Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tinfoil Hats Not Required

A certain portion of the Patriot movement is powered by conspiracy theories, but this isn't unique to the Tea Partiers and III%ers: theories about the assassinations of JFK and MLK were staples of the Left, as global warming is now; Bigfoot aficionados come from all over the political landscape; the Heaven's Gate people were just criminally stupid.

For any reputable person or organization to be successful, that person's or organization's actions must be based on solid information, not conspiracy theories, not hearsay, not rumors, and certainly not fear mongering. The ultimate standard for solid information is this: is something true or false, and how do you know?

Here's the answer: you have five senses, use them. You have logic and common sense, use them. You feel that that those standards don't leave you too much? Welcome to the real world. That's where training and experience comes in: training and experience are nothing but logic and common sense in action.

Only by these methods do you have knowledge, and along with it that feeling called "certainty". People too often tolerate uncertainty prior to taking action; worse, some people believe that omniscience or infallibility are prerequisites for being certain, so they conclude that certainty (and therefore knowledge) is never possible.

To any person who proclaims that "you can never be certain of anything", ask them: "are you sure?" and watch what happens.

Believers will sometimes try to undermine a skeptic’s position by appealing to a lack of direct experience, e.g. by asking: “how do you know Bigfoot isn’t hiding around the corner...or somewhere in Oregon?” This is where Bertrand Russell and his famous teapot becomes relevant:

"If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense."

In other words, it isn’t our responsibility as skeptics to either confirm or refute such claims - the burden of proof (and it is a considerable burden) does not lie with the skeptic. Thus, the proper response to the Bigfoot believer is: “It’s not my job to hunt down Bigfoot.”

But the fact remains that we are neither omniscient nor infallible. Sometimes, we attempt to "fill in the facts" - but until proven, these aren't facts, merely guesses. Problems start when we confuse guesses with facts. The best description of this process comes from Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs":

"At the corners of old maps of the world of the 15th century are great vague spaces without shape or name, on which are written these three words: Hic sunt leones. Such a dark corner is there also in man. Passions grow and growl somewhere within us, and we may say of an obscure portion of our souls: 'there are lions here.'"

It is mildly interesting to wonder what these growing and growling passions are that would cause someone to create such lions, to initiate and propagate rumors and conspiracy theories. Some possibilities include:

  • To add drama to one's life
  • To gain the appearance of experience, without actually having experience
  • To press the limits of gullibility, and laugh at the results
  • To garner attention - would anybody ever go to Roswell, New Mexico, if a UFO wasn't rumored to crash there?
  • To fool the opposition
  • To act as a trigger - to start Revolutionary War II based not on intolerable acts but on fictitious deeds

Whatever. Regardless, the end result of rumors and conspiracy theories is to spread FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The end result of FUD is to paralyze and to divide.

Why paralysis? Conspiracy theories frequently portray vague and shapeless things or events that cannot be sustained by themselves, that appear to be causeless. By being causeless, they must be sustained by some outside magical power. How can we fight something like that? Monsters that live under children's beds have power only because of the child's ignorance. Thus the nonexistent become efficacious.

Even if paralysis is NOT achieved, there is the problem of “false targets”. Imagine that someone convinced the Library of Congress to release all documents related to the assassination of JFK. Some people would no doubt hail this as a victory for openness, transparency, and the American Way. No, rumors about a grassy knoll are false targets, and any success against a false target is a false victory, and the American Way has not been advanced. The real acts of a real devil you know have been made acceptable by the fictitious actions of a nonexistent devil that you do not know.

If you can see something, and it is wrong, you can fight it with a reasonable chance of success. Fighting the nonexistent is worse than pointless: Don Quixote tilted at windmills, but at least windmills are real.

Why division? If you’ve ever listened to a conspiracy theorist prattle on for more than a minute, you experience a queasiness, a desire to flee from all the unjustified conclusions, all the leaps of faith, all the bullshit being heaped upon you. And, you would be right to flee, to separate yourself from that person, no matter what else you might share in common.

The advantage to fighting the evils that are in plain sight is the fact that it is quite easy to win-over the "opposition".

A prime example of this is NSA spying. Not too long ago, most people thought that the U.S. government was not spying on its own citizens. Then along came Edward Snowden, and we now have an allegiance between the Tea Party and certain members of the Left on this issue.

Another example is police militarization. Before the Ferguson riots, the receipt of military hardware by civilian police was considered a libertarian issue, ignored by everybody else. Photos and news coverage of the Ferguson riots changed that, so that now the administration seems to be taking steps to curtail this hardware transfer.

A third example happened recently over the non-disclosure by the Obama administration about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The administration was keeping the TPP secret...why? A bill was introduced with bipartisan sponsorship that requires the TPP’s text be revealed before vote, but at present it appears that we lost this one.

Those issues - NSA surveillance, police militarization, and TPP secrecy - are now three more things that the left and the right have in common. The only way this happened was because we have the evidence of the senses, something that is available to everybody regardless of their political stripe. As for the evil our government does, tinfoil hats are simply not required, and are indeed a detriment. While such allegiances are fragile and fleeting, they make it clear who the real enemy is, and so make victory possible.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Remember: cartoons don't kill people, Muslims offended by cartoons kill people.

Hear about the time Mohammed's wife called him a pedophile?
Mohammed responded "Pedophile is a pretty big word for a 9 year old!"

I phoned the Islamic Samaritans today. When I said I was feeling suicidal they got all excited and asked if I knew how to fly a plane.

We shouldn't assume that Islamic terrorists are somehow representative of all Muslims, because aren't. Most Muslims are too busy running pedophile gangs to even contemplate terrorism.

Q. What is the difference between the Prophet Muhammad and Michael Jackson? 
A. One is a pedophile child rapist and the other recorded eight platinum albums.

Q: What do you call a drunken Muslim? 
A: Mohammered.

Q: What's the difference between a Muslim and a vampire? 
A: At some point the vampire will stop being bloodthirsty. 

Q. Why don’t Muslims eat pork? 
A. The Koran forbids cannibalism.

Q: Why did Mohammed make homosexuality a sin in the Koran?
A: Because his boyfriend thought that would make it hotter.

Translation: "The Koran is shit - it doesn't stop bullets!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Quotes for 2014 (no, they're not all related to Ferguson!)

"Gentle giant" - Al Sharpton canonizing Michael Brown.

"The day he was killed, he was out spreading the word of Jesus Christ." - Mike Brown’s cousin Eric Davis continuing the canonization, during Brown's funeral.

"The physical evidence does not change because of public pressure or personal agenda. Physical evidence does not look away as events unfold nor does it blackout or add to memory. It remains constant and is a solid foundation upon which cases are built."
- St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch announcing that a grand jury will not indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

"Burn this bitch down" - Louis Head, MB's stepfather, to demonstrators shortly after McCulloch announced the decision.

Obama talking about solving the problem of discriminatory law enforcement: "That won’t be done by throwing bottles. That won’t be done by smashing car windows. That won’t be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property." Meanwhile, protesters in Ferguson proceed to throw bottles, smash car windows, and vandalize property. In split screen. With Obama on the other half of the screen. According to the same speech, they weren't looting and pillaging and burning, they were "channeling [their] concerns destructively." This was clearly a prepared speech. I wonder if he prepared another speech for use if the grand jury indicted Darren Wilson?

"We think it was wrong place, wrong time," St. Louis Police spokeswoman Schron Jackson, describing rationalizing excusing the murder of Zemir Begic, who was bludgeoned to death by four hammer-wielding thugs.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" - Bridget Anne Kelly, Chris Christie's deputy chief of staff, in an 2013 e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee on the board of commissioners of the Port Authority. This little gem emerged in the 2014 Bridgegate investigation, funded by taxpayers, carried out by Christie appointees.

"ISIL is not Islamic" – Obama apologizing for ISIS terrorism.

"We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt" - Hilary Clinton. Yes, Bill, DC hookers are expensive!

"At least five CIA detainees were subjected to 'rectal rehydration' or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity... Majid Khan's 'lunch tray,' consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was 'pureed' and rectally infused." - the Senate Intelligence Committee's "CIA Torture Report". Gitmo - the gift that keeps on giving. GOP - the recipient of said gift, without lubricant.

"My other laptop is a boy" - Pamela Ribon, dissecting Mattel's "Barbie: I can be a Computer Engineer". This is the same company that made Barbie say "Math is hard"!

“Just when we all thought we’d reached peak beard, a surprising development has happened in the fascinating world of male grooming. Yes, you guessed it (you probably didn’t guess it) – the lumbersexual is here, with his beard, plaid shirt, backpack and artfully scruffy hair barely contained by his sensible woolen hat.” – The Guardian (and Gawker, and The Atlantic, etc.) proving that Monty Python has staying power. Cue the Mounties!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Opposite of Idealism

Everybody in any type of movement is an idealist. For example, the Patriot movement is all about idealism - we advocate an ideal society, an ideal form of government, an ideal way of life.

What can go wrong with idealism?

One way idealists go wrong is by choosing the unachievable ideals. Socialism, communism, and fascism are the political manifestations of unachievable ideals, carried to genocidal extremes.

Incorrect ideals need not be writ large, however. Incorrect ideals are sometimes adopted only for brief periods of time, at certain times of the year. Let’s call this “holiday idealism”. A good example of this is described in the audio version of David Sedaris’ essay “SantaLand Diaries”. The narrator describes a parent who must threaten her child in order to get a good photo with a department store Santa Claus:
“On paper, it means that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, that everything is snowy and wonderful. It’s not about the child, or Santa, or Christmas, or anything but the parent’s idea of a world they cannot make work for them.”

A far deeper way idealists can go wrong is to abandon their principles completely. This doesn't happen all at once. People sell their soul in such small quantities - a seemingly trivial compromise here, a rationalization of a minor evil there - that they don't realize what they're doing until it is too late.

The immediate result of abandoned idealism is an embittered and drained man, whether he realizes it or not, whether he likes it or not. He is capable of acting in his own interest, but only to the extent that those interests coincide with those of the lowest animals.

It gets worse, once the embittered man realizes not all people have chosen his route.

The embittered man understands that something has gone wrong, but instead of identifying the problem and repairing the damage, he pretends that perception trumps reality, so he puts on a happy face. He becomes an uncheerful cheerleader for what used to be his opposition: “there but for the grace of Obamacare go I”, “there but for laws prohibiting cocaine go I”, etc.

For a brief while, the embittered man believes his own propaganda and becomes mildly happy. He finds similarly mildly happy men, and they might even come to think of themselves as a pack. In reality they are a herd, and are perfect for being in a herd, for they are incapable of believing they are being herded.

Here’s looking at you, 1960s counterculture hippies.

As time goes on, the embittered men see the gulf between what is and what could be - but they push such thoughts away. They view their abdication of principle as a sign of maturity, and they pride themselves for their pragmatism. They advocate for things that would horrify their younger selves. When they encounter those who haven't sold their souls, they call them immature, or say that they aren't living in the real world.

Here’s looking at you, old-school Republicans.

People say - popular culture advocates - government demands that we sell our souls, for nothing but the cheapest of baubles and bling, if even that. If you do sell, the result is a gray, cheerless, and dreary existence.

If you stay true to your principles, you have confidence, conviction, purpose, values - in other words, you have a future.

Why would anyone be happy with less?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Survivalist for All Seasons

The theme of JC Dodge's essay "The Importance of the Right Label" is exactly what the title says: the importance of integrity and honesty in thinking about ourselves and others, how labels are perverted by nefarious people for nefarious purposes, and what our choice of labels says about ourselves during crunch time.

In the process of explaining all this, JC answers the question: what is the difference between a survivalist and a prepper? He has very interesting things to say there, and it is worth reading three times over to absorb it all. The following is what I gleaned from having done just that. All quotes, except for one, are from that essay, and are used with his permission.

First, what is a survivalist?
"A “Survivalist” has a mindset that makes preparing for bad times a lifestyle and looks forward to the training, education, and acquiring of the means to accomplish that goal."
He takes this further by outlining a survivalist manifesto...
"A “Survivalist” is one who isn’t afraid of the task ahead. Even though those tasks appear foreboding. The “Survivalist” is optimistic about the outcome of any future calamity, and realizes that being prepared for anything is a lifestyle, not a hobby. A “Survivalist” doesn’t give two shits about being politically correct, since reality dictates that “The politically correct” will be the first to die. This is true, when you consider their lack of foresight and the unending need for their “perception of things” to be real, and that perception will always override the true “reality of things” in their mind."
The best part of that paragraph is the realization that a man lives by his mind. Appearance is irrelevant, perception is irrelevant; what matters is that reality exists and that we are capable of understanding it. This is the absolute key to survival. A man who lives by his mind, lives; a man who ignores his mind, thereby ignoring reality, dies. Simple.

Second, what is a prepper?
"At the end of the 90’s, we started hearing a term describing those that were getting ready for the Y2K event, and that term was “Prepper”. The term “Prepper” was apparently politically correct, at least as much as a term describing a self reliant individual could be. My take on the “preppers” of that time frame was that they wanted to be ready, just in case, but they generally didn’t want people around them to know they were “nutty” preparedness types."
JC goes on to affirm the first and reject the second: "I AM A SURVIVALIST, not a Prepper! I don’t need to use a politically correct term to describe my less than politically correct mindset and actions."

Later, JC must be credited for coming up with a new name for when the SHTF: TEOTWAWKISTAN, heh! Courage wants to laugh, and you can tell he was having the time of his life when he invented that!

Finally, we have this very telling sentence: "Learning to survive alone and planning to survive alone are two different things. The difference is similar to the difference between “Living” and “Existing”." In other words, a survivalist wants not simply to live but to live as a man.

So, is the difference between a survivalist and a prepper simply that the former "has grown a set" and the latter never will? Is a prepper a "survivalist in the closet" at best? I think there is more to it.

Everyone's heard the saying that begins "Give a man a fish...". What that phrase means is that knowledge is more valuable than the immediate consequences of applying that knowledge. JC applies this to milquetoast survivalism, the prepper movement: "A lot of the “Preppers” I’ve met... seem to have a mindset similar to 'If I acquire enough stuff, I’ll be fine.'"


Let's play devil's advocate, put ourselves in a prepper's shoes, and apply Pascal's Wager to the "prepper lifestyle": either there's a ________ coming, or there isn't (fill in the blank with whatever catastrophe you want). If it does come, and I have acquired enough stuff, great! If not, I spent a lot of money and I look like an idiot. The former outcome is favorable, the latter is inconvenient or irrelevant; so I should be a prepper.

There is so much wrong with that approach, but you hear this type of spineless utilitarianism all the time. Let's start at the start, and staying with JC's theme of the importance of integrity, all of the problems that preppers have - and that survivalists don't - stem from that blank spot in the above argument.

The goal of the survivalist is just that: to survive as a man. By "as a man" I mean that the survivalist wants to protect the ideals, people, and things he values - in a manner appropriate to men, not savages nor animals. Whatever the catastrophe, the survivalist's goal remains the same. For the survivalist, it is the goal that determines the means.

For the prepper, it is the catastrophe that determines the means. The prepper focuses almost exclusively on the means to get through a calamity, and any goals beyond that are left nebulous. The prepper wants a lifestyle, not a life. He will end up having neither, for no prepper's hyper-detailed plan will survive contact with reality: change the details of the catastrophe, and the prepper is caught off guard.

(You can also see the consequences of this omission of goals in prepper fiction: their novels frequently read more like how-to manuals than fiction. The goal of fiction is to show, not to teach. Besides, any good how-to manual must have an index.)

There's also a problem of magnitude: many preppers fill in that blank with huge and sudden natural disasters, such as: Yellowstone volcanos, solar flares, asteroid strikes, etc. What about events that aren't huge? What about events that are gradual rather than sudden? What about man-made disasters?

February 2010 Snowstorm in Frederick, MD: Not something a prepper would consider worthy.

By being stuck in the mechanics of prepping for a particular large-scale event instead focusing on the goal (to survive as a man), the prepper is missing the opportunity to apply his "preps" to small and/or gradual events. Instead of worrying about Yellowstone volcanos, think of major snowstorms. Instead of solar flares, be concerned about the impending layoffs at your company. Instead of a sudden asteroid impact, prepare to fight creeping socialism.

From that standpoint, the S has already HTF, repeatedly.

Going back to Pascal, and back to JC's essay, there is another problem that preppers have and that survivalists don't: the "if not" part. What happens if the catastrophe never comes? As a solution to this, JC quotes Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long character (in "Time Enough for Love"?) as epitomizing the survivalist:
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
The particular list of skills is not as important as the contrast between that variety and the single-mindedness of an insect. Taking this quote in isolation, one must ask of each of those activities: to what end? For Heinlein's answer, read any of his novels.

Notice not only the breadth of those skills, but also the depth to some of them. Most of those skills are nontrivial tasks, and require serious effort and discipline to complete. What Heinlein is saying here is the ideal man is not to be just a "competent man" or a "generalist", but an "exceptional man". He won't know how to do all of those things, but he has the ability to learn and adapt, and he knows that he must do so in order to survive.

One last thing about those skills: all of them are worth doing outside of catastrophic situations, and many of them pay quite well. This, I think, is a key difference between a prepper and a survivalist: the prepper wins Pascal's Wager only if a catastrophe happens; a survivalist wins either way.

In summary: a prepper is prepared to live through a disaster; a survivalist lives as a man, regardless of whether a disaster happens or not.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Eyes on the Prize

We think of militias in terms of what they prevent - government intrusion and foreign invasion. While militias can indeed defend against those, that’s a negative description. Think of it like this: a Catholic is a non-Protestant Christian, but being non-Protestant doesn’t tell you much about Catholicism!

So really, what does a militia do? More to the point, what does active membership in a militia do for us, individually? Everybody has their own answers; what follows are mine.

What convinced me to join was the expressions you see in people's eyes.

When you look into a man’s eyes, you sometimes see confusion and apprehension – he is confused by the present and fearful of the future. Other times, you see a sick kind of giddiness, as if he is being pushed off of a cliff, and no amount of his scheming can prevent it. On still other occasions, you cannot look into his eyes at all, for he is always looking at other people – he is trying to determine what to think since he is too lazy to think for himself.

No fire, no passion; no brightness, no eagerness.

Those are not the looks of men; those are the looks of chattel.

I grew tired of seeing that in people's eyes, and what it implies: that they are not men; that they are indeed chattel.

That’s why I joined a militia: the fire and passion in a militiaman’s eyes has not been extinguished; the brightness and eagerness remain. I want to be around such men, for they are the only ones worth knowing.

Now, why I stay in a militia is more about how our society got to this point.

Let’s face it: our popular “culture” and our “education” system do as much damage to our way of life as does the intrusive government. This is especially true of the education system.

We are taught just enough knowledge so that we can barely hold-down jobs we hate, instead of being able to use knowledge as the powerful and elegant tool that it is - and we are left with nothing but superstition, rumor, and opinion. We are taught that we exist for the state, not the other way around. We are taught that we should turn control of our lives and property over to "qualified experts," without questioning why those so-called "experts" are qualified and how they'll be held accountable if they aren't. We are taught that handouts are the way to success, not productivity.

We are taught that confusion, fear, and the lack of control are normal and acceptable – and if we doubt that, just ask what everybody else thinks.

Pop culture distracts the chattel, the government herds them, but it is the education system that produces such helpless people.

That is why I stay in: the militia is a rejection of this learned helplessness. Active members of a militia expand their comfort zone, and learn to take care of themselves in that expanded zone. Then they repeat, repeat, and repeat again. Militia members are anything but helpless.

There’s more, though. To quote Nietzsche somewhat out of context: "Free from what? As if that mattered...! But your eyes should tell me brightly: free for what?"

Free for what, indeed!

If we don’t make our own future, it will be made for us. The militia is living proof that we can make our own future. It is human ability made manifest.

Those are my reasons for joining and staying in. Everybody will have their own. Some assembly required, and your mileage may vary. However you approach it, though, the end result is the same: not only freedom, but worthiness of being free.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Freedom Fighter's Creed

Last Friday, the militia group of which I'm a member attended Operation American Spring in Washington, DC. This essay started out to be an "after action report", but the important details belong in another forum. Instead, this is a "lessons learned" report. I've been to plenty of protests in DC before, but this was the first one I attended as part of a group, wearing a uniform. Those two facts completely altered the dynamics, and the lessons I learned came to me as complete surprises.

Now from day one, people have been predicting that OAS would be a failure. That’s not surprising, especially given the goals as specified by its organizers: millions of protesters? Please. Obama, Boehner, etc., stepping down of their own accord? Whatever, ain’t gonna happen. And, OAS started on a weekday.

Besides all that, there were two very telling criticisms of OAS that came from members of the Conservative and Patriot movements.

1. "It will be a bloodbath"
No, it won’t, and no it wasn’t. The Bundy Ranch was an exception: the means by which government controls us is not through guns, but rather through behavioral psychology ("nudging") and, for those of us who fall through that net of propaganda, administrative sanctions. We who went to OAS were never in any physical danger.

(By the way, the government's reliance on administrative sanctions raises the following question: is the most effective way to combat such sanctions through a militia? This will be addressed in the future.)

2. "Militiamen don’t do protests"
This isn't a critique of OAS per se, but rather of how people participate in OAS. I find this one to be the strongest criticism of all. I have tremendous respect for the man who said this, and I still do: difference in opinion does not imply difference in principle. And, I don’t completely disagree with him.

Does this mean that when soldiers march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, they stop being soldiers? Did the WW1 veterans who participated in the Bonus Army march cease to be veterans?

No. What the writer meant by “militiamen don’t do protests” is that when members of a militia attend an organized protest, they aren’t acting in the capacity of militiamen.

But, we who attended OAS as part of a militia weren’t acting strictly in the capacity of protesters, either. What were we, then?

If there is one label that would be applicable, it would be "freedom fighters". Let this, then, be the freedom fighter's creed:
We do whatever it takes to win back our freedom. Period. We speak instead of remaining silent. We speak, we debate, we protest. If we can convince, we recruit. If we cannot convince, we sow the seeds of doubt. If need be, we fight with any available weapons. We don’t complain about “unfair odds” - we turn those into opportunities. If we find ourselves in a “fair fight,” we make it unfair to our opponents, however possible. We capitalize on our successes and we learn from our mistakes. We let the world know of the rightness of our cause through word and deed and example. The only constraints we have are those imposed by the dictates of our conscience and the limits of our ingenuity. 
No, I wouldn't call our participation in OAS a complete mistake. Sometimes, the lessons that are learned by accident, or in the process of failing, are the most lasting.