Archive for Philosophy

  • Robert Taylor
  • 31
  • Oct
  • 10

As November approaches in a year that is divisible by two, politics turns from its background nuisance into an obsession. Television ads dominate the airwaves, pamphlets urging citizens to vote for or against certain measures litter the streets, and the debate between friends and co-workers grows deeper and more volatile.

The question inevitably comes up, “so, who are you voting for?” I often get a lot of curious and even angry looks when I explain that I don’t vote. But, comes the usual response, voting is your voice, your chance to participate in our democracy, to change things for the good, and so on.

But when I take a look around, what has been accomplished by voting? There exists poverty, bailout  rip-offs, stupid wars in countries most Americans can hardly pronounce, inflation, and debt.

It’s easy to blame the politicians and bureaucrats for these troubles since they are the ones calling the shots, but the blame lies squarely on us. By voting, we are choosing between the the lesser of two evils, to entrusting our lives and our property to a third party, and at its core, voting implies consent to political rule.

Like inmates in a prison who feel “free” when our wardens give us longer breaks, better meals, or loosened chains, voting gives legitimacy to the State. The State is founded upon naked aggression or the threat of it, but ultimately its authority rests on the consent of the governed.

This is the heart of why I don’t vote: I do not consent to being taxed, regulated, controlled, restricted, lectured, conscripted, and ultimately coerced. As a free and sovereign individual, I feel it is the most patriotic thing one can do.

Just imagine for a second, as the great Frank Chodorov once asked, if no one voted?

Such abstinence would be tantamount to this notice to politicians: since we as individuals have decided to look after our affairs, your services are no longer needed. Having assumed social power we must, as individuals, assume social responsibility – provided, of course, the politicians accept their discharge. The job of running the community would fall on each and all of us. We might hire an expert to tell us about the most improved firefighting apparatus, or a manager to look after cleaning the streets, or an engineer to build us a bridge; but the final decision, particularly in the matter of raising funds to defray costs, would rest with the townhall meeting. The hired specialists would have no authority other than that necessary for the performance of their contractual duties; coercive power, which is the essence of political authority, would be exercised, if necessary, only by the committee of the whole.

By voting, we give consent to a social order that relies on a top-down, monopolistic institution and discourages or eliminates the infinite other ways that order, goods, and services can be provided. As Thomas Paine pointed out, a large majority of the order that exists in society comes from every man’s rational self-interest to improve his existence and the voluntary exchange of goods, labor, and services in the marketplace.

Can you imagine what the reactions in the corporate media and the halls of Congress would be if no one showed up to vote on Election Day? It would send shock waves throughout the entire institutionalized structure of DC’s parasitic empire.

Instead of handing away your life to a snake in a suit who’s sole purpose is to get re-elected, I recommend committing the most revolutionary act you can do and engage in self-improvement. Lead by example and withdraw consent, read voraciously, work hard, and live as freely as you possibly can.

Peaceful sedition, quiet rebellion, and skepticism are the soul of the American contribution to the world. Just ask the great Emma Goldman:

The poor, stupid, free American citizen! Free to starve, free to tramp the highways of this great country, he enjoys universal suffrage, and, by that right, he has forged chains about his limbs. The reward that he receives is stringent labor laws prohibiting the right of boycott, of picketing, in fact, of everything, except the right to be robbed of the fruits of his labor…

Or Henry David Thoreau:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers, or backgammon, a playing with right and wrong; its obligation never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.

These sentiments echo the conclusions of many, like Franz Oppenheimer, who argued that there are essentially two ways that human beings can interact with each other: the political means and the economics means.

The economic means include any voluntary, consensual, mutually-beneficial activity, whether it be grocery stores, farmers markets, neighborhood watches, homeowners associations, the internet; spontaneous, horizontal structures of activity that benefit mankind since they are done voluntarily. The political means are the means of all States and private criminals: force, fraud, aggression, or theft.

By voting, we give power and legitimacy to the political, exploitative means of human interaction, that a group of fallible individuals (whether called a King, Monarch, President, or Legislature) has the right or the ability to manage the infinitely complex and unpredictable results of human action.

So this November, I will gladly stand quietly, firmly, with my liberty and my dignity, and withdraw my consent. Can you imagine if a million others did the same?

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  • Hala V. Furst
  • 17
  • Dec
  • 09

A woman’s relationship with her breasts is complicated.  Little pink ribbons serve as a constant reminder that affixed to your chest are two ticking time bombs. Every time you put on a bra, every time you have someone help you take one off, you wonder if the twins will accompany you through life. Beyond basic self-esteem related body issues, breasts are the scariest part of a woman’s anatomy.

Take for example last week, when I’m getting aggressively groped by my RNP. She stops, and asks one of the least comforting questions in the English language: “How long has this lump been here?” For those of you who don’t have boobs, you do not want to hear the word “lump.” Lumps are never good. In gravy, in mashed potatoes, in a mattress, in your boob. Lumps are bad.

My mind spiraled into grotesque fantasies of a protracted disease, without health insurance. Chemo, mastectomies, 2-Day Walk-a-thons in pink head scarves; all of these things loomed above me as I continued to stare up at the ceiling for the rest of my annual exam. I heard her say “it’s probably nothing,” in the way that doctors always do, right before they tell you to go get more tests.

In the week between the discovery of the lump and the follow up appointment, I figured I would have to encounter my mortality. I didn’t. What I did encounter was my vanity. Like most women, I don’t love a lot about my body, but I do love my boobs and my hair, the very two things that breast cancer destroys. I didn’t fear death, I feared going through life ugly, boob-less, and bald. It was challenging enough finding a mate, how was I going to do it without the only two things that saved me from being a repugnant troll?

By the time my follow up rolled around, the lump had dissipated, due to hormonal fluctuations. The doctor who examined me couldn’t even find what my RNP was talking about, assuring me that nurses tended to be overly cautious. I wondered if it was the fact that my RNP was a woman, and this doctor was a man. His relationship with breasts was as a spectator, a hobbyist, an enthusiast. He didn’t have to deal with the day to day emotional roller-coaster of breast ownership. He didn’t look in the mirror and imagine himself transformed into a prematurely menopausal 27-year-old, unable to have children, bald, with two ugly, jagged scars where her nipples used to be.

But you can bet my RNP has.

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  • Robert Taylor
  • 14
  • Dec
  • 09

It has been a very impressive year for the Associated Press. A few months ago, Julie Jacobson of the AP published tragic photos of a US Marine after both of his legs were blown off in Afghanistan. Not only did she receive a verbal whip lashing from the Obama Administration, but for a brief moment, a respected and mainstream media outlet exposed Americans to the graphic and utter horror of war.

While scanning over the New York Times today, I was pleased to see that the AP is now currently investigating the corporate food giant Monsanto, accusing them of

using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Monsanto has had a long history of bullying their way around the country and the AP should be commended for adding to their laundry list of sins. But despite the article’s claims, Monsanto’s excesses are the products of state intervention, not capitalism.

Monsanto owns patents on the genes of nearly 90% of America’s soy and corn products, and when these seeds eventually blow onto neighboring smaller farmers, Monsanto sues them for a violation of their intellectual property “rights.” They have even sued farmers for saving Monsanto’s patented soybean seeds.

Monsanto uses its government-granted monopoly to intimidate and violate the true property rights of its neighbors, which exposes intellectual property (IP) for the misguided policy that it is.

Human beings have inherent rights in their bodies and in their homesteaded property (the manipulation of matter) that can never be violated. These rights come not from God or governments, but from our reason, and as social beings who depend on each other for survival, enforcement of these rights is essential for cooperation. As the great Ayn Rand put it:

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.

IP law, however, creates artificial scarcity out of a non-scare entity (ideas) by giving individuals a government-backed monopoly on its use and distribution for an arbitrary amount of time. This protection violates the rights of other individuals by putting restrictions on how individuals, like the farmers against Monsanto, use their property.

There is also virtually no evidence suggesting that intellectual property law encourages inventions, creation, and boosts the arts. In fact, when examining the record of anarchic or near-anarchic market societies and institutions (like medieval Iceland and common/merchant law), property rights were better respected, peaceful commerce expanded, and technological innovation flourished; and all of this without the government club.

Monsanto is an all too common feature of the US economy: a statist creature that benefits from  patents, licensing, and farm subsidies to strangle its less politically-favored competitors. It also doesn’t hurt having one of their former attorneys, Justice Clarence Thomas, upholding plant patents in the highest government court in the land.

Luckily, supporters of organic and local farming are starting to wake up and realize that their industry would be far better off in freer markets, liberated from the government’s controls (whether indirectly through IP or directly through subsidies) that allow the strong to legally prey on the weak.

_

For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

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  • Hala V. Furst
  • 14
  • Dec
  • 09

Last week I find myself wandering around the CVS looking for pens and cat food, trying to keep my spirits up in the face of impending finals. I’m surrounded by holiday festoonery, red, green, and gold crap made out of paper and tinsel. Over the loudspeakers is some God awful country crooner, singing a rare non-holiday song. I can vaguely make out that her caterwauling is about some woman worried about telling her boyfriend she’s pregnant. “A baby changes everything,” is the constant refrain.

And somewhere, between the toilet paper and the stationary, I realize that she isn’t singing about some sad ersatz Bristol Palin, she’s talking about Mary. As in, Mary, Mother of God. The original unwed mother.

The woman who taught me Bible stories, my Palestinian grandmother, was from the same zip code as Christ. The characters seemed ordinary, as commonplace as my neighbors, or my friends parents, or the people bustling past me in the pharmacy. The story of Jesus, of Mary, of the whole lot of them, is one of human beings being asked to do something they didn’t want to do, that they begged not to have to do. A totally human reaction. But then they did something extraordinary: they did it anyway, for the good of their friends, their family, and people they didn’t even know.

I don’t know if Jesus was the son of God, and I don’t know if he rose from the dead, but I know this: Jesus himself pleaded, “take this cup away from me.” What kind of a god is afraid of death? A human one. A little boy, born in a barn, to a mother who’s in one of the worst situations a woman can be in, and a (human) father who’s not quite sold on the whole enterprise. The Christianity born that night isn’t about divinity. It’s about humanity.

I can believe in that.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 11
  • Dec
  • 09

Turning the corner at 51st and Madison, she reminded me I had been gone too long.  With her boughs and her bells, with her lights and her garland, she pursed with the quiet patience of the confidently loving.  She knew I’d be back eventually after the excuses became less convenient and the longing became unbearable.  When I walked into the glowing embrace of Rockefeller Center, she mouthed a silent “Hello.”

Her name was New York.  And I fell for her again for the first time.

Her Sunday best in December remains the effortless better of any city in the world.  Slender and elegant, ornate but not ostentatious, New York at Christmastime has a command that would charm the bastard son of the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge.  Every corner shimmers like an evening gown and every surface sparkles like a bottomless hazel gaze.  From the legendary holiday displays at Macy’s to the big, slightly dim electric bows wrapping the storefronts a few blocks uptown, hers is a mirth with a trumpet mute; the mezzo-soprano that never has to belt to be heard.  Even a wart like the Trump Tower looks like a beauty mark this time of year; a slight imperfection that only makes her more stunning.

Everywhere you go in New York it is Christmas.  From struggling Brooklyn cafes to bustling Fifth Avenue shops, from the shoe shine stand by Ground Zero to the projects north of 150th in Harlem, a Christmas unique from within and without Christendom is being celebrated.  A Christmas in the sort of way that appeals to the good nature of even those who don’t hold much faith in the reason for this particular season.  A Christmas that celebrates the city’s unique fraternity.  That sense that these New Yorkers have made it through yet another year together and that such is cause for a moment’s reflection.  That sense that if these people could pull through another year in this town, they could do it again next year.

Photo: Rob Spectre

Photo: Rob Spectre

The heart of that Christmas so distinctly New York sits in front of 30 Rockefeller, a tall and elegant Manhattan gal seasonably fitted and sparkling in any light.  In that storied plaza carrying on the tradition of decades, she is a Christmas tree that dwarfs all others, not in size but in character.  You will find trees taller and wider and more expensively ornamented elsewhere, but that tree in that city square is the physical manifestation of New York’s authenticity.  Huddled around by couples and families, lovers and old friends, it serves as the backdrop of countless Christmas cards and the site of a marriage proposal every hour.

And when the visitor walks through this tradition -  regardless of his religion or custom and irrespective of how naughty or nice – one can’t help but hum the tune of a carol and pine for the taste of an apple cider. When one stands in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, it matters less who you are than that you got there.

You can meet me there this year.   I’ll be merry as an elf.

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