 2013 01:54:01 +0000 9780062135551_custom-b59aef367c02e28f5b19c4597390912eb7cbf621-s6-c30The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, by Jesse Walker, HarperCollins, 448 pages, $25.99

Circa 2009, in a fit of 1990s nostalgia that should make BuzzFeed proud — and motivated in part by a clunky Department of Homeland Security paper — some of the left decided that incidents like the murder of abortion provider George Tiller, the shooting death of a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and the lingering rumor that Obama was a Muslim from Kenya meant that the right couldn’t handle a black, Democrat president without losing their Goddamned racist, fascist, conspiratorial minds. It wasn’t true, but it made great headlines and cable news concern-trolling. In a while the left cooled off a bit. (They didn’t even blame any right-wing pundits for the schooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school!) But the notion of a paranoid (loosely-defined) right remains (and will forever, if the Southern Poverty Law Center has anything to say about it).

Talking about paranoia or conspiracies is not as simple as Birthers, Truthers, or even the fair-is-fair point that the left has big fears, too. (Or that paranoia about the paranoid may count as paranoia!) There are a lot more baseless or exaggerated fears dwelling deep in a lot more humans than any partisan could ever admit. And, writes Reason magazine books editor Jesse Walker in his new book, that fear has been with us since before America was the United States.

To make our long history of hiding and screaming in terror easier to filter, Walker divides his types of conspiracy theories into five groups: the Enemy Outside (say, rogue Indians and scheming Catholics), the Enemy Within (Commies, Satanists, anyone quietly scheming), the Enemy Below (slave rebellions, populist uprisings), the Enemy Above (the state! And corporations, and Illuminati, and Bilderbergs, anyone powerful who secretly runs everything and may even be inciting the faceless mobs in their own supposedly organic outrages), and the Benevolent Conspiracy (angels, friendly aliens, and benevolent puppetmasters and societies). And there are scads of examples of each, surprising numbers for a book that isn’t about any of those one things. Indeed, there is so much of interest in United States of Paranoia that its biggest problem might just be a reader’s desire to stop a minute and talk even more about this or that specific thing. Any chapter could have made a whole, adsorbing book in itself.

Because while strolling through American history, Walker manages to mention almost every seemingly random, fascinating bit of human endeavor possible, including, but not limited to: the myth of the superchief Indian, the meaning of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the multilayered interpretations of Rambo, aliens, Satan´s influence on Your Children and Women, plenty of communists, fears of commie and gay conspiracies, real conspiracies like COINTELPRO, and a bracing defense of (most) militias. Indeed, one of Walker’s most fascinating chapters is the one where he explores the New World Order/Illuminati fears that bridged ´90s militia and black nationalist movements.

The simplest, most convenient libertarian takeaway in these pages is that a lot more people are paranoid than your average loony — say, the cheap caricature of a libertarian writing anti-government manifestos, then piloting a plane into an IRS building (or something). We´re not alone, fellow residents of government watch lists! That´s the thing about United States of Paranoia, anyone, libertarian or not, could read it in two ways: optimism that the oft-cackled critique of ¨you’re paranoid!¨ can be directed at at least every other human; pessimism, or actual alarm, that this many people over this many years have let their fears turn into sometimes-real monsters that kill or at least ruin lives.

But instead of worrying about that, maybe just follow Walker´s lead, and enjoy the journey — the often-creative myth-making and the psychology of paranoid tales and what they say about us. Walker´s a big fan of the late Robert Anton Wilson, and another of his best chapters discusses Wilson and the Discordians and other folks who got into conspiracy theories for their weirdness, not for any Grand Explanation of All Things. (Paranoia as art! Finally an understanding of my inability to be be outraged over Alex Jones, not matter how horrible he is for libertarianism!)

Walker´s writing style is brainy, but off-kilter and  quietly funny, like the man himself. Any creeping libertarian propaganda is in short, subtle supply. There’s nothing much here to turn off the readers who might disagree with Walker’s politics. The story he tells is captivating, human, bizarre, and endlessly surprising, in short, accessible to all but  the most ardent Southern Poverty Law Center employee or sincere user of the word “sheeple.”

The entire book filled me with a strange fondness for America, simply because of the strange creativity of many of these myths. Yes, paranoia run amok can cause real casualties (ask Giles Cory, or parents in Kern County, California). But seeing patterns, conspiracies, and cabals is normal; as is building up our enemies, be they small, or entirely imaginary, into something vast and all-powerful and terrifying. This is who we are, we humans. And Walker’s exploration of the normalcy of this fear should make us all a little less paranoid.

But it won’t.

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Bureaucracy Kills: Catholic Shelter Housing ‘Too Many’ Homeless People Fri, 21 Dec 2012 14:19:28 +0000 HOMELESS-WINTER-2There is libertarianism — with its debatable scope and definitions and borders — and then there is parody libertarianism, that is, the one where every business person is dubbed heroic, no matter how cronyistic they may be, and of course, where the Little Guy is squashed daily beneath the mighty, faceless feet of Making Money because no one cares; and so Government is Necessary.

Apropos of that inaccurate impression, those on the moderate left — the guiltiest when it comes to repeating it as gospel —  should consider the following story.

The Mayor’s office of Green Bay, Wisconsin recently sent Catholic homeless shelter St. John the Evangelist a letter that says by allowing “too many people to stay at its overnight shelter” St. John is violating the terms of their building permit (they debate this).

The reason for the shelter’s sudden upswing in homeless people might just be that it’s December and December is cold. In fact, the shelter is only open in cold weather and is intended to be an emergency location for people who don’t have anywhere else to go. Nevertheless, as reported in this local Fox affiliate, the charity’s building is permitted to house 64 people, and 64 people it shall house and no more.

Last week, the city sent St. John’s officials a letter saying they had five days to comply with its conditional use permit capacity of 64 overnight residents. According to the city, the shelter has been over its capacity every night in December, reaching as high as 86 people one night last week.

“When we grant a conditional use permit to someone, we expect them to hold up their end of the deal and they clearly aren’t,” said Jim Schmitt, Green Bay’s mayor.

“As far as we’re concerned the operational plan allows us to go to 84,” said Reilly.

Green Bay’s assistant attorney says that doesn’t matter because the shelter’s operational plan isn’t the same as the 64 beds on its city permit.

“They cannot put an operating plan together that violates the CUP,” said Jim Mueller, an assistant city attorney for Green Bay.

“We need to take care of the people who are going to be coming to the shelter tomorrow night in the middle of the snowstorm,” said Reilly.

That could cost the shelter $681. The city plans to start issuing a fine of that amount each night the shelter goes over capacity.

Neither the news reports nor the actual letter from the mayor’s office detail any witnessed overcrowding or unsafe circumstances, only that the numbers are not matching up in the way that they must (and that some local residents have complained about “drinking and loitering”).

It is not an exaggeration to say that this shelter could be saving the lives of homeless people this winter and by extension  the mayor could be killing people by preventing them from being helped by a willing charity.

Furthermore, the idea that the mayor of the city can and should make sure these fines occur is based on three assumptions:

1) That the people who are at the shelter every day and can actually gauge how much space is available do not know as well as the mayor does, or as well as the previously written mandates says.

2) That even if the shelter is uncomfortable, even bordering on dangerously overcrowded, that the alternative of potentially freezing to death is better and that the homeless individuals cannot decide for themselves whether or not to stay at the voluntarily-offered shelter, and or whether they would prefer to brave a night in the cold.

And 3) Since the city council and the city planning commission could permit the shelter to house more people if they decide, they also have the legitimacy to decide such matters. Even though, according to the Fox story, they won’t meet until next year, thereby making the shelter choose now between losing money to fines or turning away people seeking shelter.

All of these assumptions are authoritarian,condescending, bureaucratic,  and downright dangerous. They have nothing to do with helping the poor and downtrodden. Perhaps the fourth, worst assumption of all is simply that “rules are rules” no matter anyone’s good intentions.

Quite simply, advocates for the state can have it both ways. Private charity can never feed all the hungry or mend the sick, they say, so we simply must have government. What’s that? You don’t have the proper papers for giving out that food? Sorry.

The New Deal arguably began the demise of mutual aid societies and other voluntary charities and social securities and the Great Society mostly finished the job. The current common attitude about charity  is beautifully summed up by the late, great Harry Browne who said, “Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, “See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.”

And the Green Bay story is not unique. How about New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s restriction on food donations to the homeless (at government-run shelters) because calorie and salt counts could not be ascertained? How about the anarchist group Food, Not Bombs blocked from feeding the homeless in Orlando, with their members even jailed? How about Philadelphia’s ban on feeding the homeless in public? How about the loophole for the Green Bay Mayor’s legitimized pushiness, the very existence of zoning laws?

Hell, how about every time a small business owner, or a food truck driver, or a taxi driver cannot start a business due to the artificially high cost of entry into that market? What have we lost if those individuals become dependent on the state instead of becoming entrepreneurs?

In spite of all this, individuals do keep on, demonstrated beautifully by this quote from the Green Bay shelter’s deacon, Tim Reilly: “The obstacles [the mayor] may put in front of us are secondary to taking care of those who need shelter. This is what it means to be Christian.”

Still, even when wearing a minarchist or moderate hat, or even pro-government hat, these kinds of robotic restrictions on kindness are infuriating. Again, people who believe in a some kindly welfare state shouldn’t even support red tape like this; what they do instead is ignore it and excuse it and incidents like the above mentioned.  And by not even letting the private sector compete fairly with government, to see who might win, the latter aptly demonstrates that it’s not just a coercive institution, but a damned cheat as well.

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Songs to Co-Opt for Libertarian Ends Sat, 10 Nov 2012 07:37:29 +0000 Libertarians are on occasion accused of trying to steal entertainment for their own ends. From The Hunger Games to Shindler’s List to  just every dystopian tale of government run amok, sometimes folks — sometimes even other libertarians! — think we’re trying too hard to stick politics into pop culture where it just doesn’t belong.

But music is a big deal to people, almost as much so as political philosophy. Yet, if you want to put the two together for a soundtrack to state smashing, your choices are limited.  You can either have to pick unsubtle, sugary-sweet ballads about Ron Paul, or you can have punk odes to leftist utopias or country odes to righteous warfare.

Or, you can always pretend Objectivism is the same as libertarianism and go listen to some Rush.

But let’s get a little looser with the definitions. Maybe whatever song makes you feel like smashing the state in whatever way you do everyday, maybe that counts.

So here is my short list of some of my favorite songs, none of which were written by anyone who has ever read any Mises (I assume), and definitely none of which are rap battles between Hayek and Keynes. But that’s okay, damn it. You don’t need it to contain lessons in sound monetary policy to  feel like a song speaks to something libertarian.

  • “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers; sample lyrics to sing loudly, but extra loudly during G-20 or other jackbooted thuggery life moments are “they take away our freedom/in the name of liberty/why can’t they all just clear off/why can’t they let us be? they make us feel indebted/for saving us from hell/and then they put us through it/ it’s time the baaaaaaaaaastards fell”
  • “Riot Squad” by Cock Sparrer; “he’s in the riot squad/the shoot on sight squad”. Not so nice to the police.
  • “Ain’t No Nobody’s Business If I Do” sung by Bessie Smith (and other folks); it’s pretty libertarian: “If I should take a notion, to jump into the ocean/Ain’t nobody’s business if I do.” Hell, it was even borrowed for the title of a book.
  • “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle; libertarian fantasy lyrics we shouldn’t admit: “now the DEA’s got a chopper in the air/I wake up screaming like I’m still over there/I learned a thing or two from Charlie don’t you know/you better stay away from Copperhead road”
  • “Ain’t It Enough” by Old Crow Medicine Show; if only for “let the prison walls crumble and the borders all tumble”
  • “See How We Are” by X; for “there are men lost in jail/crowded 50 to a room” and other problems of prison lyrics.
  • “Ruby Ridge” by Peter Rowan; non-racist, non-heavy-handed look at that real human tragedy; “I got a wife and kids on Ruby Ridge/ please don’t shoot me down”
  • “For An Old Kentucky Anarchist” by Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew and The Orphans; Just… do your own thing: “I never cared much for any government/ I got my Jesus for me when the time is right”
  • “Fuck Tha Police” by NWA; shame about the sexism and homophobia, but: “searchin’ my car/lookin’ for the product/Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics” gets to the heart of what keeps lots of libertarians up late nights.
  • “Washington Bullets” by The Clash; it scorns the U.S. and wretched lefty regimes with “N’ if you can find a Afghan rebel/That the Moscow bullets missed/Ask him what he thinks of voting Communist/Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet/How many monks did the Chinese get?”
  • “Holiday in Cambodia” by the Dead Kennedys; slanders fashion rebels in the U.S. and also tries to point out the heinousness of the Khmer Rouge: “Well you’ll work harder/ With a gun in your back/For a bowl of rice a day/Slave for soldiers/Till you starve/Then your head is skewered on a stake”
  • “Minority” by Green Day; your basic I am me and I rule: “I don’t need your authority/Down with the moral majority/Cause I want to be the minority”
  • “Bye Bye Policeman” by Jim Jackson, well covered by the Carolina Chocolate Drops: I am never sure if the narrator kills the policeman or just shoos him away from his gambling: “He said, ‘Stop there, boy! I’m the law, I command you!’/I said, ‘I ain’t thinkin’ ’bout that law you’re tryin’ to hand me/Lord, I was pickin’ ‘em up, layin’ ‘em down/Curvin’ in and curvin’ ’round/Policeman, bye-bye'”

When I asked this question earlier, Jesse Walker, Senior Editor of Reason suggested three different Kinks songs. Another Reason Senior Editor, Brian Doherty, commented:

My three favorite libertarian songs, whenever this comes up (not in order):

“1 %”–Jane’s Addiction (recognizes govt as criminal gang to which people give fealty for the benefits it grants them)

“Beehive State”–Randy Newman (cold-eyed and sadly funny summation of what representative democracy is really like, and for)

“Why Can’t We Be Friends?”—War (bizarre series of non sequitors that manage to be anti-CIA, anti-welfare state, and anti-authority in an economic sense all in one song that most people don’t notice is any of those things)

Tom Clougherty of the Reason Foundation recommends  “Simple Song of Freedom” by Bobby Darrin. Other answers can be found over here.

Are there more? Or is it a waste of time to try to punk pop culture and libertarianism anywhere in the same room together? Is it enough for a song to simply suggest a vaguely anti-authoritarian feeling?

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