There Once Was a Society That Swallowed a Horse. It’s Sick of Course.
In one episode of The Simpsons, an invasive species of lizard is introduced into Springfield. By the end of the episode, the lizards are embraced by the city government, because they eat the hated local pigeons. This leads to the following exchange between Principal Skinner and Lisa Simpson:
Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
But isn’t that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we’re overrun by lizards?
No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the lizards.
But aren’t the snakes even worse?
Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
But then we’re stuck with gorillas!
No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.
This is reminiscent of the nursery rhyme about the old lady who first swallowed a fly, and then a series of creatures of escalating size—each creature swallowed in order to catch the previous creature— until she died.
Toward the Total Planning State
It is also a nice illustration of Ludwig von Mises’s insight concerning the compounding tendency that all government interventions into the market have, and which makes for a vicious spiral toward socialism. In Human Action, Mises wrote:
All varieties of interference with the market phenomena not only fail to achieve the ends aimed at by their authors and supporters, but bring about a state of affairs which—from the point of view of their authors’ and advocates’ valuations—is less desirable than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter. If one wants to correct their manifest unsuitableness and preposterousness by supplementing the first acts of intervention with more and more of such acts, one must go farther and farther until the market economy has been entirely destroyed and socialism has been substituted for it.
In a brilliant bit of economic reasoning in his classic essay “Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism,” Mises showed how even such a seemingly-minor intervention as a price ceiling on milk would inevitably lead to full-blown socialism, if the government pursued it to the bitter end, and if it undertook further interventions to try to deal with all of its negative consequences, as well as the negative consequences of those and all subsequent interventions. Thus, Mises called interventionism “a method for the realization of socialism by installments;” or, as we would say, “socialism on an installment plan.”
However, this vicious cycle is not only to be seen with economic interventions. It is to be seen with any violation of property rights, including the right of self-ownership. This is because the libertarian property order is the ideal pattern of resource control for allies in the eternal war on scarcity. Any violation of this order necessarily leads to breakdowns in the civilizing division of labor, incompatible pursuits, and escalating, irreconcilable conflicts.
And in real life, there generally is no “beautiful part”: no masterstroke, final intervention, free of harmful side effects, like Skinner’s gorillas simply freezing to death. In real life, the situation is more analogous to the cane toads which were introduced into Queensland to control the beetle grub population, but which showed no appetite for beetle grubs, and ended up overrunning much of Australia. The only way to slow or stop the vicious cycle of interventionism is to slow or stop the interventions.
Toward the Total Nanny State
One unbearably horrible example of this vicious cycle concerns vehicular child safety. In the 80s and 90s the U.S. Federal government began pushing the installation of airbags, eventually mandating dual front airbags in all new cars. Such airbags proved to be fatally unsafe for young children, killing over one-hundred through the 90s. To deal with the fatal consequences of this intervention, state governments began recommending, and again eventually mandating, that children and their safety seats be placed in the back seat. This further intervention resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of tragedies in which harried parents forgot their out-of-sight little ones in the car on a hot day, leaving them to swelter to death in agony.
This phenomenon has received a great deal of attention in recent days, because of the onset of summer, and because of a recent heart-rending article in The Washington Post.
“Death by hyperthermia” is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just… forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall. The season is almost upon us.
Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?
The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.
And last year, it happened to 43 children total.
A large part of the blame for these unspeakably horrible, torturous deaths of precious little babies must be laid at the feet of the goddamned nanny state technocrats and regulators who pushed them out of sight into the back seat in the first place.
Individuals who bear the burdens of decisions concerning their families, persons, and property, are the best ones to seek expert advice and ultimately make those decisions; anything else involves moral hazard. If a parent wants to buy a car without passenger-side airbags, and thereby accept somewhat greater risk of injury to periodic adult passengers, in order to greatly reduce risk for their tiny ones(especially the risk of one the most terrible things imaginable happening to them), that should be the individual parent’s decision and responsibility. But for the social engineers who staff the State, such vital preferences don’t matter; perhaps all that matters to many of them in this case is that taxpaying adult workers have reduced injury rates, and to hell (for their final minutes, almost literally) with little children.
Of course the spiral of interventions doesn’t stop there. Now, in response to this phenomenon, parents who pop into the store for a minute, on a cool day, in a safe area, are being threatened with the permanent government abduction of their child. See, for example, the case of Kim Brooks, who recently in Salon.com movingly told the story of her ordeal with police, the courts, and social services after her son’s otherwise completely uneventful 5-minute wait, which was probably statistically less dangerous than having him walk with her through the busy parking lot, was video recorded and reported to the cops by a busybody passerby. Brooks recounted the long-term trauma that the ordeal inflicted on her little boy:
At the time of the incident, he never mentioned what had happened, and I assumed that he was unaware, that the best thing would be not to bring it up. But, of course, kids are astute observers and somewhere along the line, he figured it out.
I got out of the car one day to feed the parking meter next to the driver side window. “Don’t, Mommy. Don’t. The police will come.” I went to let the dog into our front yard while he was watching his morning cartoon. “Mommy, no!!! The police.”
One afternoon after his swim lesson, he came out of the bathroom and for a second didn’t see me — I’d kneeled down to get his shoes from their cubby. When I looked up he was crying. “Mommy, mommy, I thought someone was going to steal me.”
If the State were to pursue its airbag mandate to the bitter end, and attempted interventions to try to deal with all of its negative consequences, as well as the negative consequences of those and all subsequent interventions, it would ultimately result in the Total Nanny State, with totally-cottonballed—yet still sick and endangered—and essentially nationalized children; just as doing the same with a price ceiling for milk would result in the Total Economic Planning State (socialism).
To construct an abridged and exaggerated scenario for the purpose of illustration: what if the State mandated psychotropic drugs for the traumatized little boy? But of course the pills will have side effects. What if the boy becomes a school shooter? Civilian disarmament it is then; the exigencies simply dictate it.
Toward the Total Garrison State
In foreign policy, the negative consequences resulting from violating the property rights (including self-ownership rights) of foreigners are commonly referred to as “blowback.” One of Ron Paul’s greatest accomplishments was to teach millions of Americans about the concept of blowback in a momentous exchange with Rudolph Giuliani, “the mayor of 9/11," on May 15, 2007 during the debates for the 2008 presidential election.
As Paul explained to Giuliani and the world, terrorist attacks like the ones perpetrated by Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, were blowback from our interventionist foreign policy of murder, meddling, and mayhem in the Middle East. This, of course, was never meant to excuse or justify the evil criminality of these attacks. It was only to warn and to explain why, when you victimize a whole people, you shouldn’t be surprised when some of the people become so radicalized as to become criminal victimizers in response.
Not only was terrorism “retaliatory” blowback, but it was also blowback in the sense of “chickens coming home to roost,” since both Bin Laden and his Talbian hosts had earned their spurs in the U.S.-sponsored Soviet war in Afghanistan, and Bin Laden may have even received U.S. funding and CIA training.
Unfortunately, although the message sank in for thousands of latenly-libertarian Americans, the Washington establishment was completely impervious to it, and stubbornly continued its post-9/11 doubling-down on the very interventionism that brought about 9/11 in the first place. The result, as Ron Paul predicted, has been a blowback bonanza.
Before the Iraq War, notwithstanding war party lies to the contrary, there was virtually no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq. But through its murderous invasion, its brutal occupation, its alienation of the Sunni population through “deBaathification,” and its alliance with the Shi’ites in a bloody civil war, the U.S. stirred up a Sunni insurgency in which a radicalized “Al Qaeda in Iraq” (AQI) was able to bud and grow from virtually nothing.
Then, in 2011, the regional destabalization caused by the war triggered an “Arab Spring:” a wave of largely Islamist rebellions against secular dictators, including against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The U.S. and AQI took advantage of this by both siding with the rebellion. U.S. officials knew that some of the rebels they were providing support to were radical jihadists allied with AQI, yet they continued supporting them anyway. Even though the U.S. government used to hire Assad to hunt and torture Islamists, the secular dictator was now out of favor. So the U.S. was willing to foment a civil war in which over 232,000 people have died, and support the very movement of radical Islamists who actually intend to attack us, in order to try to overthrow a regime which has never, and could never, threaten us. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry even unsuccessfully pushed to help the opposition with air strikes against Assad, thereby serving in a role that Dennis Kucinich aptly derided as “Al Qaeda’s air force.”
AQI, now called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) thrived in the U.S.-fomented war, acquiring territory, recruits, battle experience, and U.S. weaponry. Thus strengthened, ISIS has since returned to Iraq and, in one of the most spectacular instances of blowback in history, conquered the cities of the west, almost up to the gates of Baghdad. The “Caliphate,” a mythical place that formerly only existed in the fevered dreams of marginalized Salafist kooks, and in the paranoid rants of right-wing talk show hosts, became, to some degree, a real contiguous incipient terror state, bestriding Syria and Iraq.
So now, the U.S., in addition to continuing to support the hated Shi’ite government’s attempt to lord it over Sunnis, is considering launching airstrikes in Sunni areas, which, by killing innocents and destroying desperately-needed resources, would only radicalize the insurgency, and the population in general, even further, and tighten the grip of ISIS on leadership of those areas.
Blowback is like Aesop’s Fable of Heracles and Eris, the goddess of strife.
“Herakles was making his way through a narrow pass. He saw something that looked like an apple lying on the ground and he tried to smash it with his club. After having been struck by the club, the thing swelled up to twice its size. Herakles struck it again with his club, even harder than before, and the thing then expanded to such a size that it blocked Herakles’s way. Herakles let go of his club and stood there, amazed. Athena saw him and said, ‘O Herakles, don’t be so surprised! This thing that has brought about your confusion is Aporia (Contentiousness) and Eris (Strife). If you just leave it alone, it stays small; but if you decide to fight it, then it swells from its small size and grows large.’
As it was with trying to smash Eris’s apple, so it has been with monkeywrenching and sledgehammering an entire region of the world with arbitrary interference and collective punishment (Michael Ledeen’s “deserved cauldronization,” Fareed Zakaria’s “stirring of the pot,” and Thomas Friedman’s “big stick/suck on this” foreign policy) in response to the acts of a handful of blowback-embodying terrorists.
For 11 years, the U.S. government has been running from fire to fire in the Muslim world with gasoline nozzle. And has all this blowback chasing-and-triggering made the American people any safer? Quite the opposite. Before the Iraq War, there were only a few dozen Bin Ladenite jihadists in the world, and basically zero in Iraq itself. Now, there are thousands overrunning Iraq and Syria, rich in subjects, land, oil, and gold, and armed to the teeth with stinger missiles, Humvees, and other U.S. kit. The Bush administration, the neocons, the Israel lobby, and the establishment media concocted an imaginary threat in Iraq to sell their war, and then through that war, made the imaginary real.
And the problem is in no way limited to Iraq. U.S. foreign policy is breeding new terrorists and creating sympathy with existing terrorists throughout the Muslim world. Just try to imagine being a Pakistani or a Yemeni living under the regular buzz of overhead drones, and then having your son blown to pieces while gathering wood or at a wedding party, your pregnant sister shot in the head in a JSOC raid, or your brother tortured to death in a secret prison. Americans who love to indulge in revenge-porn action films would have very little difficulty understanding the rage that such atrocities can engender, if they weren’t so good at dehumanizing people with “weird clothes” and “funny names.”
Blowback from a handful of terrorists was enough to induce Americans to take a great leap forward toward the Garrison State, relinquishing many liberties at home and acquiescing to multiple wars abroad. Now, that there are, thanks to U.S. foreign policy, so many more terrorists running around with far greater resources, think of all the further security state and warfare state interventions that may be undertaken to counterproductively “deal” with that greater threat, especially after the next time it becomes more than just a threat. And then think of the terrorist blowback from that, and from still further interventions.
If the State were to pursue the Iraq War to the bitter end, and attempted interventions to try to deal with all of its blowback, as well as the blowback of those and all subsequent interventions, it would ultimately result in the Total Garrison State, just as doing the same with a price ceiling for milk would result in the Total Economic Planning State (socialism), and doing the same with the airbag mandate would result in the Total Nanny State.
The philosophy of interventionism applied to any area of human affairs makes for a downward spiral, whose ultimate logical end is the Total State. And that is because the State, as Robert LeFevre once said, “is a disease masquerading as its own cure.” Thus, to end, as we began, with a Simpsons reference, the State deserves a paraphrase of a salutation given by Homer Simpson to alcohol.
“To the State, the cause of, and ‘solution’ to, all of life’s problems.”