Kim Jong Il is dead. Here’s hoping the Korean Peninsula doesn’t burn.
A passage from Havel’s 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” published while Havel was in prison for dissident activities:
Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.
The system, through its alienating presence ín people, will punish him for his rebellion. It must do so because the logic of its automatism and self-defense dictate it. The greengrocer has not committed a simple, individual offense, isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious. By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.
Havel, Czech dissident, last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic, died today at age 75.
When I attended the University of Oregon, I was the editor of a libertarian-leaning opinion magazine. I argued forcefully — often vulgarly — against government power. If you’re not familiar with the political makeup of most public college campuses, this went over about as well as a plate of pickled pigs feet at a kosher potluck.
The liberal students I debated with often responded to my arguments with equal parts smug condescension and amusement. I obviously was too much of a whacko, knee-jerk anti-government nut, they concluded, to understand the finer points of the social contract and government authority. Government is just the collective will of the people, they sighed, not a leviathan.
Funny, then, how many of my generation suddenly discovered in the past week or so that state-sponsored violence exists. The most egregious example came yesterday at UC Davis, where a police officer pepper-sprayed a group of protesters who were sitting peacefully on the ground.
Surprising, I assume, because they weren’t paying attention or were not part of a minority group frequently targeted by police. Not surprising to me. I’ve been reading about this kind of thing — excessive force, no-knock drug raids, warrantless search and seizure, evidence suppression — for several years now.
I suppose one of the nice parts about being “knee-jerk anti-government” is I don’t have to deal with any surprise or cognitive dissonance in situations like UC Davis. Despite my disagreements with the Occupy movement’s rhetoric, tactics and goals — e.g. protesting for more of the same government that pepper sprays them in the face — I’ll never condone or apologize for police brutality. Excessive police force is wrong. Always.
Nor do I have to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to ask, “Where have our civil liberties gone?” while simultaneously supporting politicians and policies that expand the size of the very government suppressing those rights.
Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic Obama “Hope” poster, released a new poster today in support of Occupy Wall Street. The poster reads, “Mister President, we HOPE you’re on our side.” In a statement, Fairey calls Obama “a potential ally of the Occupy movement.”
This, as Reason editor Nick Gillespie points out, is depressing.
That Fairey would consider Obama a potential ally shows either willful disregard or flat-out ignorance of what the president has actually done since taking office. This is the president who voted for the bank bailouts while in the Senate. This is the president who has continued, if not accelerated, the previous administration’s line on foreign policy, the drug war and state secrets. This is the president who ordered the assassination of two American citizens without due process via Predator Drone. This is the president who received the most Wall Street donations of any candidate in history in 2008. This is the president who continues to hold fundraisers with Wall Street executives, such as the head of bankrupt Wall Street firm MF Global, which is under investigation for misappropriating $600 million of its customers’ money.
It’s abundantly clear where Obama stands, and it’s not with Occupy Wall Street.
It’s alright, though. Every generation of idealists has to learn on its own that, when the chips are on the table, government is not “another word for the things we choose to do together” or a synonym for national greatness, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pseudo-fascistically suggests in her “Lean Forward” commercials.
One more quick trip down memory lane: Those same college friends who are now outraged and likely shouting about the “corporate police state”* also argued with me that there was no reason to own a handgun because we can just call the police for protection. When I suggested the Second Amendment was more than just protection against random criminals — in fact largely intended as a defense against threats to liberty both foreign and domestic — they laughed at me. Such fear of the government was incomprehensible to them.
I would say I’m the one laughing now, except I’m not.**
* “Corporate police state” is a term I find particularly amusing and illustrative of the OWS crowd’s misplaced ire. The corporations the protesters are railing against don’t care if they camp in public parks or march in the streets, insofar as they don’t disrupt those companies’ productivity. The government cares. Mayors, many of them Democrats, are the ones who ordered the evictions of the Occupy encampments. Putting aside the question of whether or not illegally camping in a public space is a First Amendment right, it was the the courts, not Wall Street fat cats, who upheld those orders. Police, vested with authority by the government, not K Street lobbyists, are the ones who enforced those orders.
** I’m not suggesting violence against police or armed revolution in any way here, merely that there is a very real reason the drafters of the Constitution did not leave the people’s security solely in the hands of the state.
If you want a case study in how well-intentioned government actors and NGO activists can royally screw up the lives of those they claim to be helping, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than this — an obscure provision in the Dodd-Frank act meant to ensure that minerals bought from Africa didn’t benefit warlords.
Unfortunately, the provision simply stopped companies from buying minerals in conflict regions altogether — because no one wants to be accused of funding homicidal warlords. The provision devastated the economy of the eastern Congo and, in a sad twist, actually empowered local warlords even more.
From the New York Times:
For locals, however, the law has been a catastrophe. In South Kivu Province, I heard from scores of artisanal miners and small-scale purchasers, who used to make a few dollars a day digging ore out of mountainsides with hand tools. Paltry as it may seem, this income was a lifeline for people in a region that was devastated by 32 years of misrule under the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko (when the country was known as Zaire) and that is now just beginning to emerge from over a decade of brutal war and internal strife.
The pastor at one church told me that women were giving birth at home because they couldn’t afford the $20 or so for the maternity clinic. Children are dropping out of school because parents can’t pay the fees. Remote mining towns are virtually cut off from the outside world because the planes that once provisioned them no longer land. Most worrying, a crop disease periodically decimates the region’s staple, cassava. Villagers who relied on their mining income to buy food when harvests failed are beginning to go hungry.
Meanwhile, the law is benefiting some of the very people it was meant to single out. The chief beneficiary is Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is nicknamed The Terminator and is sought by the International Criminal Court. Ostensibly a member of the Congolese Army, he is in fact a freelance killer with his own ethnic Tutsi militia, which provides “security” to traders smuggling minerals across the border to neighboring Rwanda.
Well, that’s a real tragedy, but there’s no way the U.S. government and the advocacy groups pressing for the provision could have predicted this outcome, right?
The Rev. Didier de Failly, a Belgian priest who has lived in Congo for 45 years, insistently warned Western advocacy groups of the dangers posed by their campaign. He told them it was no defense for them to claim that they weren’t proposing an embargo, since what they were doing would inevitably lead to one.
But once the advocacy groups succeeded in framing the debate as a contest between themselves and greedy corporate interests, no one bothered to solicit the opinion of local Congolese. As the leader of a civil-society group, Eric Kajemba, asked me, more in confusion than in anger, “If the advocacy groups aren’t speaking for the people of eastern Congo, whom are they speaking for?”
Answer: their own smug little selves.
[T]rue liberalism is still distinct from conservatism, and there is danger in the two being confused. Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities, it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place. A conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege. The essence of the liberal position, however, is the denial of all privilege, if privilege is understood in its proper and original meaning of the state granting and protecting rights to some which are not available on equal terms to others.
-F. A. Hayek
Reuters reports on things that wouldn’t need to be said, but for those tres chic leftists:
Berlin’s mayor said on Saturday he was appalled that some Germans were nostalgic for the Berlin Wall and supported a newly fashionable leftist view that there were legitimate reasons for building it in 1961.
At a somber ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, Mayor Klaus Wowereit, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff paid tribute to the 136 people killed trying to get over the Wall to West Berlin.
Wowereit said the Wall, toppled in 1989, should serve as a reminder of freedom and democracy around the world. Church bells peeled while trains and traffic came to a standstill at noon across Berlin for a moment of silence for the victims.
“We don’t have any tolerance for those who nostalgically distort the history of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s division,” Wowereit said at the ceremony in front of a small section of the Wall recently rebuilt for posterity.
“The Wall was part of a dictatorship,” he said. “And it’s alarming that even today some people argue there were good reasons to build the Wall. No! There’s no legitimate reason nor justification for violating human rights and for killings.”