“It says ‘Well-regulated'”

People keep making this ridiculous argument that the wording of the 2nd Amendment permits the government to put any and all restrictions on the possession (keeping) and carrying (bearing) of firearms (arms) so long as someone, somewhere is allowed to keep something, even if it’s only a tethered cork popgun.  Any such restrictions are not an “infringement” because “well-regulated.”

Freedon loving people, when faced with that, often argue the meaning of “militia” and “well-regulated” as understood by those who wrote the 2nd Amendment, but the flaw in the argument is much more basic than that.  The problem is, simply put, that in no case except the 2nd Amendment itself would a sentence with that grammatical structure be interpreted in that way.

“A well-read electorate, being necessary to the wise exercise of the franchise, the right of the publishers to print and distribute books, shall not be infringed.”

Who has the right to print and distribute books?  The electorate or publishers? (Note, I’m not asking who should, or who only does, simply who the sentence says has the right.

“A system of voluntary exchanges regulated by prices, being necessary to the most efficient allocation of scarce resources which have alternative uses, the right of businesses, to engage in trade, shall not be infringed.”

Who has the right to engage in trade?  Businesses (Same caveat as before)?  Or system of voluntary exchanges regulated by prices?

“Sweetened condensed milk, being necessary for a good key lime pie, the right of farmers to keep and raise cows shall not be infringed.”

Who’s right of keeping and raising cows is being asserted?  Sweetened condensed milk?  Or farmers.

“the shipping of goods and services across the country, being necessary for a healthy economy, the right of people to move freely, shall not be infringed.”

Who has the right to move freely?  Shipping of goods and services?  Or the people?

In any of the above cases the literate individual would consider the first “option” ridiculous.

Likewise: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Who has the right to keep and bear arms?  A well-regulated militia?  Or the people?”

Clearly, unquestionably, and brutally, the answer is “the people.” The only reason an argument otherwise is even brought up is that some people want so desperately for it to be otherwise.  They want to restrict private ownership of firearms, with outright prohibition as the end goal as many leaders of the movement have stated often enough, but they know they haven’t got the support to actually amend the Constitution.  So they grasp at any straw, no matter how ridiculous, to try to claim that their restrictions are allowed.

And they repeat it often enough that people start to believe it.

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Advice

People, all through my life, have always been giving me advice.  Some of it has been good.  Some…not so much.  Some of the “not so much” I recognized as a bad idea.  Others, I had to learn the hard way.

Here are a few examples of the “not so much” generally having to do with the issue of social interaction and dealing with others.

Any advice that begins with “It’s simple” or includes the word “just” as in “you just…”

Look, folks.  As much as some folk might like to claim otherwise, I’m not stupid.  If it really were “simple” or a matter of “just” I’d already be doing it.

However, in many ways my mind doesn’t quite work the same way as most people’s do.  Things that are simple and/or obvious to you aren’t necessarily so to me and your “simple” usually has a whole collection of prerequisite skills or knowledge (lacking of specific knowledge/understanding is not the same thing as “stupid”) that you’ve internalized to such an extent that you don’t have to think about them.  Like the centipede walking: it doesn’t have to think about where to put each of it’s multitudinous feet; it just does.  Or when someone is riding a bike.  They don’t think about gyroscopic precession, conservation of momentum and angular momentum, and how these things interact with control inputs to right the bike when it starts to go over one way or the other–you just do it…once you’ve learned how.  But that complexity is there, lying in the background, and largely forgotten by the time someone is trying to teach riding a bike to others.  Indeed, that complexity is such that you can’t learn it by thinking it through.  You have to learn it at a “muscle memory” level or it’s not going to work.

Much like the “it’s simple, you just…” advice.

“Ignore them.  They’ll get bored and go away.”

Advice on dealing with bullies.  Let’s just say that it didn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for anyone I ever knew who received that advice.  Has it ever worked for anyone?  What did work (more or less) was “learning martial arts”. Quotes because…well, there was no Mr. Miyagi in my neighborhood so I ended up “learning” from books with a friend or two that I could practice with.  Some people saw one of the practice sessions and that was enough to get the physical bullying to stop–the impression that I might actually know something was enough to get that to stop.

The mental and emotional however?  That was a whole other ballgame and continued until I got out of that environment entirely.

Does that “ignore them. They’ll get bored and go away” actually work for anyone? Why do people give that “advice”?

“If you want to be attractive to women you need to start wearing bright colors.”

I wish I remember who told me that.  At least I knew enough to avoid jarring, conflicting, clashing colors, or over-the-top eye searing prints.  I was told this at a time when I was staring to find a darker aesthetic personally appealing.  I didn’t then think “goth” because, well, goth was just starting to become a thing (and I’m not sure the term had even been adopted for the music and subculture yet).  Being unreservedly heterosexual and definitely interested in the female of the species, this was an important issue to me.  And, so I took that advice hook, line, and sinker (pretty much all the way up to the bobber.)

Here’s the thing, it didn’t work.  Not only did I have any more “luck” with women (and, to be honest, I wasn’t looking for “hook ups” or even short-term “flings”–I wanted then what I want now, a serious, long term relationship with someone I care about and who cares about me) than when I was wearing darker tones, but I was always faintly uncomfortable in this brighter colored look.  But I’d internalized the advice so thoroughly that I never really understood why I was so uncomfortable.  It was just a vague, unspecified dissatisfaction.

In recent years, I was introduced to the goth subculture and while parts of that aren’t a terribly good fit, other parts are.  And, yeah, my social life really isn’t any better than it was before but at least I’m more comfortable within my own skin.

So, while the advice may not have done harm on the actual purpose for which it was given, it also did no help.  But beyond the intended purpose it did do harm on other issues leading me to spending more years more unhappy and dissatisfied with life, than they needed to be.

“It’ll happen when you stop worrying about it.”

Again on the subject of love and romance.  This was folk in my church mostly, when I would get frustrated at seeing friends and acquaintances “pair up” and here I am…alone.  I’m sure it was meant well but…

ARE YOU ON DRUGS?

Look, I’m an extreme introvert.  Perhaps I don’t come across that way in my online persona on this blog, but in “meat space” that is definitely the case.  The activities I engage in on my own are highly solitary.  And those few that actually do get me out and about are…let’s just say they are not a target rich environment.

If I didn’t have the motivation of “worrying about it” I would never leave the house and certainly would never be in a situation where I would be at all likely to meet, let alone interact with, unattached young women (or not so young given my current age–the situation really hasn’t changed from when the advice has first given).

“Just engage in activities you enjoy.  That way when you meet someone you’ll have at least that in common.”

This is a twofer.  See above.  The activities I enjoy (you know…reading ranks high on that) are not conducive to “meeting someone.” And the very few things I do engage in outside the house are not things where unattached women are likely to be found (at least not in my experience).  Married and otherwise “attached” couples, yes.  Single?  Not so much.  And about that “just”…

So, there are some of the howlers of advice I’ve received over the years.  What are some of yours?

Macdonough’s Song

I have frequently on this blog talked about the value of individual liberty, about the need to limit the power and control of the state over the individual.  As one should know by now I am a very strong endorser of both individual and economic freedom not just for practical reasons but for “spiritual.” And by spiritual I do not mean religious (although religious freedom is something I also endorse), but, as was described in Goldwater’s Conscience of the Conservative, rather the intangible aspects that affect the psyche of mankind.

But we are beset, as always, by those who want to deprive us of those liberties, who want to put the state over all.  They do it in the name of “the people”, the large masses who as a mass are, yes, like I’d put in a previous blog post “dumb, panicky animals”. (“A person is smart.”)

That tendency is not new.  Kipling wrote about it, and it’s consequences, many years ago (1917 to be precise):

Macdonough’s Song
“As easy as A B C”–A Diversity of Creatures”

Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth–
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote–
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King–
Or Holy People’s Will–
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying –after–me:–

Once there was The People–Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, 0 ye slain!
Once there was The People–it shall never be again!

A Person is Smart

From the movie Men in Black Agent K: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

Possibly the most true statement ever put in the mouth of a fictional character.  Close is the following which Heinlein put in the mouth of Rufo (the “wise old man” character from the latter part of Glory Road):

Democracy can’t work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that’s all there is — so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work. Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.
But a democratic form of government is okay, as long as it doesn’t work. Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing — except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.
Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time — unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.

People in large groups simply cannot be relied on to make wise or even knowledgeable decisions.  This becomes even more so the larger, and more complex a society.  The simple truth is most people don’t have the information to make informed, let alone wise, decisions on the vast majority of things involved in the operation of society.

Some will say that this calls for decisions to be turned over to an intellectual elite, people knowledgeable and (presumably) wise to make those decisions for us (back to Plato’s Philospher Kings).  However, far from solving the problem this merely exacerbates it.  For one thing, no manageable sized group of elites can itself possess all the knowledge and understanding, let alone wisdom, required for a society of any size and complexity.  But worse is the simple question of how to decide who belongs in that class.  How do the folk in larger society, as a group lacking the understanding necessary to make the myriad decisions involved in keeping that society functioning, to choose those “Philosospher Kings” (or “Good Socialists” or whatever) to manage things?  They can’t.

When folk point to the failure of top-down central planning of economies and societies, we are always told “that wasn’t real…” and “the wrong people were doing it.”

They.  Will.  Always.  Be.  The.  Wrong.  People.

There is simply no way the larger mass of people can select the “right people.”  But even worse, there is no feedback mechanism to winnow out “wrong people” when it comes to the benefit of society as a whole and replace them with new people (who will almost certainly be wrong, since there are far more “wrong people” than “right people” however you look at it, but who just might, possibly, be “right”).

The only way to deal with the increasing complexity of society is to go completely the other way, to not try to “manage” it in all but very limited areas.  Each person can then exercise their knowledge, understanding, and, yes, wisdom in the area of their immediate concern.  Those who do well will tend to succeed.  Those who don’t won’t.  It won’t be a perfect system–nothing ever is–and, yes, some folk will fail through no fault of their own and others will succeed through scurrilous means.  But the overall trend will be, as it were, for the cream to rise to the top.

People talk about the venality of the “robber barons” but when it comes right down to it, what they did was make life better for the masses.  Rockefeller found ways to make kerosene cheap compared to competing products (whale oil, as well as other kerosene producers–and indeed it’s entirely possible that, by reducing the demand for whale oil, he prevented the extinction of a number of whale species allowing them to survive long enough for conservation groups to take an interest).  Carnegie did the same with steel.  Ford with automobiles.  And so on.

It is the individual “hero” (as Glory Road puts it) having the freedom to operate with minimum constraint that truly makes life better for the rest of us.

And so Rufo, following up on the previous comment, speaking to one such hero:

Wherever you go, you will make yourself felt, you won’t be one of the herd. I respect you, and I don’t respect many.

This is why individual liberty, both personal liberty and economic liberty, is so important. It allows those smart, the knowledgeable, the wise individuals the freedom to exercise their smarts, knowledge, and wisdom. Whereas if you make them simply part of a mass (The People!) then you end up with “dumb, panicky, dangerous animals”.

Every. Damn. Time.

Political Truth

One of the key elements of totalitarian, or even just authoritarian, regimes is the concept of “political truth”.  This, basically, is something that must be true because the tenets of the ideology demand that it be true.

In Marxism, a political truth is the exploitation of the working class under capitalism.  It’s simply assumed true and any arguments otherwise–argument about the value those who provide capital bring to an enterprise, the concept of risk and compensation to induce people to take that risk, and so on–are weasel worded around or simply dismissed.

Another example in the American Left which simply declares that any difference in outcomes between different groups that can be defined in terms of various physical characteristics–melanin content, shape of facial features, hair texture, possession of reproductive organs, how they choose to pair said reproductive organs with others, etc.–must be, can only be, because of discrimination by other groups (well, actually there’s only one group that is ever called to task for this).  If one suggests that cultural factors that form self-propagating learned behaviors might actually be part the differences, well, that too is part of the discrimination don’t you know.  And don’t you dare suggest something as “racist” as assimilation into cultures that produce more desired outcomes.

And, yes, there’s the other side where such differences are taken as stemming completely from genetic differences.  To them, the claim is that such differences mark the inherent “superiority” or “inferiority” of one group compared to another.  Suggest to these folk that maybe the differences are learned–culturally or otherwise–and you’re just…well, the names can get creative.

One thing all these various forms of “political truth” have in common is a deep and abiding avoidance of objectively verifiable reality.  Oh, sure, they may cherry pick a few “facts” that appear to support their ideology, but anything beyond that, anything that challenges their cherished tenets, is anathema.

And the main tool that all of these have in common–every single one–is to attack the motive of the person presenting the uncomfortable facts.

“You know, maybe the learned behaviors in that subculture are suboptimal for success in modern American society and…” THAT’s RACIST!

“You know, if folk had just had a better environment at home and in their communities there’d be a lot less…” YOU X LOVER!

“You know, if you simply let people make the voluntary economic transactions across the board that they choose to make, the net result is prosperity across the board.” YOU FASCIST! (Which is a very strange accusation to make to that claim but…it is a claim made.)

“You know, there are some situations involving things like external benefits and costs which voluntary exchange, the market, does not handle well, so perhaps…” YOU COMMIE!

None of these actually address the issue at hand in each case.  They attack the motive, and therefore the character, of the person raising the point.  They are classic example of “Argument ad hominem” “argument to the man” where one accepts or rejects an argument not because of its logic or factual support but because of who makes it.  And it’s a logical fallacy for a reason.  Good people can make bad arguments and have erroneous conclusions.  And bad people can make good arguments leading to correct conclusions.

For that matter, a bad argument might still have a correct conclusion and a good argument might still lead to an incorrect conclusion (chiefly because some unknown factor might affect the result).

When people make arguments that a particular statement is some form of “ist” (or the closely related “phobic”), watch out.  You’re usually running into somebody’s political truth.  And that political truth, stemming from cherished ideology, will not stand contradiction.

And if they can’t dismiss your facts, they’ll simply dismiss you.

The Role of Government

Some folk at the extreme end of the Libertarian spectrum insist that government is bad, pure and simple, that anything, absolutely anything, government can do that’s the least bit beneficial, private voluntary transactions can do better.  Here’s an example of the thinking:

without-government-who-would-provide-is-it-important-no-yes-17945559

This position, however, drastically oversimplifies the matter.  It works well when the people who receive benefits and pay costs are direct parties to a transaction.  However, that’s not always the case.  People outside the transaction are sometimes also involved–the transaction between two individuals can involve things that impose a cost on others, or produce benefit beyond the folk engaged in the transaction.  In either case, they distort the cost of the transaction.  Milton Friedman called these “neighborhood effects”.  Thomas Sowell and others more recently use the terms “External costs” and “External benefits.”

A classic example is a business dumping waste into a stream or river.  On the one hand, there is no such thing as “pure water” in nature.  Even “unspoiled” rivers high in the mountains contain the waste of the deer and bear that live there.  It’s all about the amount.  “The poison” as they say “is in the dose.” “More pure” has a value to it, just as other things we desire have values to them.  And just like with those other things we value, we would be willing to part with some of it for something else we value sufficiently.

If there were just two people involved, a stream that ran only from the dumper to the dumpee, they could come to a mutual arrangement.  The dumper would be allowed to dump X amount of waste in return for giving the dumpee Y to compensate for the reduced purity of the water.

The problem is we don’t have only two.  When one party dumps into a stream it affects the water purity for everyone downstream.  It becomes difficult to determine who is affected how much and to arrange individual transactions to compensate for the lost value for each affected individual.  When you have multiple parties doing the dumping as well as multiple parties downstream and parties on both the receiving and the delivering end of the dumping it becomes simply impossible.

In addition to external costs, there can also be external benefits.  Thomas Sowell uses the example of mud flaps on cars.  By reducing the “spray” from a car’s tires onto vehicles following them those other vehicles have the benefit of improved visibility.  They can see better because they are not getting as much rain, snow, and mud thrown onto their windshields.  However, each driver receives no benefit from mud flaps on his own vehicle, only a benefit from the mud flaps on the vehicle ahead.

Another example of an external benefit is education.  I benefit from other people being well educated, whether it is the surgeon who removes my malfunctioning gall bladder or the engineer who designed the brakes on the car I drive.  There are endless benefits I receive that are hard to track down to the specific parties to the transaction.  Yes, the specific surgery or the specific car purchase is an individual voluntary transaction, well handled by the market (albeit the former distorted by both regulation and insurance systems), the education of doctors and engineers, let alone the foundational education before they even sort into doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, lawyers, and so on is much less so.

The case of externals costs/benefits is a situation which “the market”, the system of voluntary transactions, does not handle well.

Another class of situations that presents a particularly difficult challenge to a system of strictly voluntary transactions is when the benefits are to a group and cannot be divided out to particular individuals.  National defense is the classic example here.  Everyone in a society can agree that defending that society from foreign aggression has value but everyone gets that value regardless of whether they, in particular, pay for it.  The incentive, then is for each individual to rely on others to pay for the defense while they individually reap the reward while paying nothing.  Not everybody will take such a cynical approach.  Some will pay because they recognize that someone must and, thus, it is their duty to do so.  But those duty-driven individuals will pay more because others, not so driven, will take the benefit without making the voluntary (remember, we are talking about a system of voluntary exchanges here).

So, it soon becomes apparent that some means needs to be put into place to deal with external costs and benefits and non-divisible benefits.  Since this won’t be strictly voluntary transactions it will, by definition, be some form of government.

The problem is that just because in some circumstances government can handle a matter better than can the market, does not mean that it will handle it better.  Once the government program is in place, its own constraints and incentives will take over.  The iron law of bureaucracy will soon come into play and the various government organizations will soon become more interested in expanding their own power and influence and less over the problem they were created to deal with.

However well intentioned any government program for dealing with external costs/benefits or indivisible benefits, the programs will grow and expand to the point where the costs exceed the benefits.  Thus, while the elimination of government entirely is feasible, the default should always be toward pruning.  And when looking at the supposed benefits of a government program one needs to be highly cognizant of the fact that the costs very often exceed the benefits (meaning the resources being spent could be better spent elesewhere) or that in most cases the market, voluntary transactions between individuals and self-organized groups of individuals, really does handle things better.

Some more musings on memories.

A friend of mine posted over on the Book of Faces a few days ago (remember, I’m queuing these up in advance) about serving as a chaparone on an LDS Youth Conference.  These are events held by the church for young people that include lectures, scriptural devotionals, dances and other activities. It reminded me that the first dance I ever attended was at one of those youth conferences. The band was…truly awful. Extremely limited repertoire which included maybe three “slow dance” songs.

And this dance then set the pattern for every such event I attended ever since–in terms of my personal issues, not the music–most events I attended had much better music at least’

A couple of years later, when I was in Phoenix a dance held by the local church ward (it would be some years yet before I drifted away from the church) had a band that was at least somewhat better than that first one but they really, really needed a sound engineer. Vocals would get swamped by the instruments. Drums would overpower guitar (or vice versa). Somebody who could sit at the mixer board and adjust the various levels as needed for particular songs would have really put some professionalism into their performance. Setting it once at the start of the performance just didn’t work, and I’m not sure if they even knew how to set it in the first place.

I wonder, sometimes, if things might have gone differently had I approached them about that idea and offered to work in that capacity.

There’s a bit of a story behind that trip to Phoenix. A friend of mine’s family had moved out to Phoenix the year before and I had saved up money from a summer job (my first) to go visit. Since I had turned 18 the year before, I derived the cunning plan of trying to find a job in Phoenix and stay there–get out of the backwoods of Cambridge Ohio (which, really was the ass end of nowhere so far as I was concerned). I got myself enrolled in the local high school for my senior year: Thunderbird High School to be exact. I had lodging that was willing to put me up for a while while I was looking for work. In the end, however, I wasn’t able to find work that fit with a school schedule and had to return to Ohio. In the interim, my mother had moved from Cambridge to Byesville. If I had thought Cambridge was the ass end of nowhere, I was to be proven oh, so wrong. I ended up graduating not from Cambridge High School but from Meadowbrook High School.

At least I was able to find work after graduating–mid-shift dishwashing at a restaurant that was only about a two mile walk from where we lived.  And when I was rejected by the college to which I applied (yeah, stupid to apply to only one college–I applied to Brigham Young University and was not expecting the local Branch President, the local religious leader, to veto my application on the grounds that I was then wearing my hair a bit longer than BYU’s dress code permitted) going into the military was my next best choice.