Politics & Media
Nov 01, 2023, 06:24AM

Twelve Years a Watchman

From soldiers to surveillance, the guardians are a menace.

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You may have noticed that Robert Card, the Maine gunman who killed 18 people there last week, was a U.S. Army reservist and a military firearms instructor whose paranoid, violent, and deteriorating mindset had repeatedly been brought to the attention of police and mental health professionals.

What’s truly insane, though, is that the typical left-liberal still manages to draw the conclusion from such incidents that only soldiers and cops should have guns—and that mental health professionals are adept at deciding who to arm and who to disarm (the right barely disagrees, chiming in merely to say that while everyone should have guns, soldiers and cops are the best gun-users of all).

A more obvious, more intuitive conclusion—and thus one that flies in the face of everything said about guns by the media and the political establishment—is that the military trains psychopaths, the police are too bureaucratic and incompetent to sort perps from targets, mental health professionals are barely more discerning than average people keeping an eye out for people with “bad vibes,” and it would be wise for citizens to remain armed so they can fend off the lunatics trained, encouraged, or coddled by the whole military/police/medical apparatus.

In general, stop assuming the authorities are making your world safer. They may be the source of the danger. Yet the perfunctory response to the Maine massacre from President Biden was to call for a ban on semi-automatic weapons, while Vice President Harris called for mass gun confiscation, as if the emboldened soldiers and cops carrying out such crackdowns wouldn’t themselves be menaces to society at a higher rate than the average slob, not to mention agents made more likely to clash with civilians if tasked with nationwide gun confiscation.

Meanwhile, as militarist Mike Pence drops out of the presidential race, he departs with the warning that Republicans should avoid the “siren song of populism.” Populism has its dangers, but that shouldn’t make us forget that Pence’s implied alternative is basically: more soldiers, more cops. Please give me a world with even more peace, freedom, and commerce than the populists imagine, not less. The solution to the problem of rogue or stupid authorities is not still-more-authority.

Bad human instincts, further deformed by over a century of big government (with its trail of 300 million or so dead), always suggest doubling down on authority as a solution after authority visibly fails. For instance, if people hide their struggles with addiction, threaten them with imprisonment for being addicted, goes conventional thinking, and maybe that will solve the problem. If they try even harder to stay hidden, attack them with SWAT teams and battering rams. That should bring the problem to light and yield a happier populace.

If the fleeing, scattered perps still seem to have dark secrets but you can’t differentiate between them and the general populace, institute an omnipresent surveillance regime. A few more twists of the screw and utopia will surely be achieved.

Along the way, people’s intuitions will be shaped so that, for instance, when studies come out suggesting (as recent ones have) that chips and ice cream are as addictive as cocaine and heroin, most people will react by thinking that we should outlaw or tax those foods rather than by thinking, hey, perhaps this means we overreacted to the addictive power of cocaine and heroin and should legalize those. Authority somehow always wins these intuitive games, always gets to be the default solution.

If the authorities lurk at every exit from our current social woes, we ought to be pessimistic about any people or political projects that combine liberating and authoritarian elements. The old, conventional libertarian wisdom was always that if a politician gives a speech supporting several good anti-authoritarian ideas and several bad authoritarian ones, it’s likely only the bad authoritarian ones will come to fruition. Proposed budget cuts almost never happen, while almost every proposed expenditure does.

In a similar vein, no one who remembers that pessimistic axiom should be shocked to see headlines saying right-leaning tech mogul Peter Thiel is a government informant. I mean, what else did one expect from a surveillance systems salesman who sometimes sounds fascistic?

Similarly, I’m as intrigued as anyone by the cross-fertilization between right and left going on in downtown Manhattan’s youthful Dimes Square scene—and the eclectic far-left/far-right bookshelves of the performance space called Sovereign House down there (with Zizek sitting next to Hoppe on the shelves and a range of Catholic and UFO books not far away)—but as Compact magazine keeps proving, and as I began to fear back when the editors of Dissent and First Things were cozying up to each other a few years ago, if those hideous parents called the Left and the Right produce offspring, the kids are usually even uglier, whether they call themselves centrists or fascists.

The authorities, counter-intuitively, love extremists—as long as the extremists meet in predictable times and places and can be easily rounded up if necessary. The authorities must love the current far-right and far-left becoming pals and agreeing to have regular meetings.

And the rationales for authority can be ratcheted up or dialed down as needed, so that for instance a little uptick in Covid is enough to justify a resumption of contact tracing, that favorite tool of surveillance orchestrators from the private and public sectors alike (the hybrid Big Business/Big Government/Big Science dream of the century-ago Progressives come true).

And if surveillance risks interfering with the current progressive faction’s immigration plans, some rationale can always be found for doing contact tracing among locals but not among migrants, just as BLM rallies could be spared hectoring about social distancing with the handy rationale that racism is also a health problem.

It seems likely that British director Steve McQueen sees the ongoing dangers of opportunistic authoritarianism, having gone from showing protracted brutality in Twelve Years a Slave to more subtly juxtaposing Covid lockdowns and old footage of the Nazis’ occupation of Amsterdam in his new four-hour documentary Occupied City. Reporters and reviewers keep saying McQueen must’ve been careless or ironic in intercutting imagery of fascism and anti-Covid measures (but also anti-lockdown activists), or in intercutting imagery of fascism and climate-alarm activists. How dare someone in such good standing with the left-liberal establishment flirt with saying something the crazy anti-lockdown crowd might find encouraging, after all.

Then again, one of McQueen’s current main colleagues is actress Letitia Wright, a full-on opponent of vaccination. McQueen may have just joined the illustrious ranks of artists who see room for doubt and wariness where liberal authorities see only a chance for lock-step hectoring of the ill-educated public. And while the establishment convinces itself that all good-hearted citizens and especially all good-hearted artists respect its authority, the weary public does things like oust all the lockdown tsars in the recent elections in New Zealand, that tiny country with a vast capacity for course-correction.

Unfazed, the authorities shift to another opportunity to patrol and control the commoners, pressing the World Health Organization, which so recently declared the Covid pandemic over, to declare a global “climate emergency” is upon us (precise definitions and scientific metrics to be filled in later). The public may never find the time to formulate clear, articulate objections to such never-ending cycles of crisis-and-regulation, but they can still to some extent vote with their feet, and one can’t help noticing that last year alone, about half a million people moved permanently out of New York City and about one million out of California.

The authorities keep telling people how good they have it under the authorities’ watchful eyes, and yet people keep inexplicably fleeing the plantations.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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