That American gun thing again
Ok, yet another mass murder in the States (and I’m not going to add to the suspect’s notoriety by adding his name here or discussing his currently still alleged crime), so surely now it’s time they just repeal the Second Amendment and that fixes it, right? No more guns, no more of these horrific mass murders. It doesn’t necessarily fix any cultural inclination that may or may not exist to use violence to solve personal problems, but at least they’d only be stabbing and beating each other to death.
Mmm, I don’t think it’s going to be quite that simple.
First, it doesn’t look like you’d “just” repeal the Second Amendment. The US Constitution might be easier to amend than the Oz one but it’s still been made deliberately difficult. Proposed amendments have to pass two thirds majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, after which they get sent out to the states to be individually ratified. If three quarters of states ratify it then it comes into force as the N-th Amendment. If not it expires if Congress put a time limit on it and hangs around indefinitely if they didn’t. Thousands have been proposed, most of which get binned in at early stages in committees. Only thirty-three have passed Congress, four of which are still waiting for ratification by enough states to pass while two more hit time limits and automatically expired.
So it’s taken them 230ish years to get twenty-seven amendments through, but they actually started off with the first ten all in one go in 1789 (ten of the first twelve, in fact – one wasn’t ratified until the 1990s and another is one of the four that are still waiting). That means it’s really going at the rate of thirteen years or so. Of those other seventeen three required a bloody civil war with possibly as many as a million dead (at a time when the US population was a tenth of today’s) to get through, and most of the rest either had a certain amount of support or were administrative stuff that Joe Bloggs probably didn’t give a shit about but which enough state legislatures were happy with.
The bottom line then is that successful amendments are rare and anything really divisive, which repealing the Second Amendment certainly would be, has to get the nod from 290 Representatives, 67 Senators and finally 38 states, and thus is simply not going to happen. Wishing it were otherwise isn’t going to change that, and even if it did it would only be a starting point. They’d still have to write all the laws they can’t write right now because the Second Amendment is stopping them.
And all during this process people will be panic buying guns and hiding the things like propellant scented squirrels, because of course they will. If there’s 300 million or so guns out there now there’ll be twice that by the time the US government is in a position to make the kinds of countrywide restrictions that the UK or Australia did. Jeez, after the Vegas mass murder just that tiny public discussion that maybe bump fire stocks broke the spirit of the laws restricting automatic weapons and had no legitimate purpose prompted an increase in sales of the fucking things, and that’s despite lots of American recreational shooters saying they’re a waste of money. If sales go up again after this latest mass murder as they tend to after such events you can be certain any serious attempt to begin a process to repeal 2A will do the same thing. Again, I’m not saying that’s a good thing – I’m just saying it’s the reality and the rest of us talking about stupid, gun nut, redneck Yanks and being all superior at them will change not one thing. If anything it’ll just get a load of backs up and maybe make people buy a few more guns.
So is passing gun control laws simply impossible there? No, and it’s silly to say they have no gun laws there because actually they’ve got loads already. How could they not have? There are fifty states plus the District of Columbia, all of which have their own gun laws varying from my-god-are-they-for-real to actually-that-wouldn’t-look-out-of-place-in-Europe. Above that level is of course the US government, which has passed a number of federal laws restricting or prohibiting various things. Sawn off shotguns, short barrelled rifles, grenade launchers, suppressors, fully automatic weapons and anything they decide comes under “destructive devices” are restricted by the US government in addition to any local laws, as well as things like who can own firearms (e.g. convicted felons mostly can’t) and where owners can take them (e.g. mostly not near a school).
In addition to that are a lot of local laws. Chicago and Cook County have each banned firearms they define as assault rifles while the rest of Illinois has not, New York City has more restrictions on assault rifles than the rest of the state and so on. There’s been at least one place where handguns have until recently been banned outright, and at the other extreme a place where gun ownership is compulsory (though as there are exemptions for people who can’t afford it, have medical conditions that mitigate against it, or just would really rather not have one it looks like it’s just for show). Oh, and this has been going on a long time. Remember the Wyatt Earp movie with Kurt Russell? Well, apparently this more or less happened.
Not only did the local law enforcement ban guns in a town so west it’s only just in America but it was enforced until the 1990s. And by and large Americans, even the gun owning ones, aren’t actually as anti-gun control as we tend to think (something to bear in mind before we go all superior at them next time there’s a mass murder).
It’s important to note that some tighter gun-control measures enjoy wide support across America, among liberals and conservatives, gun owners and even National Rifle Association-households as well as those who have never pulled a trigger. More than 4 in 5 Americans support requiring background checks for private and gun-show firearms sales, and nearly as many favor laws preventing people with mental illness from owning guns, Pew Research surveys have found. Seven in 10 support a federal database of gun sales. Over half support bans on semi-automatic and assault weapons.
So if they do actually have gun laws all over the place and they’re mostly not vehemently opposed to more, what’s the problem and what’s the answer?
To be frank I think it’s trust in the government and trust in the government. Gun owners don’t trust the government not to take all their guns, Second Amendment, practical issues of compensating millions of owners, and the fact that the US government doesn’t appear to have a history of outright betrayal of gun owners notwithstanding. The long term answer is to play on that, especially anyone seen as anti-gun, and rebuild trust – “The Second Amendment’s going nowhere, your guns are safe, but wouldn’t you be happier if crims and that crazy weird guy at work find it harder to get one? This measure and this measure would do that but wouldn’t stop you from buying one because you’re a sensible law abiding citizen…” etc etc.
Soothing fears is probably not a quick process and may be several presidential terms worth of work, and for the most ardently anti-gun isn’t enough anyway. However, I’ve covered why UK type gun laws are simply not going to happen, and if demanding perfection is getting in the way of achieving improvement it’s probably a good idea to stop demanding it, or at least wish for the magic wand required quietly enough not to have people running out to gun stores and buying more rifles to bury in the back yard.
Better yet, give thought to what might be done to reduce mass murders while governments build the political capital required to bring in background checks and databases and those things that most Americans would be in favour of if only they trusted their government more. Ask gun owners, all of whom you’d treat as the responsible majority, how they’d deal with the irresponsible (and/or mad and/or evil) minority. Bite your tongue if someone suggests arming all kindergarten teachers, because lashing out stands a good chance of stopping any sensible suggestions being aired and progress depends on not losing the metaphorical room. Would firearms owners accept parents/guardians being financially liable if their kids get hold of their guns? Maybe not. What if you could insure against it and control the premiums by controlling, i.e. locking up or reducing quantities of, your guns? Maybe then they would, but probably more likely if you can get them to suggest it than appear to be forcing it on them.
Of course this is their problem to work through, not ours. We can carry on not being Americans and welcome any Americans who migrate to countries with tighter controls, but we have no more right to be heard there than an American who thinks the answer to the London Bridge attack is for all the diners to have been carrying. As with people everywhere, input is better offered than imposed and suggestions may be heard but browbeating will be fought.
What especially won’t work is what hasn’t worked since before Sandy Hook, before Virginia Tech, before Columbine, perhaps even University of Texas over half a century ago: painting all gun owners as the same as the worst of their kind (many antigun people are appalled when jihadists are treated as representative of muslims generally – this should be no different), dreaming of repealing the Second Amendment, and wishing it was possible to un-invent the gun.
Football, the women’s league and transgender players
I wasn’t going to say much about Hannah Mouncey’s attempt to nominate for the 2018 AFLW draft as a transgender woman or that she wasn’t allowed to. I’d tweeted a couple of times about it and didn’t plan on saying more, but between the outrage among those of a progressive tilt that the Australian Football League wouldn’t let her and the outrage among those of a conservative persuasion that she was even considered in the first place I feel a few things are being slightly overlooked. Read the rest of this entry
Doctor Meh and the Planet of Lazy Tokenism
So I’m annoyed about Doctor Who, though not because I’m opposed to having female heroes in action/sci-fi but because I’m keen on having good quality, original female heroes in action/sci-fi. A female Time Lord could be fantastic. A female Doctor though? Ehh, is that all the creative effort the BBC and its writers could be arsed to put in? Hey girls, look at this fantastic nearly new-ish lead character we’re giving you to look up to, hardly any mileage, just 54 years on the cock – sorry, we mean clock – oh be careful not to touch that bit yet, the paint’s still fresh there.
Seriously, BBC. You lazy fucking bastards.
Read the rest of this entry
Does genderswapping fictional characters really advance women?
This isn’t a Ghostbusters rant. I need to mansplain that out of the way at the start because some on both sides of that particular argument may expect it to be. But that remake is part of something I’ve been wondering about, which is whether remaking old established stories with male protagonists changed into female ones actually helps.
Something else this isn’t is a denial that fiction is another area where there’s a long standing gender imbalance or that it’s worth trying to even that up. However, I am going to question whether or not gender swapping existing characters is the best way to go about it.
Right now I’m looking at an article about Gillian Anderson’s Jane Bond tweets by Clem Bastow titled 6 Other Iconic Characters It’s Time to Genderswap in which she suggests another half dozen candidates. So here are some thoughts on those examples before gender swapping and remakes in general.
Read the rest of this entry
Has ANZAC Day caught the 2010s’ most contagious disease?
“Dafuq, Exile,” I hear you exclaim. “I thought you liked ANZAC Day. Didn’t you write all this a few years ago?”
Public opinion of ANZAC Day in Australia has apparently swung back and forth as different conflicts and wars, and associated protests, have gone on but these days (and I can only go on the few years I’ve been here) a good balance seems to have been found. For instance there was a time when there’d be no sport played but now ANZAC Day is a special fixture for both Aussie Rules football and Rugby League, and there are two minute silences and playings of The Last Post before traditional rivals square up and knock seven bells out of each other. … So I find ANZAC Day can be tricky to describe – it’s solemn without being sepulchral, it honours members of the armed forces without there being any glorification of war, it’s respectful without being overly deferential, it marks the loss both of individuals and of a nation’s sons and daughters, but without it turning into a day for grief and mourning. For some it’s fallen heroes, for others it’s missing mates. It’s sad and beautiful and formal and informal all at the same time. … Like I said, I think just the right balance is struck and so ANZAC Day is one of those things that set this corner of the world slightly apart.
Well, yeah, I did and for the most part I stand by it. But in the last couple of years it feels like another element has started to creep in, and while it may spring from the best intentions I’m not sure the effects are what I’d call edifying (pics link to articles).
Now as a Johnny Come Lately who wasn’t born in Australia and has spent only the last decade or so here I’m absolutely prepared to be shot down in flames about this, but is ANZAC Day really supposed to be about butthurt over who gets to march where, posing questionably with medals and badges that you may not be correct in and/or entitled to wear, and above all, whinging about disrespect to the Essendon footy club and to Kevin Sheedy because he pushed for the creation of an ANZAC Day game? There seems to be a lot of people whose main worry is where they fit in on ANZAC Day and who want to protect their role in the occasion. Forgive me for asking where the poor bloody soldiers are supposed to fit in.
And this is where I feel one of the decade’s most virulent social diseases has started to creep into the occasion: virtue signalling. Everyone does it a bit because we all like to think we’re nice people and to be well thought of by others, but in the last few years the importance of that second part seems to be getting a lot bigger than it should be. Whether it’s buying flowers for a dead singer whose most successful album you bought (or possibly just pirated) and haven’t played for five years or joining in the twitch-hunt of a complete stranger who made a near the knuckle joke online or shot a supposedly world famous animal that you’d never heard of, it’s a bit weird and it’s about you rather than them.
Sadly I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it feels like there are now a few people around who want to be seen to do ANZAC Day better than average. I don’t just mean people who’ve seen exactly as much military service as me (i.e. precisely zero) wanting to be part of a march because someone who died before they were born was shipped off to get shot at a century ago. I don’t just mean people posing with the wrong badges because it looks cool, let alone those epic bellends who buy medals and uniforms and pretend to be veterans of some war or other despite the inevitable rage and abuse it draws from genuine veterans. I don’t just mean people in football complaining about disrespect to their clubs on a day they said was special because it was paying respect to war dead and veterans past and present.
I also mean those coma inducing bores who love to tell you how many dawn services they’ve been to, how early they got up to drag the kids out of bed to get a good place at the Shrine of Remembrance, how it was a much better spot than they’ve had before but how next year they reckon they can get much nearer the front, how cold it was first thing, how wet and cold it was last year although not as wet as the one they went to ooh when was it must have been in 2008, and did you go oh don’t tell me you didn’t go, what’s wrong with you, don’t you do ANZAC Day properly?
It’s good that you want to show respect but here’s the thing: you’ve started to make it about you. Not the guys who died and not the guys who are dying and not the guys who are living with the aftereffects of whatever war they’ve come back from. You.
You have already have a day that’s about you, and I suppose there’s a 1 in 365 chance that it also happens to be on April 25th, but even if it is the bit where you pay respects to ANZACs and surviving veterans is not it. It’s about sacrifices by current and former soldiers, not what a goddamn fucking great guy you are for doing it every year. It’s no more You Day than it is Kevin Bloody Sheedy Day.
And if you’re upset because you’re the great grandsomething of one of the poor unfortunate guys who fought, killed and possibly died in World War One, and you’re telling people it’s ANZAC Day not Veterans’ Day, and dammit you want to march because many decades ago someone promised someone else it’d be family tradition forever, then I have two points I feel I should make.
First, the original Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was disbanded after the withdrawal from Gallipoli and split into two other corps, neither of which kept the name all the way to the end of the war. If you’re that hung up on the name and your ancestor served after 1st November 1917 you just disqualified yourself. If not then at the least your argument would exclude descendants of anyone who served only in the last year, as if their sacrifices are somehow less for being made as a member of the Australian Corps.
Secondly, there’s a way to tick both boxes and honour your family promise to march on ANZAC Day as a descendant of a World War One soldier as well as satisfy those who say marching should be done by those who have or are actually serving in the Australian Defence Force. Just click this link to begin: http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/recruitment-centre/how-to-join/
Although I don’t blog anything like as much as I used to I do try to remember to find something appropriate on a particular day or two each year. Possibly not for the first time, and probably not the last either, I’m handballing this to Banjo Paterson.
In this war we’re always moving,
When we make a friend another friend has gone;
Should a woman’s kindly face
Make us welcome for a space,
Then it’s boot and saddle, boys, we’re
In the hospitals they’re moving,
They’re here today, tomorrow they are gone;
When the bravest and the best
Of the boys you know “go west”,
Then you’re choking down your tears and
Moving On – 1918
On depressed pilots
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard this CheapAir flight from Worriesville to Fretchester. If I might have your attention for a few minutes, my name is Angry Exile and I’m the purser aboard your flight today. Your captain and first officer are both in good moods and without marital or financial difficulties, and are off their tits on the MDMA I put in their coffee anyway. We’d like to draw your attention at this time to some of the safety features of this Blowing dumbo-jet aircraft. In the event of composure loss smiley face masks will drop down from the compartment above you. If you’re travelling with children please ensure your own mask is fitted properly before fitting theirs…
People are fucking hilarious. Seriously. After nearly fifteen years of crapping ourselves over the insignificantly tiny chance a man with a terrible beard is going to destroy the aircraft we’re on because he thinks it’ll please his sky-fairy we’re waking up to the real menace of the skies: the insignificantly tiny chance one of the people who are paid to fly the bloody thing is having a sufficiently bad day to say “Fuck everyone aboard, I’m going to crash us all into the ground.”
Yeah, I don’t know about you but that microscopic possibility is certainly what’s keeping me away from airports. Never mind that out of the hundreds and hundreds of crashes in the era of modern aviation only a single digit handful have been put down to an unhinged pilot killing all their passengers along with themselves. Never mind that that this is a tinier proportion of the already extremely tiny proportion of flights that crash at all. Never mind the near 100% chance of shitty traffic getting into the airport, the 100% chance of being robbed blind for parking, the 100% chance of similarly extortionate food and refreshments as the only alternative to McbloodyDonalds, the 100% chance of experiencing soul destroying and charmless airport terminals*, the 100% chance of at least one infuriating queue, the 100% chance of tedious and possibly pointless security theatre, the probably much less than 100% chance (though it always seems to happen to me) of the bloody flight being delayed, the 100% chance of feeling like I’m in a particularly shit shopping centre with an occasionally used runway outside, and the 100% chance of an economy class seat manufactured by someone who’s never even seen a picture of a six foot human being giving me backache no more than sixty seconds into the whole miserable fucking experience.
Yep, stuff all that – what’s really going to stop me flying is the not the purgatory like excruciating experience that it’s become in the last decade or so but the thought that one of the pilots is feeling a bit sad about life and no longer cares about anyone else’s.
* Has anyone even looked into this possibility? Pilots have to go to airports everyday. If I spent all my working time in airports I’d be fucking depressed.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life still isn’t for me
Piracy and the recent … er… I’ve been tweeting and not blogging for such a long period now that this huge plank of lettered buttons in front of me and this vast empty square on the screen is making me feel…
*suffers panic attack*
*runs back to Twitter*
Ok, cement milkshake consumed, hardening the fuck up has commenced. Now, piracy and the recent attempt by part of the Australian Liberal Party to sack its leader and our Prime
Mentalist Minister. What has one to do with the other? Well, Game of Thrones. Okay, I admit the connection is a bit tenuous but bear with me here.
On the Trek
Oh, the weary, weary journey on the trek, day after day,
With sun above and silent veldt below;
And our hearts keep turning homeward to the youngsters far away,
And the homestead where the climbing roses grow.
Shall we see the flats grow golden with the ripening of the grain?
Shall we hear the parrots calling on the bough?
Ah! the weary months of marching ere we hear them call again,
For we’re going on a long job now.
In the drowsy days on escort, riding slowly half asleep,
With the endless line of waggons stretching back,
While the khaki soldiers travel like a mob of travelling sheep,
Plodding silent on the never-ending track,
While the constant snap and sniping of the foe you never see
Makes you wonder will your turn come–when and how?
As the Mauser ball hums past you like a vicious kind of bee–
Oh! we’re going on a long job now.
When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying–with the vultures overhead,
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row;
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
For we’re going on a long job now.
And is the war worth the price? Something to ask every time we send people to die in freedom’s name, and I’d say doubly so when so many of us are prepared to settle for something less than freedom at home.
Was it a bomb, was it a plane, was it Superplot?
Let’s imagine that it’s the late 20th Century or early 21st, and that for some reason we want to make it look like a plane hit the Pentagon and, depending on the details of our scenario, three more hit a couple of New York skyscrapers and something else, perhaps the White House, that doesn’t actually get hit but looks as though it might have if not for a bit of luck and some ballsy passengers.
There are a number of people who believe that around the time various unknowns in the US did exactly that, and have focused on all kinds of details, some genuine discrepancies and oddities and some not, to find reasons to think it was anything other than the ‘official narrative’. I’ve got no problem with picking away at and asking questions of official government versions of events to see if what’s said stacks up – governments and their officials being very low on my list of people I’d trust with my wallet I’d say it’s irresponsible not to. But if we’re going to say that those things we can’t readily explain or that look wrong actually mean the whole event was staged just to look like a conspiracy of religious lunatics to crash planes by an entirely different conspiracy made up of people still unknown 12 years on (possibly still religious lunatics, though again entirely different religious lunatics), then it’s only reasonable to pick away at and ask questions of that narrative as well.
I think the way to approach that is to assume for the moment that the conspiracy theories are right, or at least as right as a bunch of different competing conspiracy theories can be, and trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the conspirators plotting to make this happen. So like I said at the top, let’s imagine that we want to make it look as if the Pentagon and the WTC were hit by planes and a fourth target got away by luck more than anything else. And let’s ask a some questions that the real conspirators, if any, would surely have asked themselves at some point.
First off, and in the spirit of Mitchell and Webb, why are we doing any of this? I don’t just mean what are we hoping to achieve, though it’s worth asking that too. I mean is faking the hijack and suicide attack of four commercial aircraft on prominent landmarks the minimum effort necessary to guarantee achieving whatever it is we want? True, it’d be attractive to our hypothetical conspiracy because it doesn’t do any real harm to the country as a whole – thousands of lives and some ruined real estate, yes, but the country’s military and infrastructure are practically untouched and any economic damage is temporary unless the goal is a nice long war, in which case who cares because that’ll cost a fortune anyway.
But that aside, are we prepared to risk our lives – because there’s absolutely no question that getting caught and convicted before or after the event would mean anything other than a death sentence – to do this? And can we achieve what we want with something less than faking a suicide attack on the Pentagon with a hijacked Boeing? If we’ve got two or three planes already teed up and ready to crash into the WTC and wherever else then I’d be saying no. No, we don’t need to fake a plane crash on the Pentagon when we’ve already arranged three genuine ones elsewhere. It’s complete overkill and if three actual attacks on civilian/political landmarks won’t bring about what we want what makes us think we need to fake one on a fourth military landmark? And if there is some compelling reason then for fuck’s sake why not just use another plane?
Of course some theories say that no planes hit the World Trade Centre either and that in fact they were holograms used to disguise missiles, or just disguise bombs going off at the right moment. Oh, sorry, sound generating holograms mimicking the noise of an airliner for the people and cameras below, which are certain to be pointing upwards after the first not-a-plane ‘hit’. In which case I’d ask my fellow conspirators why, if we’ve got access to this amazing hologram technology that can fool both people and cameras into ‘seeing’ planes crash into New York skyscrapers – and let’s for the moment ignore Occam’s advice and assume that such technology does exist – why we aren’t putting on a similar hologram show at the Pentagon for a camera we know exists. Isn’t it a bit of a hole in our plot to leave such convincing fake evidence absent when we’ve seen to it that the world saw, or thinks it saw, this in New York?
Also, how sure are we that our possession of this hologram technology isn’t going to leak and some awkward internet bastard isn’t going to point the finger at us, and then we’re back to risking the electric gas noose or whatever the Yanks use in federal capital cases? But assuming our hypothetical conspiracy doesn’t rely on Star Trek hologram technology, and assuming that my fellow conspirators have persuaded me that (a) three plane crashes isn’t enough to provoke our Middle East wars or get Bush re-elected (in 3 years’ time) or sell airport scanners or whatever we’re trying to do, and (b) that for some reason we can’t or don’t need to use an actual plane the fourth time but can get away with faking a plane crash, I’d be asking how many people need to be in on the plan and reliably sworn to perpetual silence. Because I’m worrying that the number might be higher than some of my fellow conspirators think.
It goes without saying that we, however many of us there are, will keep shtum. We don’t need to bribe or threaten each other – we’re all in this together and have to trust each other implicitly, because just one of us could assure immunity from prosecution plus a plastic surgery job and new ID by going to the feds and dobbing the rest of us in to face an uncertain number of years locked up before an all too certain execution. But what about all the rest of the people who’d have to be in on at least part of the conspiracy? How many people are we talking about here because I’ve a nasty feeling we may need to bribe and/or threaten and/or quietly assassinate somewhere between thousands and millions of people.
First we’ve got the WTC demolition crews plus anyone who might become aware of them and their work. I’m not the conspiracy’s demolitions expert – his grandmother has sadly been taken seriously ill at the moment – so I’m having to take a wild guess here based on some quick internet research. But the biggest explosive demolition of a steel structure, the J. L. Hudson department store, took months of preparation, including the twenty-four days spent by a dozen people planting about a ton of explosives – more than 4,000 charges in 1,100 locations, according to the contractor’s website. Okay, part of the reason for the length of time was that architectural drawings weren’t available to help, which I assume isn’t a problem for us, but on the plus side they didn’t need to work in secret in buildings that were occupied and had thousands of people working in them every day and hundreds more coming and going all the time.
Did I mention that at only 439 feet the J. L. Hudson store was much smaller than either WTC 1, 2 or 7? Oh, well it was, so since they’re all occupied and we’re trying to be secret I’m guessing we’ll need maybe two or three times as many people and at least as much time (albeit spread out more by the need to stick to evenings and weekends) as it took to bring down the J. L. Hudson, or fewer people and much more time. Or heaps and heaps of people in a short space of time. Which is all problematic because the chance of accidental discovery of our plot seems to increase greatly both the longer the explosives planting takes and the more people we throw at the job.
In fact that brings up another question – do we actually need to demolish the things at all? Really? Wouldn’t just kamikaze airliner attacks do what we want, and if so why don’t we just crash some planes and not even worry about whether the buildings fall down? And having touched on the subject of WTC7, can someone remind me why we’re blowing it up but not crashing a plane into it or even making it look like a plane crashed into it? I can’t help thinking that, you know, do it properly with the staged plane crash or let’s just not bother with WTC7.
Anyway, numbers. So let’s say we can wire up the New York buildings with only 30 or so guys, even if it might take a year or two, during which some clumsy sod might knock a hole somewhere awkward and some building maintenance guy could see something he shouldn’t. Does that mean we need to take all the building maintenance people into the conspiracy or can we take some kind of action if it actually happens? And the emergency services people who might spot something that’s not as it should be after we hit/not-hit it with a plane? Even if we don’t take them into the plot there needs to be a contingency bribe fund to either buy the silence of as many people who might stumble across the plot or to buy someone to silence them. Bearing in mind the unprecedented scale of the criminal act we’re planning the payments, whether bribes or for hits, will need to be similarly large or again we face the risk of someone taking what they know and exposing us, after which the whole thing unravels and we get executed. Is that going to cost less than we have or than we’ll make from what we’re trying to achieve?
And still on the number of people whose silence will be needed, we’re not actually demolishing the whole Pentagon, right? So it’s just the guys who’ll fire the missile or set the bomb or whatever, plus whoever’s on duty in the various air traffic control rooms who’ll confirm they saw the right things on radar, i.e. an aircraft where there really wasn’t one, and also anyone at the airlines and airports who’ll be needed to confirm the loss of the aircraft, yes? Oh, but no. Because surely we also need everyone who works there and who might survive to ‘see’ a plane hit the Pentagon, and if we’re not actually going to crash a plane into it then we’re going to need them all to say yes, absolutely it was a plane, I saw it as clear as I see you now. Even though there won’t be one. And since they’re all federal employees I’m guessing their co-operation won’t be cheap. And there’s about 30,000 of them.
Now to kick off with I thought we could get away with just the ones whose offices look in the direction our ‘plane’ is supposed to be coming from, but then it occurred to me that any number of people could be late into work and be on the roads outside or have a reason to be in a different part of the building where they might notice the absence of an aircraft where the news later reports there was one. Then there are all the people who work in buildings that overlook what we’re going to say the flightpath is. Or for that matter anyone who happens to be out and about in the area who might take note of the fact that there was no plane where we’re planning to make everyone think there was. That could be potentially anyone in the Washington DC area and anyone, truckers and tourists and business visitors and the like, who could conceivably pass through the wrong place at the wrong time and see a pronounced absence of the right thing. Christ, five million people live in the area, plus the possible non-locals.
Obviously we’re not going to let them in on everything but even if we’re just making sure that everyone’s singing the same song the perpetual silence of that many people is just impossible to guarantee, especially as some of them will probably die and the rest may be just pissed off enough about that to spill their guts no matter what we’ve paid them, which collectively would probably have to have been the GDP of the whole country anyway.
The more I think about it the more I reckon the whole idea is madness. The stakes are so high and we’d need so many people even for just the New York bit that it seems as likely as not that someone will choose to leak and let the rest of us face the consequences, and I just can’t see the Pentagon part coming off at all without the whole thing being blown wide open. Frankly I feel it’d be at least a million times cheaper, easier and safer for us and just as effective to just get a couple of dozen idiots who are prepared to die in the name of their cause to hijack and crash four aircraft, and if any bulidings actually fall over as a result then it’s a bonus.
In fact given time, some money and the right kind of retarded, wannabe martyr, death wish idiots on hand I reckon some cunt could organise it from a fucking cave.
This is why we can’t have horrifying things
Some time ago I blogged on the news that the Australian nannies had recognised that the majority of people in Australia are adults and that many of those adults like to play computer games, and finally persuaded the Australian censors that bringing videogame classifications into line with other media was overdue. This was to be achieved with the addition of an R18+ classification by the end of 2011, although to no great surprise (though my general blogging neglect meant I didn’t write about it) it ended up being delayed again. But at the beginning of this year Australia finally allowed adults to buy adult themed computer games, with more than half a dozen games given R18+ ratings in the first two months of 2013.
Great, you might think. Okay, so there’s a few games that have been classified for adults when the content seems pretty much the same level as games that got MA15 ratings in the past, but since one of the objections to the absence of the R18+ category was that some games were being classified too low that’s probably not a real problem. Besides, if parents decide their younger teens are mature enough to play something that involves lots of gore and splatter and/or occasional tits and ass then they can just go buy the game for them and allow them to play under whatever supervision they feel appropriate.
Unfortunately the censor hasn’t been given its marching orders and is still able to refuse classification, and since all media must be classified anything that’s refused has been given a de facto ban. According to Wikipedia…
Content which may be Refused Classification include:
- Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.
- The promotion or provision of instruction in pedophile activity.
- Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.
- Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
- (i) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed;
- (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have an extremely high impact;
- (iii) sexual violence
- Depictions of practices such as bestiality, necrophilia or other practices that are revolting or abhorrent.
- Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
- (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices that are offensive or abhorrent;
- (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies that are offensive or abhorrent
Which is mostly pretty cut and dried, not to mention reasonable, but appears to give them a number of relatively subjective outs. Top of the list there is the term “offensive”, a meaninglessly subjective criterion since what offends me may not offend you and vice versa – I find it offensive that there are still laws being written in any nominally free nation that include concepts as fucking vague as “offensive”. “Gratuitous”, “exploitative” and “abhorrent” aren’t a lot better.
So I’m kicking myself slightly for feeling at all shocked that in the last week – within the same 24 hour period, in fact – two games aimed squarely at adults, Saints Row IV and State of Decay, have been refused classification and thus effectively banned in Australia.
The Saints Row 4 video game has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board due to the appearance of an anal probe weapon and “alien narcotics” in the game.
“The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an ‘Alien Anal Probe’. The Applicant states that this weapon can be ‘shoved into enemy’s backsides’,” wrote the Board.
“The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.
“When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs and then lifts them off the ground before pulling a trigger which launches the victim into the air.
“After the probe has been implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus the area around their buttocks becomes pixelated highlighting that the aim of the weapon is to penetrate the victim’s anus. The weapon can be used during gameplay on enemy characters or civilians.
“In the Board’s opinion, a weapon designed to penetrate the anus of enemy characters and civilians constitutes a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context and as such the game should be Refused Classification.”
The Board also took a dim view of the game’s drug use, especially as it gives the player character extra abilities.
Or as the Board itself put it in a PR:
In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines.
Okay, it’s pretty weird even for a computer game weapon and certainly not something suitable for the Candy Crush brigade, but it’s also cartoonish violence, isn’t it? And I can recall at least one alien anal probe based cartoon gag on the small screen.
I’m assuming this episode of South Park wasn’t banned in Oz, and if not I have to wonder how Cartman, with his gratuitous effing and blinding plus the fire farts and alien communications antenna unfolding itself from his arse, got a pass and the equally ridiculous alien anal dildo launcher weapon in Saints Row IV didn’t. Yes, drug use was mentioned, but even without getting into the case for legality there’s been plenty of drug use in movies and TV over the years. The Wire, Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction – did all these and others all not get an Australian classification? Don’t even bother to answer since I have them on DVD.
And then there’s the reasons for State of Decay, which I though sounded like a straightforward zombie shooter but is apparently also a non-stop drug fuelled haze.
The Classification Board’s report, obtained by news.com.au explained that it banned the game because it contains the option of self-administered drugs throughout, in order to restore players’ health or boost their stamina.
“These ‘medications’ include both legal and illicit substances such as methadone, morphine, amphetamines, stimulants, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, codeine, aspirin, ‘trucker pills’, painkillers and tussen,” the report reads.
“Of these, methadone, morphine and amphetamines are proscribed drugs and the term ‘stimulant’ is commonly used to refer to a class of drugs of which several are proscribed.”
/sarc How can I have been so silly? Of course an open world zombie survival game is going to reward players whose characters in game spend their whole time ripped off their tits rather than running from, hiding from and hacking up zombies. And naturally whenever this happens the player themselves feels the effect by the magic of, er, game magic. Come on, we’ve all puked in our own laps after making Shepard get shitfaced to the point of passing out in that bar in Mass Effect 2, haven’t we?
You didn’t? You know what, neither did I.
So we’re back where we were a few years ago: adult gamers in Australia having to wait around for the game to be specially ruined for the Australia market because the censors didn’t like something in it that in terms of the whole game was a really trivial point.
“State of Decay has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board (ACB). We’ve run afoul of certain prohibitions regarding the depiction of drug use. We’re working with Microsoft to come up with options, including changing names of certain medications in the game to comply with ratings requirements. Whatever our path forward, it’s going to take a bit.”
Or, as several commenters wrote on both of The Age’s articles, people will just buy Refused Classification games abroad or online. And we shouldn’t be surprised if at least a few take the path of least resistance and get a pirated version instead of paying. But if the government and its regulators are going to make doing the decent thing too hard that will be the inevitable result.
All of which makes me think that if the censor refuses, for sometimes quite subjective reasons, to pass games that people want to play but, for obvious practical reasons, can’t stop people getting them elsewhere there isn’t much point in having a censor at all.
Thrills and spills
So by now everyone will be aware that Australia’s first knitting Prime Minister has been stabbed in the back by her own party in favour of the former Prime Minister she stabbed in the back for labor barely three years ago. Let’s just lay that out in a time line:
- 4th December 2006 – The Australian Labor Party decided that Kevin Rudd is the man to lead them to victory over incumbent PM John Howard in the forthcoming election.
- 3rd December 2007 – Kevin Rudd leads the ALP to a landslide victory over incumbent PM John Howard, and in such decisive fashion that John Howard actually lost his own seat.
- 24 June 2010 – The Australian Labor Party decide that Kevin Rudd, the same one who led them to electoral victory, is a fucking liability electorally speaking as well as a pain in the arse to work for, choosing to dump him for his deputy Julia Gillard. Having been told his time is up Rudd stands aside without a fight.
- 21st August 2010 – As Prime Minister Julia Gillard leads the ALP to a no score draw in the election and has to form a minority government relying on the promised support of Senate Greens and some of the cross bench MPs in the House of Reprehensibles.
- 24th February 2012 – After time in Gillard’s cabinet and then the back benches Rudd challenges for the leadership of the ALP again. Three days later the ALP votes and Gillard beats Rudd 71 votes to 31.
- 30th January 2013 – Julia Gillard, having steadily lost popular support and, presumably, having gone quite mad, announces that the next federal election will be on 14th September 2013, about a fortnight before the last day it can legally be held (UK readers might find bells ringing from that last bit).
- 21st March 2013 – Having continued to lose support Labor MPs seem finally to notice that many of them are likely to lose their seats and cushy jobs at the election. Rudd, having spent much of the last 13 months saying he wouldn’t challenge for the leadership again, stays silent. Simon Crean, a member of Gillard’s cabinet, called for a fresh leadership contest and announced that he supported Kevin Rudd to replace Gillard as leader and Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and Deputy PM each stand for their existing jobs and Kevin Rudd continues to stay silent. Gillard is elected unopposed and promptly fires Simon Crean, who complains that he thought Rudd would actually challenge. Rudd then states that he will never be Labor leader again.
- Today, 26th June 2013, three months later – Rudd’s supporters petition for a Labour caucus with the intention of forcing another contest on what, due to Parliament being about to rise until the election, is for all practical purposes the last possible day they could have one. Gillard raises and calls for a contest without waiting for the petition. To negligible surprise Rudd announces that despite his promise he’s changed his mind and will stand against Gillard, and goes on to win by a dozen votes.
So there we have it, the man that Labor wanted/didn’t want/didn’t want/didn’t want/wanted all along is back, having seen off the red headed pretender who betrayed him/rescued the party/betrayed him/betrayed the party/was brilliant/was a total lost cause.
And needless to say, all this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with polling predictions that with Julia Gillard as PM Labor will be reduced to perhaps as few as 30 seats come the federal election while under Rudd it’ll be 50 at worst and if they’re lucky they might even make another draw or a tiny majority. Each and every member of the Labor caucus is thinking only of the good of the country, natch, and the kind of naked self interest that is no doubt suspected by millions is actually not a consideration at all. Honest. Although…
… if that was true then why the fuck did they ditch Kevin Rudd, not once but three times, to begin with. I was going to make a joke about Rudd asking why the ALP had disowned him three times, but since I wonder if the bastard hasn’t got a messiah complex anyway I think it’s best I don’t.
A necessary evil, redux. A reply to @Veresapiens.
Last weekend’s post on minarchism versus anarcho-capitalism and my long winded explanation as to why I put myself in the former category rather than the latter prompted a response from @Veresapiens, one of the people I’d been discussing the topic with on Twitter beforehand. @Veresapiens said he didn’t intend to debate my conclusions but to add a little food for thought. Since the answers to his points shed a little more light, and also because Safari went tits up part way through, I’m making the reply in the form of another blog post
One subtle assumption running through the post is that Australia is always considered as a single entity, whether ruled by a State or not (eg wondering how ‘the country’ could be defended in an anarchy). My view is that you have essentially 23 million ‘sovereigns’ and their properties in an anarchy, and Australia remains only the name of the continent.
True, I did talk about Australia as a single entity but generally I intended it to be in a geographic sense. It is, Tasmania and some mostly nearby islands aside, a very large single landmass roughly the size of the 48 contiguous US states. There are 23 million people spread extremely unevenly around that area, and my hypothetical ancap and minarch Australias assume the same. I imagine the minarch one would probably keep most or all of the existing states and territories, but shrink the federal government to a fragment of its current real world self while devolving nearly all its power downwards to the states and beyond into local/municipal councils and finally into homes and individuals, which is where most libertarian types would hope the vast bulk would end up. I probably should have put in a paragraph covering this but it was in the mental draft of the follow up post. Mea culpa.
That, in itself, changes the nature of ‘conquest’. With a central authority and defense force, an invader’s goal is to cause the central authority to surrender (to save its own skin) and turn over its defense infrastructure to the invader. Without a central authority, who does the invader have to defeat? Everybody. In every town. Defeat and occupy. Not an easy task to occupy every bit of Australia. Might be easier to trade with the locals than to occupy them. (Although the US does seem to prefer the occupy route…)
This is the nub of the problem in Australia. You said it’d be no easy task, but I think in fact it’d be very easy due to the fact that Australia has among the lowest population densities of anywhere in the world. Further, the population is heavily centred toward the south east while the north west coast is practically uninhabited. From memory the largest town between Perth and Darwin, Broome is under 9,000, and has almost halved in the last decade. There’s got to be close to 3,000 km of coast between Broome and Darwin in the north and I’d guess around double that south to Perth. Much of it isn’t sparsely inhabited, it’s simply uninhabited.
Things are no better in the interior. Alice Springs, in the rough centre of the country, is under 30,000 or so, and there’s nothing bigger it between there and Adelaide in the south or bigger than 10,000 between Alice and Darwin in the north. South east of there is Anna Creek Station, a farm larger than New Hampshire inhabited by about 10,000 cattle and, as far as I can tell, fewer than fifty people, and that’s counting the town of William Creek (population in the high single digits). Free people able to defend what’s theirs because it’s in their interest to do so is a great idea, but for how long could the 50 most well armed free individuals in New Hampshire hold the entire state against even, say, the smallest National Guard of any of the other 49 states? Why would anyone want to take over somewhere like that? Maybe nobody apart from possibly McDonalds would, but not far away (in Australian terms) is Olympic Dam, a very large multi-mineral mine and the largest known uranium deposit on the planet. The area’s not quite as unpopulated as Anna Creek Station but the two local towns that support the mine still have only around 4,500 people between them, about a third of whom are under fifteen years old.
The problem’s that Australia has a lot of empty space. As I said in the original post I’m far from any kind of expert on this, but I have looked at a map and thought about what would stop someone landing a big force somewhere on the empty coast south of Broome and simply marching across the country, rolling over all the small towns of a few hundred or a couple of thousand until it was ready to besiege the larger places. You can get a very long way between defenders, and for most of the way across those defenders are always going to be in very small numbers. If done very quietly and with a bit of luck you might even get quite far into the interior before anyone was able to raise the alarm that they were under attack or notice that other places had mysteriously gone silent. In reality that’s not possible because there’s the Australian Defence Force in the way: a navy to see you coming and harass you at sea, an air force and army to join the navy attacking the forces trying to land and, if successful anyway, to trade all that empty space for time and make you spend every inch of the 4,000 kilometres you have to go to the populous south eastern cities wondering when they’d bomb the ever-loving fuck out of you again.
Imagine driving from Seattle to Disneyworld and being periodically shot at the whole way there. That, but mostly in a desert with few restaurants and fuel stops, all of which have even more people there shooting at you. The ADF can do this. They might not have the numbers and strength to guarantee an outright victory against a large invader, but they don’t need to. They just have to be good enough to inflict enough pain and damage to make it too much effort. I’m not convinced any non-state alternative could do the same. The population density is just too low for the idea of invaders having to fight for every yard to work for long, and I don’t see how private military companies defending people on a subscription model would work unless the PMCs of Melbourne and Sydney were up for attacking enemies as they try to cross the Gibson Desert – the free rider problem here would have a large geographical element to it too.
I’m a little dubious of the argument that even though we don’t want a State, if we don’t have a State of some sort to defend us against invaders, we might be invaded and conquered and end up with a State. And it will be a bad State.
I’m wasn’t really making that argument with the post. I was attacking the counter argument – that millions of free individuals could offer enough resistance to be an effective deterrent – on the grounds that it doesn’t apply everywhere and offering Australia as an example of somewhere that there’s a strong possibility, if not a probability, it would fail.
As to anarchy in general, I don’t envision that we would get a nice efficient homogeneous anarcho-capitalist society in the absence of a State. All I have in mind is that absent the State, people would be allowed to interact voluntarily and form social structures that suit their needs. The capitalists, syndicalists, communists, etc, could all try out their philosophies. Some would work and some wouldn’t. There would also no doubt spring up evil little mini-states of various sorts. Very dynamic – probably very messy for awhile.
I think where the state might finally die a long overdue death would be in the more populous countries. Imagine if the people of North America or Europe decided that they could realistically defend themselves against aggressors without a state, that there’d be enough armed free individuals willing to fight because it’d be in their self interests to do so that all potential enemies put the idea of invasion into the too hard basket. Eventually it’d be the smaller nations like Australia left with militaries and states wondering what the hell they need them for when all the former big boys, including the ones supplying the small countries, are giving up on them. Then it’d get really interesting, and I agree with you that it’d probably also be quite messy as everyone worked out their preferences and how to accommodate them without demanding a state force them on everybody else.
Bottom line for me, still, is that even if you are right about the best way to secure the local populations from invasion, your sincere desire to do good is not sufficient justification for taking away the independence of any individuals who disagree with your approach. And unless your minarchy can force participation, it doesn’t differ, essentially, from the anarchy case where people voluntarily contribute to defense.
I agree that desire to do good isn’t a good reason to take away even one individual’s freedom to choose not to participate, and also that a minarchy where nobody in general participates is functionally identical to anarchy. I feel the problem with the concept of the state is not just the monopoly of force but its universal application of force on the citizenry. It’s no good having competing education systems, healthcare, police, etc, if you’re forced to pay for the state provided services anyway. Defence might sound like a special case but what I’m suggesting is not to the exclusion of free individuals being able to defend themselves and their homes too. Funding the state provided service without force is the tricky part, so what I’m trying to develop is an idea of minarchy that forces participation only in extremely limited areas that anyone from the poorest to the wealthiest person could opt out of with no significant effect on their personal lives, meaning the state could be – in fact would be – destroyed at any time if enough people got sufficiently annoyed with it to change their behaviour into forms that starve rather than feed the beast.
In fact I suspect the real challenge is getting enough people to see the state as a beast that may require starving to death or near death occasionally until the point is reached that it’s entirely surplus to requirements. I don’t expect I’d live to see that happen even if I was born just seconds ago, and I’d be lying if I said I thought the process would take much less time than the Renaissance. Like I said last week, I see no way we can get there from here and even minarchy is a long way off.
A necessary evil? Minarchy, anarcho-capitalism and the state.
Some minarchist libertarians say that while they like anarchy as an ideal they’re not anarchists because they still see a role for the state, and that while it may be evil unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. Anarcho-capitalists reply, quite reasonably, that a necessary evil is still evil and that the state can never coexist with truly free individuals. That’s kind of where it grinds to a halt because even minarchists who agree that a true anarchy based on non-agression and property rights would be the most fair, free, just and desirable system might simply be unconvinced that that ideal is achievable in reality. Or not with social groups larger than a few dozen like minded people, which is few enough that you could probably make pure communism work as well.
Is there any way that free individuals can live not under but with the state? I think it might be possible – I don’t say is possible because I don’t think its been tried – and I think it depends a lot on how the state is viewed. Frustratingly for anyone with libertarians leanings many people regard the state as just the thing we have to have to run the country, or even as a benefactor who looks out for us all and does its best to take care of us. You’d have to be pretty cynical to believe that everyone in government is evil but it’s a pretty common view among libertarians and anarchists that the institution of government is inherently evil. For someone who’s spent a lot of time bagging governments this doesn’t come naturally, but I’m going to write here in grudging defence of the state and argue that while it has very often been evil it might be something we still need for the time being.
Sharp intakes of breath all round: how can you possibly suggest that, Angry? States all have a monopoly or a near monopoly on force and have always been depressingly willing to use it. Surely if you believe that the use of force on unwilling law abiding individuals to acheive an outcome, even a good outcome, is always wrong then the idea of states is wrong as well. That’s what they do and it’s what they’ve always done, so unless we’re going to enter the murky waters of ends justifying the means they must be inherently evil even when they’re trying to do something beneficial.
Well, yeah, that is what states do and always have done, and left to their own devices I’m pretty sure that’s what they will continue to do more or less indefinitely. Or until they spend themselves into oblivion, which is looking likely for some if they insist on growing and having ever greater influence over the minutiae of their citizens’ lives at the expense of the citizens themselves. And sure, yes, it’s evil to force money out of rich and poor alike in the name of providing various things and claiming that they’re all “free”, and I’d say even more evil to monopolise education so that many people can be made to to believe the “it’s all provided by the government for free” lie.
But is no state at all the only alternative and is it really possible to for free individuals in an anarchy to provide for themselves the useful things that we get from the it at the moment? I think the answer to both, at least for everyone who’s alive right now, is no, and I think so because one thing a state can do – possibly even the only thing it should even attempt to do or be allowed to do – is to defend itself so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it. Yes, I’m talking about the minarchist’s wet dream, the so called night-watchman state, or “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency Government” as I’ve always thought of it.
When you look critically at what you get from the state that you couldn’t possibly provide for yourself or go out and shop around for in its absence lots of things that you think really have to be state funded, which is a polite way of saying citizen-robbed, lots of sacred cows start to look pretty unholy. Education, healthcare, transport, even policing and law – they’ve all got non-state alternatives or could happen without a government being there, say the ancaps.
That may be true, although persuading the millions and millions who have been conditioned to believe that such things are provided “free” is another matter.* Defence and disaster management is something else. These functions, or function if you think the latter is part of the former, are something that states are… well, not necessarily good at since we can list endless examples of defence projects that have either delivered a poor product, been late, been over budget or all three. But if defending the country so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it requires a dozen frigates plus many more smaller ships, half a dozen submarines, and nearly 100 F/A-18s, not to mention dozens more helicopters, transport aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, and any number of tanks, troop carriers, wheeled vehicles and small arms for all the people who ride around in them, then it’s hard to see how even a fraction of that lot would ever be bought, maintained and particularly manned in an anarchy.
The defense function is the one reserved most jealously by the State. It is vital to the State’s existence, for on its monopoly of force depends its ability to extract taxes from the citizens.
Ah, the ancaps might say, but in a peaceful anarchy there’d be no need for a formal organised defence force. That can as easily be used to attack as to defend and so its existence is a threat to others, who have to raise their own armies and perpetuate the miserable cycle ad infinitum. Sure, they concede, that’s not the only reason why an opposing state might want to invade but without a state usurping the natural right to defend oneself by whatever means seem appropriate many free citizens will be armed anyway and able to offer resistance to invaders. Some anarchists even suggest that the difficulties faced by Allied forces in Afghanistan show how effective armed resistance by the people who live there can be against an external enemy.
Well, maybe that would work in some places. Maybe if you’ve got enough people fighting against an invader and something about the country – its size, terrain, whatever – favours the defenders then that might be possible. But that doesn’t prove that it’d be possible everywhere. That list of planes, ships and tanks I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back is a very rough inventory of the Australian Defence Force, and I used it for a reason. Three of the four most populous nations on the planet are to Australia’s north-west, and while Australia has peaceful trading relationships with them you couldn’t exactly describe any of them as being libertarian utopias. A resource rich, lightly populated and minimally defended nation with, since there’s no state, little or nothing in the way of alliances and mutual defence treaties might look tempting to a larger nation with a well equipped standing army.
I’ve seen ancap arguments that adequate defence, at least enough to give potential enemies a bloody enough nose to make them wonder whether it’s worth the effort, is possible in an anarchy or a near anarchy, and as I said just now I’ve seen more than one point at Afghanistan as evidence for this. True enough, Afghanistan has proved a monumental pain in the cock for the US and its allies, Australia and the UK included, over the past decade despite the large number of troops sent there and the huge technological advantage they enjoy, and it’s not even the first time in recent history this has happened as anyone old enough to remember the Soviet occupation or bright enough to Google it already knows. However, I have two objections to this argument. Firstly, Afghanistan may be relatively lawless but it is in no way an anarcho-capitalist society unless the scope of ancap is broad enough to include warlords and an authoritarian theocracy. That might not make a practical difference, but the second objection is that any reputation Afghanistan for being difficult to conquer and a nuisance to invade utterly failed to prevent the Soviets in the 1980s and George W. Bush more recently from doing exactly that. On top of that Afghanistan differs from our hypothetical ancap Australia in another important way.
Afghanistan’s population is nearly half as large again while the country itself is smaller than all but one of Australia’s mainland states. Neither are densely populated but assuming around a third of the population is willing and able to fight there are about fourteen or fifteen defenders for each square kilometre of Afghanistan. In Australia it’d be just one.
Have a look at a map of Australia’s population centres. Now have a look at the minerals and resources that an invader might think about helping themselves to rather than trading for. Notice how much there is where there’s really not anyone there to defend it. Notice also how the vast majority of the armed to the teeth free citizens in our hypothetical anarcho-capitalist Australia live on the opposite side of the country from where any invasion would probably come from. Short of penguin hostility and the threat of Tasmanian secessionist breweries there are no enemies to Australia’s south. Now consider how well armed the inhabitants of Darwin in particular and the Northern Territory – where the fifth largest town has a population of just 5,000 – in general would need to be to deter nations numbering in the millions. I suppose if every third person had either a tank, a tankbusting jet aircraft or an Iron Man suit then maybe, but the problem is that individuals and small groups just can’t afford either that stuff or the time to learn how to use it properly.
And even if that problem could be solved what’s to stop an invader simply bypassing Darwin completely, landing forces on the most convenient and least defended piece of Australia’s 25,000km of coastline, grabbing whatever it was they came for and simply starving out Darwin later? Not much in our scenario, but in reality Darwin’s defended by the ADF and all its expensive gear, paid for the rest of the country because the government insists it’s in everyone’s interest for all of Australia to be defended by well armed professionals who do that for a living so the rest of us can produce beef, mine coal and iron, sell over priced houses or whatever each individual decides to make a living out of.**
So while an anarchy might still be able to provide a good enough defence to deter external aggressors if there wasn’t a really strong motive for invading to begin with or if there were enough defenders to make an invader pay a bloody price for every rock, but there’s no guarantee it’d apply to really motivated invaders or where defenders are spread so thinly that they can be picked off fairly easily. Really, if you want to know how easy it’d be to knock over an Australia inhabited by people living in peaceful anarchy, or something very close to it, you need only ask an Aborigine. They’d probably tell you that it’s already happened once before.
And if one nation feels the need to maintain a standing defence force, wouldn’t its neighbours do likewise just in case a future leader got thoughts about a good offence being the best form of defence? And in turn wouldn’t their neighbours do likewise, and their neighbours and their neighbours? Probably, human nature being what it is, which makes it hard for anarchy to take root and easy for it to whither before it can mature and become stable – another reason why I think it’s unrealistic to think we can get there from where we are now even if it’s where we should be aiming to get to eventually.
So I’m for the nightwatchman state, then? No, not quite. As I said near the beginning of this blog I think a change in the way we view the state would help us manage it. If we agree that the concept of the state is inherently evil, or at the least inherently dangerous, then thinking of it as something akin to a friendly tea drinking man with a torch and a whistle who keeps an eye on our property for us may be almost as grave a mistake as thinking the state is your friend. I feel a better way to look at it is like a large and especially vicious dog, one that can serve a purpose guarding the gate but which you know damn well would take your hand off if you let your guard down. You might be willing to keep and feed such an animal because it does have a use to you, but you’d keep it on a very strong chain or loose in a well fenced yard and would never ever under any circumstances let it into your home.*** Inherently evil? It might not be intelligent enough to be evil, which is fair given the amount of stupid governments are capable of, but it’s certainly inherently dangerous and you probably wouldn’t let your kids within a hundred yards of it.
If we looked at states like that we’d very quickly reach the conclusion that allowing it to govern us is naive bordering on insane, and would instead insist that though we have a use for it we control the state rather than the other way round. What kind of legal and financial means to control it – the type of fences and lengths of chains for the vicious guard dog – I’ll blog about next time. Hopefully I won’t be so busy earning enough to feed my share to the real life state that it’ll take as long to get round to as recent posts have.
* A side reason why I’m more a minarchist than an anarcho-capitalist is that while I’d agree it’s an ideal I don’t think that it’s possible to get there from here. I think it’s likely that minarchism will be a necessary intermediate step, though even that seem likely to be so difficult, what with so many hundreds of millions unweaned from their government tit and unaware that they’re actually being milked more than fed, that I’m not optimistic about living to see it.
** And of course even all that expensive gear might not be enough. I’m no expert but against a large invasion I imagine we’d need to scream for help from allies and/or trading partners, though if the ADF had the means to go scorched earth on some of the resources I imagine trading partners might step in to help voluntarily just to prevent those resources being put beyond use for any length of time.
*** Although the use I’m talking about here is defence I want to make it very clear I am not likening defence forces or anyone serving in them to a vicious dog – I am likening the institution of government that tells the defence forces who to shoot at and drop bombs on to a vicious dog.
I’ve become a little time poor for regular blogging in the last year or so and as both of my readers probably know I’ve moved over to Twitter, recently the scene of the kind of free speech battleground that’s made me miss the blogging lark quite a lot even though I wasn’t on the receiving end. I would certainly have made time for this blog’s traditional ANZAC Day post anyway, but considering how fragile are the freedoms paid for with the blood of men and women it feels more important than ever that such sacrifices are marked.
This year, despite my complete and utter lack of religious conviction, I intend to pop along to the Dawn Service – and if you’re in Australia please consider doing the same and visit www.raiseaglass.com.au for locations and times – and at the time this blog post is scheduled to hit the web I should be on the way. I won’t be praying or singing hymns, but I shall be standing quietly at the back somewhere, sacrificing by choice a tiny bit of my time to commemorate those who’ve given up years of healthy life or use of limbs or their last breath.
And as every year I’ve also spent a little time this evening looking for a suitable poem. Think on this.
Sitting by the campfire glow
do you drift in silent thought
think of diggers young and brave
and countries where they fought
Resting in their compound safe
did they stare at lucent flame
then imagine if they could
they were back home again
Fighting Boers in Africa
on the hills or open plains
did they circle late night fires
and miss their home town rains
Middle eastern deserts bare
under mesmerising stars,
did they stand around a fire
and talk of eastern bars
Near the battle fields of France
where so many gave their lives,
did they sit by warming fire
share photos of their wives
Once again in world war two
resting on Kokoda’s track,
did our boys group round a fire
and think they’d not come back
Inside deathly prison camps
endless cruelty brave men bore
did the weak surround a fire
dream of Australia’s shore
Hillsides bare, now in Korea
called the forgotten war
did our diggers make a fire
pray for their full withdraw
Troops were called up-on again
now Vietnam’s jungle dense
did they drink by campfire’s glow
say, “this does not make sense”
Serving now on foreign shores
tropic nights or winter sun
do they sit by campfire warm
glad when their tour is done
Next time you’re by campfire glow
drifting into silent thought
think of diggers young or old
remember why they fought.
David J Delaney
14 July 2009 ©
Visit the War Poetry website: www.warpoetry.co.uk