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.


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?

What Trump Reveals to us About the State

This piece was originally published at the Texas Millennial Institute blog, where I serve as chairman of the board of directors.

Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz recently posed a question asking who libertarians would prefer in a Trump and Hillary contest. Will Wilkinson, Vice President for Policy at the Niskanen Center, made the point that “Trump has PROMISED to send armed government stormtroopers to round up MILLIONS of innocent people and throw them out of the country at enormous expense. That’s not simply disqualifying? He’s more or less promising mercantilist trade war.”

Hillary Clinton’s policy agenda would likely degrade liberty less than Trump’s. There’s not much solace to be found there, though. The political process routinely yields this scenario where we may pick our poison. Therein lies the more important takeaway from Boaz’s thought-experiment: While Donald Trump should be viewed as repugnant by all well-adjusted, morally upright people, he is not an aberration of the political system. Instead, Trump personifies – raw and naked – the essence of state power.


The State was defined by Max Weber, the preeminent 19th century social theorist, as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” The cliché is that government is what we choose to do together. That’s, of course, demonstrably false; I don’t, nor do many of you, choose together with others to unjustly go to war, cage drug users, tax unduly, and forcefully uproot innocent homeowners for purposes of private development. The market, on the other hand, is that institution where we interact with others, buying and selling, on a mutual, consensual basis. We don’t vote to maintain operations of Apple or IKEA; we exchange with them voluntarily, if they meet our needs. Markets compel us to help others in order to help ourselves. That’s why we get up everyday to exchange our labor for wages. The political system turns these incentives on its head, where we enter into a dog-eat-dog, zero sum game in which we can pursue our own interest only at the expense of others. In politics, when one policy prescription wins, we must all accept it, without recourse to other options.

The 19th century sociologist Franz Oppenheimer identified the principal difference between political and market institutions in his preeminent book The State: “There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man…is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others…I propose…to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the ‘economic means’…while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the ‘political means.’”

Oppenheimer goes on to describe the distinctions between the state and society: “[A]lways, in its essence, is the ‘State’ the same. Its purpose…the political means…its form…dominion. Wherever opportunity offers, and man possesses the power, he prefers political to economic means…By the ‘State,’ I do not mean the human aggregation…as it properly should be. I mean…that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought in to being by extra economic power.”

Society, according to Oppenheimer, is “all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man.” Whereas the state “is the fully developed political means, society the fully developed economic means…in the ‘freemen’s citizenship,’ there will be no ‘state’ but only ‘society.’ The ‘state’ of the future will be ‘society’ guided by self-government.”

In Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy the State, these arguments are carried further: “There are two methods…whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth…the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others…the political means. The State…is the organization of the political means…[which] stands as primarily a distributor of economic advantage, an arbiter of exploitation…an irresponsible and all‑powerful agency standing always ready to be put into use for the service of one set of economic interests as against another. The State is not…a social institution administered in an anti‑social way. It is an anti‑social institution…State power has an unbroken record of inability to do anything efficiently, economically, disinterestedly or honestly; yet when the slightest dissatisfaction arises over any exercise of social power, the aid of the agent least qualified to give aid is immediately called for. Under a regime of actual individualism, actually free competition, actual laissez‑faire–a regime which, as we have seen, cannot possibly coexist with the State–a serious or continuous misuse of social power would be virtually impracticable.”


The State propels its worst actors into power concomitant to how few limitations of power there are. Friedrich Hayek wrote a chapter in The Road to Serfdom titled Why the Worst Get on Top where he explains that “It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough to ‘get things done’ who exercises the greatest appeal.” Enter Trump on the right. On the left, Matt Yglesias lauds Hillary Clinton for her willingness to act as an elected monarch, praising her for “profligate use of executive authority” and often “operating in legal gray areas.”

Neither Trump nor Clinton nor any other politician would be of concern to us were they not seeking elected office. If they were businesspeople, then we could decide whether or not to associate with them. We cannot ignore politicians who wield political authority. The anti-social State foists itself upon us, empowering bad people to do great evil. The market, on the other hand, limits the reach of bad people with bad ideas.

As Nock said, the State is an anti-social institution. It requires that the most important decisions of our lives be made on a collective basis. Imagine for a moment that we go to the grocery store, and rather than having the option to peruse the store according to our whim, we are instead given the option to choose basket A with three apples, a bag of potatoes, and ground beef with basket B which has five microwave dinners, a carton of eggs, and a candy bar. This is the difference between markets and politics.

In practice, we hear two proposals from the Democratic and Republican candidates. We may have policy bundle A or B. In a market, there are many choices from which individuals may choose. The market’s freedom of choice is undermined in proportion to the degree of government policy in a given area whether that is in education, healthcare, banking, etc.

For example, were education markets free, conflict about various curricula and other decisions would be minimized as parents could choose a school that meets their priorities. There would be no overarching curriculum centrally imposed. There would be no national arguments about common core or traditional math, creationism or real science, etc. Conflict arises when education is subject to political decision-making, where the majority dictates outcomes for the minority. If education were privately administered, parents could simply choose which school and which curriculum they preferred most.

Likewise, were health care markets free (which requires a little imagination given the highly constricted and distorted market that currently exists) we would have a multitude of options from which to choose, not just the government approved versions today. A little economic theory and historic example suggests that prices would decrease as firms would move to undercut others where there are expectations of lucrative gains (see all recent technological innovation where this rings true today). Instead, today, we have Obamacare, a single policy which limits options and has caused a great deal of social strife.

Peter Jaworski recently framed the matter rather succinctly: “Markets empirically make us more fair, trusting, and trustworthy. Markets improve our character. Politics makes us more anti-social and unfair. Politics undermines trust. Politics corrupts. It makes us hate one another, and lump one another into ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’ When we go to an actual market, we learn about win-win relationships. We discover that we are inclined to say “thank you,” while the proprietor of the business also says, ‘thank you.’ We learn gratitude and empathy. We enlarge the scope of those whose interests matter to us. We turn strangers into friends, and we wish them well. We discover that we can get along with people who don’t share our religious views, who don’t agree with us when it comes to political philosophy, who live with a different set of values from our own. When we engage in politics, we learn about zero-sum relationships. We discover that we hate people who disagree with us about politics, and that they hate us. No one learns gratitude. Instead, we learn that people with a different opinion are a threat to us. We learn to think of the other side as idiots and evil scoundrels. Partisan politics is social poison. Instead of participating in partisan politics, consider going to the mall instead. Instead of reading about Bernie Sanders and Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May, read some reviews of XBox, the latest robotic vacuum, or just go to the local Wal-Mart with $100 and spend it all on gizmos and wazoos. Go sell your blood or sperm. Or go get the latest Apple toy. Whatever. You’ll be doing the world a whole lot more good than carrying about a placard for some douche or some turd. It’s true, you won’t get credit for it. People think politics is good, and markets are icky. But people are often wrong. And they’re wrong about this. Be moved by what is in fact good. Don’t be moved by what merely symbolizes the good.”

Donald Trump is grotesque and abominable, and that’s especially problematic now that he is entering the political arena. Bad people and their bad ideas, if given political power, have far greater potential to metastasize. When Trump is bad as a private actor in the market, we can disengage from him. As president, we are beholden to his whim, and this should give everyone – left and right – pause. That is why we should fight to limit the power of government, and support those with the fewest plans, with the least bravado, and with a promise to empower you as a private individual. Those with promises for more government are promising more conflict. The common theme between Trump and Hillary is that they’re both vying to control the levers of power to impose their own visions, rather than attempting to return power to the people. With his crude campaign, Trump exposes the state for what it truly is, a vicious, anti-social institution that undermines social cooperation, making enemies of groups who would otherwise be friendly or at least indifferent towards each other. So, in this election cycle, as each politician continues to tout their plans, let us choose consent over coercion, liberty rather than power, and market choice instead of state compulsion.

Recommended further reading: Politics Makes Us Worse, By: Aaron Powell and Trevor Burrus

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.


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.