Monthly Archives: May 2006


I saw this beautiful post by Individ about what patriotism really is. From what I gather, like me he’s a trained scientist, and that scientific background informs and strengthens his commitment to classical liberalism/libertarianism. Making him one of the handful of scientists able to apply their methods to political thought.

Anyway, I just had to riff off of it. Here’s a teaser:

But worst of all they try to tell us that rather than remaining true to being a country founded upon Freedom From Government, we should become a country that espouses ‘Freedom’ Through Government. They are not patriots, they do not think like Americans. Now, their heart might be in the right place, and in a couple of instances they might even have a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that what they believe in isn’t the America that men have fought and died from 1776 until today. They want to change every principle that defines our country as they vilify those of us who remain true to its ideals. If that’s love, I don’t want to see what hate looks like.

I would’ve just cross-posted it in full but I got all self conscious, being the new guy and all. I didn’t want to have 2 of the 3 newest posts and seem like I was trying to take over the place.

Are Politics Getting Nasty?

If you listen to most people, you’d think so. After all, we’re reaching a point where Democrats are bitter about being a minority party for 12 years, while Republicans have taken on an air of aristocracy, as Nick points out. To some extent, politics has become a fight between two clubs who want more to beat each other than to do what they believe in. The cry to bring back the “decency” of past politics is fuel for folks like McCain & Feingold.

But what are we really trying to bring back? Is there any evidence, other than pure nostalgia, to think that politics were less nasty and inimical in the past?

I say no. Look back to the days before the Civil War, when a Senator was savagely beaten by cane whilst sitting on the Senate floor:

The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.” Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator’s stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

Representative Preston Brooks was Butler’s South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.

Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

Dare I ask if “Chimpy McShrubHitlerBurton” really rises to this level? Or the references to the beached whale from Massachussetts, Teddy ‘glug’ Kennedy? Or, even, Cheney telling Leahy to “Go f*ck yourself”. And, of course, it’s not like these were obscure, little-known politicians. The politician referred to as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal” was none other than Stephen Douglas, who had quite a few famous debates with one Abe Lincoln.

But, I’m sure I can be accused of cherry-picking my example. After all, the run-up to the Civil War was anything but civil. If there could be a time when people would violently disagree, that would be the time. So perhaps I should go back a little farther, just over 200 years ago, to 1804, when the Vice-President of the United States was involved in a duel:

The animosity between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had roots in their past that included the following:

  • The two men were rival political leaders in New York, Burr the Republican and Hamilton the Federalist
  • Hamilton had prevented Burr from possibly becoming president in the disputed Election of 1800
  • Hamilton had maneuvered to deny Burr the governorship of New York in 1804
  • The feud became intensely personal with an exchange of insults; Burr dredged up a long-forgotten sexual indiscretion of Hamilton’s while Hamilton reacted by publicly attacking Burr’s character.

Burr issued a challenge for a duel after learning of Hamilton’s disparaging remarks. Hamilton was personally opposed to dueling, especially since the recent death of his son in such a confrontation.

Nevertheless, early on the morning of July 11, 1804, the two men crossed the Hudson River and met on the heights near Weehawken, New Jersey. The two exchanged pistol shots; Hamilton was hit in the stomach with the bullet lodging in his spine. He lingered for 30 hours, then expired and left behind his wife, seven children and a host of debts.

Really… Just ask yourself, when was the last time that a sitting Vice President, having won power in a bitterly disputed election, actually shot somebody?

But it goes back further. What I consider to be the greatest miracle of the American Revolution is not that we defeated the British and won our independence. Given the difficulties of fighting a war with 3000 mile supply lines to retain colonies that you know will cause problems in the future even if you defeat them, we had much more invested in the fight than they did.

No, when you look back at our Founding Fathers, you see interesting characters all around. Often you’d have bitter fights between pamphleteers, or newspapers owned by one influential figure completely slandering another.

The miracle of the Revolution is that a bunch of men with different opinions, different backgrounds, and often internal feuds and hatred for each other, could craft a nation as well-designed as the United States. When people point out the problems with our Constitution (such as the three-fifths compromise), it’s important to realize that the Founding Fathers weren’t some lofty, perfect intellectuals, designing a perfect nation. They were businessmen, farmers, merchants, and aristocrats, who had come together in the chaotic time of the Revolution, and did the best they could to craft a nation. All things considered, they did a miraculous job.

People today, when they claim that politics have lost all civility, use this as an excuse to throw up their hands and absolve themselves of responsibility for trying to change it. When politicians claim that politics have lost all civility, it is usually a way to tar their opponents, or restrict the speech of those who might criticise them.

But viewed through a historical lens, politics today are no different than politics throughout history. And there’s an important lesson in that. The people who created our Constitution were bickering, fighting for power, and managed to craft one of the finest systems of government the world has ever seen. If imperfect, argumentative people, in an imperfect process, can change the world to the extent they were able to, can’t a bunch of bloggers, writers, media personalities, and political folks like us improve upon it?

The Aristocracy Returned

You know, the first thing that went through my head when the news erupted with the William Jefferson mess was the bit in Animal Farm where the pigs learn to walk on their hind legs:

There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down. Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything — in spite of their terror of the dogs, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened — they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of —

‘Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better!’

A representative is believed to be taking significant amounts of bribes. The FBI file a request for a warrant, they get the warrant. And then they find the evidence they expected to find all along. Some 90,000 dollars hidden in a freezer. A corrupt government official, a man who did not represent his constituency or the people of the united states, but merely his own pocketbook. Outrage, now one would definitely expect outrage over this. And indeed that’s what we saw, from both the people and the government.

What we couldn’t expect is that while our ire was (rightly) directed at Jefferson–and at corruption in the legislature at large–our supposedly representative officials had taken umbrage that one of their own was treated like an ordinary citizen. Note that, one of their own. They reacted not as stewards of our will and desire, but as people in power. A ruling class. As Hastert, Santorum, and Boehner raise their voices in objection, they also herald in all-too-certain terms that they see themselves as above us. I’m particularly upset about Boehner. The man certainly seemed to have integrity and be serious about reform. It’s why I gave my thumbs up to him way back in the day.

But I guess it should come as no surprise that the only time we ever seem to have bipartisan support for a bill is when it has to do with government privilege. Continued hidden earmarks? Pay raises? Perks? Immunity? Might as well send it to committee. But even when an overwhelming majority of American citizens support such things as a hardline stance on border control or a simplification of the tax code, nothing ever happens. Likely never will.

Of course, none of these observations or thoughts are anything particularly new. But it’s nice when something you’re fairly certain of is writ large for all to see. And as a behavioral ecologist, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not surprised at the fact that congress seeks to serve themselves. What I’m surprised by is how brazen they’ve gotten. To so openly declare that they should have immunity from the law, that they should be able to get away with taking a bribe in order to not do their job.

But more than that, that they would offer up such a pathetic justification as ‘separation of powers’. These people increase the scope of the federal government every day they’re in office: This, more than anything else, has become their job. More Federal money to their state, to the people who donate to them, to the people who bribe them. And considering they are the ones who vote on the budget and taxation, it’s not such a difficult thing to increase taxes so everyone (or at least the aristocrats) win.

Legislators see themselves as above us. They believe they shouldn’t be treated as ‘ordinary citizens’. And like the feudal lords of old, they see citizens as merely serfs. Sources of power and nothing more. Republican? Democrat? All the same. All power-mongers, all insincere, all parasites.

The moral of the story? I try to visit India every couple of years. The mosquitos down in the southern part are killer. Literally. So when I was a kid we used to use this extremely strong smell menthol-ish repellant. And it worked darned well. But if you missed a spot, you’d invariably be bitten, no matter how small the uncovered area was. Parasites are good at finding openings, and the more they find, the more they’ll take. A big government is like a bare spot the size of your back. Not the best idea. This recent mess has shown that whether we’re talking about a ‘selfeless’ Democratic or ‘small governemnt’ Republican elected official, what we really have is someone who will suck you dry given half the chance. So don’t give them that chance.

Government represents nothing more than the sovereignty that you surrender. The more power you give to others in the form of government, the more power they can use against you.

And I’ll end with another excerpt from Animal Farm:

But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Just Call Me Token…

My Blog

I make it my business to understand what makes people tick. In high school, by virtue of being big, older-looking, and trustworthy, my peers laid upon me the mantle of lay psychologist. In undergrad, I studied the biology of the brain itself. And then on a lark I went off to england to get a master’s in human evolution and primate behavio(u)ral ecology. Now, at 22, I’m trying (mostly failing) to keep playing primatologist as I enter my second year of medical school, eventually to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Understanding a man’s political ideology is in many ways merely a matter of understanding his psychological mindset. Understanding the nuts and bolts of how a person interacts with and within a political system merely an extension of behavioral ecology (of which economics is a subfield).

I blog because I love to write and I love to think. I love writing about why I think the way I do (philosophy). I blog because I think I have an interesting take on the world, being a broadly educated guy who attempts to apply the lessons of evolution and ecology to human interaction. I blog because you can only have one (1.25 in my case) career, but you can have many interests. And, of course, I blog because it’s a good ego boost.

Words and Numbers. That’s how I see the world. Words are important, they define what we experience, they help us categorize and systematize it. They help turn the infinite complexity around us into an intelligible construct. And numbers. Whether Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation or the Laws of Supply and Demand, numbers are a powerful predictive force, even when it comes to understanding the choices that as complex a being as a human makes.

I call myself a classical liberal because I’m dissatisfied with both groups claiming to be the tradition’s ideological heirs. Libertarians deify self-interest in an almost Randian way while failing to acknowledge that the market has limitations. Progressives on the other hand, posit that freedom and comfort are interchangeable and close their eyes to the evidence that humans are and will always be self-interested. One group takes too superficial a view of a valid concept (the efficiency of the market). In addition to its oxymoronic motto of “greater freedom through increased regulation!”, the other posits a political system based upon assumptions known to be completely invalid (group selection). Both are childish.

As a classical liberal I believe government’s role should be minimal, to protect our inalienable rights and to intervene where self-interested individuals acting in a self-interested manner will fail to do what is necessary to preserve their rights and maintain their liberty(Tragedy of the Commons). It’s what Chris calls minarchy. The market isn’t perfect. If it was we wouldn’t need any government. I will from time to time talk about where government intrusion may be necessary (education for instance…although not as it is now), but I will never say the state intrusion is good, merely necessary. Just like an amputation that could save your life.

Oh. For those of you who don’t get the joke in the title, here you go. I’m not black, but I do own a few do-rags, can rap along with Twista and Busta when I feel like it, and…I can dance.

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