Oil and Self Rule

Thomas Friedman in a recent column asserted that democracy is in “a recession”. Friedman attributes this to his “First Law of Oil and Politics” which posits that as world oil prices increase, the rise of democracies declines. Friedman asserts the potential for plundering this scarce asset is so attractive to potential and current tyrants that they strengthen their grip rather than supporting liberty. Friedman must believe that absent some looming monetary windfall, tyrants routinely relax their rule and submit to the will of the people. Despots will be despots at all times and as history proves yield only to superior force. It is not the power and wealth that tyrants derive from high oil profits that suppresses freedom, it is rather a want of cultural precedents and individual initiative that retards the establishment of new self governing regimes.Before examining this premise we must clarify what is meant by democracy.

In today’s political and social environment democracy is often equated with freedom or liberty. This is an incorrect assumption and leads to many and serious errors in both understanding and policy. Freedom is an attribute of individual persons and means to live without oppression. Democracy is merely a method by which free people resolve civic conflict without resorting to violence. Liberty may exist without democracy but democracy [true democracy] cannot be without individual liberty.

A deep and powerful canon of historical and spiritual precedents are necessary if democracy is to exist. The first and foremost of these is the priority of the individual over and against the group. This is a very, almost exclusively Western philosophy that finds its genesis in very Eastern spiritual beliefs. In fact it is the first book of the Hebrew Bible, The Book of Genesis where the Judeo-Christian view of the supremacy of the individual is established. In the biblical account of creation, God declares that he has made man in His image, endowed with the dignity and value of God himself. Each man is intrinsically free [subject only to God himself] to own his own body, the fruit of his labors and the free exercise of his will. Later in The Decalogue, God further declares the individual sacrosanct by forbidding his murder and prohibiting assaults on his property and reputation. 3500 years of struggles in philosophy and blood informed the founders of the American democracy to affirm that the individual possesses rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that are inalienable and subject to no earthly power.

In most non-western societies the group is ascendant. Rights are possessed by the tribe, sect or ethnic group rather than distinct persons. Liberty in these societies means freedom from forces of oppression outside the group. Inside the clan all members are subject to strict adherence to group prerogatives. Individual autonomy is unheard of.

In the West, liberty is the individual’s superior claim against the collective. Where ones value, position, pride and life are contingent on the power of family, clan or tribe; to dissent against the moral or social imperatives of the group or to act in furtherance of one’s personal agenda is to risk being ostracized or worst. Thus personal beliefs and desires are rigorously repressed. This dynamic occurring over generations creates a subdued and servile population virtually demanding of a potentate.On the other hand in highly developed individualistic societies, personal action is highly valued and encouraged. Collective restraint of private prerogative establishes a constant tension in civic society and certain resentment in the population.

Thomas Jefferson said that from time to time the tree of liberty must be fertilized by the blood of free men. A critical mass of popular resentment must exist before men become willing to shed the necessary blood and treasure to throw off a despot. Free societies are formed out of extreme discontent leading to revolution. Societies normalized over hundreds of years to group subjugation are infertile grounds for such initiative, nor are those marked by complacency, cynicism and fear.Much, much more than discontent and rebellion is required if a society is to effectively and peacefully govern itself. Hundreds of years of acquired wisdom, tradition and devotion to freedom, justice and the rule of law must pre-exist the revolution.

It is not fluctuating commodity prices or the failure of United States’ support for rule by consent that accounts for the dearth of new democracies. Popular governance represents the highest order of human organization. It is the “rocket science” of civil polity. To expect a historically servile and uneducated people to rise up and overthrow an authoritarian regime and establish effective democratic rule is an act of naivety akin to handing a group of fourth grade students a physics text and expecting them to put in place and operate a space station. Freedom does not ring throughout the world simply because the world is incompetent to ring the bells.

The Time of The Season no. 4

Like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, “The Post-Racial Candidate” has come a cropper. Barack Hussein Obama has openly and boldly played the race card. Cynically defining himself as inexperienced, with a funny name and “by the way” black. The Democrat nominee has dared anyone to attack him on pain of being labeled a fear-monger or racist. Well, I'm your huckleberry. Barack Obama is woefully inadequate for the job he seeks, his character and associations are frightening and by the way, were he not black he would still be in the Illinois Legislature.

Time of The Season no.3

I hope someone is able to drag the truth from Sen. Joe Biden [D Maryland] before he expires. If it goes to the grave with him, what will we do!

Attempting to "out maverick" "maverick" Senator John McCain, Senator Chuck Hagel, a man devoid of principle, seems to be trying to become Barack Obama's running mate. We hope he gets it.

Tuesday [5.27.08]The presence of anti-war popinjays at a John McCain speech in Denver signals the nutter migration to Denver has commenced. The influx of the various leftist tribes and sects could be a big boon for that city's hotel and tourist industry. On the other hand they may just lay about the parks getting high, making a big noise and screwing.

On Campaign Finance: A Response

We learn early on in life that it is not what we know that puts us at risk, but what we do not know. It is what Steven Kay doesn't tell about campaign spending limits that threatens every citizen of Fayette County.

The half-page of newsprint the Herald-Leader made available to Mr. Kay to espouse his ideas about campaign finance would, if purchased, have cost some Four-Thousand-Five-Hundred Dollars [$4500.00]. It is an expensive proposition to disseminate ideas. Campaign contributions and spending is the required response to this truth. The more money spent in this endeavor the wider the dissemination of knowledge and the more cogent the knowledge distributed. It is puzzling that anyone in this "The Information Age" would wish to restrict the transport of ideas, particularly those ideas which affect our governance.

Mr. Kay, however, and those within the circles he travels, would do just that; through the vehicle of laws restricting the amount of money a candidate may spend for this necessary and exemplary purpose. Such legislation, if adopted, will bring with it two primary consequences Mr.Kay has failed to either consider or disclose. Restricting the quantity and quality of information provided voters in an election cycle, information about the candidate's person, philosophy, and vision must by normal operation of the restriction, produce a less informed voter base. Our Founders presciently understood an informed, educated population to be a necessary prerequisite for the proper operation of a republic.

The First Amendment, so jealousy guarded by the news media, is about the people's right and need to know, as well as the right of free expression. A less obvious, but even more disturbing consequence of campaign spending restrictions is the increased power it unavoidably places in the partisan press, a press that cannot be limited or restricted and that buys ink by the barrel and paper by the roll.

Does Mr. Kay really believe an information rationed population subject to inordinate influence by a partisan press , will produce good government? If so he is childishly naive. I suspect Mr. Kay believes no such thing; but rather considers the citizens of Fayette County unable to sift information from varied and diverse sources and make wise judgments and need be protected from the influence of anyone at all; save the elite journalists and their big brothers and nannies in the academy and chattering classes.

In the 21st Century, the control of information is the penultimate power. He who controls the information controls the agenda, he who controls the agenda controls the reality. Do we really want to place ourselves at the mercy of The Herald-Leader - or any other newspaper - to provide a divers and balanced quantity of information, untainted by partisanship? Limit campaign spending, and that is exactly what what we will get, to our enormous regret.

Rack 'em: A Response

Below please find a comment by a Professor Jake Gibbs in response to my Op-Ed piece published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Monday June 9, 2008. Immediately following is my answer, which may also be found in the online edition of that newspaper.

"As a college logic instructor, I was delighted to read developer Joe Hacker's commentary, "Don't fall for hysteria over 'carbon footprints,'" in Monday's paper.
It is a rare treat to find so many examples of rhetorical techniques devoid of solid reasoning in so short an essay. Ad hominem, strawman, rhetorical analogy and more -- just in the first three paragraphs. It will make a great learning tool for my students.

As a citizen, however, I found the piece disturbing. I suppose Hacker thinks himself clever. But someone who wants to be taken as an authority on urban-planning issues should supply us with reasons for disregarding the recent Brookings Institution report that rated Lexington so poorly in managing carbon emissions.

Once I sifted through the distortions and distractions of Hacker's commentary, all I found remaining was a call to ignore people who study urban issues ("educated elites" as portrayed by Hacker), reassurance that everything will be fine if we keep wishing for $2-a-gallon gas and that change is to be feared.

Hacker urges us to put our heads in the sand and just keep on sprawling. I think I'll side with the fact-mongering eggheads rather than the man with a vested interest in sprawl who presents no support for his position.

It's interesting that Hacker chose to call those who fear maintaining the status quo "Cassandras." Perhaps he has forgotten that Cassandra was right."

Jake Gibbs,

Dear Professor Gibbs,

I shouldn’t want to take your logic course for you seem unable to avoid some of the same pitfalls you attribute to others. Before I get specific let me confess that I do consider myself clever and that my failure to recall that Cassandra was indeed right shows me in this case, to be too clever by half. That said let me examine your critique.

A college professor should know that if one is to make a cogent critique of someone’s work, he should read it until he understands what the author is saying. I clearly state that the contents of The Brookings study is not the subject of my treatise but rather the newspaper’s recommended action in response. Thus I have no reason to attack or even question the report. Second, I make no suggestion at all that the study should be ignored. A clear reading of my article finds that I am moot on the subject. Again my aim is at the suggested correctives.

An educated man should as well remember the adage “the pot mustn’t call the kettle black”. You accuse me of engaging in ad hominem argument, rhetorical analysis and of using straw men to frame my thesis. Of course, the freshman rhetorician knows these all to be valid forms or elements of argument that in and of themselves have no probative value. In fact when you indict me for thinking myself clever and of “having vested interested interest in sprawl” you are guilty of the same ad hominem attack you condemn. You also with vincible ignorance, impugn my credentials as a commentator on urban planning, obviously not knowing I have both academic letters in the subject as well as thirty some years of practice and study.

You accuse me of being devoid of reasoning and of fear mongering when I point out that Smart Growth infill will necessarily change the social and architectural character of the neighborhoods in which it occurs. You offer no evidence to the contrary; I suppose this due to the fact that the premise is evident in itself. And while ignoring full paragraphs of statements in support of my conclusions you submit no evidence at all, for anything, only a few bald assertions.

You mischaracterize me as urging that “we keep on sprawling” and “wishing for $2 gas”, when I merely point out those who enjoy suburban homes and single family neighborhoods and don’t get why expensive gasoline is a good thing are being condemned and their lifestyle threatened. Further, no where within the four corners of my essay, do I remotely suggest any type of development pattern as the answer to the demands of increasing population.

I sincerely appreciate your letter. It proves that at least one person read my column. I also have a request. Before you use my work in your classroom, as negative instruction, please post this answer as well.

J. Robert Brock Hacker

The Brookings Report and You

The following was published on the Op-Ed page of The Lexington Herald-Leader on June 9, 2009.

Nothing stimulates a Cassandra like a “sky is falling” report. The Brookings Institute report on metropolitan “carbon foot prints” has found Lexington the foulest polluter in the land, pouring out greenhouse gases at a volume sure to burn up the globe. It sure has heated up the small fowl of the Herald-Leader editorial board. Like plentiful corn, the report has fueled a wing flapping, feather flying frenzy of sprawl bashing, mass transit celebrating and a new round of attacks on your home, your freedom and your pocketbook!

What the Brookings report alleges is unimportant in the current context. What it and others like it support and promote is the subject and poses a far greater threat to the future of our children and grandchildren than possibly warmer winters. A collective of educated elites, politicians and radical environmentalists, consider the most of us unattractive herd animals, ravaging the earth in our SUV’s as we run aimlessly, thither and yon about our suburban homes, too selfish to stop and too stupid to know better. As European imperialists once felt compelled by nobless oblige to rule the benighted peoples of Africa, so today’s self-styled nobles feel an overwhelming obligation to correct and rearrange the lives of the dim-witted.

The embarrassing state we find ourselves in, according to the Herald-Leader, is all the fault of “urban sprawl, long commutes and addiction to cheap power”. If you live in a single family home, have a yard, drive to work and prefer $2 gas to $4 gas, the editorial board has you squarely in its sights! You are the problem. And what must the town do to re-enter environmentally polite society? “Push hard for more and better infill.” “Support established neighborhoods and discourage automobile usage” Smart Growth.

Neighborhood associations and coalitions, please consider the following. You have been sold a bill of goods and are being lined up at the Kool-Aid stand. Infill and supporting the character of existing neighborhoods are mutually exclusive endeavors. Infill means increased density and it must occur within your neighborhoods, there is nowhere else. The Urban Service Area is virtually full with the large tracts located on the edge. Nonetheless, during the next 20 years the smart growth lobby and the Planning Commission, plan to move more than 30,000 new residents into this area of already established homes. This is infill and it must utterly and irrevocably destroy the status quo and radically alter the social and architectural character of your neighborhood!

And how shall we discourage automobile usage, an additional gas tax? Perhaps a steep annual mileage tax will do the trick or a $500 annual city parking sticker? If they cannot talk you out of your car the greeners are ready and willing to tax you out of it.

Over the years the Herald-Leader has published a number of my letters and essays most have been directly opposed to its point of view. Usually, these are in defense of the building industry of which I am a long time member. This message though is not about me but about you. People will continue to find Lexington a better place to live than whence they came and I will continue to plan, develop and build the homes they want. The smart growth party would have me do this by bulldozing large sections of existing neighborhoods and starting over.

This “Green Revolution” is a revolution indeed and it is a clear and present danger to your homes and your freedoms.

Transferring the Cost; a response

The following was published in the May 2008 American Spectator in response to an article by Roger Scruton entitled Transferring The Cost.

Before Roger Scruton writes again on the relationship of liberty, private property and market capitalism, I advise he spend some time becoming familiar with his subject matter. Beginning from a set of erroneous presuppositions that Al Gore could wear comfortably, he proceeds to opinions and conclusions more likely to be found in a Michael Moore screed than the American Spectator. There is so much rubbish within the four corners of this article that time nor space permit a thorough cleanup, One fallacy however stands out.

With vincible ignorance, the author, labels supermarkets as “The most conspicuous example” of an industry whose very existence is based on externalizing costs! He scolds them for taking advantage of economies of scale, transportation networks built at public expense and zoning laws that he believes favor large stores in the suburbs over their smaller urban counterparts. He even gets in a gratuitous swipe at sprawl, that ubiquitous enemy of all things bright and beautiful.

Scruton fails to consider that taxpayer financed transportation systems are two way streets, benefitting the consuming public as much as the grocers. Absent the advantages of such facilities the great basket of fresh and inexpensive foods we enjoy in our homes every day would be an impossibility. Want of customers in the inner city [the most having left for suburbs] rather than BIG GROCERY explains the decline in downtown retailing. The sprawl which Scruton so maligns and which furnishes shoppers for supermarkets is the happily chosen lifestyle of the overwhelming majority of American families and represents a direct result of the exercise of liberty in property.

That exploitation and mischief exist in any arrangement where liberty is preferred to the jackboot is an unfortunate reality. Be it free markets or a free press, a general framework of laws is a necessity. Mr. Scruton seems to be an advocate of both kinds of freedom but just doesn’t quite trust the venal businessman and the unenlightened property owner to use them properly. Scruton suggests these sorts [unlike more principled writers and journalists] need a more vigorous nudge by Leviathan to see they do the right thing.

There is often little difference between the goals of the collectivist and the reactionary. Neither fears to oppress. Roger Scruton’s essay is a retreat from conservatism toward reaction and is unbecoming of a magazine that purposes to defend freedom.

Why Rescue The Perishing?

I recently watched a film on television about the genocide occurring in Darfur. Narrated by George Clooney it focused not so much on the genocide itself but on the response to it by the United States under George Bush. Repeatedly the producers condemned Bush and our country for giving only lip service to this horrific violation of human rights.

Why hasn’t the United States stopped it – at whatever cost? Isn’t denouncing the perpetrators and then doing nothing a form of terribly cynical hypocrisy? At no time did the film suggest how the US might stop the killing.

It must be noted that these same people liken Bush to Hitler because he used force to depose another bloodthirsty regime in Iraq and continues there trying to mediate just such a civil war in that cobbled together nation. What should America do to stop these horrors? Are we, do we want to be the world’s police force? Isn’t this what the United Nations is to do? While these are looming and significant questions, there is a much greater one. Why should we stop the killing?

In a politically correct world where no culture may be held as better or more legitimate than another, by what authority does the West impose its mores on nations in Africa or Asia? It appears as if mass murder is the accepted way for some ethnic and tribal cultures to manage disputes or defend their understanding of themselves. Certainly, the Muslims of the Middle East have a markedly different view of conflict resolution than do Europeans and their descendants in the new world.

What then separates societies that find genocide and ethnic cleansing a legitimate way of preserving the tribe or sect - from those who condemn such practices? What is it about the West that it values humankind so highly? Why should we rescue the perishing and by what authority?

What are human rights? From where do they come? In today’s Darwinistic worldview, which seems to dominate western thought, who or what sets forth what rights humans have against each other or for that matter against any other species? If it is true that man grew out of some accidental chemistry occurring in the primordial ooze and proceeds only to oblivion then what but his power elevates him above other creatures? If man as Sartre concluded, is no more than “a useless passion” why is he more meaningful than the beautiful tiger? If life, per the Bard; “is but a tale told by a fool, full of sound and fury signifying…nothing” then whence man's value, his dignity, his “human rights”? Why bother to stop the slaughter? If nowhere else in 21st century thought, this is the point at which secularism multiculturalism and Darwinism run smack into Moses and Christ.

Christians and Jews come forth here to rescue the humanists from their philosophic dilemma. The God of the Bible is described as personal, vocal and moral as well as eternal, omniscient and omnipotent. Of all the animals, according to the first chapter of Genesis only man was created in His “image”. That would be as personal, vocal, and moral and possessing dignity value above the rest of creation. Later on in Genesis in the story of Cain and Abel, God condemns homicide and further still in The Decalogue He codifies the prohibition against man-killing. Like it or not what we call “Western values” and ethics are directly descended from the Torah and The New Testament. It is by the authority of Almighty God and Him alone that we may free the oppressed and rescue those about to be annihilated and it is for the sake of His image that we are obliged to do so.

Notwithstanding the above, rescue here by Jews and Christians creates its own logical dilemma for the doctrinaire multiculturalist. It is academically very difficult, if not impossible, to barge into a society’s internecine conflicts and impose one’s own concept of justice; without tacitly at least, trumpeting the superior moral stature of your own. Doing this represents a total repudiation of the foundational tenets of multiculturalism. It is even more disingenuous to intervene on the authority of God when one denies His very existence!

Kant, though arguing that we cannot know anything about God and thus He is epistemologically non-existent, nonetheless declared that we must for self preservation, live as though He is. Perhaps the contemporary atheistic-humanist cleaves to this notion? Christians who daily fail to live up to the behavioral demands of their faith while at once calling for others to do so are routinely called hypocrites. Whether this term applies universally is a topic for another day. What is not debatable however is the crass hypocrisy involved in aggressively imposing one’s own values on neighbor cultures while contending the former is not superior or more legitimate than the latter?

Christians are often said to have “checked their brains at the chapel door” while secularists pat themselves on the back for being rational. You decide which is more foolish. To believe in a God who created all things and has endowed man with a special dignity worth saving, or to act as if such a God exists while knowing full well He doesn’t?