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Clark

Clark is an anarchocapitalist, a reader, and a man of mystery. He's not a neoreactionary, but he is Nrx-curious 'til graduation. All he wants for Christmas is for everyone involved in the police state to get a fair trial and a free hanging. Follow him at @clarkhat

100 Responses

  1. SamLR says:

    Clark, have you ever watched the film 'Cube'? There's a terrifying quote in there about this exact situation:

    There is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It's a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan.

    And later (when discussing the Cube itself):

    This is an accident, a forgotten, perpetual public works project. You think anybody wants to ask questions? All they want is a clear conscience and a fat paycheck.


    Think I'm going to drink for a while.

  2. Clark says:

    @SamLR

    Clark, have you ever watched the film 'Cube'?

    I have.

    There's a terrifying quote in there about this exact situation:

    There is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It's a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan.

    Pretty much exactly my take.

    The jungle ecosystem does not exist because there is a master planner who wants fronds and frogs and giant spiders and army ants.

    The jungle ecosystem exists because rainfall is thus and altitude is so and prevailing winds are such…and once the jungle comes into existence, every ant, every tree, every snake behaves according to its own instincts and incentives.

    There is no wizard we can pull the curtain back from, there is no Big Brother we can shoot, there is no God Emporer of the White House we can vote out.

    The machine grinds on

    Picture an unplanned emergent system stamping on a face. Forever.

  3. beingmarkh says:

    This isn't a comment on the overall quality of the post, but I wouldn't trust any secondary source that supports its conclusions by citing the raw number of Google search hits for a particular term, nor would I trust any primary source that supports its conclusions by citing the secondary.

  4. Eric Mesa says:

    I like the brilliance of the way you set up the blog post. At first it looked as though you're saying – this dude is saying something I agree with. Then you point out where your views meet a fork in the road. I happen to agree with your take on it. My father and I had a talk about this when I was young where he told me that organizations just want to keep existing. It's part of the reason why one of the Christian denominations I grew up with was constantly saying all the other denominations had it so wrong they were going to hell. After all, if each is as good as the next, why stick with this one?

  5. Clark says:

    @Eric Mesa:

    After all, if each is as good as the next, why stick with this one?

    I am a theist and a Christian…but analyzing religions sociologically is fascinating.

    For example: it's hardly surprising that every religion that's lasted for more than 100 years has grave prohibitions about altering the doctrine; religions with out that prohibition mutate until they either develop it and/or turn into something else.

  6. Munin says:

    Some part are emergent others less so. There has always been a pretty strong authoritarian streak in human society who would accept a certain amount of oppression and abuse as long as they felt assured that this would enable things to carry on as they have done.

    McCarthyism was to keep the reds out and hence secure the American way of life, no-knock warrants and SWAT tactics is to fight dangerous drugs criminals and hence secure the American way of life, searches 100 miles from the border, huge border walls and harassment of people who look as if they might be illegals is all to keep dirty immigrants out and hence secure the American way of life. Dogs and so forth are just necessary sacrifices…

    These are/were, unfortunately, all driven by a pretty broad swell of public support.

    On the more conspiratorial side you have things like the steady and persistent lobbying which ensures certain regulations are canned, monopolies maintained, contracts awarded to favored contractors and so forth.

    And to me the steady expansion of the power to secretly monitor and render judgement is power for power's sake.

  7. joshuaism says:

    > …machine-gun-armed EPA team…

    OMG Clark! Please front load your links! I thought you actually did go off the rails down the conspiracy theory highway until you provided additional details below.

  8. Frank says:

    But but but Claarrrk- These are the gooood guys! She deserved to be kicked in the head because she was out of liiine!

    Seriously, our gov't has a problem, and it needs fixing.
    There was some discussion about "bad apples" vs. the good guys, but I don't understand how the good guys can cower in their jobs and not speak out.
    One other thing. Last Sunday I had lunch with a friend who is a legislator for the State of Wyoming and he told me that he's heard from many LEO's regarding cell phone cameras, and most of them are terrified of them.
    It got me thinking, and I asked him why an LEO would insist that "if you have nothing to hide, you won't mind if we search your property".

    If we put the shoe on the other foot, if these people have nothing to hide, why do they object to being filmed?
    Great post.

  9. Anonymous Coward says:

    Not sure if serious… in a bad way.

    Also, "government provided health cart"

  10. Ken L says:

    "I wouldn't trust any secondary source that supports its conclusions by citing the raw number of Google search hits for a particular term,"

    Seems like a perfectly cromulent method of evidence gathering to me. I ran a Google search today on “US slave state” and Google yielded just over a quarter of a trillion hits. The question is not “is the USA becoming a slave state” but rather the question is “why”.

  11. joshuaism says:

    I don't think you have effectively argued that the purpose of attaining all of this power is not to attain more power.

    From your 1984 quote above, "We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others were cowards and hypocrites. They never had the courage to recognize their motives." I think you have only shown that we aren't as honest about it as the Party is in 1984.

    We are still cowards and hypocrites that justify our thirst for power and excuse the actions of a police state because we buy those excuses. We are rationalizing and enabling the police state because we do not recognize that we have a problem. We're developing a tolerance for excessive powers of the state.

    Power is a drug and we are addicted.

  12. PLW says:

    Hey Clark,

    Do you have any data to support your claim that the US is turning into a police state? After Balko's book came out I went looking for what evidence there is of trends in police violence in the US. A few points:

    1. The data are shitty (see http://hsx.sagepub.com/content/16/1/78.full.pdf+html)
    2. The data on fatal encounters are more complete than the data on violence/non-fatal encounters
    3. The data on fatal encounters are a little misleading, because fatality rates per shooting have been growing over time (militarization?)
    4. The best among the shitty time-series data seems to be records within a given city for some big cities (LA and NYC are reported in the paper above)
    5. Those records show clear downward trends in police shootings and killings from 1970-present (with little hump in the late-80s/early-90s, probably crack related).
    6. Maybe, we can interpret this as evidence of a super-effective police state, where people don't even bother to challenge the police, but this does not seem like the most straightforward interpretation.
    7. An alternative, and to my mind equally likely, story is that there has been an actual decline in police violence but an increase in the reporting on police violence. This would exactly fit the trend we see re: violent crime in general, where there is quite good evidence that it is declining in real incidence but increasing in share of news reporting (and in citizens perceptions of its prevalence). So, in this analogy, Balko:Police Brutality::Nancy Grace:Child Murder.

  13. Craig says:

    If there's a boot stomping on my face, I'm not sure how much difference it makes to me whether it's the result of conscious intent or just the sum effect of various people "doing their jobs". A police state is a police state. If it's not the result of malice, but just of myopia, I don't think that makes it any better; arguably it's actually worse, because you can debate political philosophy with someone like Orwell's O'Brien, but you can't with a brainless functionary who's just a cog in a machine he doesn't understand. In other words, in theory you might be able to get O'Brien to change his mind (though it's unlikely), but a mindless machine can't change its mind.

  14. S. Weasel says:

    God, I'm depressed now. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

  15. Xenocles says:

    It has been said that power corrupts. That may be, but I think it's incomplete. It seems far more explanatory to say that power attracts the corrupt, or at least the corruptible.

    Then again, as a Christian you likely believe that we are all corrupt. As an atheist but a student of history I can't disagree strongly.

  16. Mark Stoval says:

    Hi, thanks for noticing me. I have read Popehat on and off for a long time. It was nice to see the pingback.

    I'll respond to this post with another one of my own soon, but would like to point out just two things today.

    1) Winston Smith was in the "Outer Party", not in the "Inner Party". He was like the fellows you mention that do the work of the ruling "Inner Party". George Orwell has an Inner Party man give the answer about power being the ultimate reason. Recall Henry Kissinger said, "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac".

    2) [to a commenter above] The Google search result was not said to be "proof" of anything. Why would some twit say that you should ignore the whole of my point because I point out how many Google hits were made on a search. Anecdotal evidence results in excommunication over here?

  17. Clark says:

    @Craig

    If there's a boot stomping on my face, I'm not sure how much difference it makes to me whether it's the result of conscious intent or just the sum effect of various people "doing their jobs".

    Congratulations; your decoder ring has unlocked the hidden thesis of the post. ;-)

  18. mojo says:

    The question is not "Are you paranoid", the question is "Are you paranoid enough"?

  19. different Jess says:

    It's interesting (but not a flaw! it's understandable you didn't want to focus on him) that this essay doesn't mention Edward Snowden. If ever there was someone who wasn't just doing his job…

  20. Xenocles says:

    @Craig-

    The most recent Joker may have hit close to the mark with respect to orders:

    You know… You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go "according to plan." Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all "part of the plan".

    Orders are like plans in that they come from authority. There seems to be a natural human tendency to seek authority and to follow it by default. Thus mayhem from a street thug is universally denounced as the act of a criminal, while the same act ordered by a state will have its apologists.

  21. J.R. says:

    When i run the "US police state" query, I get 995 million. Bad enough. In any case its not a pretty picture: militarized police, ubiquitous surveillane because "If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear" (if you are not doing anything wrong why do you have curtains, and locks on your doors?); laws with secret provisions, ruled on by secret courts which hand down secret rulings…. Lets be generous, and assume that neither the current nor the previous administration have abused these powers, and further that the next two won't either. What are the odds that some conscienceless sociopath will never make it to the top? Sooner or later …

  22. Munin says:

    Trying to move against a prevalent and entrenched power structure "rocking the boat" always leads to a backlash.

    You can go from a Police officer who backs a public complaint against a colleague and then gets ostracized, the current scandal in the UK about clinicians in the UK blowing the whistle on a broken system in several hospitals have their careers wrecked and are then gagged, to the very topical Edward Snowden as different Jess mentions.

    As with Edward Snowden you will have plenty of people willing to cheer on the persecution and so forth.

  23. Munin says:

    @Xenocles
    Yup, in addition the violence of protests will always be exaggerated whilst the violence of the Police will always be minimized or at the very least equivocated about.

    Heck, you've had that happening with the recent protests about the Martin/Zimmerman verdict:
    http://www.salon.com/2013/07/16/new_trayvon_lie_media_lapd_falsely_report_rowdy_protests/

  24. different Jess says:

    I suspect Naomi Wolf may not be everyone's cup of tea, but she's covered this ground before, in a delightfully current-events-as-allegory fashion.

  25. John Kindley says:

    The cogs may not have a conscious criminal intent, but it's reasonable to infer that the inventors of the machine did, and do. "By their fruits you shall know them." And it's unlikely these inventors would admit to themselves or others that their criminal intent was in fact criminal. The criminal intent of the machine may be in the way of economics and theft rather than a pure conscious malicious desire to dominate, but much of the charm of great wealth is in having more than others and in its power to make others serve you, and the power and terror of the boot is necessary for the perpetuation of the theft.

  26. Clark says:

    @John Kindley:

    The cogs may not have a conscious criminal intent, but it's reasonable to infer that the inventors of the machine did,

    I disagree; I think the Founders truly tried to give us freedom and a republic.

    The problem is that one sets up the boundary to the garden just once, then the spreading mint and the creeping ivy have hundreds of years to find even one small crack to break through.

  27. Craig says:

    @different Jess: Thanks for that link. As you say, Naomi Wolf is not usually my cup of tea, but this piece hits the spot.

  28. Craig says:

    The problem is that one sets up the boundary to the garden just once, then the spreading mint and the creeping ivy have hundreds of years to find even one small crack to break through.

    One of my all-time favorite quotes: "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficient…The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."

    — Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis

  29. CheshireLeo says:

    Power reveals!!!

    What a terrible thing to say that power corrupts. Every time I hear a person say this phrase I wonder how it came to be? At its heart its an intellectually fraudulent dogma at best, and this from a blog I tend to enjoy for the varied opinions and well thought out posts.

    Power does not corrupt! Please think before you forward the statement again.

    Power is a tool, and cannot be good or evil. As a tool its uses tend to vary from use to use, and in all its forms it cannot be confined to such a simple and shapely definition.

    If you want a better statement to use in the place of the vile "Power corrupts" Try "Power reveals".

    and for a few bonus points later in the day think of which scares you more "Power corrupts" vs "Power reveals".

  30. Xenocles says:

    @Clark-

    That disparity between the walls and the enemy is almost certainly what Jefferson was speaking to when he made his remark about the Tree of Liberty.

  31. V says:

    @CheshireLeo
    I don't think I understand what you mean with "power reveals". Could you perhaps illustrate it with an example?

    I'd agree with you that power is a tool (or for some a goal in itself) and is not inherently good or evil. But "power corrupts" is not aimed at power but on those that wield or seek it.

  32. Craig says:

    I think CheshireLeo means that power does not corrupt, it merely gives those who are already corrupt more opportunity to show how corrupt they were all along. It's easy to seem like a nice person when you aren't in a position to be abusive.

  33. Brandon says:

    Clark, in several places your sarcasm was being laid on so thick I had to reread a couple of times to ensure you weren't actually being serious.

  34. CheshireLeo says:

    Examples I can try and give with the best of my ability.

    The first I would like to clarify on "Power corrupts": It stands to reason that not everyone in a position of power is corrupt. It is also true that not everyone placed into a position of power is corrupted by that power or position. When I think of those and preface the statement "Power Corrupts" it becomes a foolish dogma. When phrased that way it is a plan and easy thing to see, and almost seems foolish in needing to be pointed out.

    Now as for "Power reveals": (reveal: to bring public something hidden or secret.) When a new manager is promoted to his first management position, there are several things that those who have promoted him watch for. They watch because when you first promote someone to a position over others they begin to show how they wield the tool of that power. Many make rookie mistakes, others have mentors that have learned from others. Over time parts of that new manager are made known both to their bosses, and to those that they manage. The process "Reveals" more about them, often times to their growth. During this process some people are found to be bad with power, while others are quite good with it, some are truly gifted with it. In no way are they corrupted by this process. They are not corrupt because it is the growth in the situation that reveals them for who they are, not the process corrupting a perfectly good person.

  35. Darryl says:

    @Clark-regarding your hidden thesis-if in fact it does not matter, how do we go about changing it? If we don't know the cause, how can we affect the result?

  36. Munin says:

    Btw, talking about people who are part of the machine. This article has some pretty staggering quotes from an ex-NSA employee:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130717/00560223831/former-top-nsa-lawyer-blames-civil-libertarians-911-says-hype-about-nsa-may-lead-to-repeat.shtml

  37. John Kindley says:

    We are a race of bloodthirsty monkeys rarely conscious of our own stench. So yes, I suppose the police state is "emergent."

  38. perlhaqr says:

    V: I believe CheshireLeo is trying to claim that it's not the power that does the corrupting, it just reveals the corruption inherent in the wielder when they acquire it.

    It's a concept worth thinking about, but I'm not sure it's accurate. Power is a tool, like fire, or the lever. And yet some tools are more dangerous than others. Morphine is a tool, too, but it really needs conscientious thought involved when one is using it.

    I'm not sure if the question of whether the addict was already corrupt, and the morphine just revealed his corruption, or whether unconscientious use of morphine led to his corruption, is too philosophical a point for me this morning.

  39. different Jess says:

    I think you're right perlhaqr. There may be certain holy people who would never do bad things, regardless of the environment, but in general those who wish to avoid doing evil do well to avoid situations in which evil is done.

  40. NI says:

    I think America already is a police state, but I'm not sure it's worse than it's ever been. Habeas corpus was suspended during the Civil War. People who publicly objected to our entry into World War I were imprisoned. Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Black Americans in the South lived under Jim Crow for decades. Police used to raid gay bars and arrest everyone inside. Prohibition agents pretty much acted like today's drug warriors. So maybe this never has been a free country.

    I think what has changed is technology. Police didn't used to have Lenco BearCats, and does anyone think J. Edgar Hoover wouldn't have been glad to use them if he had? On the other hand, people didn't used to have cell phone cameras to record police brutality, so it mostly went unreported. So, technology has made an existing police state worse, while at the same time making the police state easier to document.

  41. mcinsand says:

    What disturbs me is the number of people that don't think that we slipped into a police state when The Patriot Act brought in warrantless wiretaps. Warrant requirements are possibly the most fundamental of checks and balances to keep Big Brother from jackbooting his way into our private lives, and this piece of legislation came into being with barely a whimper. The Bushbama years are characterized not only by massive government expansion through entitlements, but also expansion into the government's ability to remove any real or percieved constitutional protections on our privacy.

    At the same time, given our voting and campaigning patterns, what else could we expect. Both of our major parties promote themselves with fear; they terrorize the undecided, and those undecided then vote for the party that they fear less. 'Vote for us, or the other guys will sell you out to the corporations, pot smokers, gays, atheists, theists, spiders, or (worse) ponies." Ooops! I almost forgot the favorite human shield: the children. The parties will shamelessly use them almost as if to say, 'nice kid you got there. It'd be horrible if the other party got its way with him/her.'

  42. aczarnowski says:

    Whether it's an O'Brien or a mob of cogs with their boot(s) on your throat only matters if you're still trying to get up.

    A dragon is a fierce opponent but killing it is straight forward. A hydra is a much more difficult opponent and becomes dangerous at a much earlier age.

  43. Tarrou says:

    At the governmental level, there is always the natural human urge to take care of one's own people even at the expense of others. Over time this leads to all bureaucracies expanding, all sectors clamoring for more money, men, power, regulatory authority.

    And as people, we like tales of rogue agents breaking the outdated, useless "rules" to bring justice to the deserving. Watch, oh, any cop show ever. So we tend to cut those groups some slack when we think they were "just trying to get the bad guys off the street". Over time this leads to the erosion of civil liberty and the growth of the police state.

    Every atrocity ever has been perpetrated by people who were absolutely convinced in the righteousness of their cause. Stalin didn't murder and starve millions because fuck everyone. He did it to bring about a worker's paradise, to make the sacrifices so future generations could live in peace and harmony and other hippie bullshit. Hitler just wanted to make a better human race (no Godwin). The mullahs of Iran and the whackjobs of Al Qaeda, Westboro and the LRA all believe they do God's work.

    People can commit any number of horrific crimes for personal gain, insanity, passion, greed or any other vice. But for a real major genocide, you need belief, absolute conviction that what you do is proper, right and ordained by higher authority, be that god, historical imperative, or the betterment of humankind. Beware of grandiose claims of "the greater good".

  44. rmd says:

    PLW,

    A few points:

    1. The data are shitty

    I haven't read your links yet (although my knee-jerk tendency is towards the Clark/Balko view) but I just wanted to say that anyone who correctly uses "data" with a plural verb gets extra points in my book.

  45. Ken in NH says:

    @Clark

    While I agree that a vast majority of the police state are "just doing their job" and that there is no smoke-filled back room(s) where a small cabal plot the direction of the police state and the tightening of their grip around our throat, there are many little architects sprinkled through-out who, while not necessarily coördinating with each other or higher authorities, all agree on the general direction and read from the same play book. Lois Lerner is a great example of this specimen of autocrat.

    Also, I would not discount that there are many who many of these bureaucrats who are not "just doing their job," but thoroughly enjoy doing their job, taking pleasure in exercising the powers given to them when it causes grief to the benighted.

  46. Bob says:

    @Darryl

    As someone above noted, the machine can't change it's mind. The only way to change things is to dismantle the machine and then spend the next 200 years rebuilding it so we can dismantle it again.

  47. MrQuizzles says:

    When i run the "US police state" query, I get 995 million. Bad enough.

    It's worth noting that you get extremely similar results when running the query "US State Police" and, indeed, just "State Police". This is because you don't just get results about the US being a police state when you Google "US Police State".

    The tidbit about the number of Google search results is an entirely worthless piece of information, and I would even go so far as to say that it's being used in a misleading fashion in the quoted piece. The author is suggesting that it reinforces a point that it in no way validly supports. Telling us that "Sky Blue" returns 633,000,000 results would be exactly as useful and relevant to the article.

  48. Bob says:

    "us taken over by space whales" gets 70 million hits.

  49. Renee Marie Jones says:

    Unfortunately, things are worse than you think. A LOT of the people in power are NOT reasonable and decent. They are not doing the "right" thing. They want power and money and will lie, cheat, steal and kill to get it.

  50. Xenocles says:

    There are two types of power: power over self and power over others. It is power over others that reveals the most. Those who seek it are disproportionately corrupt compared to those who have it thrust upon them.

  51. Ken in NJ says:

    " "us taken over by space whales" gets 70 million hits"

    I, for one, welcome our new Cetacean Overlords

  52. John Kindley says:

    Just as the Presumption of Innocence tends toward pure Peace and Justice, since all injustice originates in harm, so too the opposite principle has its apex, or nadir. This is the point of the Inner Party leader's explanation to Winston Smith. The endpoint of this latter principle is pure Harm, for its own sake.

  53. David says:

    I ran a Google search today on “US police state” and Google yielded just shy of one Trillion hits.

    Thus spake the "often brilliant Mark Stoval", who evidently does not know that a phrase must be entered into the Google search field with embracing quotes to conserve its integrity as a phrase. What he actually searched for was all pages containing "US" or all pages containing "slave" or all pages containing "state". Not surprisingly, the result of that boolean inclusive OR is About 995,000,000 results (0.40 seconds)

    Here's the result of the phrase "US police state" with quotes:
    About 55,200 results (0.35 seconds)

    Alas.

    Similary, @Ken L, in a comment above, states:

    I ran a Google search today on “US slave state” and Google yielded just over a quarter of a trillion hits. The question is not “is the USA becoming a slave state” but rather the question is “why”.

    Sorry, @Ken L, but About 52,300 results (0.30 seconds) is all you'll get if you learn to use Google correctly.

  54. PLW says:

    @NI. If you are right and we are in a police state and always have been, then I don't understand what the alternative is. I thought my choice was between "future police state" and "good old days." That's at least something we can argue over and get at with evidence.

    If my choice is actually between "the way it is now" and "some utopia unknown in the history of man," I think I'll stand pat, because I know how well utopia usually turn out.

    @rmd "Data are" was drilled into by head in school. I think it's mostly just to show off, but now I'l stuck with it (http://xkcd.com/1238/)

  55. David says:

    @Bob

    "us taken over by space whales" gets 70 million hits.

    Or, uhm, none if you use the tool correctly:
    No results found for "us taken over by space whales".

    On the plus side, Google will soon return this page as the currently unique result for that query!

  56. James Pope says:

    What disturbs me is that people who support this thesis imagine that it's a new thing, and not something that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine weren't arguing over after a few too many pints. That is, it's something unique and transformative, something expressly actionable about now as opposed to a continuing state of existence, part of the normal dynamic of the state versus the individual that exists in all times under all governments with all leadership to varying degrees.

    That is, I accept that you feel a boot crushing your face, but someone's always going to feel that way regardless of anything because individualism being what it is the state is always in a contrary, not entirely adversarial but absolutely opposing, position against it. That dynamic isn't, as you correctly identify, necessarily malevolent. And barring a malevolent intent, all I can suggest is that individuals who feel a boot upon their face either retreat from society or else endeavor to work within the mechanisms of society to make that better – but know that by doing so they're inevitably going to be placing their own heel on the face of someone else.

    That's why Orwell is so frightening and why he could be so sure. It's not some terrifying explicit recipe of authoritarianism, his books describe human nature itself and the absolutely trivial (and critical, and terrifying) interaction with that nature and our societies.

  57. Erwin says:

    …but…on the bright side…emergent phenomena can change when the environment changes. So, maybe some fraction of this internet nonsense might make it harder to suppress information and easier to spread it…and that might slow our descent into tyranny.

    …or maybe replace it with some sort of always-on social control through cameras and social media.

    …or change nothing.

    I also wonder what the effect of a law allowing citizens to collect a 10% finders fee for information about illegal action on the part of government and corporate actors?

    …on the dark side, there's a difference between emergent and equilibrium, which would argue that our trip towards a police state may only be starting.

    –Erwin

  58. Gene says:

    Add on the fact that many states are already have or are working towards I.D. requirements for voting…."papers please?"

  59. David W says:

    I have to agree with NI. The more you look into history, the worse our forefathers look. To riff on one of his examples: Not only was habeas corpus suspended during the civil war, the legislature of Maryland was imprisoned in Fort McHenry for fear of how they would vote. Plus, of course, slavery was legal for 87 years, complete with all the attached brutality.

    There's still room to improve, and there are some trends that if unchecked will become extremely bad. But the overall trend is at least indeterminate, if not actually improving.

    Of course, the improvement so far is mainly because people get outraged over the abuses and work to amend them, not a necessary trend or reason to stop work. But a little optimism seems warranted.

  60. Kilroy says:

    And so what? Lead us, dear Clark. Bend us to your will and instruct us on exactly what should be done about these problems now that the quantum accepts that the problem exists.

  61. eddie says:

    The problem is that one sets up the boundary to the garden just once, then the spreading mint and the creeping ivy have hundreds of years to find even one small crack to break through.

    The founders were good enough gardeners that they gave some advice to those who might tend their garden in future years as to how to periodically water the tree of liberty.

  62. Lago says:

    Dear David,

    I love you.

    Sincerely,
    Lago

  63. Duvane says:

    Excellent post Clark. Crisis and Leviathan, essentially, which shaped my thinking on the subject tremendously, along with the realization that there are very few truly evil people in the world. Some stupid, greedy, or misanthropic, but mostly just decent people trying to get by, but without thinking through the full consequences of their actions, or the problems with their flawed, emotional responses to very real problems.

    I have to nitpick, though: there are no tobacco subsidies. There have been no direct subsidies of tobacco since maybe the 30s. The no-net-cost stabilization program (which explicitly operated at no-net cost to the federal govt for obvious political reasons) ended some years ago. There was a buyout of quota holders when the program ended; that was intended to be reimbursement for the loss of the production quota that they owned. Right or wrong, the buyout money was not tied to future production and so was not in any way a subsidy (in the sense that it in no way encouraged future production). With that said, tobacco farmers do, like any other farmers, receive support in the form of extension advice, conservation cost-share money, and so forth, so your point still stands–like I said, its a nitpick.

  64. Xenocles says:

    @Duvane and Clark-

    Mentioning the corn syrup subsidies is probably a better fit for that comparison anyway.

  65. Bill says:

    Every time I think I want to give the PD the benefit of the doubt, a trip to Police One completely smacks me across the face with the ugly reality of things. It's one thing to be a cop, it's one thing to want to give the benefit of the doubt (b/c the media is definitely the enemy of truth) in various situations, but the blind boot licking that goes on in every single discussion on Police One is as sad as it is disheartening. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say there's no police outrage too awful for the PO crowd to defend it – unless the crime is reporting police malfeasance by a fellow officer.

  66. V says:

    @Hal_10000 (of the "Pity the Poor Bely Mishka Makers » Right Thinking" trackback)

    This one was by Clark not Ken at Popehat.

  67. Bill says:

    @Clark – I feel really stupid but you're really a Christian? I thought references in the past were sarcasm.

  68. J.R. says:

    @CheshireLeo & others
    Re: Power Corrupts. I can see the point (I think) of "power reveals." John W. Campbell had an interesting take on it, to the effect that if true, it would mean that God (as ordinarily understood) is the ultimate in corruption. He addvanced the thesis that it was not power that corrupts, but immunity, and absolute immunity corrupts absolutely. If I am not answerable for my actions … no matter what… I'll be corrupted as I can do whatever I please and never have to answer for it.

  69. Clark says:

    @Bill

    @Clark – I feel really stupid but you're really a Christian? I thought references in the past were sarcasm.

    I really am a Chesterton-reading, Catechism-citing, smells-and-bells, fish-on-Fridays-during-Lent Roman Catholic.

    I'm pretty bad at it, with not just venal but mortal sins weighing on my soul, and I'm gravely in need of confession.

    …but, yes, I'm a Catholic.

  70. Clark says:

    @Duvane

    Excellent post Clark.

    Thank you.

    It sounds silly, but I really do appreciate it when people take time to say such things.

  71. En Passant says:

    Clark wrote Jul 17, 2013 @6:45 am:

    Picture an unplanned emergent system stamping on a face. Forever.

    The most fearsome quality is the "forever".

    Reformers often try to change known existing motivations for behavior by various actors in the system, such as diminishing legal immunities, or limiting terms of office. Since the affected actors already have major political power, such changes may be politically defeated more readily. Thus "forever" becomes a rational prediction.

    But perturbations to emergent systems may also have counter-intuitive results. I'll posit a gedanken experiment here, just for example.

    Present terms of office for federal (and some state) officials tend to be 2 years for the lower legislative house, 4 years for executive, and 6 years for the upper house. Any suggestion to decrease those terms would doubtless meet fierce opposition by officeholders.

    But what of lengthening them? Say, 3 years for lower house, 5 years for executive, and 7 for upper house. For purposes of the experiment, I'll assume that they would find some support among both office holders and even some office seekers. Their interest would be in extending the duration of their power.

    Say this reform happened. Would that necessarily make legislative results even more susceptible to moral panics than present? I'll suggest that no, legislative results might be both less susceptible to moral panics and more susceptible to civil liberties reforms.

    Why?

    Here's why. Look carefully. 2, 4 and 6 all have a common factor, 2. That means that all three sets of offices come up for election together in regular cycles. Lower house and upper house elections correspond every 6 years, for example. Lower house and executive correspond every 4 years.

    But with 3, 5 and 7 year terms, there are no common factors. (See what I did there?) Sets of different officials coming up for re-election together would happen much less frequently; and only extremely rarely would all three sets be up for re-election together.

    How might this change things? For one, the probability of several officeholders of different offices seeking re-election during the height of any particular moral panic would be significantly diminished. So the "bandwagon" effects of any moral panic on election campaigns (jumping on the biggest moral panic bandwagon) would be diminished.

    For another, since worthwhile reform movements tend to build over many election cycles, the entrenched official opposition to any reform would not be so strong in numbers at any given election. For example, in a lower house election year, the upper house and executive offices might not be as motivated to opposition as the lower house officeholders because their jobs would not be at immediate risk.

    That's the back of an envelope case for how an apparently unrelated reform might increase civil liberties, or diminish draconian legislative and executive responses to moral panics. Maybe there's a good argument that it would make things worse. Greater minds can no doubt make it.

  72. Devil's Advocate says:

    @PLW
    Unfortunately, whoever drilled "data are" into your head at school was wrong. "Data" is a mass noun like "water," not a count noun like "dog." You don't say "water are wet," you say "water is wet." Likewise you can't say "I have three data" or "I have three water," but you can say "I have three megabytes of data" or "I have three gallons of water."

    The wikipedia article on "mass noun" goes over the differences in more detail.

  73. En Passant says:

    Clark wrote Jul 17, 2013 @3:22 pm:

    I'm pretty bad at it, with not just venal but mortal sins weighing on my soul, and I'm gravely in need of confession.

    Venial. Don't be so rough on yourself. Venal you ain't, as far as I can tell.

  74. Bill says:

    @Clark – I'm in the same boat, but listening to Dawkins and Reading Sam Harris books is straining it (ProTip – never read the Black Swan and Free Will in the same week – it leads to some pretty dire conclusions about the world).

  75. Clark says:

    @Bill

    @Clark – I'm in the same boat, but listening to Dawkins and Reading Sam Harris books is straining it (ProTip – never read the Black Swan and Free Will in the same week – it leads to some pretty dire conclusions about the world).

    I've read Dawkins and am unimpressed by him.

    Having already gone from vague child-like belief -> atheist -> deist -> theist, I think I've seen all sides of the argument and am convinced that I am home.

  76. Roland says:

    The lust for power over others certainly has its attractions for some, but could not happen without financial backing. The real reason for all wars is money/profit. WarOnDrugs: Asset Forfeiture. WarOnCivilLiberties and your Privacy: Swat eqpt., datacenters, NSA budget & perks, contractors building spysats and interception eqpt., etc. It's been that way for a long time.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_is_a_racket

  77. barry says:

    Congratulations; your decoder ring has unlocked the hidden thesis of the post. ;-)

    Mine got me to the 2006 Julian Assange essay Conspiracy as Governance. And the Lord Halifax quote "The best party is but a kind of conspiracy against the rest of the nation."

    In the essay, the "Terrorist conspiracies as connected graphs" section is much the same thing as David's June 12 blog Using metadata to find Paul Revere (link)
    is pointing to.

    The Assange idea of conspiracy is that it can be an unconscious thing. The 'conspirators' do not need to be aware of being part of the conspiracy. (Just doing their job.)

  78. Bill says:

    @Clark

    I've read Dawkins and am unimpressed by him

    I don't want to threadjack, but find that absolutely amazing. I was brought up Catholic and followed almost the same circle you describe…since Catholics (at least that taught me) bought into Evolution weren't notably anti-Science (not saying the church doesn't have some ridiculous positions), it never really felt the conflict between religion and science until I moved to the South (I've been the only non young earth creationist in the room and heard more "Catholics are devil worshippers" than I can shake a stick at). I'd love go get your thoughts on Free Will but realize that's not this blog's theme and some others would find it annoying. Can I send you PM on the subject?

  79. Bill says:

    I'm really not as illiterate as that last posts would seem to indicate – I need to stop reflexively hitting the Submit button

  80. Bill says:

    @Roland – there needs to be some level of funding for any civilization, even if we got rid of all the things you mention (I'm with you btw that those are all problems) how would we stop diversion of whatever money we had for such things? Even if you could, would that really stop it? All you need for the mess to happen is prosecutors /police that refuse to prosecute any transgressions. Even if we eliminated all taxes, there'd be people willing to contribute to such evils, the items mentioned are largely just a wrapper to facilitate the lust for power – There's always those that will sacrifice liberty for security and the more comfortable a society gets the more that seems to happen. IMHO, War is a racket but statists will always find some excuse for their lust, even if you specifically wrote laws to prevent it – they'd just refuse to enforce them, find some exception, redefine what things meant. There's always going to be people that love sticking it to 'the other guy' so wars aren't going anywhere, but even if they did, I think we'd still be in the same boat, no?

  81. PLW says:

    @Devil's Advocate. Interesting link, but I'm not convinced. If we want to be descriptive grammarians, I 'll refer you to just about any academic style guide (e.g., APA http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2012/07/data-is-or-data-are.html). If we want to be prescriptive, data arises as the plural of the singular noun datum. This distinguishes it from the examples of mass nouns, which do not come in discrete quanta. We may not say "three data", but it would be grammatically correct.

  82. Rhapsody says:

    Wait… What? Where the HELL do police officers make over $100 K a year? My dad was a cop for 27 years, and the MOST he ever made was $32 or so, around $16 and hour. I mean, Tennessee is a broke state, but seriously, now. 100 K???

  83. Bill says:

    @Rhapsody – I need to find the exact link, but back in Miami close to 20 years ago there was a scandal called "Collars for Dollars". The crux was that any time you pulled someone over, you'd call for backup and tons of people would show up. Then, if it went to court, everyone would need to be there to testify. 'Duty conflicts' would yield continuations which judges were fairly amenable to granting so that the OT generated was riduculous. It was sort of a "If I don't rat you out, you don't rat me out – we get rich together" sort of scheme. The reason I bring it up is b/c there were a ton of officers making > 100k way back then. Even though it was corrected, I doubt Miami was the only city it happened in and I doubt it never went away. I know saying you were a Fireman back then was pretty much tantamount to saying "I'm a surgeon" in terms of being wealthy. OT alone could make you pretty well off, throw in bribes, a cost free supply of drugs and ability to control drug gangs, it wasn't a bad gig. No doubt much different for small jurisdictions, and I realize Miami != Tennessee but I really doubt it was an anomaly, other than in terms of sheer chutzpah

  84. jdgalt says:

    I've heard this argument before, and it seems to have nothing to support it but a slogan (Hanlon's Razor). There may be a lot of mindless functionaries in the government, but there is also a truly rotten core.

    I'm prepared to argue this with anyone who has at least read Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. I don't think anyone who hasn't is qualified to have an opinion.

  85. mud man says:

    The wrong is mix'd. In tragic life, God wot,
    No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
    We are betray'd by what is false within.

    Doesn't mean there's no sin, tho. He got that wrong:

    Ah, love, let us be true to one another!

  86. There are some genuine conspiracies out there, by which I mean purposeful, secret, malicious acts. Richard Nixon started a few. The current drug war, for instance, was explicitly intended to be a covert war against black people:
    http://tremblethedevil.com/?p=2310&page=2

    Given the current state of affairs, we must regard the drug war as an entirely successful conspiracy, and a reminder that sometimes, the bad guys win.

  87. Castaigne says:

    @Eddie: "The founders were good enough gardeners that they gave some advice to those who might tend their garden in future years as to how to periodically water the tree of liberty."

    And their advice pretty much went "String up the traitors to the Republic! A little bloodshed never hurt nobody." It's not a coincidence that so many of the Founders went a bit quiet about this advice once they realized exactly how the Terror was going over there in France (Jefferson, in particular, really shutting up.).

    Technology has made the fruits of that advice exponential in nature, to the point that once started, it can't be controlled. It's not good advice for modern times.

  88. oldnumberseven says:

    I read this a lot; 'If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.' on a lot of libertarian sites,
    then I think back to this; http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-october-26-2010/moment-of-zen—rand-paul-supporter-stomps-on-protester and I wonder is that ironic, or Alanis Morisette ironic?

  89. rxc says:

    It is not a conspiracy – rather, it is a shared vision of the progressive future.

  90. Clark says:

    @rxc

    It is not a conspiracy – rather, it is a shared vision of the progressive future.

    As much as I'd like to, I can't blame just the progressives. National Greatness conservatives, military industrial hawks – there are dozens of factions in the Right which are hard at work forging our chains, working hand in hand with the Left.

  91. Craig says:

    As much as I'd like to, I can't blame just the progressives. National Greatness conservatives, military industrial hawks – there are dozens of factions in the Right which are hard at work forging our chains, working hand in hand with the Left.

    Yes, indeed. The two seemingly opposed "wings" have a lot more in common than we are encouraged to think. I like to say that they're the left and right wings… of a vulture.

  92. Sam says:

    Clark, I tend to disagree with your conclusions, but am always interested in your reasoning. In this case I couldn't agree more and it's the same sort of thing I've wondered for some time. The resultant discussion of The Machine reminded me of Technological Determinism from my grad school days (though in this case it would be a social or cultural technology rather than nuts and bolts) which reminded me of a 'law' promoted by the SF author I wrote my thesis on:

    Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

    First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

  93. wumpus says:

    First:
    Orwell pointed out that power begets power. If a powerful agency can grab turf from a less powerful agency, we will have essentially full blown Darwinian (well, sort of. Consider the agency as it exists after the next Congress or congressional session to be the offspring of the last) evolution with agencies selected according to the amount of power they have.

    Second: I will claim that it is entirely easy to claim that this police state has existed for quite some time (and only a white man could miss it. As a white man, I missed it for a long time). While it is hard to argue that 9/11 gave law enforcement a wide open avenue for a police state, I have to point how vastly easier it was to maintain an even higher level of police state before citizens had such widespread means of communication as the internet. Back in the 1980s, a friend of mine claimed (sufficiently close to trust explicitly) to have driven by a bullet-ridden car surrounded by the Sheriff's department (in a county normally policed by county cops). There was no comment from said department other than "move along". Try as he could, there was no explanation of what happened, or even that it did indeed happen. It had fallen down the memory hole (even an assistant scoutmaster who was a city cop didn't know about it). This type of thing was easy when the only forms of communication were personal communication (and long distance was expensive) and mass media. BBS and USENET existed and my friend had a modem, but that would be still beclose enough to the memory hole for the Sheriff's department.

    I would suspect that much of this isn't actual evidence of an increasing police state (which might be the point, but didn't look that way to me), but a steady state and that the curtain has been pulled back from a police state that has existed the whole time. There is a saying in the Open Source community that "with many eyes, all bugs are shallow". As our many eyes see these laws failing disastrously (google for the EPA's restrictions on magicians pulling rabbits out of hats), we should be able to enforce repair. This is one of the reasons that allowing FISA to establish law is such as disaster, without publicly declared laws (and public enforcement) there is no way to fix it.

  94. piperTom says:

    Brandon remarks, "in several places your sarcasm was being laid on so thick I had to reread a couple of times to ensure you weren't actually being serious."

    That's the mark of good satire. It makes you think.

  95. piperTom says:

    Bob replied to Darryl, "the machine can't change it's [sic] mind. The only way to change things is to dismantle the machine and then spend the next 200 years rebuilding it so we can dismantle it again."

    Been there; done that. Let's work out a way to unbuild the machine so that it stays unbuilt. Agorism is one attempt at doing this.

  96. Craig says:

    You can't "unbuild the machine so that it stays unbuilt." There is no stable state in human society. You're basically just asking for the second coming of Christ in a secular guise.

  97. Jeff Healitt says:

    Why? Because it's human nature. Friedrich Nietzsche described it before Orwell. He called it – Will to Power

  98. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says:

    @Clark

    "What I do believe, though, is that systems come into existence and have their own incentives. No one needs to be a black mustache twirling villain in order for evil to happen."

    I agree with this paragraph entirely. That said, does it then follow that no one needs a white hatted hero with glinting teeth for good to happen? Or can an incentivized behavior at best only aspire to neutral moral status due to the presence of the incentive – even if that incentive is good-for-goodness-sake?

    I only ask to possibly alleviate the overall doomydoomydoom concerning the nature of humanity I'm getting from the original post and following thread.

    "The problem is that one sets up the boundary to the garden just once, then the spreading mint and the creeping ivy have hundreds of years to find even one small crack to break through."

    This paragraph…. doesn't make as much sense to me. Just once?

    I can think of very few gardens (or systems) that do not change their boundaries on a daily basis. The boundary may be broken by a spreading mint plant looking for fertile soil as you say, or it might be broken by the gardeners because they just invented lamb sauce.

    To switch away from the garden – a system may alter it's boundaries due to forces inimical to it's desired purpose. Sure, ideas which squelch liberty may find a nice soil of fear to settle within a system meant to promote freedom. Alternately, an idea originally placed outside the boundaries of the system – for the sake of argument, let's say the "slavery is illegal" idea, or "alcohol is legal" idea – may later find a home within the system.
    It almost goes without saying that the gardeners and different participants in a system may disagree vehemently on what is best for their particular garden or system.

    I was just about to go into a bit on free will that I thought was relevant, but am too sleepy tonight to make more big words. Thought provoking post and thread though.

  99. Hank says:

    I don't think anyone who denies that power corrupts knows the definition of power in this context. We are not talking about the power of a CEO or a school dean or a ship captain or a sports team owner here, we are talking about the state and its monopoly on violence, its popular mandate, its lack of accountability, and its ability to socialize losses. Humans are fallible and they respond to incentives. With the kind of power in question there is incentive to do harm and the response is therefore to cause harm. The exceptions, which are not many, do not disprove the rule.

  1. July 17, 2013

    […] this morning, several thoughts that have been bobbing around my mind converged thanks to post from Ken at Popehat (who has been on a roll lately). In talking about the burgeoning police state — of which […]