Thursday, November 29, 2012

The moral basis of socialism

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.

If you do not know where that comes from, it is in the Bible, Exodus Chapter 20. Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. God has given the people a short set of laws, the Ten Commandments. The passage quoted above is one of the ten.

Of course this law and the rest are bedrock values of Judaism. Christianity, too, has recognized the high moral value and divinely practical tone of the Ten Commandments. The laws of God via Moses, as transmitted through Christianity, have been profoundly influential in shaping the ways Western culture has looked at things.

Not coveting anything your neighbor has would seem to rule out the basis of 'redistributive social justice,' aka socialism. While both Christianity and socialism aim to help the poor, there is a fundamental difference. Christian charity is voluntary and inspired by love, or at least a sense of neighborly concern. Socialist redistribution is coerced. It uses the force of law and the might of the state to take from one and give to another. That is a big difference. Socialism, if it were not coerced, would cease to be socialism; it would then be indistinguishable from charity.

If one objects that people's charity is insufficient, they don't give enough, saying therefore that coercion is needed and the government is to decide how much everyone gives and to whom, it raises several difficult moral questions.

  • Politicians, who are only human, will tend to give the proceeds to those who vote for them. Another way of saying it is that they will buy votes. 
  • The 'moral hazard' of spending other people's money is ever present. Waste and fraud in the use of public money are well documented. People spending their own money, in what they perceive to be a high cause or a holy purpose, are more careful.
  • If you think your neighbors are not giving enough and must give more, would it not be a good time to lead by example and give away more of your own, voluntarily? Would it not be good to get up a drive, pass the hat, ring a bell beside a bucket or mail out circulars asking for donations?
The idea that the poor should trust in God and the mercy of their neighbors is anathema to certain people on the left, who openly say that faith in God is an obsolete superstition and only mankind can better the lot of man. With a stance like that, of course they are not going to believe that the collection plate is the answer and socialism is not. 

The trouble is that socialism is no answer. It always fails because it always must. Consider the contrast: Charity is initiated by the generous. Socialism is demanded by the covetous. After all, the usual line of argument in favor of socialism is that it is very wrong and unfair that some have a lot and some have only a little. Make it more fair: Give me yours or else. How can we hear, in such declarations, anything but the belief that what is their neighbor's should be theirs instead? Even if you know little of God's laws, and care less, there is an entirely down-to-earth and practical difference between charity and socialism. Generosity has its limits. Does covetousness?

Why does socialism fail? The vigor of the economy is lessened as people become, increasingly, takers rather than  givers. There is at first a seemingly endless supply of more and more that can be demanded from your neighbor. That illusion is sooner or later dispelled. 

Thomas Peterffy, in the clip below, makes a very cogent point. "Yes, in socialism the rich will be poorer. But the poor will also be poorer." He saw it happen in the country where he was born and he remains soured on the whole idea. Perhaps that is the way it has to work. The most committed anti-socialists are always those who have seen what socialism leads to, lived through the grief it causes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shooting at zombies

Discussion of zombie invasion scenarios is the shooting fraternity's way of poking gentle fun at itself. For years there were people working out what-if plans in case the country were invaded (the Red Dawn scenario) or in case of the breakdown of constitutional rule (WROL) or some other massive cultural disaster (TEOTWAWKI), such as anarchy ensuing after a nationwide failure of the electrical grid. While the Second Amendment and all it stands for would be of obvious usefulness in a national emergency, none of the scenarios happened, year after year.

Thus was invented the zombie apocalypse scenario, a humorous way of lumping together all the awful what-if scenarios people had thought about. If you are ready for the zombie apocalypse, you are more than ready for any of the real world disasters mentioned above. We go to the range and have a good time shooting at zombie targets, which may, optionally, be rigged to bleed green blood when hit.  Obviously it is all a bit tongue in cheek, but there is a semi-serious purpose behind it, of being in practice just in case a disaster of some sort occurs.

Whether a real national emergency is a likely impossibility or, instead, an unlikely possibility, it does no harm to be in practice with your favored weapon and it might do you a substantial amount of good. It's not a bad thing to be up to snuff as a shooter even if nothing goes massively wrong, for there will always be incidents where the unfortunate need arises for plain old justifiable self defense.

My choice for the gun to bring to a  zombie apocalypse is a 12 gauge pump. It is a superb weapon for close defense. Close range is the only truly important scenario to consider because I can hide from other kinds of threats. I am merely a private citizen, not a soldier or policeman, so I have no duty to go forward to engage hostiles. I need something that will stop bad guy zombies if they come forward looking for me. Thus the shotgun is, or so it seems to me, an emminently sensible choice.

The JSSAP shotgun program conducted by the U.S. military concluded that a shotgun has twice the hit probability of a rifle and is nearly half again better than a submachine gun. Notice that while the submachine gun is now rare in military and police use, there are a whole lot of shotguns issued or available for issue.   A generation or two ago, many cop shops and military ground combat units had some buzzguns around. Live and learn.

The plain jane riot gun is just fine. The same basic configuration has been rolling the bad guys since around the turn of the last century. It is derived from the sporting shotgun: Take your basic duck blaster and put a shorter barrel on it, with a cylinder bore or only a slight amount of choke. Load the gun with large shot. All of that has simple and obvious reasons behind it.

At that, if you have a duck gun you don't really need a riot gun. Just take out the magazine plug and load with buckshot. If the gun has choke tubes, put in the most open one you have. The longer barreled gun is in some ways the  better weapon. It points more naturally and swings more smoothly. The riot gun's short barrel is merely for convenience in confined spaces and at close quarters.

I don't need a whole lot of tacticool stuff hung on the gun. A simple bead sight is fine because I'll be shooting buckshot. A sling is a good idea because I won't want to hold the gun in my hands all the time. Doing so is tiring, interferes with doing other things with my hands  and sometimes it makes bystanders nervous. I like quick release sling swivels so that if the strap is in the way I can quickly remove it and pocket it. A thick rubber recoil pad is a good idea if there are lots of zombies.

A fitting to mount a flashlight on the gun is getting into "maybe" territory. A light is useful for identifying your target but it also tells the zombies exactly where you are. On the plus side you can simply leave the light turned off if using it would create problems rather than avert them. So, on the whole, a light on the gun is a sound enough idea.

There are all manner of other things that can be mounted on a shotgun. All of them include downsides along with whatever advantages they offer. Ammo carriers on the gun increase the weight and bulk of the weapon and change its balance. Though they do a good job of keeping some spare ammo with the gun, they slightly reduce the gun's nimbleness. I think of the shotgun as first and foremost a snap shooting weapon, so anything that slows it down, or makes it more prone to snag on things, is going to make me wonder if that accessory is really a good  idea. Thus, I do not have a sidesaddle or butt cuff ammo carrier on my zombie gun.

Rifle sights are splendid if you intend to shoot slugs. You will not shoot slugs with real efficiency if you do not have sights. The red dot optical sight is an outstanding choice for slug shooting. It is fast, has no critical issues of eye placement and is more than precise enough for any shooting you would undertake with a slug fired from a smoothbore. When you are shooting shot loads you can turn off the dot if you find it distracting.

But I intend to shoot bird shooter style, both eyes on the target and the barrel in my peripheral cone of vision. I intend to fire shot loads, not slugs. I was more enthusiastic about slugs before the invention of ultra-tight patterning buckshot shells, such as Federal FliteControl and Hornady VersaTite. Those shells are dangerous to a zombie a good deal farther than old fashioned buckshot.

Mounting an optical sight on a gun I probably won't shoot slugs out of is a waste of space and contributes clutter to my visual field. So, though the dot  sight is cool as the dickens, I'll leave it at home.

If it turns out I'm all wrong in my assumptions, I could add a sight bracket and a sight to the shotgun, but switching to a rifle might make more sense. Of course I don't think I'm wrong. Does anyone, really, until after the fact?  Anyway, when the zombies come shambling over the hill, I'm grabbing my shotgun.

Product mentions (I get a commission)

Get your zombie targets at Amazon.

This bracket allows you to mount a light on an 870  shotgun receiver.

This less expensive option mounts a light on a shotgun's barrel.

How do you mount a sling on a shotgun? I'm glad you asked.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The last forbidden four letter word

I and wiser heads heads than mine have observed that the Western democracies, including the United States, are in moral, social and financial decline. I do not expect them to recover. They have thrown away their magic, lost the key that made them great. They will fall into history's ash heap.

The word that defined the West was "truth." It meant something objective not personal. What was true for one was true for all. People could debate, and vigorously did, which things were true, but some things were and some were not. That was the thread that wove the social fabric.

There were two contributors to this, Jew and Greek. The Jew said, and the Christian after him, that things were true because God's prophets spoke and what they said bore out. The Greeks said you know what is true for everyone because anyone can find it out for himself: repeatable observations, backed by formal logic and math, which they invented to prove their point. In other words the West received a dual inheritance, moral reasoning from the Bible and science from the Greeks.

I have written elsewhere  about how these two views have been pitted, falsely, against one another. They are not in disagreement at all. Science talks about repeatable observations. Without those you have no science. Religion talks about the once only events. You can stand all your life where Ezekiel stood and never see what he saw. You missed it; it is over now. Science cannot study it; it is not a repeatable episode. Religion cannot fairly criticize science for failing to make exceptions to the rules of science, which is what it would amount to if science treated miraculous claims as evidence. Scientists, in turn, cannot offer an intelligent critique of what falls outside their realm of study. Any non-repeating event, that is to say anything miraculous, falls outside their competency.

The imaginary conflict between science and religion is unfortunate, because while people were arguing about that, they lost track of what should interest them most. That is true things. People need to take an interest in what is true and what is not because truth is a friend. If you know what is true you can plan accordingly. But while we were arguing about how you know what is true, a diabolical proposition crept in. Truth is what you want it to be. A concept may be true for you but not for me. Who are you to impose your truth-concept on me?

Truth that flexible is not a friend but a fiend. It is obviously and objectively true that you cannot sail downwind from France to New York. No amount of wishing can make it otherwise, because the wind blows the other way. The difficulty arises in considering questions that have answers that are less immediately apparent. It is less obtrusively true that you cannot beggar your neighbor and thereby prosper yourself. The societal failure that comes from socialism takes time to develop. In the interval, people can lie to themselves about what they are doing, and what is happening to them, if they have a flexible sense of truth and falsehood.

The societal breakdown that results from socialism always develops the same way. If you propose to take from some and give to some, people line up to be given to. They step out of the line of people to be taken from.

The socialist, when faced with his creed's former failures and disasters in countries around the world, and told his efforts are doomed, does not see it that way, that's only your truth, his truth is he will continue to progressive social nirvana. The lessons of the past he sees as unfortunate not conclusive. He wishes to continue the experiment. But neither concept of truth supports him. He is indifferent, even dismissive, toward the truth in divine revelation. Science, for its part, says that what didn't work before won't work now. But the progressive is ever hopeful.

That is the problem with the progressive. He rejects both ideas of truth. The pulpit and the objective facts gained from observation are against him, but he knows in his heart he is right. He therefore rejects both faith and reason. He believes he can make a difference. He can make the world a better place. He needs your money to do it, your obedience, your liberty and your reason and faith.

The last thing he wants to hear, the only four letter word, really, that is forbidden any more, the word a tyrant never wants to hear from "liar!" Because, of course, if there are no firm standards of truth, who are you to impose your standards of falsehood on someone else?

The 2014 elections

...the political ploy of bribing the people with their own  money falls apart. What happens when the people demand a bigger bribe?

Dreary as the political situation is, there is some positive news. The Democrats will be very vulnerable in the midterm elections. How vulnerable they are depends on how bad the economy is then. I cannot see it being very good. Here and in Europe there are rumblings of troubles beyond those we have experienced heretofore.  Even the less reflective members of the public, here and abroad, are starting to understand that more government means less business. I want to focus on the European situation because I think it will likely come to a head in the next year or two.

European governments are beginning to talk, at least, about curtailing public benefits. It's an unpopular idea. The populace decides what's popular and this ain't it. So we have an awkward balance of dissonant thoughts wherein the public is unhappy that there is not more public money. This is the endgame, where the political ploy of bribing the people with their own  money falls apart. What happens when the people demand a bigger bribe?

Stein's Law tells us that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. All we need to wonder about now is how big a jolt the stop will be. There will be pain and distress in Europe, we can say that much. How big will the repercussions be for America? They will not be as severe here as there, obviously, but they will be in two kinds. Together they will be persuasive, I think, to American voters.  First is the dollar loss to American enterprise from European trading partners falling into trouble. That will be felt throughout our economy. The other is the political lesson, taught by example. Europe went down a path that led nowhere good, we are on the same path, giving away what is our neighbor's and our children's , so maybe we should get out the map again and figure out where we should be going instead. These considerations will be enough to damage America's Democrats, who will not be able to offer the excuse that the trouble in Europe is Bush's fault.

I call politicians who rely on social giveaway schemes 'rocking horse losers,' after the D.H. Lawrence story. "There must be more money!" Anyway, the good news is that giveaway schemes always fail because they always must. Their failure in Europe will not seem like good news as it is happening, for there will be a great deal of distress when the flow of socialist blessings trickles and stops. But then there will be the reemergence of the light of truth after long years of darkness and the people can welcome that, surely, as they begin to rebuild. What shall they rebuild? They need an economy defined by work and thrift, risk and ownership of risk, and rewards commensurate with how one manages those defining aspects. An economy steered about by government fiat is exactly what people don't need, though increasingly that is what we have in America, and what Europe has been laboring under for years.

So then America has, in some sense, a golden opportunity. We can learn from the mistakes of others, by observing the European example, or we can continue on the same merry way and fall into the same hole. The midterm elections will show which we have decided to do.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An unwholesome social dynamic

 ...even if a solid conservative had been running and had won the election, it would, in one important way, have made no difference.

The ideas I'm going to share here came up in an email conversation with an old friend. I thought they might be of wider interest so I rewrote them as a blog post. I added some further thoughts that would have been obvious to my friend, who already knows how I think, but which might need a little bit of unpacking to be clear to other people.

Firstly: Am I disappointed that Obama got reelected? I certainly am. I see his ideas and policies as all wrong. I am a fiscal conservative with libertarian leanings; he is a big government statist of the leftist persuasion. Unfortunately no one of my own persuasion was running: Romney, the Republican candidate, is a notable RINO. So there was really no one for me to vote for; I voted against Obama. Not enough people did.

It is difficult for a challenger to win when not much differentiates him from the incumbent. People who want a leftist are going to vote for the real thing, not for a RINO and Leftism Lite. People who want a right winger are not going to have much enthusiasm to vote for either choice. This is a mistake the Republican party makes over and over, running safe candidates who lose.

But even if a solid conservative had been running and had won the election, it would, in one important way, have made no difference. I'm fearful of the further harm Obama may do, particularly in the matter of judicial appointments, but there is a dangerous long term trend that neither conservative nor liberal knows how to do much about. The problem is that government does not know how to shrink. Instead it grows and grows.

I can foretell America's future. I am not a prophet and neither I do not have a crystal ball. What I do is read the news from Europe. The Europeans are on the same path we are and a few years farther down it. They are now experiencing long term economic malaise with no end in sight. There is not enough public money to match the public's desire to receive things from the government.

There is an unwholesome social dynamic at work here. There is not the political will to fix the problem. The prevalent political will is itself the problem: the will to give things away from the public treasury. People are little inclined to vote themselves less largesse.

There, in a nutshell, is the fatal dynamic that leads inevitably to a downward spiral of unprosperity. Once people figure out that they can vote themselves benefits and their neighbors will be made to pay, a self-perpetuating trend is established. There is nowhere to go but downward, to less enterprise, creativity and drive in the private sector, because business has less money to work with, even as more money is distributed by the public sector. Together with that you get more taxes, more rules and more bureaucracy. To the extent that some people manage to avoid work who could work, the economy is deprived of the strength their labor would have contributed.

Putting a conservative in the White House would have slowed down the growth of government, perhaps, but I have never heard a politician from either party put forth a credible plan to make the government shrink. Politicians talk about such ideas from time to time but it never gets beyond the talking stage or a few cosmetic changes. Things work in one direction only, toward more, bigger and costlier government.

Until someone figures out a way to shrink the government or at least halt its growth, we will see problems stemming from the continual proliferation of laws, rules, regulations, programs, taxation and borrowing. Of course all of these things impact the financial health of businesses and thus the economy in general. We could get by with less of all these things and would be the more prosperous.

I do not think we are at risk of a big dramatic fall of civilization. I foresee a slow decline instead into general mediocrity and shrinking freedoms. Our place in the sun as an unusually prosperous country will be taken by others who understand the link between economic freedom and plenty. The Chinese, after making a complete disaster of their economy in the last century, are now very apt pupils of the lesson that teaches about freedom, risk and gain as intertwined concepts. Though we knew that lesson well at one time, we seem to have forgotten about it.

The unwholesome social dynamic I see at work in America is, then, the tendency of government to grow but never shrink and the inevitable crunch that will come when, like Europe, we can no longer afford our government.