Monthly Archives: September 2016

Proverbial Wisdom of The Ken

1. Laughter is the best medicine. Although maybe for erectile dysfunction, not so much.

2. It’s always stressful introducing a new girlfriend to the family. The last time I did it, my wife lost her shit.

3. Why is Earth Day once a year and Garbage Day twice a week?

4. I wonder if my wife is sexually frustrated. And a small part of me says “Maybe she is”.

5. I used to be a mime but I got fired. I think it was something I said.

6. Whenever someone says “We need to talk” what they really means is “I need to talk to you. You need to shut up and listen.”

7. I saw a poll where they asked a thousand randomly selected American women, “Would you sleep with Bill Clinton?” Fifteen percent said, “Not again!”

8. I had a job interview the other day. The HR puke opened up with “Tell me about yourself.” I told him “I don’t think I will. This time, I actually want the job.”

9. I have a hard time taking the guys I work with seriously when they get all excited about beer after work. Beer is what I drink when I’m trying to sober up.

10. Going to the local community clinic today for a routine renewal of my Ventolin prescription. I need to bring in my paycheck to prove I qualify for charity.

11. Trust is not a transitive property. A friend of a friend of a friend is a stranger.

12. I get no respect. No respect at all. My GPS just said “In 400 feet, stop and let me out.”

13. Actual conversation at the Hechtman household: Wife: “I finally understood why you never fucked a French girl. You talk women into bed. That’s what you do. That’s why you couldn’t do it to them.” Me: “Yeah, pretty much. I mean what the fuck was I supposed to do? Put on feathers and do a mating dance?”

14. I want my remains to be scattered on my mother’s flower garden. I just don’t want to be cremated first.

15. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Jim Carville wrote a take-down book about Ken Starr. He knew he couldn’t get family-oriented chain stores like Chapters or Barnes & Noble to carry his book if he called it Fuck Ken Starr. So instead of that, he used the title And The Horse He Rode In On (1998). Obscenity is in the mind of the beholder.

16. Donald Trump has finally released his tax returns. He emailed them to Hillary Clinton.

17. I heard Justin Trudeau just opened a Chinese restaurant. You eat there and an hour later you’re hungry for absolute power.

18. Email exists to combine the worst feature of the telephone with the worst feature of print.

19. Facebook is internet porn for your social life.

20. Blogs are for people who don’t have anybody to listen to them at home.

21. I belong to no organized political party. I’m a New Democrat.

22. I was reading about a minor figure in Spanish history, the half-brother of Queen Isabella and previous king of Castile, Henry IV, also known as King Henry the Impotent. You’d think if you were a medieval king, the very least you could do would be to make people stop calling you “the impotent” in public. Otherwise, it’s not much good to be the king, is it?

23. Life in Nebraska (S01E13): I was nodding off in class tonight and the professor asks me why. I tell him I’m just tired and he says (with perfect deadpan timing and delivery), “Take meth.”

24. My mother-in-law just drove halfway across the country to celebrate her son graduating from the Air Force Academy and becoming qualified to drop napalm on women and children but she won’t let him share a motel room with his girlfriend because that would be immoral.

25. Someone at the Library of Congress has a sense of humor. The code that prefixes all versions of the Bible is BS.

26. My current bathroom reading is this cheesy sniper-porn shoot-’em-up set in Cuba in 1953. There’s one line I quite like and I’m going to steal it. After the young Fidel Castro leads the disastrous attack on the Moncada Barracks, his Comintern handler tells him “Don’t worry. Later on, you can order the historians to write it up as a glorious victory. If they refuse, you can shoot them and find new historians.”

27. I don’t believe in speaking truth to power. Power already knows the truth. It just doesn’t care.

28. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy executed a preemptive strike on a nation engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction.

29. I’m going to my grandmother’s birthday party tonight. It sucks to be her. The only thing worse than having your birthday on Christmas is having your birthday on Buy Nothing Day.

30. I’ve decided to take up bungee jumping. A broken rubber is the reason I was born. What are the chances it’ll also be the reason I die?

31. It was so cold today that the flasher hanging around the schoolyard was just describing himself.

32. Anybody who does cavity searches for a living doesn’t get to complain about their own privacy being violated.

33. If I complain about transfer speed from a third-world website, is that still a first-world problem?

34. There’s something a little bit obscene about burning five full tanks of gasoline just to put in a personal appearance at a pipeline protest. I’m still going, don’t get me wrong, but I just want to be clear that the irony isn’t lost on me. Somehow it never is.

35. A friend’s post suggested a creative new way of disciplining children. Apparently, I should gift-wrap a bunch of empty boxes and when the children misbehave or don’t listen, I should throw one in the fire. Sounds like a great idea. Can’t wait to try it with one of Wendy’s kids. Even if the little fucker manages to crawl out of the fire, he’ll never throw another tantrum again as long as he lives, tell you that much. One thing I can’t figure out though. What do I need the gift-wrapped empty boxes for?

36. How in the fuck did all these other people die this year and yet Keith Richards is still alive?

37. Consciousness is vastly overrated compared to the lack thereof.

38. Got next year’s Halloween costume already picked out. I need a big-brim hat, the male version of fuck-me boots and a light-saber. I’m going to be Darthagnan.

39. If the politicians don’t trust the people, they need to dissolve them and elect a new people.

—Ken Hechtman

Do We Have the Right to Read Elizabeth May’s Private Correspondence?

“One of the problems with social networks is that it is getting harder and harder for others to complain about you behind your back.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (2010)

greenpartyelizabeth-001Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada’s Green Party, has gotten into a nasty spat with Ricochet over the indie news outlet’s publication of some of her private correspondence with other Green Party members. I’m torn about this issue because, on the one hand, I believe that private correspondence ought to remain private, and I think it was wrong to leak those private emails; but, at one and the same time, I think it’s wrong for the leader of a federal political party to blacklist a news outlet for talking about the political implications of said leaked emails. If we criticized Trump for blacklisting The Washington Post, should we not criticize May for blacklisting Ricochet?

Petty squabbles and internecine disputes of this stamp are as old as politics. Nothing new there. What is new is how public this shit has become. Technology is, in a sense, what’s made this problem possible. All of this Green Party dirty laundry would have been hidden from view in the political culture of 19th-century Canada. Everything Elizabeth May said about Alex Tyrell would have been said to other party members in person. It could have been overheard only by someone within earshot (hence the term “eavesdropping”).

When things went to the telephone in the 20th century things got a little trickier. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s overheard a telephone conversation you wish you hadn’t overheard. Even so, if you could find a safe place to chat (and your phones weren’t being tapped), a telephone bitch-fest was usually every bit as safe as the old-fashioned face-to-face variety. But alas, all of this has changed with the advent of texting and email. Ava Gardner was horrified to discover that her billionaire boyfriend Howard Hughes was reading transcripts of all of her conversations. It’s sobering to note that we all have access to those kinds of transcripts now. There’s a record of everything now. Everything. And that presents new problems—big problems—for all of us, not just Elizabeth May. Do we have a right to eavesdrop on the personal lives of public figures?

Edward Snowden maintains that we do not. That’s why he was very careful not to leak private information and personal stuff to WikiLeaks. Although he had access to pretty much everything, he leaked only that which he deemed to be of vital importance to the public. Unlike Gawker, The National Enquirer, and, to some extent, Julian Assange, Snowden doesn’t think public figures forfeit their right to privacy when they become public figures.

Remember back in 2014, when that douchebag hacked into Katniss Everdeen’s computer, stole a bunch of naked pics of Jennifer Lawrence, and posted them on the internet? I’ll never forget her response: because it was fucking brilliant. Lawrence put the onus, not on the hacker, but on us, the anonymous masses, the good citizens of Social Media Land. She said that we had no right to invade her privacy like that, that we had no right to look at her private things. I suspect that Elizabeth May feels similarly exposed and similarly outraged. But I wonder if she has a right to be.

Ricochet‘s Ethan Cox maintains that she does not. I spoke with him about the ethics of publishing May’s emails earlier on today. Much as it pains me to admit it—because I love Elizabeth May—I found Ethan’s explanation thoroughly convincing and altogether sound: “We reported on the content of emails we judged to be in the public interest. That’s exactly what Snowden’s partners at The Guardian and The Washington Post did. There was no ‘private information’ released. We even stripped the header to avoid disclosing the email addresses. We reported on internal party communications clearly in the public interest. That’s been done by every media outlet in the country, many times in most cases, and for good reason. What’s more, these emails didn’t even belong to her. They were sent over the Green Party’s email system and are therefore party property. She had no reasonable expectation that what she emailed to a dozen people on a party list would stay private.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Déjà Vu: Why Trump vs. Clinton was Tyson vs. Holyfield All Over Again

holyfield_vs_tyson_i_posterDonald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton (September 26, 2016) was Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield (November 9, 1996) all over again. Like Tyson, Trump is a ferocious bulldog who comes out very strong, hits extremely hard, blows his wad early, and knocks people out fast. Like Holyfield, Clinton studied her opponent’s style intensively, figured out his weaknesses, and exploited them splendidly.

Trump came out fast and landed a few solid punches. But Clinton was thoroughly unintimidated. Indeed, her bemused expression and sardonic smile seemed to vacillate between: “Is that all ya got, big boy?” and “Ah, did wittle Donnie miss his nap today?”

Like Holyfield, Clinton let her explosive opponent tire himself out in the first 20 minutes of the fight; then, when his exhaustion and frustration started to show, Clinton started hammering him with counterpunches: “I call it trumped-up trickle-down” (BOOM!); “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese” (BOOM!); “I think science is real” (BOOM!).

Clinton fired off a right cross that stunned him and drove him into the ropes: “Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality” (BOOM!). She then proceeded to sting him with one hard combination after another: “at least I have a plan to fight ISIS” (BOOM!); “why won’t he release his tax returns?” (BOOM!); “maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is” (BOOM!).

When Lester Holt, the moderator, turned to the subject of race, Trump found himself thoroughly outboxed by Clinton: “He tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed, but it can’t be dismissed that easily” (BOOM!); “he has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen” (BOOM!); “there was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted, he persisted year after year” (BOOM!); “Barack Obama went high, despite Donald Trump’s best efforts to bring him down” (BOOM!).

Trump managed to land a fierce combination on Clinton’s email scandal, his best of the match, but she did not stagger, nor did she become defensive. Instead, with remarkable dignity and grace, Clinton apologized and moved on, thoroughly unfazed. At this point, Trump began throwing wild punches that made no sense whatsoever: “I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers” (WTF?).

Just when it looked like Trump might recover, Clinton threw him off his game yet again with a brilliant jab: “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq” (BOOM!); followed by an uppercut that drew blood—“just listen to what you heard” (BOOM!)—and a body blow that left him visibly winded, staggering across the ring: “a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes” (BOOM!). Clinton then chased him into the ropes and landed the coup de grâce: “he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name. . . . Her name is Alicia Machado. . . . And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet . . . she’s going to vote this November” (BOOM!).

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Helicopter Parenting and the Decline of Dad

The gendered parenting model of the 1950s had its flaws for sure, but at least there was a complementary division of labor that, like a well-rounded diet, ensured that kids got what they needed: certain kinds of love from dad, and certain kinds of love from mom. My main problem with the egalitarian model that’s replaced it is that it’s not particularly egalitarian. We haven’t divvied up the old parenting tasks equally; we’ve decided, instead, that everybody’s supposed to be “mom” and nobody’s supposed to be “dad”. The stuff that dads used to do just isn’t done now, for the most part, by anyone.

Parental discipline is a case in point. Back in the day, dad played bad cop to mom’s good cop. He was the bad guy, the disciplinarian, the heavy, and, as any parent will tell you (gay or straight), that job fucking sucks. But dads used to do it regardless because—like taking out the trash or changing the kitty litter—it had to be done; most 21st-century dads, who are too often little more than fun uncles, invariably stiff mom with the job.

This profoundly unbalanced state of affairs is, I hasten to add, largely responsible for the rise of so-called “helicopter parenting”. Helicopter parenting is, at bottom, what happens when both parents are striving to be a 1950s mom. It produces exhausted parents, neurotic children, and miserable marriages. Kids need to be given the space to make their own mistakes, manage their own relationships, manage their own time, and figure themselves out. And they need to grow up around parents who have fun with each other, parents who have friends, parents who laugh, parents who have a life—a life that doesn’t revolve entirely around them.

—John Faithful Hamer, Parenting in the Age of Studies Have Shown (2017)

Here I Stand, I Cannot Do Otherwise

“In captivity (office, gym, commute, sports), life is just repetitive stress injury.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (2010)

92821459I’ve been getting these annoying leg cramps since my late twenties. They often make it hard for me to sleep. At their worst, they make it hard for me to even think straight. I’ve tried all sorts of things to fix the problem over the years—more stretching, more exercise, less coffee, massage, yoga, chiropractors, muscle relaxants, more walking, more water, more bananas—but none of it worked.

Although the source of the cramps remained a mystery, I recently noticed that they got better whenever I was on vacation and worse whenever I was at work, which led me to conclude that the cramps must be caused by something I do a great deal of when I’m working. And what do I do a lot of when I’m working? I sit.

I sit when I’m grading assignments. I sit when I’m preparing for class. I sit through office hours. I sit on the bus and metro, for three hours a day, commuting to and from work. I sit when I’m reading. I sit when I’m writing. And I sit when I’m wasting time on Facebook. In short, I sit, sit, sit, sit, sit.

But less so lately.

I converted my work-space into a standing desk about a week and a half ago. It was awkward for a day or two, but I quickly grew accustomed to it. As for the results, well, they’ve been nothing short of miraculous. Within three days, the cramps were noticeably better. After a week, they were gone. Completely gone.

Never ceases to amaze me, how much this sedentary civilized modern life of ours deforms us, and debilitates us.

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

The Breathtaking Hypocrisy of Gary Hall’s Pirate Philosophy

41b6jium8zl-_sx336_bo1204203200_The hypocrisy of Gary Hall’s new book is nothing short of breathtaking. Pirate Philosophy (2016) is an expensive book ($54.20) that rails against the profit motive, a jargon-laden academic book that rails against the inaccessibility of academia, a poorly written book that rails against the declining quality of academic writing, and a profoundly disorganized book that rails against the scattered nature of twenty-first-century academic life.

I wanted to like this book. Really, I did. Because Hall addresses so many issues which are dear to my heart, such as: the obnoxious paywalls that increasingly prevent citizens from accessing research their tax dollars paid for; the misguided MBA logic that’s come to govern most of our universities; and the hypocrisy of “radical theorists advocating a politics of the Commons, commoning and communism, yet appearing to let little of this politics have an impact on the decisions they make (or that are made for them) regarding their own work, business, role, and practices as authors” (12). He promises to show us how to fight the neoliberal corporatization of higher education. He promises to show us how to transcend the neoliberal model of the entrepreneurial academic. And he promises to show us how philosophers and theorists can best support student protesters and the anti-austerity movement. But he fails to deliver.

At times, even he seems to be aware of how silly his book is: “I am aware that some readers may be scratching their heads at this point over the seeming contradiction evident in the fact that the argument I am presenting here is being made in yet another conventional monograph, signed with a singular author’s name, and published with a brand-name press” (98). Hall never really makes sense of these glaring inconsistencies. Instead, like a therapy junkie I dated briefly in the 1990s, he seems to believe that telling us that he’s aware of the problem—and showing us how smart and self-aware he is—is enough. Guess what, Gary? It’s not.

Dwayne Booth (aka Mr. Fish), “Can I Have a Grant?” (1991)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb once quipped: “The longest book I’ve ever read was 205 pages.” Thinking along similar lines, I shall henceforth be able to say that the longest book I’ve ever read was 159 pages. Pirate Philosophy brings to mind Nietzsche’s description of a scholarly book in The Gay Science (1887): “In a scholar’s book there is nearly always something oppressive, oppressed: the specialist emerges somehow—his eagerness, his seriousness, his ire, his overestimation of the nook in which he sits and spins, his hunchback.” Gary Hall has a rather sizable hunchback. It’s composed of abstruse prose. And it renders his radical political pretensions vaguely ridiculous—because, as Saul Alinsky puts it in Rules for Radicals (1971): “It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. You’re just not there.”

The kind of constipated scholar Nietzsche ends up celebrating in “Faced by a Scholarly Book” is a high-minded elitist with little interest in politics. He does not wish to be read by the people; he wishes to be read only by his peers. What’s more, like the philosophers Marx mocks in his Theses on Feuerbach (1888), he does not seek to change the world; he merely wishes to interpret it in various ways. Gary Hall, is, to some extent, the very opposite of this monkish denizen of the Ivory Tower. It’s obvious (indeed, at times, painfully obvious) that he desperately wants to be cool, relevant, hip, accessible, and democratic: a man of the people, an activist, a revolutionary. He wants to do more than just interpret the world; he wants to change it. But he won’t. Not with a scholarly book like this.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

Oh Becky, Becky, Forty-One

10325505_534644826647267_3331458339167818942_n41 and still kinda fun
41 and not nearly done
41 and you’ve barely begun

41 and still as dreamy as a wine-soaked nun
41 and still as deadly as a loaded handgun
41 and still as cool as a midnight sun

41 and still as hot as the N’Orleans sun
41 and still as sweet as a hot cross bun
41 and still as funny as a Friends rerun

41 and you’re O’s #1
41 and you’re mamma to a newborn son
41 and you’re wife to a son-of-a-gun

Oh Becky, Becky, forty-one
we’ve lost so much
but look what we’ve won

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

Why Pick-Up Artists Should Be Sued For False Advertising

“Roosh is tall and well-built and actually rather good-looking for, you know, a monster.”—Laurie Penny, “I’m With The Banned,” Medium (July 21, 2016)

roosh-v-pua2If you’re hot for a guy who’s an asshole, it’s not because he’s an asshole; it’s probably because he’s hot. This is precisely why Pick-Up Artists aren’t just evil and gross, they’re also guilty of false advertising.

Take, for example, the reigning king of the Pick-Up Artists: Daryush Valizadeh (Roosh V). What a profoundly delusional idiot this guy is! He actually thinks that his sociopathic “skills” are what gets him laid. Of course it’s obvious to any objective outside observer with common sense—indeed, even to hard-core feminists like Laurie Penny who loathe him—that he gets laid a lot because he’s hot. Roosh V is guilty of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to as the Green Lumber Fallacy.

As Taleb makes clear in Antifragile (2012), people who are successful at something are often blissfully unaware of why they’re successful at it. They might think they know why they’re successful, but they’re often dead wrong. He refers to this as the Green Lumber Fallacy, after the trader who made a fortune buying and selling green lumber without knowing what it was. Dude thought green lumber was actually “green” as opposed to freshly cut. Funny, I know. But what’s not funny is watching a homely computer programmer trying to apply Roosh V’s creepy techniques. They fail miserably because the techniques aren’t just morally repugnant, they aren’t effective.

What is effective? I’ve noticed three discernible trends when it comes to straight guys who get a lot of play: (1) they genuinely like women and/or (2) they’re hot and/or (3) they’re powerful, which is kinda hot. Successful Pick-Up Artists need to realize that they’re getting laid in spite of their douche-y-ness, not because of it. That being said, there’s something to the whole bad boy thing that Roosh V has got going on. Once again, however, it’s not what he thinks. After three games of pool and way too many shots of Jameson, a lesbian friend of mine once said to me: “Took me ten years to realize I didn’t wanna be with a bad boy, I wanted to be a bad boy.” I’ve suspected ever since that this is central to the bad boy’s appeal. What is the bad boy, after all, if not a person who flouts society’s rules? And who’s more oppressed by society’s rules: men or women?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

On Doing

magritteI don’t do very much.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned to forgive myself for this. Sometimes I feel I might even embrace myself as someone who abstains from doing things, but that nascent possibility is dutifully accosted by the effort it demands. Everything I see or hear, anything anyone ever tells me, is always pushing me to do the opposite of what I think I should be doing. There is no way that I will ever be able to do nothing, and yet deep down there is nothing I want more than to do nothing at all.

My obstacle is the world.

Despite any pretensions we might have as a species, life usually succeeds at getting us to admit that we, as individuals, are a part of what we call world. As a part of something which is only insofar as it is doing, or having done, or going to do, we should expect to be doing things. If we really did nothing, then we’d be nothing; and the world, being not-nothing, couldn’t include someone who is nothing.

I admit that doing nothing may sound boring at first blush, but it doesn’t necessarily involve abstaining from doing anything at all. For example, breathing ought to count as something. But breathing isn’t always particularly relevant, and neither are many other activities. I issue ‘relevant’ here not as the parcel of some cog-in-the-machine capitalist paranoia: being relevant is doing anything linking you to any agenda. If I want to be a painter and I take an art class, that’s very relevant of me.

Accepting this premise makes doing nothing seem elusive. I would go further. Doing nothing is nothing short of impossible. Achieving it for a lifetime is something I doubt even Buddhist monks could fathom. It’s challenging to make yourself irrelevant when having a self-image implies the opposite. The truth is that I have an agenda, and I’m nothing without it. But doing nothing seems like the sensible alternative to performing in the world’s newest song and dance. It’s the only show in town, and I’m nothing if not an actor.

For the intrepid, the most straightforward path to becoming approximately nothing lies in eliminating any connections you have to any sort of network of relevance. From a practical standpoint, this is hardly feasible. The first step to becoming precisely nothing would at the very least be to die, but then you wouldn’t be around to profit from it. The joy of irrelevance is in the magnanimity of nothingness. Nothingness has given everything up – it has nothing left in it.

On the other hand, reducing your overall relevance is not so difficult. The problem is that the world would rather you didn’t. Its progress depends on you, just as your standard of living depends on it. The world is progress, a mercurial network of relevance. Its brand doesn’t always make things better, it just makes things happen: it’s the value-blind impetus that keeps the news new. So it should come as no surprise to us that the world will ceaselessly present us with new things to make, do, see, hear, explore, buy, steal, and eat. But we can turn it down. Not every single time, but more often than is our custom. Our agendas don’t need to be as numerous or as grandiose as they might be right now. We probably won’t save the world. And I wonder whether the world really needs saving in the way we think it does. Maybe that’s just its underhanded way of enticing us into doing.

I’m not advocating for becoming apathetic, isolated, and lazy. Really, I’d settle for just lazy. Laziness is maligned, but it’s misunderstood. Authentically lazy people have discerned the importance of nothing. I’d be surprised if they were any happier than the most relevant among us; I’d just expect them to be more comfortable with the unhappiness sown through our common roots.

If you’re warming to the idea but you fear for your social existence, doing nothing can be a community event. Everybody already understands this, and teenagers best of all. This is why chilling is their priority. Stop doing; just chill.

My friends and I used to spend our chill time devising ways to cheat the rules condemning us to nothing. I believed then that gaining more freedom would make me happier. Instead, confusion and bewilderment are increasingly present facts of my freer life. Happiness is ever more oblique, a treacly little paradox. For a while I thought that this might be a sign of depression, but then I sobered from my drunken scientism. The more I do, the more unsatisfied I become – but I still want to do, always and presumably forever.

I guess I just realized that doing things takes from me. It never fills me up the way I expect it to.

I used to dream of travelling the world. I wanted it to saturate my essence. Now that I’m older, all I want is to do nothing in as many places as I can. I have no desire to skydive or to see every Rembrandt. I feel like I should want to do these things because people keep telling me that they are amazing, but I remain nonplussed. I drift to desolate places instead: deserts and large open seas, mountains and forests. The fewer the things there are to do, the better. ­­

I don’t want to be relevant in the Swiss Alps. I want to recline into their enormous irrelevance. I want their still-water lakes to reflect my own irrelevance, because beneath it all I have always suspected that I am irrelevant and I am beginning to accept this suspicion as truth. By irrelevant I don’t mean worthless or useless. I mean it literally. I might get myself caught up in all sorts of networks of relevance, just like everyone else does and has to. But relevant is not what I am deep down. Deep down I am nothing. And so I like to do nothing as much as possible.

—Phil Lagogiannis

Perfect Justice; or, Why Political Arguments Never Convince Anybody

Shit Aaron SaysPut a libertarian and non-libertarian in a room and you get an argument, always the same argument. It might be over whether people who got cancer from industrial emissions would be able to collect fifty years hence. Or whether houses would collapse in earthquakes without building codes. Or whether without animal cruelty laws the evil neighbors would buy up puppies and kittens and torture them without fear of reprisal. Only the details vary.

Thomas Sowell wrote a book on this subject, A Conflict of Visions, in which he claimed that the fundamental divide is between those who believe in the perfectibility of human nature and those who do not. In fact it is less momentous: it’s between those who believe in the perfectibility of the state and those who do not. Some people think that the state can mete out perfect justice, some don’t. Libertarianism fails, in the eyes of the first group, if any evil goes unpunished. Now no one believes that the state can mete out justice in every case. But a lot of people, indeed a substantial majority, believe that, for every case, a theoretical mechanism for redress or punishment ought to exist. They readily concede that in practice eggs must be broken to make omelets. Mistakes are made. But if the mechanism exists, conscience is assuaged, and that is enough.

Good law sometimes produces unjust outcomes; a famous maxim expresses this, conversely, as “hard cases make bad law.” In Waube v. Warrington, a classic torts case from 1935, a woman watched a negligent driver strike and kill her daughter. The woman died a month later, allegedly of shock, and her husband sued. Maybe it was shock, maybe it wasn’t, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court never reached the question. It dismissed the suit on the grounds that damages for mental distress require physical contact, and there was none in this case. If the woman really did die of shock, then the outcome was unjust. Yet the law was sound, based on a bright-line, predictable, common-sense standard. Like any such standard, it does not fit every case. Too bad. Law is collective, justice individual. You can swallow this or you can’t.

Buildings collapse sometimes in earthquakes and kill a lot of people. This happens more often in poor countries than rich ones because taking precautions against a rare catastrophe is a luxury, and rich people can afford more luxuries than poor people. It will continue to happen more often in poor countries, no matter how stringent their building codes, because builders will circumvent regulations that they cannot afford. If the codes are rigidly enforced then fewer houses will be built, and people who formerly lived in shoddy houses will do without instead. You can swallow this or you can’t.

The trouble with animal cruelty laws is that animals are property, and such laws infringe property rights. You can tack on riders like “needless” all you like, but infringement is infringement, and when the only question is how much, the laws become a way to harass people in the animal business. (So far the animal rightists have mostly trained their fire on unpopular targets like foie-gras producers and circus trainers; scientists, assuredly, are next.) Of course without the laws Cruella de Vil can sew herself a nice coat out of Dalmatian puppy hides and there isn’t a damn thing the cops can do about it. You can swallow this or you can’t.

Team Perfect and Team Good Enough can argue to eternity and never get anywhere. And apparently they shall.

—Aaron Haspel