Please Confront Hillary About War

In 2008 and 2012, I was partial to Obama because I thought he’d be less likely to start new wars. McCain once sang “Bomb Iran” as a joke…the humor of a true maniacal villain. Obama’s relative restraint has marginally slowed the US’s deadly wars, and I’m thankful for every innocent life that has been spared. I grieve for those who haven’t been as fortunate.

In this election, there is clearly little hope for a more peaceful future. By her own many admissions, Hillary Clinton will break from Obama on Syria by sending in ground troops and imposing dangerous no-fly zones (risking conflict with Russia). She expresses no remorse about the destabilization and destruction of Libya, a war of which she played a leading role. Her language on Iran is unhinged as she has threatened to “obliterate” the country. She voted to invade Iraq, which was the single biggest foreign policy disaster in a generation. Clinton’s speech at AIPAC was full of distortion, belligerence and uncritical support of Israel, totally ignoring its crimes. She has dismissed the Obama doctrine for not being aggressive enough: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Given ample opportunity, I cannot find an example of where Clinton erred on the side of peace, rather than escalating more violence and war.

For all the left’s concerns about guns and violence, I am continually impressed that they haven’t more strongly criticized a candidate who seeks to empower the most violent and most heavily armed institution in human history. Sure, vote for her since the alternative is an insane psychopath. But recognize that if you vote for her without registering your opposition to her foreign policy record, you are complicit in the wars she will inevitably pursue. Public opinion matters — even in the most despotic regimes — so please make it known that you vigorously support peace, not war.

She Ain’t for Peace

I wonder, do you really take this seriously,
The process, its consequences, we drink the tonic,
These fools, these liars, I mean really?
I thought millennials were ironic.

We hate Donald, yet She has more blood on her hands,
“But do you want Trump to win?” they cry out,
Puerile, truth is that she caused dead Libyans,
Syria is fucked, what’s that all about?

Ask yourself, “When did She ever secure more peace?”
Do developments in Myanmar count?
Buddies with war-profiteers, I’d say their mouthpiece,
“Smart power at its best” by her account.

Ahh, but at least she’ll bring us progressive reforms,
Domestic policy unabated,
Halt the unregulated capitalist storm,
Your economic ignorance celebrated.

You don’t know your shit, so quit screaming so loudly,
Blinded and deluded by your bias,
It’s so clear to me, but you keep shouting proudly,
That She’s next up ought to horrify us.

An Artless Happiness

Who now needs poetry,
When all is well within,
Illusive harmony,
Brief yet sweet, gone again.

I hardly bring myself
To even try writing,
The times of inner health
Artistic resigning.

Poetry is for pain,
The artist without it,
A craft pursued in vain,
Needs agony to fit.

Ohh, but I’ll be back soon,
The menacing fortnight,
Sadly not the blue moon,
Love’s void persists its plight.

Should I Vote?

For many reasons, I don’t vote. First, there’s a better chance that I could die in a crash on my way to the polling location than my vote affecting the outcome of the election. Secondly, I do not want to signal consent to a nonconsensual institution. Lastly, it’s morally dubious to impose policy preferences on others, even if my policy preferences happen to be non-policy.

However, I registered as a Republican over a year ago in the event that Rand Paul needed help from the nation’s capital. The case now is such that I believe in earnest that I should vote against Donald Trump defensively. However, there’s much to consider here as it’s unclear to me what a Trump presidency would mean in terms of individual liberty in both the long and short term compared to alternative mainstream candidates.

The prospects of a Trump presidency gives me notions of a reverse revolution of sorts, where Americans get what they’ve asked for so thoroughly that they’re brought to their knees in despair and forced to reflect intelligently on politics. History seems to suggest intense short term pain, but there could perhaps be important long term reforms if Trump were to give it to us good and hard. Alternatively, we could simply continue down the Road to Serfdom, the theory to which I’m most partial.

Needless to say, I am very scared of Donald Trump. Other candidates offer illiberal policy reforms, whereas Trump threatens to undermine the rule of law. Trump’s capacity to subvert the rule of law lies in his ability to convince the bureaucracy to carry out his will, even if he were to ignore constitutionally enumerated powers. As is the case with politics broadly, power only exists insofar as others believe in the legitimacy of the ruling class. If the bureaucracy, military, and the People believe in Trump’s authority, we are in for bad times. My suspicion is that most people are so docile that this would be the case.

The saving grace could perhaps be that Trump’s naked usurpations could defy public opinion to the point that his credibility and thus power would whither. If this happened, Trump would be no more powerful than a southern blue law.

If we strip away Trump’s rhetoric, his policy proposals are not that far outside the mainstream. Other candidates on both sides support immigration restrictions and oppose free trade. When it comes to the prospects for more war, Hillary Clinton and the remaining Republicans have records far worse than Donald Trump.

These savvy politicians know how to navigate the channels of power to get what they want better than Trump. While I’m very scared of Donald Trump, I’m also scared of these remaining candidates who are less lawless only by degree. Matt Yglesias and his friends on the left laud Hillary Clinton’s prospects for lawlessness. In this piece, he pines for a liberal with a “iron fist” and fawns over Clinton for her defiance of constitutional limits. It’s unclear to me whether Yglesias supports Clinton or Trump when he begs for a president who “cares more about results than process, who cares more about winning the battle than being well-liked, and a person who believes in asking what she can get away with rather than what would look best.”

Rubio and Cruz would obviously advance the Bush-era abuse of executive power. The difference between these two is that Rubio seems to be more susceptible to puppeteering. Is this good or bad? In the Bush administration, the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Yoo, et al. answer this readily.

So, it’s clear to me there is no meaningful way to cast a defensive vote. There is a reasonable case to be made that each candidate will subvert the rule of law in serious ways, and it’s unclear to me given the constraints of each candidate who would have the capacity to advance their agenda the most. I think it’s likely that they’ll all be able to enact their will to an intolerable point. I suppose it’s most likely I’ll stay home then.

The last thought I have is that a vote against Donald Trump is a vote against a certain domestic culture. The culture that Trump’s campaign represents is the most insidious variant of Americanism. As politics is merely the reflection of a culture, it may still be worth it to consider voting Not Trump.

It’s a serious moral dilemma I face. I honestly believe that voting is immoral. I’m willing to commit an immoral act if there’s a serious case to be made that there is a mainstream presidential candidate who doesn’t also fall prey to the same case against Trump.

The Slim Gilt Soul

His hair thick and shining,
His eyes kind and gentle,
Sharp yet soft, I’m pining,
The Golden Mean assembled.

Beauty, part his essence,
Graceful, charming, agile,
He’s Heaven’s fluorescence,
Delicate and fragile.

His fleeting effulgence,
Painfully illusive,
Denies my indulgence,
Its mockery abusive.

At least the Form exists,
Beautiful, not handsome,
Man as rough and tumble persists,
Though, he’s smooth and lissome.

Harsh masculinity,
Unlike other cultures,
Undue rigidity,
Patriarchy a vulture.

Beauty as brazenness,
Cult of the Sunflower,
Heirs of Antinous,
We approach your hour.

Why I Don’t Write

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

Writing is deeply personal. Through it, we easily gauge the writer’s intelligence, emotional stability, rhetorical skill, insecurities and – in a word – their past. Writing is a window into the mind of the writer. More unsettling is that through it the writer exposes theirself to theirself. Talk may be cheap, but words are the heaviest spiritual tax. The writer feels their intellectual shortcomings, faces their self-doubt, and enters into solitude with their many internally contradictory voices. This is the source of writer’s block, the paralyzing moment when reality announces to the writer their shallow limits.

Writing removes the obscurities of our digital age. As a kid, I went to guitar lessons almost every Tuesday evening for eleven years. I never learned to read music, and my practice book, which was a collection of hand-written crypto-tablature, was inadvertently destroyed. I still remember enough music to make it seem like I can play the guitar. I suspect, similarly, that many of us can conjure up enough intellect to string together 140 characters of vague faux insight and pseudo-profundity. Real writing does not afford the luxury of pithiness as sophistication.

Our individual expertise is so limited, yet good writing requires breadth of knowledge. The pre-socratic philosophers speculated about everything under the sun. Their concerns were in natural and metaphysical phenomena. Generally, these men weren’t moralizing and state-crafting. What a time to have been a thinker and write volumes free from the distractions of modern political and moral questions. Plato hadn’t yet meditated on what consisted of the good life, lucky for them. I digress.

I don’t write because everything in the previous paragraph is probably ahistorical and unjustifiably nostalgic. That is to say, I don’t actually have a firm footing in history. The amount of effort required to approach that point would be hippopotamic. They say to write about what you know. What does anybody know? I don’t mean this in an epistemologically skeptical sense. Rather, what does anybody know that is worth writing about? I don’t want to contribute to the noise. Why write publicly unless your ideas improve upon existing ideas?

I don’t write because I’m unsure of myself. I didn’t read an entire book until I was seventeen. Who can write who hasn’t read? There’s a great deal of shame I have in that. I’ve since amassed hundreds of books, but I’m still catching up. Having read a great deal over the past years, my question now is who, having read, endeavors to write? Anybody who has read anything of greatness must necessarily approach writing with trepidation. To enter into it without a certain level of humility is the peak of hubris. Don’t you realize that libraries are filled with words of artistic prowess far beyond our own ability?

Writing immediately becomes that which has been written. It’s menacingly static. At some point, it is published, and it archives our ineptitudes, our false conjectures, our arrogant attempts to add to human discourse. It’s hard for me to accept the finality of publication. Immediately afterwards, I await a bolt of lightening from Strunk and White.

Have mercy on me! I’m not worthy of writing, but I need it. Writing is the only mode of public expression for many of us. Art in its concrete form is beyond almost everybody. Writing is no closer within reach, yet we all do it. Writing is my feeble attempt to translate into words my spiritual essence, my memories and experiences, my knowledge (if I have any), my feelings, and my ideas. But is language capable of capturing any of this? It’s a tool, but it’s imprecise. Language makes me feel impotent. Hell is the inarticulable.

I don’t write because I have very little to say about anything of importance. Both my vocation and avocation happen to be politics. Then write about politics, you may recommend. The problem with this is that every asshole on the street has some banal, pseudo-profound, and wholly misinformed bullshit to say about politics. As partly evidenced by this fact, politics is the easiest and shallowest field of philosophy. Why is it that nobody has anything to say about metaphysics or epistemology or ethics or aesthetics? Why don’t y’all have profitless, winding debates about these issues? I don’t write about politics, because it’s too easy to slip into pontification. I don’t want to be another bloviating fool.

It’s bizarre that so many words are wasted on politics when it’s what we can individually affect the least. It is rational to be ignorant of political issues. However, our commitments in matters of aesthetics, moral systems, means of knowledge, and interpretation of reality are a direct function of our input. Well, maybe! But you get the point. I can choose whether or not I want to be a nihilist, relativist, subjectivist, universalist, and on and on. You can seek knowledge through reason or faith or emotion or you can assume solipsism. Aesthetic preferences are limitless. We have so much agency in our life, yet we exert effort deluding ourselves into thinking that our words influence politics. I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself doing just that. And yet, I’ll write about politics again in the future, but only because it’s easy.

I don’t write because it is impossible for anyone to objectively interpret the writer’s meaning. No matter how cogent, everybody comes to the writer with their own experiences that color the words in a way unintended by the writer. If “the dog is red”, then is he Clifford or is he Stalin’s dog? People may assume malice or hear in my tone dejection. Maybe they’ll discern my bitterness and quasi-misanthropy. Worse yet, they’ll accuse me of bland style and vapidity! An old fling once accused me of over-using the thesaurus. Ouch. And don’t get me started on my frustration with willful ignorance of context and connotation.

I don’t write because what I actually mean is that I am hesitant to write. And yet some clever fellow will come along to remind me that I have in fact written. You got me! Is this what Oscar Wilde meant in suggesting there are too many clever people?

I don’t write because syntax and grammar are too confining. Pedants ruin it for us. Grammar and syntax are meant to enhance language and meaning. If I want to use a semicolon or a dash or a comma or ellipses, then go with it. Try to understand why the writer uses it. It’s a device.

I once had an English teacher who claimed that rhetoric is defined as “language used to persuade or influence”, and then he claimed that all language is rhetoric. The logical absurdity of such a tautology aside, I fear he may have been right. And the fact is that I don’t want to persuade you of anything. I don’t want to change anybody’s mind when I don’t even trust my own. At that point, writing becomes merely descriptive, and that doesn’t sell.

The writer is either one of the bravest or stupidest among us. To do it well, writing requires the courage to sit with one’s thoughts, to question oneself, to face one’s intellectual limits. Poor writing is pompous, baseless self-assurance. And while I do write, contrary to my title, this is why I don’t like to.

I Met Despondency

Love is fury, dependency, anxiety,
paranoia, psychosis, and hatred.
It is helplessness, sadness, and impotency.
Ohh, and we’re not even talking sex yet.

Love is sickness, despair, and unrelentingly
threatens our rightful equanimity.
I have sworn if off, not for spite, actually
for its sake. Now, I am in love with me.

Love It, or Leave It

Many defenders of the status quo believe in the theory of “Love it, or Leave It” (LILI). I believe this is problematic on at least a couple important fronts.

First, all other inhabitable land in the world is already claimed under the jurisdiction of other governments that often show even less respect for individual rights than the United States.

america-love-it-or-leave-it

Where there are governments that would fit my policy preferences more closely, the cost of moving is prohibitively high, given that the existing governments with more economic and social freedom are only marginally better than the US. I readily admit that conditions in the United States are not so bad that I am willing to move to another country in pursuit of freer public policies. “Ahh, then don’t complain”, they say.

This logic, taken to its conclusion, suggests that anyone who criticizes the status quo in any way should move. But I’ll give LILI theorists a chance to clarify. I ask them, at which point is it acceptable to criticize the status quo before one should “leave it”? If I believe that taxes should be lower, is it acceptable to voice that, or should I leave the country instead? If, more radically, I believe that I should not be compelled to participate in the social security system, may I voice that or should I leave the country? On war, had I resisted the draft for WWI, WWII, or Vietnam, would it have been appropriate to voice my disagreement, or would I have needed to leave on moral grounds?

Again, what level of criticism is appropriate, if any, according to LILI?

Futility of Borders

Borders are futile! So, let’s just allow these people escape dire poverty and war. I mean, look at the desperation. And while we’re at it, can we please just let everybody move where they wanna move? Ohh, they’ll take advantage of the system, you say? They’ll overwhelm it? First, exactly the opposite is true. But even if immigrants did overwhelm the system, the answer is to reform the system. The welfare state is bad on principle, not just when immigrants use it.

immigreat

In a world without borders, welfare states would probably grow substantially once world GDP doubled. I don’t think politicians could resist doing something with all that wealth. Actually, we know that.

It’s at least somewhat consoling that the Republican Party has a history of reasonable positions on immigration as you can see herehere, and here. It’s one of few areas where politicians are better than voters consistently, unless we’re talking about Bernie Sanders who dismisses open borders as a “Koch Brothers proposal.” It certainly is.

Surprise – It’s Not Always Worth It to Go to College

The NYT exposes that earnings data are starting to bubble to the surface, and it’s bad news for the educational-industrial complex. There are too many universities and students in the US. But who could blame them when the Department of Education gives loans to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who walks up to the counter? Education is a valuable thing, but (here comes my refrain) can we please analyze this value judgement through economic thinking? Education is valuable insofar as the cost of acquiring it is less than its expected future returns. The existing policy to massively subsidize students enables universities to exploit (this is real exploitation) inexperienced 18 year old kids who unwittingly mortgage their future without having analyzed their future prospects.

Money Schools

Again though, who would choose vocational school or enter the workforce when the government waves easy money in your face? Who would decide to offer alternatives and compete with Big Education when the government supports it to the tune of billions of dollars? Praxis is brave enough to try, thankfully. When the price system works freely it signals how resources ought to be allocated. In this case, the price system would suggest to many potential students that their time may be better spent outside of the traditional college route. We go to college to learn skills that are needed for various highly skilled careers. The current system perversely encourages kids to go to college because of some nebulas idea that it’s good for you, but we are starting to see that this is clearly not the case.