Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Archy Handles Heinous Crime III: Default

This week the US power establishment revealed a new tool for dealing with heinous crimes that initially had me shaking my head but eventually asking why this should be a surprise to anyone.

Any small-government conservative or libertarian will tell you that government is necessary to protect people and property: protection of people and property is government's primary responsibility, and government, and only government, can do it. But now one polity has walked away from this responsibility, and there's every reason to believe that others will soon follow.

It seems that the city of Topeka, Kansas, no longer has enough money to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence. So the city fathers have came up with a great idea for solving the problem: they repealed the statutes outlawing domestic violence. No solution, no problem!

The "good news" is that domestic violence is illegal in that county, so perps can still be prosecuted under county statutes. But the bad news there is that the county doesn't have the money to prosecute them either.

I'm not a good lateral thinker, so I can only come up with two ways domestic violence will be handled in Topeka, absent the resources to prosecute: either those accused will be put in jail and wait forever for trial, or they will simply be released. In the former case, simple accusation will be the equivalent of conviction; if you don't like someone, you can come up with a believable accusation of domestic violence, and he might never get out of jail, depending on what the powers that be deem expedient. In the latter case, even the most obviously guilty perps will be set free to continue their depredations. Either way, it's not anarchy, but it certainly is chaos.

The irony, of course, is that while the prosecutors and judges won't prosecute domestic violence cases, they will be plenty busy prosecuting those whose activities, according to the Bible, are nobody's business but their own: druggies (including purveyors of raw milk?), prostitutes and their customers, and owners of "assault weapons," to say nothing of people who exceed posted speed limits on empty roads and creep through empty intersections without stopping at stop signs. And the schools, libraries, parks, counseling centers, and other distributors of "entitlements" will continue apace.

As the currency is inflated (by our current archy), people's buying power diminishes, which means they patronize fewer businesses, which in turn hire fewer employees, who then patronize fewer businesses, and the cycle continues. All this results in reduced tax revenues, which means that government has to cut back on its "services." The government of Topeka is not facing the need to redefine essential government functions alone.

The fundamental question for any society is, "Who gets what at what expense to whom?" In a free society, the answer is, "You can have anything you want and can persuade someone to give you voluntarily." The answer in any political system is, "You get what those in power consider expedient to give you, and you give them whatever they consider expedient to extract"; that is, might makes right, or at least it makes policy, and justice is incidental.

So which services get cut, as with which services are provided, is always a product of political expediency. If more voters benefit from schools than from prosecuting a perpetrators of violence, law enforcement will be cut and the money will go to the schools.

As the economy continues its collapse, the Topeka syndrome will spread, and with it government at all level becoming increasingly chaotic, showing itself to be Bastiat's "fiction by which everyone seeks to live at everyone else's expense" keeping itself in power by buying votes through promises to dispense entitlements, and less an agency decent people look to for the maintenance of order.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Archy Deals with Heinous Crimes II: Summary Execution

The recent killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki—I will use the government versions of both events here, since I want to hit Uncle Sam's best pitch and these narratives present him in the best possible light—show us that government by its very nature cannot act morally, should not be expected to, and has every incentive not to.

Having been overseas for twenty years until weeks before, I had only recently heard of Osama bin Laden on 9/11, but I had heard enough to be fully on board with the pastor of the church I attended the following Sunday when he said that if Osama bin Laden were to come to his office to hear about Jesus, he would wrestle him to the floor and call the authorities. (I think he said he would present the Gospel first and wrestle him to the floor afterwards no matter how Osama responded.) That is, "everyone knew" he was a "bad guy," and we all assumed that he was guilty of 9/11.

We didn't know, or at least I didn't, that he had been a CIA operative in the 1980s, though I should have, since there had been rumblings from feminists in the 1990s that the Taliban, who had been the "heroic mujahedin" we all got behind as they fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, were mistreating women, so I did "know" that the Taliban was up to no good. Taliban, Osama, let's kill them all, I thought. And we did.

That Osama and the Taliban were bad guys and in cahoots was front-page news. The back-page news was that after 9/11 the Taliban offered to hand Osama over to a neutral party for trial, but the Bush regime didn't agree to the deal. As I'll explain, a trial by a neutral party would have required a lot of work, but it could have saved countless lives ("We don't do body counts," at least not on gooks).

As I explain here and here, the archist view of a trial pits a defendant, someone either rich enough to afford a lawyer who can get him off whether he's innocent or not or someone who is stuck in jail and therefore unable to gather exculpatory evidence, against a state that pays the judge, the prosecutor, and the policemen whose testimony carries more weight than that of mere mundanes; the system has a vested interest in finding the defenddant guilty, certainly more than in rendering a just verdict based on truth as can best be established. If the Taliban are decent human beings, would they want to surrender a long-time comrade in arms to such a system? Surely their reluctance to do so is no proof that they are brutes.

The alternative would have been for the Taliban and the Bushies to sit down and draw up a list of people who could give both sides a fair hearing. Surely out of eight billion people on this planet there is someone who has a reputation for fairness, someone who would be strong enough to stand up to the bullying that both sides would engage in without becoming a bully in turn. Perhaps it would have been a Muslim leatherworker in Bosnia and his Orthodox wife. Or three Vietnamese Buddhist monks who had suffered under both the US puppet regime and the Communists. Or the Afghan woman whose picture was the most memorable National Geographic cover of all time? Or Vin Suprinowicz's Omani judge? How long would it have taken to find one person or a group of persons that both sides could trust?

This process would probably have taken months, but there's reason to believe that had justice, rather than victory, been the most important goal for even one side, the result would have been better than the senseless mayhem that came instead.

Am I the only one who thinks it's ironic that after all the billions of dollars that were spent invading Afghanistan, a financial hemorrhage that will not been stanched for the foreseeable future, it was a surgical operation costing a couple of million dollars at most that eventually took Osama out? If "we" had been willing to wait a while, this or a similar operation could have taken place without the billions of lost dollars, to say nothing of the thousands of deaths and millions of other casualties.

All this assumes that Osama was indeed guilty. What if he wasn't? Summary execution, the ethic of "shoot first and ask questions later," makes those questions irrelevant, doesn't it? Only agents of archy, who are almost universally granted impunity by their bosses, would consider this a good system.

Then there's the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki. At least one Muslim jihadist wonders if he was a CIA asset: “Al-Awlaki is not known for having participated in any ‘jihad’ whatsoever and this is what has to be highlighted. For he calls to it and hypes up his audiences with it, yet the question has to be asked: upon which battlefield has he fought?” That he was an incindiary speaker and an enemy of Uncle Sam seems to be well established. But wasn't anti-government speech precisely what the First Amendment is supposed to protect?

"Mission creep" is at work again. First it's OK to summarily kill someone in the act of killing another. Then it's OK to kill the guy certain people in the government say killed an innocent person. Then it's OK to kill the guy who was driving the getaway car. Then it's OK to kill the guy who bought the getaway car. Now it's OK to shoot the guy who convinced the third guy to buy the getaway car.

All this without trial.

We now have a KGB-style system in which anonymous government agents use evidence they share with no one to dispatch more anonymous agents to kill or imprison whomever they choose, all with impunity, all with no legislative or judicial supervision. All any of us needs to do is get on the hit list, and we're defenseless. Romans 13 says, "If you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear," but remember that the author of those words had been stoned and scourged, and was eventually executed, by the very authorities he described.

Given archy, how could it be different? Jobs that involve the exercise of power with impunity will draw workers who enjoy exercising power with impunity. And self-preservation being a basic human characteristic, these workers once hired will be most interested in preserving their positions of power and privilege. Yesterday they were content with responding forcibly to those who either initiated force or whose threat to use force was credible. Now they are killing those whose words they find threatening.

(Yes, I realize the the legal definition of assault includes credible verbal threats. Verbal threats need to be taken seriously, but I would suggest that the way to take them seriously is to see if they are symptoms of a legitimate grievance, questions neither "law enforcement officers" nor government diplomats seem to be interested in asking.)

If you're happy with the way things are, archy is the way to bring about more of the same. If not, you need to question your basic assumptions, chief of which is the assumption that our interests are served by an elite that can initiate force with impunity.

Monday, October 10, 2011

This Is My Country

I'm part of a men's group that is going through an excellent video series, "Men's Fraternity: The Quest for Authentic Manhood." Years before I posted my lament that so few men are involved in church activities, Robert Lewis, a pastor in Arkansas, was running a program to help men plan to grow up. His point is that we need to understand what social forces have shaped us and our view of manhood, how the people and events in our lives have further shaped us, and who we really are, in what unique ways God has made us. Then we need to take what we've learned to plan our futures as best we can.

This is an excellent series, and I highly recommend it to any man, period. If nothing else, it's a good opportunity to get to know other men and talk about things other than sports and trivia. Nothing that follows should be taken as denigrating the value of the series, but Brother Robert unthinkingly gave approving voice to an attitude that is killing the church in our nation.

When describing "noble moments" that shaped him, Brother Robert told how every Veterans Day his father would place flags on the graves of fallen soldiers. He knew who all the veterans were, and (I think) he would place flags on their graves whether they died in combat or otherwise.

So far so good: those who are convinced that our nation owes its very existence to the sacrifices of our military personnel do well to honor the dead as a testimony to the living.

It was the next line (as best I can reconstruct it) that prompted this post: "I went to college during the height of the Vietnam War, and even though there was a lot of antiwar sentiment, because of my father's example, I still had a lot of love for my country."

Notice the presumptions: Those who love their country support its wars; those who oppose any war do not love their country. Though most evangelicals seem to believe these presumptions, their truth is open to question.

Let's begin with the Vietnam war itself. It began in the 1950s when Vietnamese nationalists rebelled against their French colonial rulers. The US refused to aid the Vietnamese, instead aiding the French until the French pulled out. The US then propped up a puppet government in the name of fighting communism.

In 1964 the US government reported that a US military vessel had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. Using the precedents of the Maine and the Lusitania, vested interests were able to get Congress and the media behind an undeclared war that eventually killed almost sixty thousand US military personnel and a million Vietnamese.

Brother Robert was not alone in being convinced that the war was necessary to fight communism and that if Vietnam went communist, so would all of Southeast Asia, including Thailand and possibly India, all falling like dominoes. Again, this was not an unreasonable fear, but my point is that those who considered that fear unfounded could well have given evidence that they loved their country.

That communism is horrible is not open to question. But one might ask whether conscripting soldiers to fight in a "conflict"—the government never called it a war at the time—was the best way to fight communism. That so many Vietnamese were willing to die in the fight to drive the US out of Vietnam tells me that our government's efforts to make friends were not entirely successful. And while many of those in the antiwar movement did not come off as particularly noble or self-sacrificing people, one needs to judge the pro-war faction by the same standard. And in this case, they come up woefully short.

It turns out that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not what the government told the people it was and that the Secretary of Defense "perpetuated the war long after he realized it was futile"—that is, the US government sent soldiers to kill and die after they knew the war could not be won: those US military personnel and Vietnamese who died from then on died for nothing. They were, quite simply, murdered by the US government. And after the US withdrew, only those countries the war had spread to, Cambodia and Laos, went communist.

So unless loving one's country includes cheering on a government that lies to its subjects and conscripts them to fight in futile wars, it is at least possible to love one's country while opposing its wars. Is this the love Jesus wants us to have for our neighbors?

What does it mean to love one's country?

Using Brother Robert's implied definition, one's love for one's country is best measured by one's agreement with government policy. By that definition I do not love my country.

But if my country is my family, my neighbors, and my church, then my love for my country can be measured by how well I serve those people. I love my country by being faithful to my wife and by raising my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I love my country to the degree I put in an honest day's work and show appreciation for for my boss's honest efforts to make his clients happy. I love my country by paying the rent on time and treating my landlord's house well. I love my country being courteous to the staff and other customers in my local supermarket. I love my country by volunteering on various committees at church. I even love my country by turning the other cheek to my enemies and faithfully representing Jesus to them.

I don't have any conscience about not loving my country by Brother Robert's defintion, but it does bother me that I have fallen short of my own standards.

What is one's country? Who are our countrymen?

Brother Robert seems to define a country as a political unit and countrymen as the people subject to one government: to criticize a man's government is therefore to criticize the man himself, a good way to get the likes of Merle Haggard into a fighting mood.

By that definition of a country our current president is my countryman. But if the Bible is true, my true country is the kingdom of God, and he is not my countryman. He is a neighbor I am to love until I am taken home, but until he surrenders to Jesus, he is not my countryman.

Maybe Brother Robert was really using my definition of country. Maybe when he saw the antiwar protests, he realized that the government was fully as evil in its way as the fornicating dopers were in theirs and felt homesick for the kingdom of Jesus. The rest of his message is so good it might be best to assume so.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How Archy Handles Heinous Crimes I: The Plea Bargain

Several years ago, the police entered the office of a young professor at a reputable university and arrested him for an online crime. They took the professor away, booked him, and then offered him a deal: admit guilt and get off easy. The professor said to the few people to whom he was permitted to speak that this was crazy because he was innocent. His lawyer warned him: fight this and you could get life; admit guilt and you will get a suspended sentence. He took the deal. It was a trick. Now he languishes in jail, his life wrecked as far into the future as he can see.
. . . Trials in federal criminal cases are rare. Nine in ten cases are settled in pleas like the above case. Only 3 percent of the cases go to trial. Among those that go to trial, the defendant wins once in every 212 times.

Even "small government" conservatives and libertarians agree with "big government" types that the state is needed to deal with heinous crime. They would like to see the state limited to dealing with crime, but they see no way to deal with crime apart from the state. I've taken a shot at trying to answer this challenge here, but I'd like to try again, this time by arguing that the state cannot be limited to a crime-fighting agency and that it can deal with crime only in ways that are inherently sinful.

First, the state cannot be limited to a crime-fighting outfit. No state in recorded history has ever limited itself to fighting crime; this is because the dynamics inherent in a state work against it ever doing so.

The first such dynamic is "mission creep." If government is needed to pursue, arrest, try, and punish criminals, any activity that helps it do so is therefore part of the job description. For example, if the powers that be are convinced that poverty leads to crime, fighting poverty becomes by definition part of the fight against crime. (And, right or wrong, those whose will becomes law are by definition the powers that be.) And if subsidizing a pharmaceutical corporation, or feeding school children three free meals a day, or building a stadium for a major league sports franchise will fight poverty, these activities also become the proper province of government. Which, of course, is where we are today.

By what criteria does anyone decide what other activities are and are not legitimate for governments to undertake? I can think of no criteria that would allow the creation of a state to "deal with heinous crime" that are not elastic enough to eventually subsidize hobbies for millionaires. And that assumes that those in power are not stretching the definition under the guise of "doing the job more effectively" to serve their own ends. Only the anarchist principle that bodies and property are sacred is stretch-proof.

This leads us to the second dynamic, the impunity of self-interested government agents. Self-interest is, of course, a universal human trait; this is why Jesus tells us that our ultimate interest is to be willing to give up the whole world and to look to the condition of our souls (Matt 16:26).

But government is by nature the organization in which (I would say the fiction by which) some people are able to do with impunity what others would be considered criminals for doing. These actions always begin with tax collection, but they eventually include intrusion into people's private lives and have gone so far in this country as to include caging people who sell raw milk. As I detail here, we all want to push the limits of actions permitted to us. This is "mission creep" with no pretense of benefit for anyone but government agents and their cronies.

There is also a theological reason that even a state devoted only to fighting crime is illegitimate: trying to limit government to fighting crime turns on its head Jesus' dictum that he who would be a faithful steward over much must first prove himself faithful over little things. People whose bodies and property are not secure live in chaos and cannot plan for the future, so protection of life and property is perhaps the most basic and important function performed by any society. Before government can be trusted to take care of such important things, it needs to prove itself faithful in the less-important things. (Like what? Delivering the mail? Educating children? Running recreational programs?) But "small government" types don't want the government messing in the small things, in part because they know that government ruins everything it touches.

So if government can't be trusted in the little things, it shouldn't be given charge over important things like keeping the peace. And if it shouldn't be given charge over the little things, it will never earn the right to steward the big things.

Let's assume for the moment that it is permissible to delegate peacekeeping to government and see how morally it acts. Given the impunity with which government agents can act, I guess that the quote that begins this post describes an occurrence that is more common than we know.

I would further suggest that even if government starts out as a legitimate peacekeeper, it can't be trusted to do so morally for long.

Even if cases like that in the quote are tolerably rare, the last sentence should give you pause: can it be that the government justly condemns over 99.5% of its accused? With all the unknowns that go into criminal investigations, can they really get it right that often? What sports team wins 99.5% of the time, season after season? What oncologist has a 99.5% cure rate? Or could it be that a prosecutor and judge who would pull a bait-and-switch on someone willing to cooperate with the system would bend the rules even further against someone who fought the charges?

If we go ahead and assume that this case was an exception, and that plea bargaining is otherwise done in good faith, how good is that faith?

Let's forget for now that the Bible nowhere commands or authorizes prison as a response to criminal behavior and assume that God prescribes thirty years in jail for the "online crime" the criminal in the example committed. By offering a lesser sentence isn't the system committing an offense against God and an injustice against whoever is supposed to benefit from the convict's incarceration? By what authority is clemency even offered? And if the system is exceeding its authority by offering clemency, how could anarchy do worse than offending God and committing injustice against innocent people? (Remember: the plea bargain takes into account only the accused's willingness to work with the system, not the nature of the crime or the accused's character.)

If clemency is a sin, then, in order to make the plea bargain just the system can pile on charges to be bargained away, as we know happens. This "online crime," for example, could have transmission across state lines, or use of a motor vehicle, or whatever a creative prosecutor can come up with, each with additional penalties, piled on it; then if the accused takes the plea bargain, he gets the thirty years God prescribes. So far so good. How, though, does anyone with a conscience make his living accusing people of crimes he knows they're innocent of or for the same crime more than once? Isn't that a form of lying, even if the hope is that by piling on false charges he can force the accused to agree to the plea bargain and only serve the time God prescribes for the true charges? Isn't that a classic case of using the end to justify the means?

And, of course, our accused might obey his human nature to fight for his survival. If he does, it's 99.5% sure that he will be sentenced to more than God's prescribed thirty years. Again here, God is offended by the government's excess zeal (cf. Num 20:8-11): in this case, the convict is treated unjustly. (And, of course, if he is innocent of any of the charges against him, he suffers as an innocent man.) Again: how could anarchy possibly be worse?

If offering plea bargains is inherently immoral, then not offering plea bargains should fix the problem. But then we come up against the problem plea bargains were instituted to solve: spurious defenses.
Why should someone of whose guilt the evidence leaves no reasonable doubt be put on trial? Isn't that a waste of time and money? But who is to decide whether the evidence leaves enough doubt to make a trial worthwhile? Wouldn't the process to decide whether the evidence requires a trial be itself in effect a trial? If a trial is necessary, rather than putting the evidence on trial, wouldn't it make more sense to put the accused on trial? Now we're back where we started.

It would seem that some trial is inevitable. But even if a trial isn't inevitable, what does an "obviously guilty" accused have to lose by calling for a trial? It delays whatever penalty he is likely to receive, and there is the off-chance that he'll be acquitted. And if he's convicted, he can appeal almost indefinitely, thus tying up the system and limiting its ability to deal with cases where the accused's guilt is not as readily established. There is injustice either way.

Anarchy avoids all three unsolvable problems of government peacekeeping. Any agency that would stay in business keeping the peace would first have to convince prospective customers that it could do so by earning their trust in smaller matters, perhaps through some form of health or property insurance. People who wanted to defend themselves would be free to do so, benefiting from their own good decisions and suffering for the bad ones. Only those agencies who were able to convince their customers over the long term that they were able to protect those customers' interests would stay in business.

Instead of trials where the practically omnipotent state squares off against a hapless defendant (who might, of course, be guilty of some violence; the salient point here is that he is in no position to defend himself), the heuristic process would take place in an arbitration session, where the protection agency would be trying to keep its good reputation for treating well not only its customers but the other agencies it interacts with. The accused also would be concerned about his reputation: if his protection agency terminates his contract because protecting him is no longer profitable, he will have a harder time replacing it than fulfilling its stipulations for further coverage. The same also goes for the plaintiff, the accused's victim.

The agents of erstwhile protection agencies would thus serve their long-term self-interest by serving, not dominating, their customers. No system is perfect, so the mentality that says, "I can get away with X, so I'll see if I can get away with X + 1" will never disappear completely, but in anarchy it will only work in the short term, never in the long term, as it does so commonly in government systems.

And the "mission creep" of any agency will be limited to those areas in which it is able to prove competence to the satisfaction of its customers: they may be able to do X quite well, but if they fail at X + 1, it will either close that operation or risk losing their advantage in X.

As the old song says, "If ya wanna be gre-e-e-eat in God's kingdom, learn to be the servant of all." State agents don't serve, so the state cannot do a great job of dealing with heinous crime. Anarchism is simply the servant principle applied to all areas of life.