The ethical problem with shortcuts to pleasure.

In 1954, it was found that rats would push a lever for hours if certain regions of their brain were stimulated with electricity.  That area had to do with the ‘reward system’ that we humans also have.  Humans had thus set up a lab environment where rats got more pleasure than they ever would in the wild.
ratAndLeverHumans are also expert in creating vastly more pain for other humans than we would expect to encounter in the wild, but that is another story.
Humans also have found shortcuts to that reward system, such as cocaine and heroin.  It is interesting that both are illegal.  And the reason is not that some officious type doesn’t want us to feel good.  The reason is that there are bad consequences to these shortcuts.
An interesting finding with marijuana, supposedly a less serious drug, was that it is likely to make changes in the brain that lead to criminal behavior.   it was known that there was a big correlation between criminality and use of pot, but it wasn’t know whether the drug itself was responsible for the correlation, or perhaps it was just that criminals were more likely to take drugs. The study is not 100% conclusive (see sources), but it makes a good argument that the drug changes the brain and produces – criminals (of course not all users become criminals – there is a just an increased likelihood).
The Libertarian party in America believes that we should make all drugs legal, because it would end violent drug cartels, stop creating “crimes without victims”, and pose less of a threat to our freedoms.
One libertarian site argues that
We maybe have other reasons for rejecting legalized drugs and prostitution, but legalized drugs and prostitution are not on their face incompatible with individual responsibility and limited government”.
But this leaves a question, independent of what governments should or should not do.  What are those other reasons?
What are the ethics of taking short-cuts to your reward system?
Here is one cautionary  story:
As a freshman at Columbia University,  Maia Szalavitz, a smart Jewish girl from the Hudson River Valley, became a serious cocaine dealer and soon a heavy user. She was suspended from college, got arrested and ducked a 15-year prison sentence. She started injecting heroin, then shifted to methadone and tried rehab. At age 23 she quit drugs in a spasm of self-disgust, feeling “debased” when she found herself on the brink of seducing someone in exchange for drugs.
There is  depressing and revealing book by a sociology professor at Columbia University, Sudhir Venkatesh who went looking for the “underground economy” in New York.  He did manage to get into it, after initial difficulty, and he tells some cautionary stories.
One story is of Analise, “a woman I knew from the elite subculture of wealthy young New Yorkers, many recent graduates of Harvard and Yale…”
Annalise had confided to Sudhir that she had angered her parents by refusing to be a good socialite and get married and pursue a life of fashion and charity.  She preferred traveling and looking at art.
Then her life took a weird turn.  Sudhir found out she was managing some women friends who had decided to be — prostitutes.  She claimed that she
didn’t get started managing women like Brittany through planning or ambition.  It’s just that everyone else was so incompetent.  Brittany would offer to pay for the hotel room– at the St. Regis!  Her friends were worse.  They’d pay for town cars, they’d pay for dinner, even supply a little free cocaine.
In no time at all, Annalise had doubled their earnings.  Success attracted other clients, and one day Annalise woke up and realized she was running a business.
Sudhir heard this in a state of shock.
“I feel like I’m helping people” she added.  Sudhir would have none of that:
Those exact words I had heard many times before.  Criminals always try to frame their actions in some high-minded way.  Sex workers tell me they are “therapists” offering a quasi-medical service.  Drug dealers say they are taking money away from the bad elements in their community.
Sudhir tried to dissuade her.  “I don’t think you have any idea what you’re getting into, or how vulnerable you are.”
Sudhir tells us:
I had seen terrible things happen in this world.  Over and over, I’d seen people who were basically good acting savagely in the name of money and fear and respect.
He asked more questions of Annalise and then said this to her:
So you’re evading currency laws and tax laws and banking six figures and you’re telling me you’ve never even nudged any one of your five young employees to work extra or keep working–or what was it you told Brittany yesterday?  ‘So just drink’?”…”Have you had that conversation yet, the one where one of the women says she wants to stop?  You’d lose twenty thousand dollars a year.  Are you sure you won’t try to talk her into sticking it out just a little bit longer?  ‘Just one more time’?
I KNOW this shit, Analise.  One night something bad happens in some fucked-up hotel and they come crying to you and you talk them down.  You calm them.
Annalise tried saying she was helping people one more time, and then started to laugh.
Okay, no, I am not Mother Teresa.  I do like the thrill of it.  I do.  I like crime.
Sudhir met other ambiguous characters when he entered the underworld of New York.   He ended up knowing and liking a man who ran an “adult bookstore” who he later found out had gotten involved with some very dangerous people and under their pressure began forcing women from India to become prostitutes.
It’s not that surprising that if you commit “victimless crimes”, you end up committing “victim crimes”.  My feeling is that if you have left restraints that most of us have behind, you will find yourself in the company of criminals with no restraints at all.
Poverty pushes people into making money in illegal ways, but it is interesting that often the same people who work in the underground – whether in the drug trade, or the off-books labor world, or the sex trade, also can and do find jobs in the legal world.
The women who engage in prostitution to supplement their income can be aspiring artists, aspiring models, aspiring actors, or they can be paralegals, saleswomen, etc.
Personally, if I were to pay money to activate my reward system, I would like to follow the example of Etienne Theroux who says this:
Before I became a Backroads Trip Leader, a crazy project took me on a bicycle adventure along the spine of the Americas, from northern Canada to southern Argentina, chasing down the Rockies, the Sierra Madre and the Andes mountains. Here is what I consider to be the Top 10 Best Roads Segments from that trip. This list includes different sceneries, jaw-dropping sights and some of the places that made me shout out “wow” uncontrollably.
But I remember a relative of mine, at the time in his teens, now working at a really interesting and well-paying job, saying sarcastically to me that I just liked to pedal and rotate a bike wheel endlessly.  He had somewhat of a point.
Whatever our purpose in being on this earth, if there is one, it can’t be just to be that rat with the electrode and the lever.  It can’t be to commit victimless crimes that just somehow end up in much too close proximity to  victim crimes.
dogScenery
Sources:

Triggers of rage

Douglas Fields and his seventeen year old daughter Kelly emerged from a dark subway station into the brilliant light of Barcelona.  Douglas felt a sharp tug at his pant leg.  He slapped his zippered pocket and found that his wallet was gone.  “My left arm shot back blindly.  In a flash I clotheslined the robber as he pivoted to hand my wallet to his partner and flee down the steps.  As if swinging a sledgehammer I hurled him by his neck over my left hip and slammed him belly first onto the pavement, where I flattened him to the ground and applied a head lock.”

DouglasFields
Douglas Fields

Fields was 56 years old, and his only fighting knowledge was from wrestling on his junior high school team.    He applied an illegal choke hold, and cried for the police.
The crowd did not help, because as Professor Fields  realized to his horror, the men’s feet closing around him in a tight circle were feet of other gang members.  The thug being choked threw Professor Fields’s wallet to a confederate, but it was intercepted by a woman’s hand darting between the thicket of legs.  That woman was Kelly, who herself had been on an “ultimate Frisbee” team – an experience that came in useful here.  Her father released the young, muscled thief, and then father and daughter ran away.  The gang pursued both of them throughout the city for the next two hours. The gang had been humiliated and wanted revenge.  Douglas and Kelly ran through restaurants, cut through back alleys, changed clothes, and when the bad guys got too close, left the sidewalk and ran through the middle of streets, weaving through oncoming cars.  Tattooed thugs with big biceps and cell phones kept track of them, but finally they caught a taxi out to a small town an hour away and escaped.

Professor Fields is an expert in “Nervous System Development and Plasticity” and the Barcelona experience prompted him to write the book “Why We Snap”.  His belief is that the same instant reaction that saved his wallet in Barcelona is behind our unfortunate tendency to sometimes engage in sudden violence that we later regret.
He lists nine reasons why we feel a rise of anger.
1. Threat to Life or Limb (self defense)
2. Insult.  He feels this may be related to the more general phenomenon of “dominance” in hierarchies in the animal world.  I suppose people would rather not be down at the bottom of any hierarchy, especially if it means being despised and stepped on, but he doesn’t say that specifically.
3. Threat to Family.  Think of a mother bear and her cubs.  In fact, I and my brother once hiked right between a mother bear and her two cubs.  The cubs scrambled up two trees, and we heard what sounded like an earthquake on our left, as Mother bear took off into the underbrush.  Since I am still here to write this blog post, I guess that means we are lucky this Mom was deficient in family values.
4. Threat to Environment (protecting home and territory).  A person can violently attack a neighbor for trivial matters such as the neighbor taking a shortcut across his property, or not cutting down an encroaching tree.
5. Mate.  A wild stallion will use violence to obtain a harem, as will some other animals. Animals will also fight to protect a mate.  Ironically, violence between males and females often occurs when they are in intimate relationships (think jealous lovers).
6. Order in Society. “This drive exists among other social animals but it is highly developed in human beings”.  It is not about “dominance”, but rather about assuring fairness and correcting transgressions and enforcing the rules of society.
7. Threat to our resources. 
8. Threat to our tribe.  Not just referring to a standard tribe, its also includes country, religion, and even inner-city gangs.
9. Stopped: “Being restrained, cornered, imprisoned, or impeded from the liberty of pursuing one’s desires will trip this trigger of rage.”
malala
There are ironies with these motivations.  Consider the story of Malala Yousafzai.  At eleven years old, this girl typed in her blog her thoughts on the injustice of the Taliban controlled areas in Pakistan.  Girls were not allowed education, were secluded in houses, and had forced marriages – and those marriages were at an early age.  Malala Yousafzai’s views began to attract attention in the media.  Her father founded a girl’s school, which she attended.  One day two armed men stopped the school bus and shot her and two of her classmates.  She was left disfigured and with brain damage, but survived (She had medical care in England where her family emigrated.)
Professor Fields  says a life-risking rage of commitment against injustice is a core trait of human beings.  For Malala he says the “organization” and “tribe” triggers propelled her actions.  Now here is the irony – he thinks the same two triggers propelled the gunmen who shot her.
Professor Fields’s book has some new findings from the world of brain science, such as this:
Item #1:
Some people seek more novelty in life than others.  However, increased novelty seeking is also associated with addiction.  It is also associated with gambling.  Both are linked to dopamine function (dopamine plays some role in reward) and we also know that a side-effect of treating Parkinson’s disease with the drug L-dopa  is increased risk-taking, gambling, and sexual promiscuity.  But it is important to realize that risk taking in the sense of “extreme-skiing” or flying a plane to remote parts of Alaska is not the same as risk-taking with drugs, and even within ‘ethical’ risk-taking, there are differences – mountaineers like to explore, but may show no interest in BASE jumping.  But even taking the example of the author, Mr. Fields, who rock climbs for fun, taking risks is obviously not always accompanied with gambling or addiction.
Item #2:
Sex and violence are linked in the brain.  There are certain neurons which, when stimulated with high intensity, are involved in fighting behavior – but if those neurons are stimulated with low intensity they cause mating behavior.  These experiments must be confusing to the female mice.
Another story Professor Fields  tells is this one:
A woman named Anita Sarkeesian likes to play video games, but she writes critically of the violent sexual degradation of women in video games.  She had to flee her home after she was hounded by violent threats of rape and murder because of that criticism.
A Steve Azar song says:
After only nine lonely giant steps I managed to
Make it to my car
And drive off without once lookin’ back to how
Beautiful you are
You know all the space between love and hate
Really ain’t that far
For those who wonder whether women are better than men, or vice versa, there is an interesting statistic:
Ninety percent of violent criminals in prison are men, but men, in far greater numbers than women, will also instantly risk their life for a woman, child, or stranger in danger.
  Professor Fields  gives one really heartrending example of the latter.  When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine overheated and exploded, almost fifty tons of highly reactive fallout rose into the atmosphere.  But ten days later, it was noticed that water that firefighters had poured on the burning plant for days had collected into a highly contaminated pool beneath the core of the reactor.   The core had melted down into a lava oozing its way down, and it was known that if it made contact with the water, there would be a massive thermal explosion that would send a deadly plume of radioactive steam across Europe.  Three men:  Valeri Bezpalov, Alexei Ananenko, and Boris Baranov, volunteered to dive into the pool and swim using scuba gear to find the safety valves to drain the water away.  They did that, and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Europeans.   They paid the price –All three died after two weeks of radiation sickness.   They all knew that death was certain when they volunteered.
I think there is a subconscious calculation going on when we feel an emotion.  For instance, Professor Fields  says that
if the pickpocket [in Barcelona] had been twice my weight, I doubt if I would have grabbed him by the neck….That the guy was about my size must have been a calculation made instantly and unconsciously….At the same time, if I had seen that there was an entire gang involved, I would not have fought back..  I suspect that my unconscious mind would not have triggered the response if it had detected the gang either.
I would not be surprised if a similar unconscious calculation is present in other emotions.  How may times have you suddenly fell in love with an obese person for example?
People differ biologically. They differ for instance in the strength of the connections from the frontal lobe to the limbic system (such connections may have to do with self-control). They also differ culturally.  Professor Fields tells this story:
“Some 100,000 jubilant people flooded Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in a spontaneous celebration of freedom–Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak had just fallen from power.  CBS news reporter Lara Logan waded into the crowd with her new team to capture the historic transition.”  However, hordes of men sexually assaulted her and brutalized her for half an hour, and she would likely have died if the had not been protected by a small group  of Egyptian women and finally rescued by the Egyptian Army.  Logan was not the only victim.  The atmosphere started with excitement and happiness, but “In a split second, everything changed.” wrote British journalist Natasha Smith:…
Men had been groping me for a while, but suddenly something shifted.  Men began to rip off my clothes.  I was stripped naked.  Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened.  These men, hundreds of them, had turned form humans to animals.
Many other women were raped.  Yasmine El Baramawy reported the following, after being knocked down to the ground
I looked up and saw 30 individuals on a fence.  All of them had smiling faces, and they were recording me with their cellphones.  They saw a naked woman, covered in sewage, who was being assaulted and beaten, and I don’t know what was funny about that.
I (the blogger) speculate that maybe in some way these men felt oppressed by women, or by a system that conflicted with their ideas of the rightful status of women.  So as they threw off the restraints of the dictatorship, they overthrew good restraints as well.  Why they should feel this way, if that’s true, is a puzzle.
rescueInEgypt
Maybe there is a link between sexual feelings and vengeful feelings, or aggressive feelings.  But if so, why are their so many incidents in the U.S. of men saving strangers, both men or women?  I remember when a woman threw herself off the Tappanzee bridge, near where I live, in a suicide attempt.  An El Salvadoran immigrant immediately jumped into the Hudson river right after her to save her.  This took remarkable courage and decency, and completely conflicts with the image you get from the Tahrir story.

life_is_worth_living
Dissuading suicides on Tappanzee

The main take-home point from Professor Field’s book is that we have various triggers to sudden rage within us, and while these triggers fit our needs in many situations, they can also have terrible consequences. He also says something I partly disagree with:

Struggling to comprehend a suicide bomber’s “thinking” or police searching for “motives” in cases where violence is driven by perceptions of threat, alienation or emotion is a search in vain. Such violence is not driven by reason. It is driven by rage.

I can’t step into the mind of a suicide bomber, but at least in Israel, sometimes these bombers are people who were shamed in their own society, and seek redemption by killing some Israelis. On the other hand, I saw a video of an Arab with a knife who approaches a Jew from the back in an alley, and then stabs his victim. I was amazed at the nervous energy and the impression of lashing out that the Arab attacker showed. That was rage and hate. But rage is not the same as hate. And if we just go by the title of Professor Field’s book, “Why We Snap”, he seems to be talking about a quick reaction, not a long planned operation.

Sources:
Why We Snap: R. Douglas Fields, PhD (2015)
Prof Field’s blog is interesting, one post is at: http://rdouglasfields.com/2016/04/the-neuroscience-of-violence/

How much evil is due to simple misunderstanding?

Anyone who has encountered a bully in a schoolyard realizes that “self-defense” is not the only motivator of aggression. The bully and his friends actually seem to be enjoying themselves, and their target is generally weak and isolated, and obviously just wants to be left alone.
But to be the devil’s advocate, perhaps much evil is done by good people who simply don’t see the world correctly?
For a case of undeniable evil, Pol Pot presided over a totalitarian dictatorship.  His government made urban dwellers move to the countryside to work in collective farms and on forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population.
We would agree this is evil, but did the enforcers of Mr. Pot’s ideology (the Khmer Rouge) think of themselves as evil?
Lets look at their ideology:
The Khmer Rouge’s interpretation of Maoist communism allowed them to believe that they could create a classless society, simply by eliminating all social classes except for the ‘old people’ – poor peasants who worked the land. The Khmer Rouge claimed that they were creating ‘Year Zero’ through their extreme reconstruction methods. They believed that Cambodia should be returned to an alleged ‘golden age’ when the land was cultivated by peasants and the country would be ruled for and by the poorest amongst society. They wanted all members of society to be rural agricultural workers rather than educated city dwellers, who the Khmer Rouge believed had been corrupted by western capitalist ideas.
In order to be loyal to the state, the Khmer Rouge enforced the breaking of ties to religion and family. All political and civil rights were abolished. Formal education ceased and from January 1977, all children from the age of eight were separated from their parents and placed in labour camps, which taught them that the State was their ‘true’ parents. For the Khmer Rouge, children were central to the revolution as they believed they could be easily moulded, conditioned and indoctrinated. They could be taught to obey orders, become soldiers and kill enemies. Children were taught to believe that anyone not conforming to the Khmer laws were corrupt enemies.
Now if you had a reasonably happy life in the city, and you were dragged out to work all day in the fields, you might object to this ideology. Objecting would get you killed, unfortunately. You might object to losing the right to say what you think, but that would get you killed too. You might object to your children being taken away, but that could also get you killed.
But were all these impositions on you due to a misunderstanding? In a way that is true. The Khmer Rouge believed nonsense. Nonsense with lethal consequences.
We could ask, why did they kill their own citizens? Did they see this violence as regrettable, but necessary for self-defense?
Victims who were tortured or killed or both could be:
  1. Professionals and intellectuals—in practice this included almost everyone with an education, people who understood a foreign language and even people who required glasses.
  2. Other ethnicities, such as Vietnamese and Chinese and other religions such as Cambodian Christians, Muslims and the Buddhist monks.
  3. “Economic saboteurs- many of the former urban dwellers (who had not starved to death in the first place) were deemed to be guilty by virtue of their lack of agricultural ability.
Perhaps people in these categories were seen as a threat to the great classless utopia that was being built. So in a way, self-defense could be considered the reason – or at least defense of something supposedly nobler and bigger than a single person.
But that raises a few more questions. The people who come up with these ideologies that others follow, or are indoctrinated by – are the originators of the ideologies good people?
Could they be charlatans, at least to some extent, and know themselves that they are charlatans and frauds?
Once such an ideology takes root, the end justifies the means. And one of the means is lying.
In the U.S. during World War II, the Voice of America put out pro-Soviet propaganda, which included blaming the Nazis for the massacre in the Katyn forest of more than 20,000 Polish prisoners. In reality, the prisoners were murdered by Russians, on Stalin’s orders. After the war, several of VOA’s foreign-language broadcasters and their spouses left the U.S. to work for Communist regimes as anti-American propagandists. So lies were told then, by people who thought those lies were in a good cause and were working as employees of our government.
So lies get spread, and people believe them, and then people do bad things as a consequence.
The ideological dictatorship of China executes more people than rest of world combined, according to Amnesty International. Surely some of this violence is done by indoctrinated people who might be good people in freer societies?
Russians are told that the United States is a threat.  For instance, many Russians believe the events in Ukraine are due to United States meddling.
Jihadists believe that Mohammed wants them to subdue or kill infidels, and some have said they would be happy to kill millions of infidels.  The misunderstanding here might be in believing that Mohammed is the messenger of God, or it might be in what his message was, but whatever it is, you can bet they won’t debate it with you.
A Jewish teacher in Sweden was discouraged from teaching by her school administration.  She was told that her Muslim students would hate her, and more surprisingly, that her Swedish students would  hate her too.  How do these hates develop?
Certain guidelines do emerge..
First, Lying by anyone is a clue that for him or her, the end justifies the means. The end could be just getting out of trouble, or gaining power, or whatever. We should avoid putting liars in positions of power.
Secondly, free speech is important. One liberal professor, Jonathan Haidt, says that on campus, eventually, ideological conformity (on campus that would be conformity to progressivism) replaces original thought.
“This makes it impossible to teach. This makes it impossible to have an intellectual community,” he said. “I’m a liberal Professor and my liberal students scare me.”
It is not “liberal” to be so sure of a position that you shut out any discussion of it.
Thirdly, misunderstandings can arise for many reasons, one of which is the lies of ideologues and others.
A few days ago (April 28) hundreds of mostly Latino anti-Trump protesters bloodied Donald Trump supporters, threw rocks at cars and smashed windows on vehicles–including police cars–following a huge campaign rally by the leading Republican presidential candidate in Costa Mesa, California. Wouldn’t it have been a better approach from their point of view if instead, the Latin TV station Univision had been willing to host Trump, in a forum where people who object to his statements could call in and confront him and his arguments?.
bloodiedTrumpSupporterJumpOnCar
Some people assume that the greater the violence–the more justifiable the passions behind it must be–but that also is a mistake.  Rational misunderstandings do play a role in the bad behavior we see in our world, but sometimes people believe what they want to believe, or are too lazy to investigate the truth, or perhaps have a nasty disposition that seeks out nasty ideologies.  And people sometimes have entire value systems that don’t match ours – they may prefer to be feared than liked.

Is ruthlessness ever moral? Is it ever effective?

Mike was shot down over Vietnam, and was imprisoned with other Americans under the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese.  While imprisoned, he sewed together an American flag out of pieces of colored cloth, using a needle he made from a piece of bamboo.  The guards discovered this and took Mike outside, in front of the other prisoners, and beat him severely, puncturing his eardrum and breaking several of his ribs.  Then they dragged him bleeding and nearly senseless into the cell with the other prisoners, who included John McCain, who later became the Senator from Arizona.  The other prisoners helped Mike  crawl back onto his place on the sleeping platform.

McCain before capture
McCain before capture

“Before drifting off” says McCain, “I happened to look toward a corner of the room, where one of the four naked light bulbs that were always illuminated in our cell cast a dim light on Mike Christian.  He had crawled there quietly when he thought the rest of us were sleeping.  With his eyes nearly swollen shut from the beating, he had quietly picked up his needle and thread and begun sewing a new flag.”

My point in telling the story in a post about ruthlessness is this: American prisoners in Vietnam had been undergoing horrendous treatment for years, and the action that stopped it was when then president Nixon ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, especially the capital, Hanoi.

McCain reports in his book Faith of My Fathers:

For many of our guards this was their first taste of modern warfare, and their confidence in the superiority of their defenses was visibly shaken.  Many of them cowered in the shadows of our cellblocks, believing correctly that the B-52 pilots knew where Americans were held in Hanoi and were trying to avoid dropping their bombs near us.
It was quite a spectacular show.  Antiaircraft guns booming, bombs exploding, fires raging all over the city.  It is sinful to take pleasure in the suffering of others, even your enemies, and B-52s can deliver a lot of suffering….
“In the aftermath of the B-52 raids, some of the guards who had treated us the most contemptuously became almost civil when speaking to us.  Some of them even began to smile at us, almost comically.

The North Vietnamese government caved, and signed a peace agreement.

The question we might ask is, why didn’t the Americans bomb Hanoi much earlier in the war?  One reason may have been their fear of the sophisticated Soviet-style air defense network of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), anti-aircraft artillery, and MiG interceptors in the North.  It was safer to drop bombs on undefended jungle than to go into that environment.  A reason given in Wikipedia was fear of possible counter moves or outright intervention by the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, or both.  However, despite these concerns, after a few setbacks, the Americans went all out, and the ongoing torture and maltreatment of POWs stopped.  (Unfortunately the war was ultimately lost when the Americans left and the North swept into the South, and American leftist politicians refused arms aid to the South.)

Bombing a city, even if you target military installations, is going to cause “collateral damage”.   So the question is – was President Nixon’s decision a moral one?  Was it an effective one?

Americans fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq today (in 2016), are fighting under “Rules of Engagement” created by the Obama administration.  One of these rules is that you cannot shoot at any group of people unless they are shooting at you first.  So in other words, you have to wait until your comrades are dead or wounded before you can shoot back (unless you are lucky and the enemy’s initial shots miss you.  Under this policy, Americans died who would not have died otherwise.
Obviously, we don’t want American soldiers shooting at innocent people, and one way to know whether someone is innocent or not is whether he is firing at you first.  But is this a sane policy?   Would the architects of this policy be willing to face the families of soldiers who died because of it?

Unnecessary constraints were put on air power as well.  In May 2015, the New York Times reported one constraint due to the desire to minimize civilian casualties:  An A-10 pilot said that “In most cases, unless a general officer can look at a video picture from a U.A.V., over a satellite link, I cannot get authority to engage.”

The half-hearted air campaign against Islamic State meant that Islamic State continued to kill men, enslave women, and have their youth initiated to the practice of cutting off people’s heads.

Then came the Russians.  The Russians said they were going to fight Islamic State, but initially that was not true.  Instead, their planes hit groups backed by the Americans that were threatening the regime of President Assad of Syria.  The Russians did not care all that much about collateral damage – they bombed their targets no matter what.  And without incurring casualties (apart from an air crew shot down by Turkey), they achieved their initial objectives.
I have doubts about Americans supporting groups in Syria that were in some cases composed of Jihadists, but I’m sure people all over the world got the message – America cannot protect you if Russian bombers attack you, and Russians stand by their allies, and most importantly, Russians win.

Another interesting aspect of this was the total silence on college campuses across the west about the human cost of the Russian bombings.  People who demonstrate at the drop of a hat about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians could not care less about Muslims in Syria being bombed, or for that matter being killed by other Muslims.   It seems morality is selectively applied.  Though some argue with this point.  They say that all military intervention in the Middle East has been counter-productive, and the protests that make a difference are against Western governments complicit in Israel’s supposed oppression of Palestinians, which they, as voters and taxpayers, don’t want to participate in by aiding Israel.  They also argue that any further intervention in that region would be futile.  However, it really seems to me that they don’t care – because there are at least symbolic steps they could take if they did.GazaDemonstration

So what should our morality be, in cases like these?  Candidate Ted Cruz says we should carpet-bomb ISIS.  That’s all very well, except that ISIS now controls entire cities full of civilians.  It is no longer possible to carpet-bomb ISIS without lots of collateral damage (death to non-combatants).  We could rely on others to do the job, and just give them arms, but there is no guarantee that such allies would care about collateral damage. Or if American soldiers go house to house, looking for insurgents, there may be less collateral damage, but there will be obviously many American casualties.

There are moral tradeoffs.  If you asked me whether I would dump gasoline on someone and set them alight, of course I would say no.  But if you asked me whether I believe the atom bomb at Hiroshima was justified, I would say yes, despite the substantial number of people killed in that explosion.  I would say this because many American lives were saved when the Japanese decided to surrender, and presumably Japanese lives were saved too, because there would have been a drawn-out war, island by island, to defeat the empire of Japan.

Atom Bomb hits Nagasaki
Atom Bomb hits Nagasaki

If in a particular situation, ruthlessness is proven to be the only way to win without unacceptable casualties on our own side, and if the consequences of losing are also extremely immoral – what course of action should we take?  I’m not saying I know the answer.

Sources:
(I deliberately put spaces in some of the links to avoid wordpress errors – wordpress sometimes tries to render images with the link and fails)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Rolling_Thunder
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Linebacker_II
Faith of My Fathers – John McCain and Mark Salter
http: //jamieglazov.com/ 2016/04/26/how-rules-of-engagement-get-u-s-soldiers-killed-on-the-glazov-gang-2/
http://www. nytimes.com/ 2015/05/27/world/middleeast/with-isis-in-crosshairs-us-holds-back-to-protect-civilians.html?_r=0
http:// http://www.theguardian. com/commentisfree/2014/aug/11/british-protesting-gaza-iraq-israel-oppression-palestinians tr

Are we living in a play where we don’t understand the other actors?

A popular movie came out in 1998 called the “Truman Show”.
Truman does not realize that his whole life is on TV. He is the unsuspecting star of The Truman Show, where since the moment of his birth, he has been filmed by thousands of hidden cameras, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The show’s creator and executive producer Christof is able to capture Truman’s real emotion and human behavior when put in certain situations. Truman’s coastal hometown of Seahaven is a giant set built under a giant dome in the Florida Panhandle. Truman’s family and friends are all played by actors. Truman eventually catches on and then the plot takes off.
 
There are obvious problems with a plot like this – one problem is that the general populace would not watch a TV show based on a diabolically ruthless deception. But we can ask, how much influence do ruthless people operating in the shadows have on our own lives?
Dome of Seahaven
Dome of Seahaven in the Truman Show
I once had an email exchange on politics with a young Russian man, and in one email I mentioned the Russian mafia. He told me that there were no ethnic Russians in it – only Chechens and Jews were members. Assuming he really believed this, you would think he was missing a big piece of the jigsaw puzzle of reality – namely that a fraction of his fellow Russians are capable of being just as bad as anyone else.
In China, the Falun Gong movement was getting too large to handle for the authorities, and they started to crack down. So a group of adherents went to a government building (the National Appeals Office) to petition. Unfortunately, this attempt failed and many followers of the movement were eventually rounded up and killed, their organs recycled to be used in transplants. According to Ethan Guttmann who wrote a book about what happened to Falun Gong (The Slaughter) to many Chinese their Communist party is necessarily a sort of parental figure – with a good parent and a bad parent – rather than a completely dysfunctional family.
And like the Tiananmen square massacre of Chinese students in 1989, such stories are buried by the government so that future generations don’t even know they happened, and continue in the delusion that they have at least a few reasonable leaders.
(One of our presidential candidates, Donald Trump said this about Tiananmen:

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world.

Trump is confusing strength with ruthlessness here, though in some cases ruthlessness does achieve its objective.)

 
Sometimes ruthless people are very open:
I remember reading of a Mexican pastor who spoke out against the drug trade, saying it just made consumers sick, and should be stopped. He was killed soon after by people who had a financial interest in selling drugs.
Likewise, giving speeches against Al Queda and against Islamic State can shorten your life Samahan_Abdel-Azizdramatically. “The tortured body of Yemeni cleric Samahan Abdul-Aziz, AKA Shaykh Rawi, was discovered on January 31 (2016) in Aden. He had been kidnapped the previous day outside of his mosque, where on January 29 he had delivered a speech denouncing the extremism of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.” He showed more courage than most of us would, because I am sure he was aware of the vigilantes amidst his countrymen.
 
The anonymous nature of much of the internet helps us understand the world we live in when we get responses from people. For instance, Donald Trump receives death threats, mainly for his desire to stop all immigration of Muslims, and illegal immigration of everyone else. Republican delegates who might vote against Mr. Trump in the upcoming convention have also gotten death threats, this time from Trump supporters.
Apart from death threats, you can be deluged with hate mail. Michelle Malkin, an American conservative of Filipino origin who also wants to limit immigration, has been called all sorts of names because of that stance, including “Subic Bay Whore.” Jan Brewer, former governor of Arizona, has been called “Hitler’s whore” for the same reason.
 
Apart from politics, there are extra-legal punishments people run into which have nothing to do with beliefs.

For instance: John Favara was unfortunate enough to be driving home in the Howard Beach neighbourhood of Queens, New York, when 12-year-old Frank Gotti darted in front of his car on a mini motorbike. Frank died, and five months after the crash, John Favara himself disappeared. Frank was the son of the chief of the Gambino crime family, and when John Favara found this out, he should have gone into hiding. Instead, he made attempts to apologize, and eventually he was murdered and his body was dissolved in acid.

 
But we all know about organized crime. What about law-abiding neighbors?
There have been cases of people set upon by their neighbors, and often it comes as a surprise to the victims – for instance during the three-month long Rwandan Genocide 20 years ago, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died at the hands of their friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
 
The Holocaust came as a surprise to many Jews in both Eastern Europe and in Germany who trusted their neighbors a little too much. Oddly enough, Vladimir Jabotinsky, a jewish journalist, saw what was about to happen and said in 1937:
I am very much afraid that what I am going to say will not be popular with many among my co-religionists, and I regret that, but the truth is the truth. We are facing an elemental calamity … We have got to save millions, many millions.
 
Also in 1937 (remember that the World War did not happen until 1939), the New York Times reported:
 
Anti-Semitism, raised by Adolf Hitler in Germany to the status of a political religion, is rapidly spreading throughout Eastern Europe and thereby turning the recurrent Jewish tragedy in that biggest Jewish center in the world into a first rate disaster of truly historic magnitude.
 

jabotinsky

Movements often are not stopped by borders, and apparently Nazi philosophy did not stop at borders either. Jabotinsky was a rare voice of warning at the time. Perhaps he was more in tune with the trends around him because he spoke Russian, French, English, German and various Slavic languages, and because he was a journalist who had witnessed the pogrom in Kishinev in 1903.
 
In 1938, he said in a speech in Warsaw:
 
I have been ceaselessly warning you that the catastrophe is coming closer. My hair has turned white and I have aged in these years, because my heart is bleeding, for you, dear brothers and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spurt out the fire of destruction. I see a terrifying sight. The time is short in which one can still be saved. I know: you do not see, because you are bothered and rushing about with everyday worries … Listen to my remarks at the twelfth hour. For God’s sake: may each one save his life while there is still time. And time is short.
 
I was listening to WBAI – a left-wing radio station in New York where an interviewee claimed that the rise of Donald Trump shows that many Republicans are racist. This shows what this man believes is around him in the undercurrents of the ocean of society.
(A few weeks later, I listened to another diagnosis of the rise of Trump and socialist Bernie Sanders by an economist, Peter Schiff, who claimed the reason was that the American economy is a disaster.) I agree with Schiff, not with WBAI, though the state of national defense probably also contributes to Trump’s support (not to Sanders).
 

So do we know who the people around us are? For instance, do we know the president who we elected twice?

Our current president has two senior advisors, Valerie Jarett and David Axelrod, both described as “red diaper babies”. Jarrett was raised by parents and grandparents with deep Communist ties, (according to the website “Discover the Networks”). Axelrod wrote this about his father: “In keeping with his bohemian lifestyle, when Dad registered to vote at the height of the Depression, he listed his party affiliation as ‘Communist.’” As for Obama, his mother Stanley Ann Dunham has been described by former classmates as a “fellow traveler.” (of Communism). Obama’s grandfather Stanley Armour Dunham arranged Obama’s mentorship by Frank Marshall Davis who happened to be a member of the American Communist party.
 
So how did these people get to the top levers of power in the U.S.? What trends propelled them there? Are they, as I think they are, both alarming and alienating a substantial portion of the American people?
 
You can be oblivious to such trends if you are an upper middle class person who works at a successful company and don’t feel a job squeeze, if your family is intact, and if your news comes from brief glances at progressive TV stations or websites). I still see Facebook posts from such people on how wonderful Obama is. In the town where I live, most families are intact, most are well-enough educated, and crime is not a big problem. But among whites in America, 30 percent of babies are born to single mothers. In my town, we don’t see this. Also we don’t see the alarming rise in the suicide rate among Americans that are approaching retirement age.
 
Many in this age group are drowning in debt, dealing with out of control medical bills, have saved very little for retirement and are dealing with significant physical pain.
From the larger societies point of view, when things get bad, normal people may believe that only ruthless measures can solve them, and to compound the situation, they may misdiagnose the causes of the problem.
Rudyard Kipling wrote a story about two Englishmen who take over villages in a remote area in Afghanistan. The natives (pagans, not Muslims) are impressed by the adventurers rifles and the lack of fear of one of them (Dravot) of their idols, so they acclaim him as a god.
Foolishly, Dravot decides to marry a native girl. Terrified at marrying a god, the girl bites Dravot when he tries to kiss her. Seeing him bleed, the priests cried that he was “Neither God nor Devil but a man!”
So in short order, very bad things happen to Dravot and his companion.

If we want to be somewhat mystical, we could speculate of a hidden web of invisible laws of conduct – laws that are not enshrined in any book, but if we violate them, we run into a punishment by someone, somewhere, at some point. It only takes a few vigilantes to guide your life in a bad direction. The existence of these “hidden laws” that motivate certain types of people is my speculation, and obviously certain pre-requisites have to be present to make a stranger who you never met take some hostile action against you personally.

But to stick with what appears in the newspapers, lets take two final stories, one from Culver City CA, and one from Seattle:

Sony pictures made a comedy about journalists who score an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The CIA has told these journalists to assassinate him. Before the film could be released, Sony employees seated in a California branch of the company saw a glowing red skeleton appeared on their screens. That was just the beginning. Almost 38 million files were stolen and doled out on file-sharing websites. Files included the screening versions of five Sony films, the script to the most recent James Bond movie, embarrassing e-mails between studio executives and personal information about Sony staff. Plus the hackers released malicious software, or malware, that infected Sony’s computers and was extremely destructive.
Finally the hackers posted a message threatening a 9/11 type attack on theaters that showed the movie.
This shows that when Sony violated law #3672A, section B, (“thou shalt not disrespect the leaders of totalitarian dictatorships”), that such dictators can hit them – hard.

Molly Norris drew a cartoon that depicted the likeness of Mohammed on several items, including a tea cup, a thimble and a domino. She received her first death threat within days.
One was a fatwa that came from radical and influential cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — an American-born imam who lived in Yemen — who said Norris was a “prime target” for execution for creating blasphemous cartoons.
Norris had kicked off controversy in April 2010 with a cartoon that proposed an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”
She disappeared, at the advisement of the FBI, in the fall of that year and has been in hiding since.

She was not sufficiently aware that she was breaking law #7984 Section C (“Nobody – infidel or believer – can blaspheme the prophet”) – and that what she did in Seattle would be judged and condemned in Yemen by an Islamic Imam, and that anonymous enforcers could emerge from the mass of people to kill her for what she said was just an effort to get people to “lighten up.”

 
Sources:
http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/10/barack_obama_red_diaper_baby_1.html#ixzz46ppXNhrB
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/432036/donald-trump-and-tiananmen-square
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989
http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfile.asp?indid=2418
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FukGDhJSmg0 (Peter Schiff interview)
http://spectator.org/articles/35070/all-political-family
http://www.academia.org/david-axelrod-red-diaper-baby/
http: //soufangroup. com/tsg-intelbrief-the-deadly-cost-of-speaking-out-against-extremism/
http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/man-arrested-charged-with-threatening-to-bomb-trump-rally/ar-BBsc6OV?ocid=spartanntp
The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem — Ethan Gutmann: Aug 12, 2014
http://www.thetower.org/article/jabotinskys-lost-moment-june-1940/
http: //www.infowars. com/suicide-epidemic-why-does-the-number-of-people-killing-themselves-just-keep-going-up/
https://news.vice.com/article/they-want-someone-to-blame-speaking-with-former-rwandan-genocidaires
 

If we knew the future, how surprised would we be?

If we could have a crystal ball that showed us the future, would it change our beliefs about our world?
paschendale
I knew two veterans of World War One. Uncle Harrison Rothfield lost a piece of his arm at the terrible battle of Passchendaele, and 50 years later (approximately) he showed it to me. He was proud of his military service for Britain, and he once sang me the chorus of the song which he, as a child, heard British soldiers singing when they marched on their way to the boats that would take them to the Boer war in South Africa.

One verse went:

Goodbye Dolly I must leave you, though it breaks my heart to go,
Something tells me I am needed at the front to fight the foe,
See – the boys in blue are marching and I can no longer stay,
Hark – I hear the bugle calling, goodbye Dolly Gray.

On the German side in that war, Jewish soldier Otto was a short but brave man who told my dad he spent the war being very scared. Otto was my grandfather, and Harrison married the sister of my other grandfather.
If Otto had stumbled on a magical crystal ball in the mud of the trenches, and in it had seen the future rise of the Nazis, he would no doubt have deserted then and there. So that is an example of how knowing the future would drastically change a person’s worldview.

Imagine after the American Civil War, that a former slave gets hold of that magical crystal ball. The clouds in the crystal ball part to show him that after an interlude of segregation in the south, his descendants are treated equally under the law throughout the nation. But as he peers into the crystal,  it speaks to him, giving him a “trigger warning” that disturbing material lies ahead.  He continues to look anyway, and he sees other African descendants, at Yale University, marching in protest because of an email from a faculty member who wrote that students should be able to wear any Halloween costume they want. “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” she wrote.

erika
Erika Christakis at Yale – she wrote the email.

The crystal ball then abruptly changes to show the town of Rotherham, England where British and immigrant girls were made into sex-slaves by Muslim immigrant gangs:

“No one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years. Our conservative estimate is that approximately 1,400 children were sexually exploited…from 1997 to 2013.

“It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated.”
….

One interesting aspect of this is that:

…. police and council bosses turned a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist, a damning report has concluded.

So our freed slave would have food for thought. He would see that equal rights morphed into something that began to impinge on other rights. He would see that a fear of being labeled a racist actually protected slavery.

slaveAndCrystal
Freed slave (late 1860’s?).  I pasted in a crystal ball, to be mischievous

 

sarahWilson3
2016: Rotherham sex-slave Sarah Wilson, abused since age 11 by Muslim gangs, sister murdered.

Or imagine an early feminist in 1860, a time when only some states allowed women to vote. She stumbles across the same crystal ball, and it tells her that universal feministWithCrystalBallsuffrage would be achieved, and that women would lead big corporations, and many would govern states of the union. But then a voice from the crystal ball gives the trigger warning. She ignores it, and keeps looking at the ball. And she learns about the “hookup culture” in a liberal arts college in Maine, a college that actually got embarrassed when a report revealed that:

 

a fairly large number of the female upperclassmen appeared to regret having been part of the hook-up culture. One of the regrets came from the discovery that the Bowdoin men are more interested in the new women on campus. Many of the female upperclassmen experienced a diminishment of their desirability, as they were replaced by fresh recruits to the hook-up scene….

As our incredulous feminist keeps looking, perhaps shaking the Crystal ball to make sure its not broken, she might come across this latest development in feminism, known as “shouting your status”:

Feminist blogger Ella Dawson…tweeted: “I’m not interested in playing identity politics. I’m a slut, and I have herpes. I am still a person who deserves respect.”

To Ms. Dawson, columnist Matt Barber responds that no one “deserves” respect automatically, and then adds:

Still, I wonder if Ms. Dawson has considered that the first aspect of her admission, “I’m a slut,” may at least be tangentially related to the second: “I have herpes.”
Alas, it appears no. As evidenced by a subsequent tweet, the causal connection between actions and consequences yet eludes our young friend’s tenuous grasp: “A few weeks ago, I told a cute guy at a bar that I had herpes. Then I slept with him. Hehehehe.”

Would the woman’s rights advocate, staring into that crystal ball give up feminism at this point?  Would she wave her placards with a little less enthusiasm?  Might she avoid burning down the local men’s club?  (militant suffragettes did burn down men’s gathering places).feminists

As the Garth Brooks song “The Dance” says:

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go

ottoW
American student sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea

As students march for post-equality rights, including the right not to be offended, there is an increasingly hysterical, reality-removed aura, at least to me. For instance, right now, there are at least three Americans languishing in prison in Iran, a country that has promised to end the existence of the United States. Also, a young American has been sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea. The students on our campuses are not marching for them. Students are not marching for Yezidi and Christian women who have been made into sex slaves by Islamic State followers. Where are the feminists? Where are the civil rights advocates?

 

yazidi-girl
A young Yezidi girl
freeOurGirls
After Christian Nigerian girls were abducted by Islamic fanatics, the wife of our president held up this sign.  Subsequently some girls were freed by force, others, unfortunately, will be slaves for the rest of their lives.

Human beings, I was told by a elderly history professor, are infinitely plastic. Another elderly professor, this one of sociology, told me that she would never have believed how malleable the culture was. We do have a crystal ball – but it looks backwards- we can see what happened in history – whether on a grand scale, or in personal anecdotes.

sowell2
Thomas Sowell

I have no crystal ball, but I do see many negative trends. Thomas Sowell, a black conservative, says that he is thankful that he is old, because he won’t experience the future that he believes is coming.

 

Others have said this:

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.” ― George Orwell, 1984

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller

The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”
–  Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/education/educator-recounts-painful-experience-of-halloween-email-furor-at-yale.html?_r=0 (Erika Christakis)
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-28939089 (Rotherham sex slaves)
http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-meaning-of-sex/article/928461 (Bowdoin)
http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/mbarber/160411 Matt Barber takes on STD culture
http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/07/14/these-are-the-three-american-prisoners-abandoned-by-the-iran-nuclear-deal/ (Americans in Iranian jails)
http://www.reuters.com/video/2016/03/16/american-sentenced-to-15-years-hard-labo?videoId=367757938 – American sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

Fascism – real and imagined.

Robert Paxton’s book, The Anatomy of Fascism, describes the group of left-wing nationalists (not a contradiction back then) who with Benito Mussolini sought to bring Italy into World War I on the allied side.  Officially the movement began on a Sunday in 1919, after the war was over, when more than a hundred persons gathered to “declare war against socialism…because it has opposed nationalism.”   Mussolini called this movement the Fasci di Combattimento, which approximately mean “fraternities of combat.”
Their program had some features we would approve of such as women’s suffrage and an eight hour workday. It also had features we might not approve of, such as expanding Italian rule around parts of the Mediterranean.

Paxton describes the movement as boiling with the readiness for violent action, anti-intellectualism, rejection of compromise, and contempt for established society.  A solid core of Mussolini’s followers came from the Arditi–select commando units hardened by front-line experience who felt entitled to rule the country they had saved.   Other followers included Syndicalists – these people were dedicated overthrowing capitalism.  (“Syndicates” is another name for trade unions.)  They had the idea of all workers striking at once, and when collapse ensued the syndicates would be the only remaining units of production and exchange in a free collectivist society.

A band of Mussolini’s friends invaded a socialist daily newspaper in Milan, and smashed its presses and equipment.  So one of their first acts was against free speech. Four people were killed, and thirty nine injured.
youngblackshirts
Young Italian Black-shirts

Similar movements were springing up elsewhere in Europe, with violence against both socialist and bourgeois enemies.

In Germany, after Hitler gained power, the novelist Thomas Mann noted in his diary (March 27, 1933) that he had witnessed a revolution of a kind never seen before,

ThomasMann
Thomas Mann

“without underlying ideas, against ideas, against everything nobler, better, decent, against freedom, truth and justice.”  “Common scum” had taken power, “accompanied by vast rejoicing on the part of the masses.”

 

The phenomenon seemed to come from nowhere, a phenomenon that exalted hatred and violence.
It is surprising to think of Fascism being anti-capitalist.  Paxton does say that we have to examine what Fascists did when they got into power, which was often in contradiction of their original speeches.  They didn’t carry out their threats vs capitalists, but they used the utmost violence against socialists.  Once in power they even banned strikes and dissolved independent labor unions.  They showered money on armaments industries.  They denounced speculative international finance, but as far as everyday capitalism, their problem with it was that it was materialistic, and could not stir souls, and that it was indifferent to the nation.
Says Paxton: “Fascist contempt for the soft, complacent, compromising center was absolute.”  Fascism was not a philosophical system so much as a set of “popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot, and their rightful predominance over inferior peoples.”
Fascists often called for an agrarian utopia, free from the rootlessness, conflict, and immorality of modern life.  Yet their leaders adored fast cars and planes, and superhighways and weaponry…
So this raises various questions.  One question is whether we have fascists in our midst.  Some people think Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman running for the Republican nomination, is a fascist.  Paxton was actually interviewed on this, and his opinion on that question is no.  But he does say of Trump that “He’s a thoroughly self-centered and aggressive personality. The danger, it seems to me, is that in a deadlock between Trump and the Congress or Trump and the courts, he would indeed take some kind of nonconstitutional action, and people would be afraid to say no.”
So why is the Donald succeeding (in Paxton’s view)?
I think there is a public that he’s speaking to. In Italy after the First World War, there was a global depression. Everybody was worse off. In Germany in 1933, everybody was worse off. Now, we’ve got this strange dichotomy of a few people doing incredibly well, amassing pharaonic wealth, and most people in the middle doing somewhat better, and a group of people doing worse, with stagnant wages, with job opportunities that are limited to people with technical skills that poorly educated people don’t have. So we’ve got a group of people who see the others getting ahead by leaps and bounds, and sometimes they think that black people are getting fair advantages to get ahead, and they’re slipping behind. And so, this is a very angry crowd of people.”
Paxton adds:
it’s in the rallies that he’s established this rapport with a lot of angry people who felt that nobody else was speaking for them. It’s an incredible achievement. He’s very good at sensing the deep feelings of a crowd and playing them. This is another thing that sounds like Mussolini. Mussolini used to stand on the balcony and have exchanges with the thousands of people assembled in the streets below, and they would chant back and forth. He has brought those people into political activity. He’s given them a focus. And he’s installed himself as their spokesperson. And that’s an astonishing achievement.
I would note that the country has major problems, but people disagree on the causes.  Some people believe the problem is that the government is in the hands of the special interests, or that the rich are stealing from everyone else.  Others (like Trump) believe that unpatriotic companies are putting people out of work by moving their operations overseas, or that miserly business owners are displacing Americans when they hire illegal labor.   A third group (that I am in) might agree with former President Coolidge that “the business of America is business” and so notice the remarkable number of federal regulations, some of them extremely costly and hard to justify, that can strangle industries (such as coal).  We might notice unfairnesses in our lawsuit system, where a “class-action” suit can be launched in a state with a large number of barely literate and gullible jurors who don’t know the difference between a million dollars and a billion dollars, and which can be another stab to a teetering company.  We might notice that companies without the right mix of genders and races can be sued for discrimination by the government.  We might notice a heavy and illogical tax system, a national debt approaching twenty trillion dollars, with unsustainable debts for some of our cities and states also.  We might notice radical environmentalists who want to “keep fossil fuels in the ground” to save the planet, which in practice means more expensive energy, which is fatal to competitiveness.    We might note the fact that 40 percent of children are born to single mothers, many of them struggling financially.
Others might blame technological changes such as automation, or the pharmaceutical innovations that result in an aging population – more old people, less children.
To illustrate, I saw comments that we had lost millions of jobs due to Nafta.  I asked for documentation, and this is the answer I got:
REALLY?!!! Your head in the sand? WOW. OK.. my company alone shut down 6 plants in the US and moved them to Mexico. They are part of the automotive industry. Many US jobs lost. A friend had a business and sold to a bigger company who then moved the entire operation to Mexico. My best friend’s company was sold to a Belgian company who then moved all jobs to Mexico. Ford and Carrier Air just announced they are building massive plants in Mexico and expanding business. Surprise.. the jobs currently in US will be moved to Mexico once the plants are built. NAFTA has not only hurt US JOBS, it has also harmed small Caribbean countries who produce similar products to Mexico but they don’t get the trade benefits so lost market share.  NAFTA not only has cost MILLIONS of jobs (which is documented.. just look up how many businesses have moved to Mexico). but the unbalance of trade has helped their economy and HURT ours! ANYONE supporting NAFTA IS TO BLAME
My view, which Trump supporters would not like, is that you can’t force companies to stay in the U.S.  A better approach is to make them WANT to come here.  Right now, if I were a executive at a corporate board meeting in secret to decide where to put a new plant, I might indeed choose Mexico.  I might look at the possible election of a socialist who believes in huge taxes AND protectionism, Bernie Sanders, on the Democrat side, versus Trump who is also a protectionist, whose policies, if implemented, would interfere with my exports.   I might look at the crime situation as well, the racial problems, the widespread failure of the educational system.
The point is, we have huge problems, some of which are exacerbated or even caused by our political leadership.  And some people are giving up on the traditional types of candidate.
But they do not see Trump as a fascist.   Russian immigrant Oleg Atbashian, who has friends who are Trump supporters quotes some of their opinions  on his supposed ‘fascist’ tendencies.
Oleg introduces Brendan, Christina, and Colin as follows:
  1. Brendan
    Brendan has spent years working on New York construction projects, including some that involved Donald Trump. He witnessed Trump getting personally involved with contractors and workers without any mediators, not afraid to get dirty and drive a hard bargain…

    He doesn’t see anger among Trump’s supporters, but rather optimism and love for the country. He also scoffs at those who compare Trump to Mussolini or Hitler. Trump has been in the public eye for almost 70 years, running a large business, producing a TV show, and nobody ever complained about him acting like a despot…

  2. Christina

    Christina has a PhD in literature, but her academic career ended when she evolved from a liberal into an outspoken conservative. All her previous activism in helping the inner city families, being involved in refugee resettlement programs, working with the ACLU, and other liberal credentials didn’t matter anymore. She became an untouchable and soon lost her job. Since then she has been active in local Republican politics and Tea Party circles, exposing the rot in America’s education system, fighting Common Core, and organizing book tours for conservative authors.

    She sees Trump as the only candidate who is not buying into the neurotic identity politics that’s currently driving both political parties. In her experience, identity politics and political correctness are the drivers of fascism in America today. In that sense, Trump is the most anti-fascist candidate in the race — and the most optimistic one, too.

    She objects to the description of Trump supporters as angry. There was no love lost for either political party or for the media in that crowd, she says, but the people weren’t angry at all: they were optimistic.
  3. Colin:
    Colin, who had acted on Broadway and choreographed dances for some of the most famous pop stars, said that unlike other politicians, Trump spoke off the cuff, didn’t mince words, called things by their real names, and used strong language when necessary, unconcerned about what society and the media would say about that behind his back.
I’ve also seen accusations that the strong anti-Trump movement among some Republicans is due to their desire to hold onto cushy jobs that they have under any president, Republican or Democrat.  This is unfair.  Just by reading articles by anti-Trump people I can see that they really have reasons they don’t want him in charge, some of them very convincing.
Anyway, there is a movement in the U.S. that does have fascist similarities, and that is the movement to tear away much of the Western United States, and create an Aztec nation from it.  Specifically the group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan (MEChA), wants the following:
1. Ethnic cleansing.  Miguel Perez of Cal State-Northridge’s MEChA chapter has been quoted as saying: “… Once Aztlan is established, ethnic cleansing would commence: Non-Chicanos would have to be expelled — opposition groups would be quashed because you have to keep power.”
2. A zero-sum ideology: the motto is: “For The Race everything. Outside The Race, nothing.”
3. To rectify injustice since: their rightful lands were “brutally stolen from a Mexican people marginalized and betrayed by the hostile custodians of the Manifest Destiny.”
These Mecha quotes are coming straight from the official MEChA sites at Georgetown University, the University of Texas, UCLA, University of Michigan, University of Colorado, University of Oregon, and many other colleges and universities around the country.
And they have a point.  Mexico’s originally claimed borders did reach far north, though the people of the northern areas were not Aztec.  (If you go to Arizona, you will see large lands that belong to the Navajo and others, and they are not Aztecs).  The United States did seize Mexican territories by force in the 1840’s.   But having a point does not justify this type of ideology.
My experience of being targeted over a long period by a criminal Mafia suggests that criminals are just contemptuous of “rights” as Fascists are.  In fact they reveled in removing those rights from me, a person they instinctively disliked and despised.  There was behavior on my part that merited disdain, but that is not an excuse for normal people to attack someone.  Though organized groups of criminals are thought of as non-ideological materialists and Fascists as anti-materialist nationalists, the two groups are not that different, in one respect.  If they have a goal, other people’s rights are tossed aside in the process of getting it.

MechaLogo

warflagItaly
Italian War flag: Eagle grasping “fasces” (sheaf)
NaziEagle
Emblem of German Reich