Rage as a political philosophy

A lot of progressives uphold the following positions:

  • Doing business only with people whose views you approve is evil.
  • Refusing to do business with people who want to do business only with people whose views they approve is good.
  • Refusing to do business with people because of the state they live in is good.
  • Pushing out employees whom you disagree with is good, and it contributes to diversity in the workplace.
  • People accused of crimes should have the full benefit of the doubt.
  • People accused of rape on thin evidence should be presumed guilty.
  • Racial insults are among the most disgusting things people can do,
  • Calling a black person a “clown in blackface” is merely “not carefully considered.”

There’s no way to find any consistency in these claims, but if you look at the beneficiaries, there’s no problem detecting the pattern. People will pull out wildly inconsistent principles as long as they produce the immediate outcome they want. When the outcome is inconvenient — for instance, if someone sues a business for refusing to bake a cake with an anti-gay message — they just pretend it isn’t happening.

This would make a kind of sense if progressives had absolute control. Then they could decree any actions they wanted and not care whether they followed any coherent principle or not. But in practice, conservatives are often able to pass laws, not necessarily with any more consistency, which progressives don’t like. What objection can the progressives raise? That those laws benefit the wrong people? Then there’s no issue of right vs. wrong, just “us” winning vs. “them” winning.

Once you’ve decided to base your principles on which side you’re backing, all that’s left is a struggle for power. The moral high ground belongs to whoever can express the greatest rage. Debate is impossible; offering debate concedes that you aren’t enraged enough to talk to your opponents. A striking example was the boycott campaign by some gays against gay-friendly Fire Island Pines Establishments for engaging in dialogue with Ted Cruz.

Another example is the following tweet by someone I don’t know, saying, “my vote is that none of the GOP candidates are allowed to run and the election can just be between Hillary and Bernie.” You can call it an isolated nutcase, but it got five retweets and four favorites. When you can get points for sufficient rage, even advocacy of replacing free elections with one-party rule becomes acceptable.
Tweet calling for no GOP candidates to be allowed to run

When people adopt rage as their standard, they have no business talking about justice, with or without adjectives, and no reason to expect any if they win. Take Judge Lisa Gorcya, who sent a nine-year-old to jail, comparing him to Charles Manson’s followers, for refusing to talk with his abusive father. If being angry constitutes justification, her decision was totally sound.

Look at some history to see what happens to countries where rage, not reason, is the driving force behind change. It isn’t pretty. Don’t think you’ll win by out-snarling your opponents.

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12 Angry Men

Poster for 12 Angry Men Last week I spent some time with a German criminal judge — a very nice-looking one who sings beautifully. We talked a bit about the differences between the German and American legal systems, and she expressed her concern about how clever lawyers can sway juries who aren’t used to their carefully designed emotional appeals. I mentioned the movie 12 Angry Men, and she said she’d seen it several times. I remembered loving it the last time I’d seen it, decades ago, so I got it from the local library and watched it again. It’s as good as I remembered. All but a few minutes of the movie consist of people talking in a jury room, yet it kept me glued to the screen more than most big special-effects movies do. (Spoilers follow!)

Its focus is on how to judge the facts. A young man has been charged with murder, and the charge carries a mandatory death sentence. Eleven of the jurors are convinced he’s guilty, but one, played by Henry Fonda, expresses doubts. At first he seems to have little to go on, but he notices inconsistent and implausible aspects of the testimony. His main opponent is a loud-mouthed bigot, who unintentionally does as much as the skeptic to undermine the case for conviction. (None of the jurors are referred to by name, only by number.) The skeptic doesn’t crack the case all by himself, but his example encourages other jurors to think more carefully and bring up more questions about the testimony. He’s almost always calm and reasonable, seeking to raise questions rather than to dominate.

It’s a movie about reason vs. emotion, groupthink vs. the individual mind. It points out that what people say they’ve seen isn’t always the truth, even when they’re trying to be honest. It’s not just about juries and crime, but about people who support what’s popular in their group and don’t consider difficult questions. It’s also about their ability to change their minds and think more carefully when someone else sets an example. It’s refreshing to see reason overcome stubbornness, and it invites us by example to think carefully, evaluate the arguments of others, and avoid letting emotions direct our judgment.

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The assault on Reason (.com)

I hadn’t paid much attention to the Silk Road case. It looked like a serious miscarriage of justice, but there are only so many issues I can focus on. However, something’s happened now which makes the matter of vital concern to any libertarian. An article on reason.com severely criticized Judge Katherine Forest’s delivering the outrageous sentence of life without parole on Ross Ulbricht for running a site that enabled anonymous business transactions. Forest doesn’t like having her way questioned, and a US Attorney delivered a ludicrous grand jury subpoena to Reason demanding identifying information on some commenters who made hyperbolic comments. Among the comments which the subpoena is investigating are “I hope there is a special place reserved in Hell for that horrible woman” and (in reply to that one) just the two words “There is.”

The letter with the subpoena “requests” that Reason not tell anyone about this outrage. Ken White, in demolishing its legality, says only that “a source” provided him with a copy; people who’d attempt this stuff certainly wouldn’t be above further retaliation against whoever provided it. White is a well-known lawyer on the Internet, and so a bit safer.

I hope there is a special place reserved in Hell for US Attorney Preet Bharara for this blatant abuse of office, and I’m an atheist. I’m easy to find. If this Bharbarian wants to try prosecuting me for sedition, it will be an interesting attempt.

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The thinking behind fannish speech codes

Having face-to-face discussions helps to understand how people are thinking when they want something that looks like a really bad idea. It may not make it look more sensible, but it’s valuable for formulating an answer in a way that addresses their concerns.

From a recent conversation about treating the content of speech as “harassment,” I can see what some of the advocates are trying to do and what they’re missing. Others might be coming from a different start, of course, but this is what I was seeing.

The place they’re starting from is the assumption that people’s reactions can provide the basis of a code of conduct, because the hurt that people experience from others’ words is real hurt. If someone I respect says I’m being an idiot, it hurts. If they’re right, the knowledge that I was and others recognize it hurt. If they’re wrong, the realization that their judgment doesn’t live up to my image hurts. If someone I don’t respect says I’m an idiot, I might feel anger, which is a kind of pain. In some cases, I might also feel fear. This last point was stressed in the conversation I had. I’m familiar enough with it myself, from the harassment campaign I experienced in the late nineties.

Another discussion with some of the same people was on how people think in narratives, affecting how they evaluate actions and events. If you think of a speech code as part of a campaign to keep people from being intimidated and distressed at conventions, it can seem good and admirable. If you think of it as the first step down the road to enforced conformity, not so much so. In fact, it can take on aspects of both story lines at once. You have to consider all the consequences of an action, not just the ones that support one worldview.

I can agree with this much: When people say things that cause undeserved distress, anger, or fear, they deserve to be rebuked. In cases like this they’re being unjust, and even if their target is strong enough not to feel bothered, it’s wrong. The problem comes when you try to use people’s reactions as the basis of a code of conduct.

First, you have to separate warranted from unwarranted hurt. If someone entrusted with selling other people’s merchandise shorted the sales figures, then calling them on it will hurt them, not just emotionally but in their business reputation. A code which prohibits humiliating and embarrassing people would prohibit making their actions public, and thus leave the victim with less recourse. This is a real-life example, by the way; I publicly called the perpetrator out on this, and one person verbally attacked me for it. By the “humiliation is harassment” standard, the cheat was the victim, I was the harasser, and the person cheated was expected to stay quiet. (This was over 10 years ago; I’m not bringing out any names now.)

If a convention policy just concerns itself with whether someone feels hurt, then people are prohibited from telling painful truths. If it gets into whether they deserve it or not, then the concom has to become the judge of complicated debates.

Another problem with basing a policy on people’s emotional pain is that it encourages playing the victim. The person who’s strong enough not to feel hurt — or stubborn enough not to show it — has no case to make. The person who’s offended by everything can use that as a weapon. It’s to your advantage to be hurt, or at least to look that way.

The people I was talking with stressed the cases where any reasonable person would agree the speaker was a complete jerk. As the ones running the con, they wouldn’t apply a policy in a way that let people play the victim. I’m sure they don’t intend to. But the problem is that once you set a policy, you have to stick by it or look bad. With weapon policies, you can’t just ban weapons for the people who are too stupid to handle them safely; you have to apply the same policy to everyone. The same will be true with speech policies. You can’t just apply them to the jerks and let your friends speak freely.

The problem isn’t just that people inevitably play favorites; it’s that you can’t know what’s really going on in people’s heads. You can’t base an objective policy on people’s feelings. Even if you’re completely impartial and unbiased, you just don’t have access to the knowledge you need.

This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about the jerks; it means that you have to pick the right criteria. I tried to make this point in the conversation, not as clearly as I would have liked. Persistently trying to talk with or stay close to a person who doesn’t want it is certainly a legitimate basis for sanctions. So is being disruptive or physically intimidating.

Speech codes just aren’t necessary to what most fans legitimately want in order to feel safe. They’re a lazy solution, encouraged by the handful of people in fandom who really do want to suppress ideas they don’t like. We can do better than that at creating an environment that’s safe for all, including people with unpopular opinions.

Rogue Weare, NH police lose in court

I have more posts lined up on my trip to Europe, but this morning I just want to add to the well-deserved adverse Internet publicity that the Weare, NH, police department is getting. The story is on the Reason website. Here’s the court decision, naming the guilty parties on the police force.

Carla Gericke, currently president of the Free State Project, was subjected to a bogus charge of “wiretapping” by the Weare cops for attempting to make a video of their official activity in a public place. The court has ruled that they engaged in retaliatory prosecution for activity protected by the First Amendment. There’s no mention of an award in this ruling, but it sets the stage for the Weare taxpayers to have to pay out for the rogue actions of their cops. Hopefully this will motivate them to get rid of the cops responsible, and will serve notice to police elsewhere in New Hampshire that they can’t hide their misdeeds with fabricated charges against the people who record them.

The Free Keene group says that this isn’t the only time Weare police brought fabricated charges against people recording them. (The link to an old Union Leader article is broken.)

Good cops like having their actions recorded; it protects them against bogus accusations. Bad cops don’t like being caught.

Update:Doing a bit more research, I found the Weare police killed an unarmed man in 2013. I’m staying the hell away from that town.

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One more Concord Bearcat note

An article in the Concord, NH Patch indicates that the Concord school district may be interested in a Lenco Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (Bearcat). Police Chief John Duval, who has previously cited the Occupiers and Free Staters as “terrorist” threats requiring the availability of an armored vehicle, claims that “The recent incident at the school in (Decatur, Georgia) is further evidence for the need of this rescue vehicle.”

The invasion of a Georgia school by a gunman was resolved by peacefully talking him down. Duval seems to think this was the wrong thing to do, that the correct response was something involving an armored vehicle. It’s bad enough that he regards non-mainstream groups as terrorists, but subjecting school kids to his overkill mentality is really scary.

See my earlier posts tagged “Bearcat” for background and more links.

Update: The Concord City Council will vote on September 9 on getting an attack truck.

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Concord Police Dept. wants a violent toy

Concord, NH, is a nice, peaceful city. It has bookstores, cafés, and perhaps the most accessible state legislature in the country. Police Chief John Duval, however, sees it as a city about to explode with terrorist violence. In order to protect Concord from this deadly threat, he’s asked Homeland Security to provide Concord with a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle. Don’t think of the name as a cute sports mascot. It stands for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.” It’s a military-grade vehicle designed for violent confrontation. It carries gun ports, and a battering ram is an option. Lenco’s ads emphasize its paramilitary uses.

FutureOfConcord
The future of Concord?

What is the threat which Duval fears? According to the application he submitted, the vehicle is intended to take on the threat of Occupy, a bumbling anti-minority (they characterize their opponents at “the 1%”) sit-in group, and the Free State Project, which encourages liberty-loving people to move to New Hampshire. Neither of these groups has any record of violence. Duval’s move reeks of intent to intimidate political groups he doesn’t like.

According to an article in Mother Jones, Duval has waffled under pressure but hasn’t apologized for the smears.

“I wish I would have worded things different in retrospect,” he says. “I understand why their eyebrows are raised about that.” He chalks up the wording to the limitations of writing a detailed proposal in only three pages and says it was meant to refer to the “unpredictable nature of unpredictable people who attach themselves to otherwise lawful situations.”

If Duval is incapable of writing a coherent three-page proposal that doesn’t come off as paranoid raving, that doesn’t say much for his qualifications for the job. Is he now just saying that people are unpredictable? If so, why name any specific group? If there’s a group that’s unpredictable and dangerous, it’s the one that is looking for heavy armament in response to imaginary dangers.

When police departments acquire heavy armament, they start thinking of ways to use it. Look at SWAT teams. Originally designed for highly explosive situations, they now routinely smash in the doors of non-violent drug users (or people mistaken for them). Perhaps at first Duval will just roll out the Bearcat at political events, as a veiled threat. That’s bad enough already. But then there may come a day when there’s a situation which genuinely needs police action but not blazing guns and buildings. Duval might say, “Hey, these are ‘unpredictable people,’ and this is the chance to see what the Bearcat can do!” A building might be smashed into rubble and burn. Neighbors might be injured or die.

Homeland Security deserves a large chunk of blame for handing these deadly toys out. If Duval hadn’t been tempted, maybe he wouldn’t have started labeling dissidents as potential terrorists. Most cops are good people, but if they get carried away with power, they may do frightening things.

A time to speak out

I don’t generally comment directly on current national issues in this blog, but the present situation is one where every voice is needed. Either the secret surveillance state gets rolled back, or we resign ourselves to a regime in which top officials act without accountability and it’s a crime to report wrongdoing.

Bradley Manning is on trial for exposing war crimes by the US. Obama has already declared him guilty. In making that advance pronouncement, he said, “We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate.” Yet Obama claims exactly that power for himself.Obama posing in front of Superman statue

Edward Snowden is an international fugitive. Politicians have talked about bringing treason charges against him. Ralph Peters of Fox News wants Snowden and Manning killed. The investigation of reporters and the politically oriented audits by the IRS have been almost forgotten with the current blow-up, but they’re part of the same pattern.

It’s necessary for people who disagree on a lot to come together to stop a government that has gotten the furthest out of hand since the Japanese-American internments of World War II. Loyalty to your political party won’t give you any guidance; both Republicans and Democrats are split on this. This is a battle between those who want unlimited, unaccounted, centralized power and those who think that a government should be open, accountable, and subject to some sort of limits.

Even loyalty to Obama won’t let you avoid deciding for yourself. Are you loyal to the 2008 Obama, who promised a “new era of openness,” or the current Obama, who tells us that Ignorance Is Strength? This isn’t an issue of party against party, but of principles against power.

Find some way to speak out. I’d always been reluctant to register with whitehouse.gov to sign petitions, but I did in order to add my name to the petition to pardon Snowden. If the government has access to all my communications anyway, registering there can’t make things any worse; at most it lets them know about one of my spamtrap addresses.

It’s time to turn back from the lunacy that lets the government bully us in the name of protecting us. Let’s make it happen.

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The power of non-cooperation

I’ve never been called to be on a jury, although I’m eligible and have never tried to dodge a call. As a matter of principle, I oppose compulsory service, but if I had the opportunity I’d exercise it, since I might be able to help justice happen or avoid an injustice. I’m less susceptible to peer pressure than the large majority of people; that’s too obvious to count as bragging.

I might, in some cases, be able to prevent conviction under an unjust law, and I was pleased to read this account by a juror that refused to convict a New Hampshire man of marijuana possession. Reason.com provides an account of the nullification. Doug Darrell is a Rastafarian who reportedly was growing 15 marijuana plants for his own religious and medical use. These were discovered by a National Guard helicopter that was flying below the FAA-designated safe altitude to snoop on people’s back yards and get people thrown in jail for what they were growing there. The judge had instructed the jury that “even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case.” The jury acted accordingly.

The juror, identified only as Cathleen, said:

We put the facts aside to give nullification consideration. The written definition was requested and posted on a chalk board. Some discussion occurred regarding what would be extraordinary enough to nullify. Several law and order proponents (not to say we all don’t want some law and order) had serious concerns about the precedent a not guilty verdict would set. What kind of chaos would ensue if this became common? Would finding this defendant not guilty give him a pass to keep on breaking the law? One by one the responses were offered and chewed upon. I fully expected a deadlock. One juror even felt relief at the prospect on the chance that the prosecution would retry.

The turning point was when one of the jurors declared that after reading the definition on nullification its reliance on “conscientious feeling” and “fair result”. It nowhere said extraordinary. And thus the last three jurors agreed that they could nullify.

One of the best defenses against a government that tries to ruin people’s lives is the simple refusal to give it your support. That’s what Cathleen and the other jurors did, and even if it made a difference only in one person’s life, it was worth it. The ripple effects could reach much further.

This is how I wish everyone would live. Don’t volunteer help for the destruction of freedom, either your own or another’s. Don’t use convenient but unjust laws to make your neighbors conform. Don’t turn people in for victimless crimes because you don’t like them. Don’t lobby to stomp on your competitors or to give you subsidies at the unchosen expense of others.

Laissez faire.