Category Archives: Culture

Ills That Underlie Violence Go Beyond a Shortage of Gun Control

portrait of schoolboy looking bored

Today I respond to the accusation that, beyond defending their own freedom, gun rights advocates offer only ¯\_(?)_/¯ in response to the problem of violence. In truth, I have deeply-held beliefs about the ills that plague modern society. Addressing some of them might impact the rate violence.

Doing so, however, would be more complicated, more difficult and require more compromise than I think most would-be agents-of-change really want to put forward. This is my challenge to them.

Guns are a tool of violence, not a cause. To find cause, one must look deeper.

Start with the cheap, shallow, one-size-fits all blueprint for life we bequeath sheep-like to our children, most of whom never commit violence, but who suffer in legions from some degree of the same aimless, disaffected, lack of fulfillment reflected in the manifestos left behind by the ones who do.

Eighteen years of artificially prolonged childhood, most of it spent in government run schools. Another four to seven years of delayed adulthood in the university system that is “the new high school.” An 8-to-5 job with a few weeks of vacation per year. Marriage, house, kids, retirement and here’s your gold watch, well done!

Literally, every element of that blue print needs to be re-examined.

Our Public Schools Are All Wrong. Children are meant to move, to explore, to question, test and try. Our schools are designed to enforce the opposite. Sit down, hold still, be quiet, and do as one is told. Learn the subjects and in the ways and at the pace dictated by the enlightened bureaucracy who drew up the blueprint.

National standards make this worse—not because the curriculums are bad, but because they do not light a spark in every child, but force schools to “teach to the test” rather than encourage individual interests.

What we need are young people so filled with spontaneity and wonder and interest and passion and joy that they never have a chance to feel empty or aimless or disaffected or isolated. We want them learning to follow their own directions and find their own projects so that they know how to fill their own spaces inside.

Instead, after eighteen years of conformity and confinement—waiting for permission to speak, to move, to go to the bathroom; memorizing information available in seconds on the phone in their pocket to take tests that don’t matter and learn skills they won’t need for jobs that no longer exist in an economy that has moved on—they no longer even remember what it was to have agency and interests and pursuits and passions that weren’t served up by the faceless social engineers who pre-planned their lives.

And we wonder why they turn their anger outward when they find themselves empty on the inside.

We wonder why so many shootings happen at schools and universities.

More Variety and More Choice. I have always been fascinated by people who focused from a very young age on working toward starting a business. Anecdotally, my observation is that this focus correlates with being a first or second-generation immigrant to the U.S.

Statistics bear this out.

For whatever reason, the U.S. culture does not impart this focus, or the skills necessary to achieve it, to our children. At best we fail to encourage—at worst we actively discourage—young people from doing things like starting businesses, pursuing trades, making movies, starting websites, touring with symphonies or otherwise rocking the boat that is the carefully calibrated public school system designed for an economy that no longer exists.

Instead, after a second period of delayed adulthood in the “new high school” that constitutes our university system, we graduate them into the world as overgrown children, searching for jobs (a new place to sit down, hold still, pay attention and obey) rather than creating them.

We ought to encourage them early to nurture all that messy, disorderly, nonconforming creativity into internal flames to fend off the chill of the inevitable disappointments and hardships of an imperfect world. As it happens the same qualities and pursuits that would nurture that flame are the ones the new economy demands (so convenient!). Creativity. Innovation. Outside-the-box imagination. Experimentation. Risk-taking. Self-motivation.

We don’t need more high school. We need more trade schools, apprenticeships, artists, entrepreneurs, more alternatives and more choice.

More Options for Spirituality. Our culture provides little recognition or support for spirituality outside the mainstream religions. At best, alternative sources of spiritual fulfillment are ignored or denied as a basis for a moral, meaningful life. At worst, they are mocked.

This is wrong. This is yet another area in which people on the fringes are pushed away from the very things that might otherwise gird them against emptiness and alienation, the very connections that might otherwise pull them back from the edge.

We should reconsider forcing the choice between indoctrination into a religion that does not resonate or derision for looking elsewhere. The only correct response to a person seeking spiritual fulfillment outside the major religions is: “That’s great. How can I help?”

The Disastrous Collision of Victorian Prudery and the Aimless Hookup Culture. Our sexual paradigms are as limited and disappointing as our schools and spirituality. We continue to largely limit young people to two seemingly opposite, but both deeply unhealthy, models.

On the one hand, still being taught in the aforementioned public schools, is the idea that all sex before marriage is bad, that young women who do it lack worth and young men who ask for it lack respect. On the other is the hookup culture endemic to our universities in which young people drink themselves into oblivion as a prelude to sexual encounters they otherwise lack the skills or fortitude to effectuate—and in which the point for young women is deeply obscured by the fact that they aren’t achieving either relationships or pleasure.

A recent post at The Harvard Crimson by a student who was raped reflects some of the ways in which the terrain between these two models has yet to be mapped. Let’s consider equipping young people with better tools than getting wasted or just seeing where it goes—tools like straightforward, sober communication about wants and needs and how to ensure they are compatible and met for both parties.

What does sex have to do with violence?

A more sex-positive culture and education might lead to fewer bitter fallouts from failed relationships, fewer unwanted pregnancies, and fewer ill-considered marriages, all of which lead to the broken families and absentee parents that correlate with violent crime.

Beyond that, as Bill Maher is getting some heat for suggesting, sexual frustrations have played a role in the downward spirals of mass killers from Roseburg, Santa Barbara and Oklahoma City, to Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.

Coincidentally, Scott Shackford had a post at Reason recently covering the importance of sex work to the mental health of the socially disenfranchised. Another change to consider—for those who dare.

Conclusion. We are blessed to live in uncommonly safe and peaceful times. Violence is on a downward trajectory. But there are still dysfunctions to be addressed.

It won’t be as easy as closing the gun show loophole.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Zero Tolerance Will Never Stop Bullying

BullyingBullying, so we are told by the MSM, is an epidemic in our nation’s schools. Administrators have guest lecturers, students role play and/or talk about their feelings, sign anti-bullying pledges, wear ribbons and T-shirts with slogans about how bullying isn’t cool. These things are all fine; its great that there are people and organizations who care enough to shine a spotlight on the real life consequences of bullying. Maybe some bullying is prevented with these programs. That being said, no amount of role playing, “sharing,” or pledges will protect a victim of violence while the bullying is happening.

There is one policy that far too many schools have that will never stop bullying: zero tolerance for those who use legitimate force against those who illegitimately use force. Zero tolerance, makes no distinction between the aggressor and the one being aggressed against. Failing to make such a distinction is akin to taking the position that making love and rape are the same act. Zero tolerance teaches people to not question the rules discouraging critical thinking.

This brings me to the recent event that transpired in Huntington Beach, California. The bully, by the name of Noah, was beating up on another student, Austin who is partially blind. But before he could continue the beat down, Noah received a beat down of his own when Austin’s friend Cody came to the rescue. The beat down consisted of two hits: a hit to Noah’s face and his head hitting the ground.

Here’s the viral video of the event.

Early reports about Cody’s punishment (kicked off the football team and suspension from school) which resulted in an online petition signed by almost 43,000 people for defending his friend appear to be inaccurate. According to the L.A. CBS affiliate, the school did not suspend him and Cody did not join the football team this season. If this is all true, this is a very good sign that not every school has bought into the zero tolerance cult.

Still, there are those even among his defenders, who say that Cody shouldn’t have knocked the bully down. This is absurd.

If any student should be invited to the White House, it should be Cody Pine. While Cody Pine by no means single handedly put an end to bullying, certainly there is one bully who will, at the very least, think twice before attacking another student. Beyond that, perhaps more individuals of all walks of life will be inspired to do what is right.

Something else occurred to me when I watched the video again after publishing this post. Notice the amount of force Cody used to stop Noah from attacking his friend? Cody could have easily beat Noah to a bloody pulp but he chose not to. Like I said, stopping the bully only required two hits. Maybe certain overly aggressive members of law enforcement could learn a thing or two from this video concerning use of force.

The Donald Gets Butthurt from “Not Nice” Questions


Donald Trump’s response to Megyn Kelly’s tough questions during the first 2016 GOP debate (the main event) was quite revealing. “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably not be based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that,” Trump complained during the debate. Following the debate, Trump whined of Kelly’s questions “The questions to me were not nice.”

Quick, someone call the whaaambulance! The Donald’s fragile feelings have been hurt.

This reminds me of one particular passage in John Stossel’s book Give Me A Break in which Trump complained about Stossel’s tough questioning regarding an eminent domain case Trump was involved in (more on that here). According to Stossel, Trump scolded his producer “Nobody talks to me that way!”

Nobody talks to me that way?

Is this what we want in a president? Someone who surrounds himself by people who “don’t talk to him that way”? A cabinet full of yes men and women?

Furthermore, he is running for the highest office in the land. When you throw your hat into the ring, you better be prepared to be talked to that way. You are going to be asked questions that are “not nice.” This is especially true for the person who is the front runner.

All of this from someone who calls his opponents “idiots” and “morons” among other things.

Here’s a clip of the exchange between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump.

Were these questions “unfair” or was this a case of a journalist actually doing her job?

I would argue it’s the latter.

What IS the Difference Between Democrats and Socialists?

Hillary_Clinton Bernie_Sanders

The DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked a very provocative question from a very unlikely person. The unlikely person was Chris Matthews and the unlikely question was the following:

“You’re chairman of the democratic party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist”

The reason Matthews asked the question was because of the rising popularity of self-identified socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who is challenging Hillary Clinton to be the presidential nominee of the Democrat Party. Clearly, Matthews along with most people who follow politics, does not believe that Bernie can actually prevail against Hillary (Bernie’s popularity among progressives notwithstanding). Given the tradition of both the Democrats and Republicans to give a prime time speaking slot during their respective national conventions, Matthews asked Schultz if Bernie would receive that honor.

Here is the video of the exchange.

At first blush, the question seems simple enough. Why couldn’t she answer?

But the more I thought about the question, it occurred to me that I couldn’t answer the question either (but in my defense, I’m not the DNC Chair either). I’m sure there must be a difference but unlike Chris Matthews, I don’t believe it’s a “huge” difference.

How does one go about answering this question? No two Democrats think exactly alike any more than any two Socialists or any two adherents to any other philosophy for that matter. Perhaps the better way to determine the differences between democrats and socialists is to compare party platforms.

This raises another problem: which party platforms?

For the Democrats, it makes the most sense to compare the DNC 2012 Platform (the most recent), but what about the Socialists? It seems that most third parties are Socialist in nature. Among these parties are the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Equality Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Action, and Socialist Party USA.

It seems that I have no other choice but to pick one. I’ll compare the DNC 2012 Platform to that of Socialist Party USA (2013-2015). For the purposes of this post going forward, the contents of this particular platform is what “socialists” believe. I will also restrict the range of issues to socioeconomic issues where there is probably broad agreement among those who subscribe to Socialism as the best way to organize society and government.

As I examined the two platforms, I realized that making apples-to-apples comparisons would be more difficult than I expected. To the credit of the Socialists, their platform is much more to the point and easier to understand than the DNC’s. Here’s an excerpt from their economics plank:

The Socialist Party stands for a fundamental transformation of the economy, focusing on production for need not profit. So-called fair trade is meaningless as long as the world economy is dominated by a few massive corporations. Only a global transformation from capitalism to democratic socialism will provide the conditions for international peace, justice, and economic cooperation based on the large-scale transfer of resources and technology from the developed to the developing countries.

• We demand the immediate withdrawal of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and oppose the creation of a widened Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
• We call for worker and community ownership and control of corporations within the framework of a decentralized and democratically determined economic plan.
• We call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, indexed to the cost of living.
• We call for a full employment policy. We support the provision of a livable guaranteed annual income.
• We call for all financial and insurance institutions to be socially owned and operated by a democratically-controlled national banking authority, which should include credit unions, mutual insurance cooperatives, and cooperative state banks. In the meantime, we call for reregulation of the banking and insurance industries.
• We call for a steeply graduated income tax and a steeply graduated estate tax, and a maximum income of no more than ten times the minimum. We oppose regressive taxes such as payroll tax, sales tax, and property taxes.

See what I mean? For all their failure to understand very basic economic principles, these Socialists understand economy of words. They have some terrible ideas but at least they know how to organize them!

That was the first 256 words from the Socialist “Economy” plank. What can we learn from the Democrat’s first 256 words about their economic policy?

This is where it becomes difficult to make comparisons. The DNC’s 2012 Platform doesn’t have a single section for economics. Under the heading “Moving America Forward” their platform is divided under categories such as “Putting Americans Back to Work,” “The Middle Class Bargain,” “Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit, Asking All to Pay Their Fair Share,” and “Economy Built to Last.”

To the DNC 2012 Platform:

Four years ago, Democrats, independents, and many Republicans came together as Americans to move our country forward. We were in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the previous administration had put two wars on our nation’s credit card, and the American Dream had slipped out of reach for too many.

Today, our economy is growing again, al-Qaeda is weaker than at any point since 9/11, and our manufacturing sector is growing for the first time in more than a decade. But there is more we need to do, and so we come together again to continue what we started. We gather to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth—the simple principle that in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.

This election is not simply a choice between two candidates or two political parties, but between two fundamentally different paths for our country and our families.

We Democrats offer America the opportunity to move our country forward by creating an economy built to last and built from the middle out. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have a drastically different vision. They still believe the best way to grow the economy is from the top down—the same approach that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.

Democrats see a young country continually [snip]

Sounds like a whole lot of nothing right? This is a typical political speech in which lots of words are spoken but nothing of substance is being said. “[H]ard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.” Wow, how absolutely earth shattering! Who doesn’t agree with the statement above?

The DNC 2012 Platform goes on like this the rest of the way, short on specific policy proposals but long on flowery prose. To the extent there is something I can sink my teeth into: the wealthy don’t pay enough taxes, the undefined middle class needs more subsidies and tax breaks (the middle class being the largest voting bloc), and we’ll keep the Republicans hands off of Social Security and Medicare.

Maybe I need to scrap the idea of comparing platforms. What do Democrats believe these days?

I would love to be wrong, but I’m quite sure that much of the Socialist Party USA Platform would resonate with rank and file Democrats and “Occupy” Democrats in-particular.

“We call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, indexed to the cost of living.” Many rank and file Democrats agree with this; Seattle has already passed a $15 per hour minimum wage.

“We call for a steeply graduated income tax and a steeply graduated estate tax, and a maximum income of no more than ten times the minimum. We oppose regressive taxes such as payroll tax, sales tax, and property taxes.” This almost certainly resonates with the Occupy Democrats. Could such a plank make its way on the 2016 DNC Platform?

“We call for a full employment policy. We support the provision of a livable guaranteed annual income.” Any serious objections from Chris Matthews on this one?

“We call for increased and expanded welfare assistance and increased and expanded unemployment compensation at 100% of a worker’s previous income or the minimum wage, whichever is higher, for the full period of unemployment or re-training, whichever is longer.” Certainly those who support Bernie Sanders would be on board; Hillary supporters maybe not. To extent there is disagreement, it’s only a matter of degree.

“We oppose the court-created precedent of “corporate personhood” that illegitimately gives corporations rights that were intended for human beings.” Democrats (and probably some Republicans) around the country are shouting “hallelujah” and “amen” reading this statement.

It seems to me that there isn’t a great deal of daylight between Democrats and Socialists on socioeconomic issues. Is it any wonder why the DNC Chair couldn’t answer the question?

The only reason Democrats and progressives don’t call themselves socialists is because the term probably doesn’t do well in focus groups.

Socialists or Democrats?

Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

To quote Hillary: “What difference at this point does it make?”

John Oliver Takes on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

For those of you who don’t have HBO and are unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (very much in the same vein as The Daily Show only uncensored) the segment below is a must watch. While John Oliver is certainly of the Left, he definitely has a libertarian streak on social and criminal justice issues. In this segment, Oliver takes on the travesty known as mandatory minimum sentences (i.e. zero tolerance policies with even more severe consequences).

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