The Lost Country

I was born to the nobility, which is to say I was born an American Citizen. When we had our revolution there were two ways to go. We could demote everyone to the peasantry under the kingship of an all powerful state in the manner of Hobbes’ leviathan. Or we could promote everyone to the status of an English peer. The Magna Charta and the English Bill of Rights had not applied to everyone, but our rights did.

When I was born, I could speak my mind freely. [ After a few months.] I could say any dang foolish thing that popped into my head. The government could do nothing. Other people could, but that was their right. If I walked down to the corner to say foolish things about the government I would be thought odd. The police would just make sure I wasn’t blocking anyone’s way. If I was convinced of the strangest religion – and from the outside many are peculiar – all I risked was social opprobrium. This directly contradicted the national system set up by the Peace of Westphalia. We didn’t care. In sixth grade the Gideons gave me a copy of the New Testament. I was free to accept it, cherish it, refuse it, or burn it. As it stands, It is thirty feet from me as I write this. If I, as an adult, slapped a holstered pistol to my hip and walked downtown, I was free to do so. Admittedly people would wonder why I would do so in such a peaceful place. If the police thought I was doing something wrong they had to convince a jury. If they didn’t it was over. Period.

Such freedom is a thing of the past. I have seen people stopped and searched without probable cause. Often times as a way of intimidating them. At a traffic stop I once asked a policeman why he needed my employers name and address and had a pistol drawn on me. The officer said I was obstructing justice. I’ve seen public officials commit perjury with impunity. We allow the federal government to stop us and search us with neither warrant nor probable cause in direct violation of the Bill of Rights. And make us wait in line for the pleasure. If one is carrying more money than the searchers like, they can arrest and seize the money. You must prove your innocence to get it back. Civil forfeiture is a bit more complicated in theory. But not in practice.

Americans are allowed to have weapons. Throughout most of history the difference between the free and the slave is that the free can possess weapons, travel freely, and pass his possessions on to his children or others. In fact for much of history a free man was defined as one who could carry weapons. The Saxons and the Franks were named after theirs. In fact weapons were less for fighting than for claiming a legal status. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Perhaps the most egregious recent phenomenon is the ‘Free Speech Zone.’ As though one’s inalienable right is only to be practiced inside painted lines.

We have too many rules. They are enforced in a brutally mechanical way.

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Lies By Which We Live

I was living in Boston when a marvelous woman of German extraction told me that all Irish were descended from Brian Boru. Liz probably thought me befuddled when she told me this palpable lie. That even non-Irish in Boston believed this showed the power of this belief. The Gaelic speakers weren’t even the original inhabitants of Ireland. In Roman times the Scoti were in Ireland. The first, and for a long time only, city in Ireland was founded by the Norwegians. Such very Irish names as Fitzgerald are Norman-French. I refrain from further exposition.

Of course this is not just a lie. This is a very useful lie. This is ethnogenesis. In such ways are nations born. Groups are adopted into an extended family. Their languages merge. They adopt similar traditions and mores. And they adopt the belief that as kin they have an obligation and privilege to help one another. The adoption also allows a people to trust their neighbors. It is reckless and foolish to trust a stranger. But it is usual and normal to trust kin. Or rather if kin can’t be trusted they expel themselves from the family. And no culture or civilization can be built without mutual trust. We have special words and emotions for untrustworthy kin: Betrayal. Treason. At the foundation of Rome nobody was related, but they joined together in an unbreakable bond. This was the Fasces. Etruscans, Sabines, Samnites, Latins, after a few centuries they believed they were Roman.

Consider that nation, naturalization, native, and naïve all refer to birth. A nation adopts strangers in by naturalization as though they were native born natural citizens. Maybe I am acting ignorantly as though I were just born yesterday – naïve.

Many nations are still kin groups. Ask the Koreans in Japan how many generations it will take to be Japanese. America is different. Or was. We once recognized as kin those who adopted our ways and our civic philosophy. Now we seem to treat anyone standing here as citizens. And citizens are no longer kin.

Nationhood has several requirements: Citizens must speak a common language. There can be no supreme law if the translations are in contention. [ Lawyers believe in translations. Translators know better.] A peaceful society requires people be able to talk out their problems. Citizens have to put each other above strangers. I hear nobody speak of this, but I find the recent phenomenon of elected officials with dual citizenship in foreign governments disturbing. On has to decide where one stands. Doubly so for those who claim to lead us. I doubt we will go to war with Canada or Austria, but a ship’s captain with one foot in a life raft does not inspire. We can not have large groups who put themselves above their fellow citizens. If, say, architects are ten percent of the population and put themselves above their fellow citizens in esteem, then one has a foreign nation in one’s midst. On does not trust those who condescend or demean.

I am thinking about these things because ethnogeneses are changing. They have been for a while, but it is accelerating. For half a millennium Spain has forged a unified Identity. Now Catalonia is trying to break away. Catalan literature is being revived. I was in High School when Tirant Lo Blanc was remembered and revived. To stick their thumb in the eye of Spain they have even outlawed bull-fighting. It does not seem that the Catalans care so much for the bulls as they care so little for Spain.

Ireland mostly broke away from the United Kingdom in the 1920’s. In the coming decades it may become the Separated Kingdoms. [ A favorite joke: Why do the Irish and the Brits hate each other so much? They have to – No one else can tell them apart.]

The former Soviet Union didn’t last long enough to form an identity. But they were certainly trying. Czechoslovakia had an eminently peaceful divorce. Yugoslavia less so.

In Europe these useful lies are failing. In America one is forming. Under the rubric of ‘Native American’ groups are forming an identity. Tribes that a century and a half ago were killing each other and raiding each other for slaves are now professing brotherhood. Absaroka, Cree, Lakota, Huron. People no more related than Faroese and Farsi are declaring identity with each other. It may be just a nice counterpoint to Europe. But it is educational and enlightening. And it may be the new nation.

Two Conspiracies

Two Conspiracy Theories

I’ve come across two rumors that tickle my sense of the future.

I am told that people in Greece are hoarding Euros in the form of coins. Seigniorage assures that all who hold coins will be cheated. But the scrap metal value of the coins means that they won’t be cheated entirely. If the Euro collapses they have value far above scrap paper. If the Euro doesn’t collapse those who have coins still have a liquid asset. If the banks close and steal forty per cent of their money as happened in the US and Crete, well, they have a much finer deal than those who trust banks. As for security. It is much harder to steal a thousand Euro coins than a single piece of paper printed 1000 Euros. Now what are the coin hoarders losing? Interest income? Not in this market. The Security of a bank? They are gaining privacy and independence. It doesn’t seem like the best choice. Neither does it seem like the worst. And I am not there.

Here in the USA there is an interesting phenomenon: Private drones. Small inexpensive helicopters and aircraft that can carry a few pounds and are either flown by software or radio controlled via onboard cameras and sensors. We are primarily concerned about government surveillance. They may have a range of forty miles. What I hear are rumors of small almost undetectable craft hopping over borders carrying a few pounds of white powder or government printed paper. Even heavily militarized borders are not generally forty miles deep. The borders north and south of the US are barely able to stop tourists. They are manifestly unable to stop amateur criminals. Even if the drones are stopped, they are not easily linked to either end of the flight. So the drones merely lower the risk and cost of smuggling. To negligible levels. It would be educational to see the US government try to stop a fixed-wing drone at fifteen feet flying forty miles across any border or off the coasts. This will change things.