Is Edward Snowden a hero or a stinker?

I’ve commented often enough here that why someone fights is as important as the fact that he fights at all. I’ve always made this point in connection with the Left’s habit of likening the “insurgents” in Iraq to the Minute Men in America.  Yes, both were fighting against the power structure, but the insurgents were and are fighting to enslave their country men and, eventually, have world domination, while the Minute Men were fighting to advance individual liberties.  It is the thought that counts.

And so we come to Edward Snowden….

People on both the Left and the Right are lauding him as a hero — on the Right, because it allows them to say “We told you so” about the dangers of Big Brother government, and on the Left because it allows them to say “We told you so” about the dangers of being in a war against those poor misguided, root-caused-damaged Muslims.  The former group desperately wants to protect Americans from their government; the latter group desperately wants to protect the world from America.  Snowden falls into the latter group.

From the Glenn Greenwald interview with Edward Snowden, it’s clear that Snowden did not releases the information he did because he cared about Americans and their liberties.  Instead, Snowden was protecting the world from America.

I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.

And:

I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.

Snowden, in other words, is not a freedom fighter. He’s a garden variety pro-Obama Leftist who believes that America is a danger to the world.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing that, thanks to him, we know about the scope of government surveillance.  I’m just saying that Snowden is no hero because, in a world where motives matter, his motives are all wrong.

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Slight change of subject here, but since it’s still about Snowden, I’m including it in the same post.  James Taranto relays an interesting point from a reader about the fact that the NSA should have let us know about this a long time ago because having people know about does not impair their program’s efficacy:

There is something to be said for the idea of selectively declassifying information about the NSA programs. The information revealed by the Guardian and the Post is general enough that it’s difficult to imagine how it could be of use to terrorists. Reader John Scott makes the point in a perceptive email:

The administration tells us that Prism and the collection of data on every call made by Americans were classified secrets because government did not want to give information about our operations to our enemies. This justification is flimsy because of the pervasive nature of the programs. These programs have remained secret in order to prevent public outrage, not to thwart terrorists. Here is why.

If the mayor puts an undercover cop on 2% of the street corners every day, it is important to keep the daily assignments secret. In addition, it may be important to hide the fact that only 2% of the street corners have a cop, since a potential criminal may realize that his odds are good. But if the mayor has an undercover cop on every street corner, the need for secrecy is virtually nonexistent.

If the government monitored all emails, but not phone systems, the terrorists would use phone systems, and vice versa. Similarly, if government monitored all calls made from Yemen, terrorists in Yemen could relay messages through their comrades in France. But the pervasive measures that are in place prevent terrorists from designing their communication systems to exploit holes. In fact, any holes in our systems could be more easily hidden than the entire systems could be hidden. Hence, the reason for keeping these programs secret from the public is to make us compliant, not to make us safer.

John Scott’s point is entirely correct. While it doesn’t address whether, in a free society, it’s okay for the government to have computer networks reading all of our communications, it does point to the fact that, at the very least, we should have been allowed to have had a debate about trading privacy and liberty for a somewhat greater degree of protection against terrorist attacks. I say “somewhat greater” because, while the government claims to have foiled some terrorist attacks with PRISM and the NSA’s phone dragnet, and I’m willing to accept that as true, the federal government dropped every single ball related to the Boston Bombers.

When it came to Boston, it wasn’t just that this vast, intrusive spying program didn’t capture the planned attack. That the system missed the actual terrorist attack makes sense because the actors were able to communicate the old-fashioned way, by talking to each other face-to-face. It was that the same government that feels entitled to spy on our every phone call and keystroke, completely missed the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had massive terrorist connections. He was waving red flags everywhere and our government gave him welfare instead of the boot.

The NSA thinks that it can bring some scientific algorithm to bear on the problem.  Get the right algorithm and then capture enough data and then — voila! — perpetual security.  But that’s not how it works.  When a system places too much reliance on non-human factors, it effectively blinds itself to the randomness of humanity.  Add to that the fact that our government, in thrall to political correctness, deliberately refuses to look at known indicators for terrorism, and you have a system that’s definitely intrusive, that’s questionably effective, and that sucks resources away from the human intelligence and real-world (as opposed to politically-correct-world) knowledge that must drive all security programs.

 

Maybe my English history major does have something to do with my neoconservativism

Modern England makes me weep, but all my long-time readers know of my passion for British history.  Watching this Prager U video makes me realize that there may be a connection between my love for England’s past and my believe in America’s future:

By the way, for an in-depth analysis of the British Empire’s democratic effect, you might also enjoy Niall Ferguson’s Empire How Britain Made the Modern World — and yes, this is the same Niall Ferguson whose article explaining why Obama should lose the election recently graced Newsweek’s cover.

What’s in a name? As Reagan understood, whether from the Left or the Right, tyranny is tyranny.

Max Boot reminds conservatives that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, at least not when it comes to crowing about the Leftist habit of embracing dictators.  Over the decades, conservatives have done more than their fair share of dancing with bad guys:

It occurred to me, re-reading the item I penned yesterday on Western elites who kowtow to dictators such as Bashar al-Assad, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong, that the examples I chose were primarily from the left. That is not to suggest the right should get off the hook. During the years, plenty of right-wingers have fallen prey to the charms of “friendly” dictators such as Chiang Kai-shek, Francisco Franco, Augusto Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, P.W. Botha, the Saudi royals, and Hosni Mubarak. (Botha admittedly, was elected, but by an electorate comprising only a small minority of the South African population.) Along the way these conservatives have made the same kind of unconvincing attempts to explain away their heroes’ human rights abuses as liberals routinely make for left-wing dictators. Even the genocidal Slobodan Milosevic had a few lick-spittles in a small corner of the American right.

Boot is right when he says that Americans of all stripes have trumpeted one tyranny or another because, at a few fixed points (or on all points) the dictatorship’s policies intersect with this or that American political belief.  Boot gets closer to the core problem when he writes the first sentence immediately following the above paragraph:

Of course, some dictators are hard to categorize ideologically….

And that’s where people make their mistake — trying to fit dictators into one or another ideological box, whether Left or Right, Military or Cult of Personality.  In fact, all dictators fit neatly into a “One Size Fits All” dictator box — they take away individual freedom and use fear to control.  That’s it.  An individual leader or leadership collective might start off trumpeting Marxist slogans or anti-Marxist slogans, or may, as time goes by, dress up the dictatorship with such slogans, but the end results is always the same:  overwhelming government control at the expense of individual liberties.

Once one strips away the ideological trappings and focuses on the practical realities of a dictatorship, it becomes easier to figure out what to do.  “What to do” invariably boils down to two choices:  castigate the dictatorship entirely, or embrace it as the lesser of two evils.

The latter analysis is where most people have a moral collapse.  What people should be saying is, “Yes, it’s a dictatorship that will have to be addressed somewhere down the line, but now it’s better than the alternative (anarchy or greater repression or genocide or whatever).”  The problem is that most decent people find it very hard to accept that they can tolerate evil, even when they are rightly convinced that the evil they embrace is actually the lesser evil.

In order to square themselves away with their pesky conscience, people will start excusing the dictator:  “He made the trains run on time.”  “He reestablished national pride.”  “He stabilized the economy.”  These may all be entirely valid points about a given dictator but they become morally invalid, if they’re followed by the qualifier that “so he’s not such a bad guy.” Once having made that statement, people are committing the big lie as to their own sense of decency.  What’s worse is that, once you’ve lied to yourself, it’s very hard to let go of that lie.  It becomes a part of ones ego and self-definition.  That’s why one finds good people in America supporting horrifically bad governments abroad.

The test — always — should be “What is the state of individual freedom in that country?”  (Incidentally, anarchy is not individual freedom, because it puts each individual at the mercy of any other individual’s or group’s unconstrained exercise of raw power.)  If it’s high, embrace that country with open arms.  If it’s low, ask the next question:  “Is the alternative to this low state of individual freedom worse?”  If yes, one can justify supporting the tyranny provided that one never loses sight of its essential tyrannical nature, and never stops working to increase freedom with destroying the county along the way.

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in labels such as “Left,” “Right,” “Military,” “Personality,” etc.  Those all obfuscate the core issue of individual liberty.

Sometimes, of course, there are no good choices.  Egypt went from repressively Military to repressively Muslim.  Even as to that, though, America did have a vested interest in the former, since the latter, while no better for the Egyptian people (and perhaps worse), is worse for America.  I don’t envy the diplomats tasked with making nice to Mubarak, but at least they could justify their work by claiming, rightly, that the Muslim extremist alternative was infinitely more dangerous for America’s interests.  Real Politik is never a pretty thing and, as Reagan better than anyone understood, if you make Real Politik your God, you’ve abandoned your moral compass just as surely as if you wholeheartedly embraced a dictatorship in the first place.

So, it seems appropriate to remember here that today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the most important political speeches ever made by an American politician — Reagan’s famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech.  Reagan, you see, never lost sight of the fact that the short-term choice may be between one ugly government and another, but that the long-term goal must always be individual freedom:

The problem with introducing freedom into industrial societies — or the tyranny of fossil fuels

Two things happened on November 26, two entirely unrelated things, that nevertheless ended up merging into a single thought in my mind:  In the modern world, fossil fuels equal liberty.  If you cannot assure the people the former, forget about trying to foist upon them the latter.  Let me walk you through my thought processes.

The first thing that impinged onto my awareness was a conversation I had with a most delightful 85-year-old Jewish man who, except for WWII and the Israeli War of Independence, has always lived and worked in South Africa.  During a wide-ranging conversation, I asked him what the situation was like today in post-apartheid South Africa. “Horrible,” he said, “just horrible.”  According to him, the moment Nelson Mandela left office, the new ANC government began to be as racist as the old apartheid government, only with the benefits flowing to the blacks, this time, not the whites.  It’s not Zimbabwe, yet, but he sees it coming.

What was most fascinating to me was this man’s claim that the black people are deeply unhappy with the status quo.  Yes, ostensibly they have civil rights that were denied them under the old regime.  The problem, though, is that the country is so horribly mismanaged under the current government that, while they have civil rights, they lack electricity, clean water, food and transportation.  The blacks he speaks to therefore look back longingly on apartheid.  While their lives then were demeaning and economically marginal, the old government was stable and efficient.  Excepting those who lived in the most abysmal poverty, apartheid-era blacks could rely on what we in the modern era consider to be the basics for sustaining life:  not just the bare minimum of food and water, but also electricity, reliable long-distance transportation, and plumbing — all of which are dependent upon a modern fossil fuel economy.

The second thing that happened on November 26 was that Danny Lemieux put up a post commenting on Bruce Bawer’s Thanksgiving article examining the possibly naive American notion that all people crave freedom.  Danny had this to say:

I believe that I can understand the pull of serfdom for many people. Just think of all of the difficult life decisions that are taken away from the individual serf: as wards of the state, they don’t have to worry about where they will get their food (of course, they can forget about shopping at Whole Foods as well), whether they will meet their financial needs (albeit at a subsistence level), understanding politics, moral values, education, finding a job…etc. It is, in other words, regression to the mind of a child. They can simply exist for the moment of the day: no responsibilities but, also, no hope. Like vegetables, if you think about it.

I agree with Danny (and Bruce Bawer), but I I’d like to add to what both say, by dragging in fossil fuels.

What may have made the extraordinary American experiment in individual liberty possible was that it happened right at the start of the industrial era, before people’s expectations were raised by the industrial and post-industrial era.  At the end of the 18th century, people’s material expectations were limited by the technology of the time (electricity was a lightening bolt; clean water was the creek behind your house; transportation could be found in the bones and muscles reaching from your hips down to your feet).  Fortunately for America’s future, she was rich, not only in space, but in the natural resources that would become so necessary in the next two centuries, including fossil fuel and the drive to put that fossil fuel to work.  Put another way, at the moment our nation was born, our material expectations were low, but the possibilities proved to be almost endless.  The exquisite historic timing that brought together our new freedoms and the nascent industrial revolution made the American miracle possible.

Nowadays, the source of all physical comfort is fossil fuel.  Except for those people who still live a virtually stone age existence (whether in Indian, Africa, Latin America or Asia), every single person in the world benefits from fossil fuels.  They give us light, water treatment plants for clean water, food in the fields and in the marketplace, transportation, clothing, housing, every bit of our technology, everything.   Nothing in our modern world would be possible without them.  Fossil fuels drove Hitler’s maniacal push to the Soviet Union and ended the Japanese ability to fight a war.  (If you’re interested in more on oil’s central role in WWII, check out The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power.)  No wonder the global warmists, with their anti-Western mindset, are so determined to destroy fossil fuel.

In a modern world, one that premised upon expectations of fossil fuel’s blessings (an abundance of food, clean water, ready transportation, technical, etc.), giving people freedom without meeting those expectations — which are, by now, the minimal expectations for creature comfort — is doomed to failure.  It is no longer enough to couple free speech with a horse, a plow, and some seeds.  Nor will people be excited about freedom of worship if they have only a small flame to light the night-time darkness.  Today, America’s famous four freedoms will satisfy people only if they are coupled with the riches flowing from modern energy.

What all this means in practical terms is that, if you invade Iraq and destroy a tyrant, but simultaneously knock out the power supply, you will not have a happy population.  Post-industrial people would rather have tyranny and electricity (and the food, water, transportation and other things flowing from that electricity), than freedom in a world limited to stone age energy sources.  Proverbs 15:17 therefore got it wrong.  As you recall, that proverb says “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”  Our modern experience with trying to bring people to the American model shows that most would say, “Better a stalled ox and a well-lighted barn where tyranny is, than starvation and the darkness of night where freedom lives.”

 

Is Barack Obama anti-American? *UPDATED*

A couple of weeks ago, I included in a post the statement that Barack Obama is anti-American.  A dear and respected friend suggested that I was exaggerating.  Obama may have a different vision of or goal for America, he said, but that’s scarcely the same as being anti-American.  I’ve been thinking that over for a while and, after a lot of mental give and take about what it means to be “anti-” anything, have now decided that Barack Obama is indeed anti-American.

Everything has a fundamental essence, a quality that makes it uniquely itself.  Take an orange, for example.  It’s not only citrus fruit, it’s an orange colored citrus fruit.  Horticulturists can alter its size, its texture, it’s sweetness, and the purity of its orange color, but it still remains an orange because that color is its definition.  Change the color, however, and suddenly, you have the un-orange, the anti-orange.  You have something completely different that no longer contains within it the essence of the original fruit.  Lose the essence and you lose the orange.

America has an essence too, and that essence is liberty.  America since its inception has been defined by liberty, both the liberty of the individual and the liberty of the nation.  Individual liberty means that Americans should be subject to minimal government constraints.  The state exists to serve the individual (commerce, transportation, security), not to control the individual.  That’s why the Bill of Rights focuses so closely on individual freedoms:  the freedom to speak, the freedom to write, the freedom to worship, the freedom to defend oneself with arms, the freedom from searches and seizures, etc.  Liberty also extends to the nation.  Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are replete with examples of the Founders’ absolute obsession with national sovereignty.  Just recently, we’ve been reminded of the fact that the Founders didn’t even want the appearance of impropriety and the risk of influence, since they specifically prohibited foreign emoluments for our presidents.

Despite blunders of enormous magnitude (slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, and the imprisonment of American Japanese), Americans have, for the most part, taken these freedoms with the utmost seriousness.  We are a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  We have not allowed ourselves to be ruled by tyrannies, dictators or bureaucracies.  We like our taxes low and our freedoms high.  In the past 100 years, when we fight wars, we do not fight wars to conquer other people, we fight wars to free other people from tyrannies.  Those on the Left who sneer at our “imperialist ventures” implicitly side with Hitler, with the North Koreans, with the Communist North Vietnamese, and with Saddam Hussein (mass murderer of his own people).  While ordinary Americans shed blood so that others on foreign shores can live free, the Left cheers on those who would deny their own citizens (or the citizens of conquered nations) the same freedoms we unthinkingly enjoy.

All the freedoms I’ve discussed can very quickly be distilled into a single essence, an American essence:  American individuals are free from control by and fear of their own government, and the American nation is free from control by other nations.

Barack Obama is anti-American because he wants to change this American essence.  His domestic policy is directed at increasing government control in every area, which decreases individual liberty.  Here’s an incomplete bullet-point list of his anti-liberty goals on the home front:

  • He wants to remove any last vestiges of the marketplace from individuals’ control over their own health care, and put the government entirely in charge.
  • He’s willing to give government control over American businesses (i.e., Bank takeover ands Government Motors).
  • His administration, while on record as opposing the Fairness Doctrine, is aggressively exploring a backdoor regulatory scheme that would have precisely the same practical effect as the Fairness Doctrine:  it would impose government restrictions on content, rather than allowing the market (that means us, the consumers) to control content.
  • His FCC wants to control the internet, which is a humming beehive of free speech, much of it critical of Obama.
  • Although he’s mostly erased the record, his dream is to create a civilian national security force, subordinate to the administration, which would be larger than the American military.  The military, please note, is controlled by the Constitution and has traditionally existed as a separate entity from any government.
  • He wants to take away the right to bear arms.  He’ll pay lip service to supporting the Second Amendment, but his fundamental goal is to use government to remove arms from individuals.  I’ve never held a gun in my life, but I know that the Founders understood that, for individuals, their single biggest defense against an overreaching government, is the right to arm themselves.  Statists never allow their citizens to bear arms.  Indeed, the first thing the Nazis did was ban guns in citizen’s hands.
  • He wants to redistribute wealth.  Without money, people have no choices.  The more money the government siphons to itself, the fewer choices we, as individuals have, which makes us increasingly subordinate to the government.

Of course, not all these Obama dreams will become reality.  As I noted above, Obama has been trying to delete evidence that he ever dreamt about a huge civilian security force at his beck and call.  And with other dreams (for example, the Second Amendment) he’s doing a fancy dance by which he tries to hide his authoritarian impulses.  But it doesn’t matter.  This post isn’t about what Obama will actually do.  It’s about what he wants to do, what his desires are vis a vis the American people — and it’s very clear that his desire is antithetical to the American essence.  He wants to limit or destroy individual liberties.

Politically, too, Obama’s impulses are all antithetical to liberty.  Again, some examples:

  • He has turned against the only democratic nation in the Middle East (that would be Israel), in favor of the bloodied tyrannical theocracies on her borders.
  • By reversing his pledge to keep a missile defense system in place in Poland and the Czech Republic, he has favored Iran’s Muslim tyranny over these democratic nations only so recently freed from Communism.
  • Figuratively and literally, he bows to dictators (Saudis, Venezuelans, Russians, Iranians, Cubans).  They ask, he gives.  In other words, contrary to America’s hundred year history of siding with the people against their tyrants, he sides with the tyrants against their people.
  • In Honduras, he sided with the delusional Zelaya against the people and the Constitution.
  • In Iran, when the people took to the streets, he sided with the megalomaniac theocracy, against the people.
  • In his much-heralded speech to the Muslim world, in addition to grounding Israel’s right to exist solely on a Holocaust the Muslim world denies, he repeatedly and noisily trumpeted the right of Muslim men to control Muslim women, a trope he reiterated in subsequent speeches.  This goes beyond the idiocy of multiculturalism and actively supports the subordination of an eighth of the world’s population.  (If 1/4 of the world is Muslim, and half of those Muslims are women….)
  • In his speeches, he assures the tyrannies of the world that America is abandoning her century old role of America’s policeman.  They are freed from any constraint.
  • By joining the farce that is the U.N. Human Rights Council, he is lending America’s imprimatur to the most violently anti-Semitic, authoritarian, dictatorial, anti-American political body in the world.
  • As part of his belief in the increasingly discredited notion of climate change, he stands ready to cede American sovereignty to a U.N. body that can control American wealth distribution and police the American body politic.

With the exception of the last item, and unlike the list regarding Obama’s domestic goals, the above bullet-points are not made up of things Obama merely wishes he can do.  They are composed of things Obama has already done.  He has subordinated America.  America is no longer the symbol of liberty around the world.  She’s just another nation and, worse, one whose leader, by temperament and political belief, has more reverence for dictatorships than democracies.  In other words, when he deals with the world outside America’s borders, he has again denied America’s essence, which is as the symbol of and standard-bearer for freedom.

If every one of Obama’s desires and actions is antithetical to America’s core essence, then it is reasonable to say that he is anti-American.  He’s not merely making little changes around the edges, smoothing away rough spots, augmenting existing traits, or getting rid of ugly cankers.  Instead, both at home and abroad, he’s trying to destroy America’s essence, that commitment to liberty that makes her unique in this world, and that makes her uniquely American.

Given Obama’s authoritarian, anti-liberty (and, therefore, anti-American) impulses, Obama’s periodic, TelePrompter-generated professions of love for this country ring untrue.  Just as we disbelieve statements of love from the man who beats his wife to a pulp because he’s trying to “improve” her so that she can achieve some impossible standard that would re-make her in the beater’s own mind, so too are we entirely justified in disbelieving Obama’s lukewarm affirmatives, when his behavior continuously shows a profound disdain for America and her core values.

UPDATE:  Well, that didn’t take long.  Within an hour of my having written the above, I learn that the same Obama administration that took days before voicing lukewarm support for the Iranian people under the thumb of a tyrannical theocracy, took mere minutes to condemn a bombing that killed the military wing of that same dictatorship.  Obama’s every impulse is hostile to liberty.

Only I can own me! — by guest blogger Danny Lemieux

This clip of today’s Sotomayor hearings may just have hit upon the most important constitutional question that faces us all as we confront our devolution into the Obamatopian State.

In this segment, Senator Tom Coburn (R., OK) asks Judge Sotomayor whether she agrees that Americans have a basic right to self defense. The ensuing silence is deafening. It is enlightening in that it reveals her not only to be mendacious but clueless: asking herself whether the Constitution grants Americans a right to self-defense, the judge could not even answer her own question. She said that she could not think of such a Constitutional right.

Now, granted, Judge Sotomayor has a difficult job. She needs to communicate answers which sound rational, reasonable and wise while obfuscating what she truly believes. Not everyone is adept at such two-track thinking and thus, the wheels turn slowly. The net effect is somewhat akin to a cell phone call fading in and out of range as the caller ducks behind rhetorical hills. So let me help her out by pointing to one of the underlying foundations of our Constitution as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence . . . you know, the one that refers to a God-given right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

My life is my own. It was given to me by God, or so says the Declaration of Independence. Supposedly, the State can make no claim upon my life . . . at least this is what I presume to be the underlying principle of the 13th Amendment banning slavery or involuntary servitude. Yet, this is exactly what the State does when it professes to dictates if, when, how and under what circumstances I am allowed to preserve (or end, for that matter) my life. It asserts a right over my life that could only exist if my life was subject to the whims of the State. At that point, I would not be a free citizen.

Just for the record, I will refuse ever to cede that right to the State, even on pain of death. I was born free and I fully plan to die free. I will never accept the right of the State to dictate if, when and whether I must sacrifice my life to another. This is a big part of what makes me an American.

Other countries don’t accept this and it’s not just barbaric backwaters like North Korea and Iran. British or Canadian passports, for example, quite explicitly (even proudly) proclaim their members to be “subjects” of another human being, Her Majesty the Queen. Although there is talk about redefining British subjects as “Citizens of the EU”, the words EU and “free” hardly go together, do they. Citizens of the EU quite explicitly do NOT have a right to self-defense.

Now, in fairness, the 13th Amendment does not preclude voluntary servitude and I suspect that this is where many of my fellow citizens on the Democrat /Left long to go. They want to abdicate their freedoms under the delusion that a benevolent master will relieve the burdens and responsibilities of freedom from their shoulders in the coming Obamatopia. To them, I say you’re welcome to it: just find a way to finance it yourselves and then get out the way of those of us that insist on staying free men and free women. After all, making claims on my labor without my consent also violates the 13th Amendment. Perhaps we really are devolving into a two-tier society: one of citizens, the other of serfs.

The Declaration of Independence and . . . chickens?!

John Trumbulls Declaration of Independence

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence

On July 4, 1776, American citizens made their Declaration of Independence known to the world.  Although the bulk of the document is a catalog of very specific grievances against George III, the document is remembered for its stirring beginning, describing “unalienable” rights inherent in all human beings, as well as describing a government’s role in ensuring those rights:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The enunciation of those core rights — “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — was an almost staggering statement in 1776, when most of the world labored under the rule of despots.

In the 21st century, however, we tend to be rather blase about those same rights.  We can no longer envision a world in which citizens had no say in the government, although their (heavy) taxes supported it; in which people were constrained to work in jobs by government diktat; and in which ultimate power rested in the government, not the people.  Our representative democracy, coupled with the enormous freedoms of our daily lives, seem so natural, as if preordained.  The result of this unthinking acceptance of these rights is that many of us are not even grateful for the blessings they confer, viewing the rights more as burdens, than benefits.

Why do I say this last?  Because more and more people resent the fact that one has to work for the basic freedoms the Founders risked their lives to institute.  Sometimes one has to fight and die for them.  In a life wrapped in comforts (heated and air conditioned homes and cars, endless supplies of food, gadgets for every purpose), we’ve come to the point where we resent even the necessity of working hard and, perhaps, suffering a little to ensure those blessings in our lives.

“But,” I hear you ask, “what about those chickens?  Where do chickens come into this?”

Before any feathers get ruffled, let me explain that the chickens I’m thinking of have nothing to do with cowardice.  Instead, I’m thinking of the way in which chickens are raised in this country — factory farming versus free range (or cage free).

Factory farmed chickens do not live a good chicken life, and this despite the fact (or, perhaps, because of the fact) that all their basic needs are fulfilled.  They are provided with all the food they need, which many might think is a good thing.  They are protected from all dangers during the short chicken lives which, again, many might think is a good thing.  They are doused with antibiotics to ensure their health.  They need not fear any chicken hawks or foxes.  Indeed, so protected are they that their beaks and claws are cut off to make sure they don’t injure either themselves or others.  They even have private housing, one home per bird, if you consider housing decent when it is a teeny cage in which they cannot move.  These chickens exist and are fully cared for, not to fulfill their own chicken destinies, but to enrich the farmer and feed the consumer.

If one were to apply a political-systems label to the factory farmed chickens, one would have to say that they live in a totalitarian state.  While their basic needs are fulfilled (food, shelter and even health care), they have no freedom.  Each of their liberties is constrained for the benefit of the state.  They live, but they live without chicken joy.

Cage free (or free range chickens) live under a very different philosophy.  Although they ultimately benefit the farmer and the consumer (with eggs and chicken flesh), the fact remains that, during their lives, they are allowed to fulfill their real destinies as chickens.  They wander around, they scratch the ground, they flap their wings.  They are fed, but they have to fight with the other chickens for access to the feed.  They have access to shelter but, when the hawk comes, it’s their decision (and ability) to seek it.  They are not stripped of their beaks and claws because they need those to live a chicken life.  The farmer is responsible for protecting them against predators but, given the chicken’s freedom, it’s not always possible.  Their lives are a bit riskier but, for chickens, infinitely more fulfilling.

Applying a political-systems label to the free range chickens is a bit more difficult, because they have freedom but (being chickens) no representation.  Nevertheless, I’d say that their lives are more akin to the type of democracy the Founders envisioned, because they are given the means to live their lives to the fullest extent but, beyond that, they are subject to minimal farmer control.  It is true that they are taxed (the farmer gets their eggs) and that their lives ultimately enrich the state (once they hit the chicken pot), but they are free in chicken terms.

What is so interesting to consider this July 4, half way through the first year of the first (and, one hopes, last) term of President Barack Obama, is what kind of chicken-farmer-in-chief he is turning out to be.  Given his propensity for arugula-eating and Whole Food shopping, one would think that he would want to give the American people at least the same benefits he extends to his free range chickens:  A fairly safe environment within which free range Americans can live their lives as they see fit.

All signs, though, are that President Obama is trying to turn the American people into caged birds.  He wants us neatly boxed up, with the government/farmer dictating every aspect of our lives, right down to ensuring that we are unable to feed, house and defend ourselves without full government/farmer control.  As with caged bird chickens, the American citizen lives to serve the American state not (as the Founders demanded) vice versa.

The whole foodies constantly remind us that this totalitarian regime is bad news for chickens.  I would argue that it’s also bad news for Americans.

So this year, as you go to your fairs, watch your parades, have your barbeques, and delight in fire works, think about what the Declaration of Independence really means, and ask yourself this question:  Do I want my government to give me more rights than the average chicken?  If your answer is yes, spend the next year working hard to effect a change in the 2010 elections, and an Obama ouster in the 2012 elections.