Hungary 1956

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Some years ago, at a used-book store, I found a book that got my immediate attention. It was Cry Hungary! Uprising 1956, a pictorial history of the Hungarian Revolution, and included a day-by-day summary of events. The pictures showed the death and detritus of battle along with closeups of the Freedom Fighters, often young men and women shouldering weapons, some grim, some smiling. There were pictures showing clusters of citizens riding the streets of Budapest on captured tanks they had decorated with fall flowers or painted with the Arms of Kossuth. And yes, there were pictures of AVO men, the hated Hungarian secret police, being shot down in the street, or hanging from trees.

The book’s author was British writer Reg Gadney. Its publication date in 1986 was the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. This past October 23 was the 60th anniversary of the first shooting and killing. I was a junior in college when it all began. While I was absorbing chemistry and English letters, Hungarians my age were setting Soviet tanks afire and shooting their escaping crews. And while thus engaged, many of the rebels died.

The image of one young girl, Erika Szelez, became a symbol of the Revolution. Her picture has often accompanied articles and books on the uprising: a 15-year-old girl carrying a submachine gun with its straps across her shoulders. Alas, her story is a sad one. The picture was first published on the cover of a Danish magazine, Billet Bladet, on November 13, 1956. By that time Erika was already dead, shot five days earlier on a Budapest street by a Russian soldier.

While I was absorbing chemistry and English letters, Hungarians my age were setting Soviet tanks afire and shooting their escaping crews.

The events leading up to the Revolution, and the characters involved, all read like Tolstoy inventions. The key event was the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary in 1945. Russian soldiers raped and looted their way across the country, making enemies instead of friends. Under the Horthy Regency, Hungary had allied itself with Germany. It did so not so much from shared convictions as from a desire to recover territories lost in the previous world war. Stalin’s chosen leader for Hungary was Matayas Rakosi, who proceeded to move Hungary step by step toward a Stalinist dictatorship, a regime of murder and exceptional cruelty. Under Rakosi, collectivization of agriculture and attempts at industrialization impoverished the broad citizenry. Hungarian uranium went exclusively to the Soviet Union. Added to this, the Soviets had taken Hungary’s industrial machinery and part of its precious-metal reserves as spoils of war.

Rakosi, “Stalin’s best pupil,” hardened by 15 years in Horthy jails, mimicked his master’s purges. Party members were tortured to gain bogus confessions and then put on trial, where the confessions were repeated for the edification of the masses. Then the offenders were punished with imprisonment or hanging. One of the victims of the purges was Laszlo Rajk, whose elegance, perhaps, Rakosi found annoying. Rajk himself was a devoted Stalinist, who claimed the Soviet Union as his cynosure. He was, in fact, hoist with his own petard, having set up the very agency that accomplished his arrest and torture. On October 15, 1949, he was hanged for his imagined sins — being a “Titoist spy” and an “agent of Western imperialism.” Another victim of the Rakosi terror was man-of-destiny Janos Kadar, who, ironically, had cosigned Rajk’s execution order. Kadar spent two years in prison, where he endured torture, reportedly involving his genitals.

But in February 1953, Joseph Stalin died. Nikita Khrushchev came to power, and with him came the first hints of de-Stalinization. Rakosi was summoned to Moscow and informed that Imre Nagy was to serve as Prime Minister. Rakosi was to remain as First Secretary of the Communist Party. Nagy had experienced battle in the Hungarian armies, a conversion to Communism, further military service with the Red Army in the Russian Civil War, and imprisonment in the Horthy era. Victor Sebestyen’s useful book, Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, describes Nagy as a loyal Communist and Party man, having survived for 15 years in the Soviet Union. And yet, avuncular, food-and-football-loving Nagy hadn’t reached the level of cruelty shown by fellow “Muscovite” Rakosi. Perhaps this was why he fell out of favor in Moscow and why, in 1955, Rakosi seized power once again, installing his own man, Andras Hegedus, as Prime Minister. But the Stalinist Rakosi couldn’t throttle Hungary or Hungarians as he had once done — especially after a famous Khrushchev speech.

By that time Erika was already dead, shot five days earlier on a Budapest street by a Russian soldier.

On February 26, 1956, Nikita Khruschev gave a six-hour speech before the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. In it, he denounced Stalin and his “Cult of Personality” and detailed his enormities. The speech was given in secret, but its contents became widely known and sent an unintended signal to the Soviet-satellite nations. Rakosi was suddenly given to speeches denouncing the “Cult of Personality” — one more irony in the Communist world of kaleidoscopic truth.

Students and intellectuals were showing greater freedom in expressing their discontents. Soviet Ambassador Yuri Andropov informed the Kremlin of “destabilizing influences” among the Hungarian populace. One such influence was the Petofi Circle, a group of students and intellectuals who discussed and debated such issues as “Socialist Realism” (a state-sponsored art style) and the theft of Hungary’s uranium deposits. Particularly significant was the speech given before the group by Julia Rajk, the widow of Lazlo Rajk.

October 6 is an important date in Hungarian history. On that day in 1849, the 13 generals who had led the Revolution of 1848 were hanged by the Austrian Empire. And on that day in 1956, the remains of Laszlo Rajk were reinterred in Budapest. Julia Rajk, Imre Nagy, and perhaps 100,000 other Hungarian citizens witnessed the ceremony. The late Rajk, a dogmatic Stalinist, had become a symbolic victim of Stalinist lies and brutality.

Nagy hadn’t reached the level of cruelty shown by fellow “Muscovite” Rakosi. Perhaps this was why he fell out of favor in Moscow.

At last, Budapest’s militant students met and agreed on a list of 16 demands. They hoped to get radio time to publicize them, but chose instead to publish them as pamphlets and post them all over town. The list included demands for the removal of Soviet troops, foreign insignias, and Stalin’s statue, and for free elections, free speech, a better run economy, and international marketing of Hungarian uranium. And there was one truly fateful demand — the restoration to power of Imre Nagy.

Thus, on the morning of October 23, 1956, the student demands were everywhere and easily read by the public. That afternoon, crowds gathered for demonstrations preplanned by those same dissident students. Perhaps 200,000 people eventually joined in a procession that marched to the statue of poet Sandor Petofi. There, they heard a reading of his famous call to arms, written in 1848. The Gadney book provides this translation:

Magyars, rise, your country calls you!
Meet this hour, whate’er befalls you!
Shall we free men be, or slaves?
Choose the lot your spirit craves!

Then the crowds marched to the statue of Josef Bem, a Polish general who fought for Hungary in the Revolution of 1848. Someone placed a Hungarian flag — the tricolor, without any Communist emblem — in the arms of the statue.

Pictures of the demonstration show participants smiling, apparently in a festive mood. The march across the Margaret Bridge involved a huge procession, though ahead of it was a small advance guard carrying rifles. Later, at the Parliament Building, Imre Nagy was brought in to address the demonstrators. On his way, Nagy reportedly noticed a Hungarian flag with a donut-like hole in the center — the superimposed Soviet red star had been cut out. By that time, many Hungarian flags bore a similar vacuity. Nagy’s words to the crowd have escaped preservation, but it’s known that he asked them to sing the national anthem.

Someone placed a Hungarian flag — the tricolor, without any Communist emblem — in the arms of the statue.

Erno Gero, the reptilian Stalinist who replaced Rakosi as Party First Secretary, had made an earlier radio broadcast that merely compounded the hatred people felt for him. Part of the crowd ended up at the radio station. They demanded a microphone, and when it was refused, some of them tried to break into the building. The AVO members defending the building threw tear gas and finally opened fire, wounding and killing some among the crowd. The unarmed demonstrators quickly acquired weapons, perhaps from local policemen or Hungarian soldiers, many of whom were in sympathy with the protesting crowd. More weapons arrived, brought by workers from Csepel, the industrial district. The armed demonstrators, now blooded Freedom Fighters, occupied the Radio Building, hunted down the sequestered AVO men, and shot them.

That same evening, another group arrived at the huge bronze statue of Joseph Stalin, intent on removing it. Obtaining metal-cutting equipment, they brought the statue down and carved it up for souvenirs. Only the boots remained, affixed to the marble plinth. Someone stood a Hungarian flag in one of them.

At midnight or soon thereafter, Imre Nagy learned that he was, once again, the Hungarian Prime Minister. By that time there was fighting in the streets. Soviet armor arrived in the very early morning of October 24. In his memoirs, A.I. Malashenko, then a colonel and acting Soviet Special Corps Chief of Staff, wrote that his formations were greeted with “stones and bullets.” Although Nagy eventually became a hero of the Revolution, his early statements urging a ceasefire weren’t in keeping with the mood of many Hungarians. Indeed, pictures show Freedom Fighters pulling a red star off one building, removing a portrait of Lenin from another, and, most startling of all, summarily shooting members of the AVO or jeering at their hanging corpses or those of their paid informants. Peter Fryer, a reporter for the British Daily Worker and himself a Communist, described “scores of Secret Police hung by their feet from trees” in Budapest. He tells of people spitting or stubbing their cigarettes on the bodies.

The unarmed demonstrators quickly acquired weapons, perhaps from local policemen or Hungarian soldiers, many of whom were in sympathy with the protesting crowd.

Other pictures show streets torn up and trolley cars capsized, their tracks pulled from the ground, to impede Soviet armor. Seen more than once is Pal Maleter’s tank, a T-34 stuck in the door of the Kilian Barracks. Maleter was a tragic hero of the Revolution. A colonel in the Hungarian Army, once decorated by the Soviets, he was in command at the barracks when, encountering the Freedom Fighters, he decided to join them rather than fight them. He later became a general and the Defense Minister in the Nagy government. On the night of November 3, while attending sham negotiations with the Soviets, he was arrested by the KGB head, General Ivan Serov, accompanied by the Soviet police. Maleter was later tried and, like Imre Nagy, executed by the new, Soviet-endorsed government.

There were two more mass shootings of unarmed demonstrators. One occurred at the Parliament Building on October 25. It began with the AVO opening fire, apparently responding to insults from the crowd. Soviet armor joined in with its firepower. The other shooting happened in Magyarovar, a small town in northwestern Hungary, close to both the Austrian and the Czech borders. A demonstrating crowd — men, women, and children — arrived at the AVO headquarters. The AVO was ready with grenades and machine guns and used both on the crowd, killing a reported 82 people and wounding and maiming many more. Peter Fryer described the aftermath at the town’s cemetery: the bodies in rows, including women, a young boy, and an infant. The surviving demonstrators obtained weapons, found some of the AVO men, and killed them.

Considering the eight-year ordeal of the Hungarian people, it’s tempting for a Westerner to ask why they endured tyranny for so long. One reason is that during those years Hungary was an efficient police state. A secret army of paid AVO informants lived and worked as ordinary citizens. Any attempt to communicate dissatisfactions or to plan a rebellious act or organize a dissident group could easily come to the attention of the secret police. Even those marginally associated with suspicious words or deeds could face arrest, exile, jail without trial, or even torture and execution. As Lenin maintained, individual rights are incompatible with equality, and equality was his ultimate value.

Added to the police-state terror was the authoritarian tradition of Hungary and Eastern Europe. Before the Soviets seized Hungary, the country was ruled by the Horthy Regency, and Admiral Miklos Horthy maintained his own oppressive system — referred to as the White Terror. Perhaps a tradition of overbearing government blinded Hungarians to the importance of individual freedom, and its logical companion, free-market capitalism. Indeed, the Freedom Fighters maintained their loyalty to socialism. The heroic Pal Maleter could be arrogant in its defense.

Even those marginally associated with suspicious words or deeds could face arrest, exile, jail without trial, or even torture and execution.

Still, from October 29 to November 4 the Freedom Fighters believed they had won their battle, they had achieved their immediate ends. An agreed-upon Soviet withdrawal had begun on the 29th. Tanks and trucks were leaving Budapest with dead Soviet soldiers upon them. In a radio broadcast Imre Nagy proclaimed, “Long live free, democratic, and independent Hungary.” There were more shootings and lynchings of AVO men.

But then, the Soviet withdrawal began to slow. As early as the night of October 30, Nagy realized that the Soviet forces were returning. It’s likely that Pal Maleter was the first to so inform him.

Khrushchev had changed his mind — a free, democratic, and independent Hungary meant its possible Westernization and a capitalist country on the doorstep of the Soviet Union. The Revolution had to be crushed. Nagy and his associates faced a crisis reborn, though the smooth-talking Ambassador Yuri Andropov, later General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, continued to reassure them that the withdrawal would proceed. And yet, on the night of November 1, 1956, Janos Kadar, a member of the ruling Committee, fled the scene, after pledging to fight Russian armor with his bare hands and broadcasting his support for the Nagy government. His statements were a smokescreen, behind which he vanished, ending up in the Soviet Union with two fellow defectors. One of them was Ferenc Munnich, who would eventually join Kadar as his deputy in the new Soviet-approved government. Victor Sebestyen described Kadar’s reluctant climb into that final Soviet automobile, goaded by Munnich — and perhaps by the thought that if he stayed, he was a dead man.

Malashenko described meeting Kadar at the Tokol Airport and providing him with quarters there. When Kadar finally enplaned and flew away, it was with KGB head General Serov. Once installed as leader, Kadar, like the good Communist he was, set about eliminating his rivals. He was impatient to see Nagy hang, along with others. He ruled Hungary for the next 32 years, eventually creating a mixed economy and a measure of prosperity. Khrushchev referred to the Kadar system as “goulash Communism.”

Peter Fryer wrote of the final moments of the Hungarian Revolution:

In public buildings and private homes, in hotels and ruined shops, the people fought the invaders street by street, step by step, inch by inch. The blazing energy of those eight days of freedom burned itself out in one glorious flame. Hungry, sleepless, hopeless, the freedom fighters battled with pitifully feeble equipment against a crushingly superior weight of Soviet arms. From windows and from open streets, they fought with rifles, home-made grenades, and Molotov cocktails against T-54 tanks.

Much has been made of the West’s, and especially America’s, reluctance to intervene in Hungary, despite pleas for help broadcast over Hungary’s Radio Kossuth. Often blamed is our preoccupation with the Suez crisis, precipitated by Egyptian President Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal. Forgotten is the prevailing 1950s fear of nuclear war. The Eisenhower administration kept bombers in the air, prepared to administer a “second strike,” should the Soviets or Red China drop The Bomb first. A direct confrontation with the Soviets was to be avoided, and “containment” became the chosen policy toward the Evil Empire. Thus, we maintained troops and missiles in Western Europe, and fought limited wars in the world’s backwaters. Our government’s preoccupation was with America’s interests and security — as it should have been.

Khrushchev had changed his mind. The Revolution had to be crushed.

Did Radio Free Europe, by advocating the Western version of freedom, actually encourage the crushing of the Revolution? Perhaps it did, at that moment in history. But as James Q. Wilson wrote in The Moral Sense, westerners consider their version of freedom an ultimate good. He quoted a superb passage composed by Professor Orlando Patterson, which begins with these words: “At its best, the valorization of personal liberty is the noblest achievement of Western civilization.” A greater problem for the Hungarian dissidents was their own faith in socialism. They remained willing to submit to a system that Hilaire Belloc warned must lead to the Servile State — that is, to slavery. As he said, “The control of the production of wealth is the control of human life itself.”

And as Ludwig von Mises pointed out, under socialism there is no organic pricing system, no marvelous supercomputer that, under capitalism, signals production and distribution. Socialism can only exist by making plans and enforcing them with punitive regulations. Of course, its inevitable failures must lead to stiffer regulations and punishments and new theories that predict but never achieve abundance.

Still, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 hangs heavy on the mind — with its images of men, women, and even children battling the Soviet tanks and, implicitly, the worst enemies of human freedom. Perhaps they were seeking a kind of freedom they couldn’t quite define. Finding it nowhere else, neither in the everyday world nor as a promise in their political tradition, they found it, at last, in mortal combat.

* * *

SOURCES

Belloc, Hilaire. The Servile State. London: T.N. Foulis, 1912. www.archive.org/stream/servilestate00belluoft/servilestate00belluoft_djvu.txt
“Cry Hungary! By Reg Gadney.” Kirkus Reviews. http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/reg-gadney-3/cry-hungary/
Douglass, Brian. “On the Road to the Servile State.” Mises Institute: Mises Daily Articles. 3 Dec. 2009.
“Erika Szeles.” The Female Soldier, 21 April 2015. www.thefemalesoldier.com/blog/erika-szeles
Flynn, John T. The Road Ahead: America’s Creeping Revolution. New York: Devon- Adair, 1949.
Fryer, Peter. Hungarian Tragedy. London: New Park Publications Ltd., 1986.
Gadney, Reg. Cry Hungary! Uprising 1956. Introd. Georges Mikes. New York: Athenum, 1986.
Garrett, Garet. “Belloc’s Puzzling Manifesto.” Mises Institute: Mises Daily Articles, 13 Jan. 2003.
Gessmer, Peter K. “General Josef Bem: Polish and Hungarian Leader.” Info Poland: Poland in the Classroom, 8 June 1958. www.info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/bem.html
Gyorki, Jeno, and Miklos Horvath, eds. Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary 1956. Budapest: Central European Univ. Press, 1999.
Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents. Ed. Bruce Caldwell. London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007.
Lenin, V.I. State and Revolution. New York: International Publishers, 1943.
Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Third Revised Ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1966.
“Sandor Petofi.” Encyclopedia.com. www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/russian-and-eastern-european-literature-biographies/sandor-petofi
Saxon, Wolfgang. “Janos Kadar of Hungary Is Dead at 77.” Obituaries. The New York Times, 7 July 1989. www.nytimes.com/1989/07/07/obituaries/janos-kadar-of-hungary-is-dead-at-77.html
Sebestyen, Victor. Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.
“This Hungarian Woman Was Already Dead When her Photo Became Symbol of the Revolution.” Hungary Today, 12 Oct. 2016. www.hungarytoday.hu/young-hungarian-woman-already-dead-photo-became-symbol-revolution
Wilson, James Q. The Moral Sense. New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997.




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A Cheap Date

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Politically speaking, libertarians can seem like a cheap date. We’re good enough for a nice time, when a prettier, sexier option is unavailable. But let’s face it, whenever the supermodel or the football hero flashes a flirtatious smile, a lot of our potential partners will desert us.

These days, we’re doing plenty of strategizing. Should we take this course, or that? I’ll switch to the team sports metaphor that works so well in politics. For the most part, the choice appears to come down to the following: do we woo players from Team Red or Team Blue? Our franchise is perpetually struggling to stay competitive, and free agents are again beginning to shop their allegiances around.

Both Left and Right recognize how obnoxious — even downright dangerous — big government can be when people they don’t like have control of it.

The ever-shifting team standings have not altered the opinion I’ve held for the last several years. We need to take as many players as we can from both sides. Their willingness to sign with our franchise depends largely on where their team sits in the rankings. This is tiresome, the situation is silly, and most of them are idiots. But however degrading it is that we need to include them in our considerations at all, thisin no way alters the facts.

To put the matter as simply as possible, when their team is winning, they have little desire to abandon it. But when the other side gains the upper hand, they start getting itchy. They recognize how obnoxious — even downright dangerous — big government can be when people they don’t like have control of it. Even though it strikes them as a dandy idea when they think they might, however indirectly, wield power, as the Left believed it did through Obama, and the Right now anticipates doing through Trump.

Cheap dates can take comfort in one thing. Sometimes those who condescend to date us actually fall in love with us. They may only be looking for a good time at the moment, but once they’re close enough to actually get to know us, our philosophy may take hold. That is obviously the case every time the political pendulum swings from one side to the other, because our numbers are increasing. Perhaps not as rapidly as we’d like, but steadily nonetheless.

Our country is so deeply in the thrall of statist authoritarianism that growth may not happen for the liberty movement in any other way. When we peruse the mainstream media’s coverage of libertarian ideas — and that coverage is always scant, at best — we can plainly see that what there is of it is usually inaccurate, or even slanderous. They started out with Gary Johnson’s 2016 campaign byportraying him as a pothead, and after his unfortunate “Aleppo moment” — so unfortunate that it has apparently become code for “disastrous gaffe” — they used it to define him totally. But the good news, which no mainstream media site is ever going to bring us, is that a fast-growing majority ofthe country no longer trusts them to tell it what to think. The opportunity for libertarians to win new hearts and minds has never been greater.

The segment of the population it makes the most sense for us to woo is the independent middle. This is the category in which the “experts” try to stick libertarians when they don’t know what sense to make of us, or when they simply want to make us disappear. Though nonpartisan “moderates” are stereotyped as ignorant, or as just not caring about politics, there are far too many of them to be so mindlessly dismissed.

Our country is so deeply in the thrall of statist authoritarianism that growth may not happen for the liberty movement in any other way.

When our philosophy is explained to them by people not invested in distorting it, we often find that they are kindred spirits. Libertarianism is a treasure such individuals are happy to discover, because it explains things they’ve never been able to make sense of before. They very well may be better matched with us than those who’ve been weak-minded enough to waste years of their lives as authoritarians in the first place.

I suspect that Donald Trump will turn out to be very nearly as big a tyrant and bully as Hillary Clinton would have been. If we’re counting on keeping all the converts who defected from the political Right during the Obama years, the flash and dash of The Donald will prove irresistible to quite a number, and our hearts will be broken yet again. Over the course of the Trump regime, however long it lasts, many leftists with the sense to be at least temporarily scared by big government will bat their lashes at us and whisper sweet nothings in our ears. Some who originated on the Right will stay with us but others won’t, and we can be pretty sure that our success rate in keeping converts from the Left will be similar.

Our hearts are precious; we should guard them. We need to keep ourselves true to what we’ve come to recognize as truth, come what may — knowing that, after all, we’re worth more than a cheap date, and trusting that the people worthy of our devotion will be the marrying kind.




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The Year That Was

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For many, 2016 has become a byword for a bad year, an annus horribilis even, thanks to an interminable presidential race as well as threats to liberty both domestic and foreign. But for Liberty, it was a year of tremendous writing and libertarian thought. Here's my highlights—what were yours?

And that's not to mention Jon Harrison on whether "normal" is a thing of the past, Steve Murphy on New Deal nostrums, Ross Levatter on paradoxes and philosophy, Scott Robinson on the real lesson of Robin Hood, Bruce Ramsey on libertarianism and the bourgeoisie . . . and much more to discover in our Archive!

We look forward to bringing you more great stuff in 2017 and beyond. If you feel up to it, you can donate to the Liberty Foundation to support our work, and 100% of your tax-deductible donation will go toward the costs of bringing you more reflections, reviews, and feature articles of all sorts. But what we really hope is that you'll keep reading, and keep fighting alongside us for the cause of freedom. Thanks, and we'll see you on the other side!



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Let’s Sing a Song About Three!

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I haven’t seen Sesame Street for years. I don’t know if they still do those counting songs to teach kids about numbers. But as this year’s election draws to a close, something like that would sure be helpful.

How is it that so many voters can count no higher than two? It seems to this third-party supporter that they could use a tutorial from Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, or The Count. If I hear one more half-witted, addle-pated admonition that I must “vote for Trump so we won’t get Hillary” or “vote for Hillary so we won’t get Trump,” I swear I’m going to scream, “Three banana cream pies!” and plaster somebody smack in the face with them.

Of course I wouldn’t actually do that. I’m a libertarian. I don’t believe in violence against my fellow Americans. But boy, sometimes I’m tempted. This year, I’ve been tempted like never before.

If I hear one more half-witted, addle-pated admonition that I must “vote for Trump so we won’t get Hillary” or “vote for Hillary so we won’t get Trump,” I swear I’m going to scream.

Why is it so hard for people to wrap their minds around the concept that they have additional choices? To me, and to other reasonable people, the suggestion comes as a welcome relief. But legions of others react to it with hostility. They recoil as if from a barrage of banana cream pies. The thought seems to cause them physical pain, as if they were being prescribed a bad case of influenza.

I’ve heard “journalists” lament the cold-heartedness of libertarians who think that giving consumers actual options in a free market is somehow a ruthless philosophy that would doom orphans and widows to starve in the streets. We’re supposedly too idiotic to run our own lives, but veritable Solomons when it comes to running the lives of others. That would require making choices, too — but don’t tell our betters that. It would only give them a headache.

I intend to go on gleefully counting to three. I’d love to deliver my lesson through the cartoon lips of the lady who used to sing it on Sesame Street. But I’ll continue challenging my fellow Americans to count higher — and aim higher — in any way I can. I’ll also keep those pies ready, just in case.




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What’s a Vote-Waster to Do?

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I have a confession to make. I’m one of those dreadful people who “waste” their votes. At least this is what I’ve been doing, according to what generally passes for wisdom. And I plan on doing it again this year. Many Americans would tell me that I should be sorry, but I must make one further confession: I’m not.

To authoritarian statists, there are few worse crimes. If I tied a litter of kittens up in a sack and tossed it into a vat of boiling oil, I might offend them more. OK, no, I wouldn’t. I must be careful, in fact, about making my confession around these people, because they just might stuff me into that sack, themselves.

If I lack the option of voting for the candidate I believe in, I have to wonder how much freedom I actually have.

They not only revere the authority of the state, they revere The Process. Because I’m skeptical about the concept of voting for its own sake, they accuse me of failing to appreciate this sacred American right. There are many rights that I consider more sacred, but that these people not only fail to appreciate but appear determined to throw away with both hands. Nor do I neglect to realize that it is better to be able to vote than to be denied that privilege. But as a libertarian, my understanding of what voting is, and what it should accomplish, differs from theirs to a degree so significant that when I try to explain it to them, they react as if I were speaking Neptunian.

Being presented with an artificially limited range of choices — seldom more than two — and given the “right” to choose one of them does not, to me, seem a very impressive exercise of freedom. It’s only one more option than the North Koreans get. And when I opt for a third choice, and am told that I’m wasting my vote, I must ask why. Because if I lack the option of voting for the candidate I believe in, I have to wonder how much freedom I actually have.

Truly, I believe that to vote for one of only two choices would be to waste my vote. At least this is how it stacks up if — as is almost always the case — I would prefer neither. What the conscience-stricken souls who lecture me not to waste my vote are really telling me is that I must choose their option. That I am blessed to live in a land where I can think exactly as they do. Or, more to the point, that Heaven has smiled upon me by relieving me of the burden of having to think at all.

I can only reply that this is a dotty concept of freedom. No wonder we keep getting the same rehashed nonsense every election year. The only real change taking place is that all the while, our freedoms continue to erode. America is frantically voting, on and on, and congratulating itself on its ability to exercise this sacred right, and all the while it is giving away the store. We perch proudly atop our liberty even as, slowly and stealthily, it is being pulled out from under us.

There is a world of difference between settling for a lesser evil — who is, still, evil — and selecting someone who, though imperfect, is actually pretty good.

As the self-appointed scolds keep reminding us, our vote is our voice. And whether our candidate wins or loses, those votes will be studied, tabulated, and analyzed to no end. To vote for the candidate or cause you or I truly believe in, even if we lose the contest for power, is never a waste — not if in casting that ballot, we say, as precisely as possible, what we really mean.

I would prefer the Libertarian Party candidate over whomever the Republicans or the Democrats nominate. Even if he doesn’t stand for everything I like, or says things that disappoint me, he can’t possibly be as bad as the two media-anointed main contenders. In my opinion, indeed, a libertarian candidate can’t be bad at all. There is a world of difference between settling for a lesser evil — who is, still, evil — and selecting someone who, though imperfect (as any human will be), is actually pretty good.

When anybody corners me with a guilt-trip about my “wasted” third-party vote, I’ve begun to respond with this question: when you vote, what are you trying to accomplish? And further, if your purpose is not to make your convictions the clearest they can possibly be, why do you bother? My interrogator is immediately thrown from the offensive to the defensive. It’s a position this bore is likely unused to being in, but richly deserves.

It is better to vote for a “loser,” but make your true convictions known, than it ever could be to vote for a “winner,” only to have your voice drowned out by the crowd. Far from “making your vote count,” exercising the latter option accomplishes no greater good than shouting into an empty well. If enough of us choose the third-party candidate, The System will definitely pull out all the stops to find out why. Merely going along to get along gets us exactly nowhere.

My fellow libertarians, let us never be ashamed to vote according to our own convictions. And never let us be duped into thinking that we’ve wasted our votes. We can march out of that voting booth with our heads held high. In fact, if we choose not to vote at all, we have every right to be equally proud — and, make no mistake about it, that option also lets our voices be heard.

We’re not the ones who need apologize for wasting our votes. A vote that says what we mean it to say — however cast — is the only kind that ever really matters. “Why are you wasting your vote?” I intend to ask my conformist friends. And if they don’t like being on the receiving end of that question for a change, they can just go jump into a sack full of kittens.




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Libertinism is Not Libertarianism

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During the past decade or so, liberty-lovers have picked up the fight for legalization of prostitution and drugs. This has often involved a good deal of context dropping and evasion of other issues.

When Stephen Harper lost the Canadian elections in 2015, some well-known libertarians celebrated, for they now anticipated complete legalization. But the biggest competency of the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is his looks and the dynasty he represents. He was voted into power primarily by those who lack self-responsibly and self-control and who want either a neverending hedonistic slugfest or mere free stuff, in what otherwise is one of the world’s so-called most educated and supposedly rational countries.

Trudeau lost no photo-ops when he greeted immigrants from Syria with open arms. Those for freedom of movement rejoiced, sometimes in nearly incredible terms. “The more [Syrian migrants] the better,” wrote one of the best known pro-liberty authors. Some antiwar libertarians, who want the US to end all entanglements in the Middle East, were also full of praise — and on this occasion, unconcerned about collateral civilian deaths — when Russia in a matter of days indiscriminately bombed parts of Syria to destroy rebel groups, including ISIS.

In a true, anti-statist, free society, prostitution and drug addiction would be tolerated, but very hesitatingly.

Some libertarians have taken it upon themselves to rebel against everything that Christianity, and in some cases other religions, stand for. Some encourage promiscuity and drunkenness — libertine behavior and trash-talk being the fast way for some women to rise in today’s “liberty” circles. If a woman works as a call-girl to pay for her education, this is a smart move, according to some in the liberty camp.

All of the above, particularly the pursuit of single-issue goals without thought of the larger ecology, is not a fight against the state and its tyranny but a fight against civilization and reason. Consequently it is, ironically, a fight against freedom and liberty, and must increase the size of the state.

In the past, such fights were the domain of the shallow, non-thinking, materialistic cult of the left, which plays on people’s unexamined emotions, particularly those related to the biological instincts of survival and procreation. But now cultural Marxism — and its mind-ossifying methodology of “argumentation” — has become so infused in society that many libertarians, especially anarchocapitalists, have come to see emotionally provocative, unexamined, single-issue goals as their own.

Prostitution and drugs

In a true, anti-statist, free society, prostitution and drug addiction would be tolerated, but very hesitatingly, because they present an inherent contradiction. Civilizations know that freedom comes from self-control and self-responsibility — not from giving in to impulses — and that certain conventions have evolved in societies around the world because they lead to an increase in human happiness and freedom. A free society would appreciate the fact that gluttonous sensuality is not a sign of freedom but an assertion of the anti-libertarian forces of unreason.

Liberty by its very construct must be founded on discipline, respect, self-control, and self-responsibility. Any society that lacks these virtues cannot be a free society, because its citizens will labor under a mental debility. Irrespective of the kind of written laws they have, their lack of necessary virtues will create a tyrannical state.

I dislike living in places where prostitution and drugs are rife. I have nothing personal against those who indulge in them. I have my own inner journey, and they have theirs. But I have nothing in common with them. I see virtually no channel of communication — nothing that connects us in values — open between us. Mostly we talk through each other, wasting everyone’s time.

Liberty by its very construct must be founded on discipline, respect, self-control, and self-responsibility. Any society that lacks these virtues cannot be a free society.

Those who watch too many James Bond movies, the adventures of Kim Kardashian, etc. — and even those who don’t — believe that promiscuity is a Western product and export. Quite to the contrary, it was European missionaries who found themselves horrified by the unrestrained promiscuity of most non-Western societies. This was one of the reasons they deemed the non-western societies uncivilized. Hence the widely used term “Victorian morality” — although people hardly imagine the historical implications of how this term came to exist, tending to use it only when they want to blame the English for sexual repression.

Contrary to popular belief, non-Western societies are very materialistic and impulsive, mostly because the concept of reason never got traction there. Women in vast parts of the world — in Africa, Latin America, tribal parts of India, and so on — are available merely for the asking. You see glimpses of this in the rest of Asia and Eastern Europe, too. Alas, in such sexually liberated places, women have a very low status and are treated like commodities. Also contrary to popular belief, such sexually liberated societies are no less prone to sexual crimes, for desire, when given a free rein, is a bottomless pit, offering the ever illusory elixir of happiness.

In the same vein, middle class children in India — particularly boys — are much indulged up to a certain age, precluding them from developing self-discipline in later years. Because they fail to develop inner faculties of self-control and self-responsibility, when they gain adulthood the only way to make them a productive part of the society and keep them out of crime is fear, abuse, and punishment. Such adults just cannot be an ingredient of a free society.

A libertine society is an oxymoron, for you can either have liberty or be a slave to your desires.

Even when the satisfaction of impulses does no direct harm, hedonism is eventually not satisfying. Any sophisticated society that has evolved culturally knows this instinctively. Any thinking person comes to the same conclusion. But today, hedonism (a supposed product of Western civilization) is being promoted as liberty in vast parts of the developing world. The consumption of bad, sugary food and every other kind of gluttony is increasing exponentially. Every year I return to a developing country, and it seems that waistlines there are increasing by an inch a year. Lifestyle diseases such as heart disorders and several kinds of cancer are placing forms of medicine that deal with their symptoms among the biggest growth sectors. Not too long in the future, these diseases may become the biggest crisis for humanity. Promiscuity — even where it was more restrained — is also rising exponentially.

The two religions of the desert — Christianity and Islam — train their citizens to control their desires, although the latter, having failed to underpin its beliefs with reason, still does it mostly through repression and indoctrination, leading to many other horrendous problems. But the point remains: in general, giving free reign to impulses and desires, and a culture of high time-preference, produces a lack of civilization and hence of liberty.

Drugs do destroy the mind and create chemical dependency. They make people lethargic and subliminally dependent on others. When unable to finance their habit, they take to theft, to public welfare, or, if they still retain some brains, to fraud. All these create enough cultural poison to bring in the police. A libertine society is an oxymoron, for you can either have liberty or be a slave to your desires.

Prostitution and drugs are not mere victimless crimes, as they are commonly — and rather simplistically — depicted by people who want to legalize them. For the sake of intellectual honesty, those who favor legalization (as I do) should recognize that when one increases the demand through legalization, the supply will also increase. And there is strong evidence that legalization of prostitution worsens the exploitation of women, through increased trafficking and inducements offered to gullible girls. These girls are then controlled through fear — a problem that those who grew up in happy families fail to recognize. The situation with drugs is not too dissimilar.

Immigration and religion

Then there are those who hinge their concept of a free society on unfettered immigration. They forget that while they constantly argue with people to convert them to free-thinking individuals, hoping to end up with legal structures in which liberties are respected as they were in the glorious past of the West, they also, in effect, are advocating the admission of millions of traumatized refugees, deeply indoctrinated in uncivilized and violent behavior. For such liberty-fighters with simplistic goals, culture is a blank slate on which anything can be written. But culture, alas, is virtually impossible to change, as those who want to impose institutional changes on the backward parts of the world have consistently discovered.

The compassion shown by Europeans and North Americans to recent migrants from Syria is heartwarming, and virtually unique on our planet. I have nothing against migrants. But an awareness of the fuller reality would provide some guidance about the extent to which they should be accommodated.

The evil of religion is another, single-goal target of certain libertarians. Here again, cultural context is lacking. Religions and traditions are the repository, in concentrated form, of thousands of years of our tacit knowledge and wisdom. Without the subliminal transmission of virtues and knowledge through customs and traditions, schooling — which is mostly devoid of the complexity of real life and can at best provide theoretical underpinnings — would take too long to educate people. The individual lifespan is too short. Formal education, by itself, is an extremely inefficient tool of real education. It almost completely fails to impart wisdom and sophisticated thinking. What the USSR and China created by partially destroying their cultures were minds that lacked frameworks to absorb understanding and wisdom. We need raw math and science — to provide theoretical underpinnings, a sort of objective glue — but they cannot by themselves impart wisdom. Tacit knowledge is much complex and fundamental.

Culture, alas, is virtually impossible to change, as those who want to impose institutional changes on the backward parts of the world have consistently discovered.

Contrary to their claims, many of the vociferous atheists I have known are actually devout believers in scientism — in the idea that anything that cannot be scientifically explained is not real. They believe they have perfect answers or they are very close to them. They fail to realize that despite 500 years of scientific progress our understanding of the world is miniscule in comparison to what is there to be explained. Then these believers in scientism think they are believers in reason, but reason is not final knowledge; it is a chisel, a tool to continue exploration for better and better knowledge, in full understanding that a perfect answer might, very possibly, never come. Indeed, reason has had to work continuously to chisel religions into shape. Most religions failed and became ossified. Christianity, as major religions stand today, is perhaps the only one that carries some capacity to evolve.

Most evolved people — and every such person I have known personally — had deep religious or spiritual experiences growing up, even if they became atheists later on. As an atheist, I do want religions to come out of their tribal instincts, but the reality is that the vast majority of humanity does not think, would not think, and would rather die than think. They need something to believe in. It had better be Jesus Christ or Buddha than Obama, the stupid-box, or Miss Universe. Those in the liberty movement who want religion to end — as I do — must ask themselves whether fighting against it would not result in worse problems. Destroying religions without offering something in return would produce a very bland, passionless, immoral world.

Many people, on both the Left and the Right, who have not examined what they want to fight for see an enemy and want to liquidate it. But if they don’t understand the ecology, the complex historical, social, and intellectual surroundings, they only create space for a more resistant and harmful enemy.

Several people I know voted for Trudeau in Canada because they were against what they regarded as Harper’s attempt to create a police state. Having voted that enemy out, they now realize that not only will Trudeau retain — except for some lip-service — most of the police-state elements of Harper’s regime, but he will greatly “assist” Canada in its degeneration to a socialistic, irrational, values-lacking society. Had my acquaintances understood the ecology, they might have more sensibly voted for Harper. I myself would have suggested abstention, to avoid legitimizing the state.

Fighting legitimizes the state

Would I want prostitution and drugs to be legalized? Yes. I certainly would not fight to keep prostitution and drug consumption illegal, because I do not want to interfere in other people’s lives. Moreover, the only way self-responsibility can be developed is by letting people experience the consequences of their actions. Those who are gullible will eventually be fooled by someone else anyway. But I see no reason to fight for legalization of prostitution and drugs, because I understand that my fight for liberty has many other issues to confront, and if those are not adequately dealt with, any legalization and resulting liberties will be transitory, fleeting, and illusory.

Destroying religions without offering something in return would produce a very bland, passionless, immoral world.

Similarly I would like complete freedom of travel and I won’t resist if this is enabled tomorrow, but given the many other issues involved, I abstain from a single-minded focus on fighting for free immigration. Most importantly, any fight for legalization validates the idea of the state, the most criminal of human institutions.

My fight is for self-responsibility and self-control, which are cornerstones of civilization and liberty. My fight belongs in the space of reason. In the real world, issues are much entangled with one another. In societies that lack inherent moral impulses (which is the case with virtually every society outside the West), my fight is to shake people’s souls to infuse in them the concept of reason. Even in the West, my fight is not just to end the welfare-warfare system but to stop the hemorrhaging of the concept of reason. Unless this is done, any single-goal fight will have illusory results. Most likely, indeed, it will make the situation worse.




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India: Great Expectations

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In 1991, under pressure from the IMF, India opened some industrial sectors to private companies and removed several licensing requirements. Private cellphone operators, banks, and airline companies started to appear. Soon, private banks were so customer-friendly that they would send someone to your home to help open an account. If you wanted more than $400 in cash, they delivered it free of cost. If you had a complaint, an employee would come to meet you in person within hours — wearing a tie, even in sweltering heat. Mobile phone companies provided outstanding service and, within years, at an enviable price. They delivered my SIM card to my home. If you wanted a new car, you did not have to worry about going to their showrooms. They came to you. Local airlines served great food and drinks, and were manned by bubbling youths full of passion for success. Foreign companies looking for competitive, English-speaking young people set up their operations in India.

Today, much of this lies in ruins. You have to keep chasing these private banks. Their websites are unfriendly, and they deduct money from your account without first informing you what they are about. An account holder stays away from credit cards, unless he really needs them or must show off; yet he still gets credit cards sent to him with yearly fees charged to his bank account, all without his approval.

The Indian government is a vicious, insensitive, passionless, totally corrupt, utterly stupid, and spineless organization, made up partly of psychopaths and partly of crooks, from top to bottom.

Airlines are marginally fine — with sulky services — as long as your baggage doesn’t go missing or a delay doesn’t make you miss your connecting flight. When my baggage went missing, so did the sleek-looking customer agents, for no one wanted to take responsibility. I recently discovered that the biggest mobile company now has no customer service number where you can talk to a live person. You must visit their office. If you deposit cash after your SIM was slated for disconnection (which of course you would not have been informed about), it will have disappeared into a black hole, from which a refund is virtually impossible unless you waste a horrendous amount of time. If the front-line agent has some figment of humanity (which is quite a rarity), he will tell you not to try getting your money back, for he might see the pain you would suffer trying.

Meanwhile, foreign companies started to realize that the costs of doing business were much higher than they had anticipated. They found that looks were deceptive. The English-speaking employees lacked skills, productivity, work ethic, and curiosity. Call-centers started to move to the Philippines. India stayed at best a back-office hub.

On earlier occasions, when I faced problems with Indian companies, I would report them to consumer forums, or write in to the complaint sections of the media. But I soon realized that despite any compensation I received, I spent so much time fighting the insensitive ears of these private companies that the project was cost-prohibitive. These days, if the money involved isn’t much, I forgive and forget, a sign of greying hair and loss of idealism. If what is involved is substantial, instead of fighting in consumer courts, I look for the most efficient strategy. If the Indian company is a subsidiary of a foreign company, I start by calling their CEO's office. When the Indian arm of a Korean refrigerator company refused to do anything about a problem, by calling their Korean office I got a new refrigerator. When a subsidiary of an American company gave me a faulty air conditioner and did nothing about it, I called their CEO in the US. I told his secretary that I would call twice a day to ensure that I got to speak with the CEO. Then their Indian arm worked so well that even the best anywhere in the world would have been impressed. But I have digressed.

In a mere few years, private companies became more like state-owned companies. In some cases one prefers state-owned companies, where at least a bribe does the job. Why?

In general, the "profitability" of Indian companies, particularly the big ones, is a reflection not so much of wealth-creation but of political backing, of their ability to find loopholes in regulations, and of outright theft, often from the poor section of society.

How things go wrong

The Indian government is a vicious, insensitive, passionless, totally corrupt, utterly stupid, and spineless organization, made up partly of psychopaths and partly of crooks, from top to bottom. Most have very numb or dead brains. They exist in dirty, unhygienic, and terrible environmental conditions, for it is they who do the cleaning. I can recall very few encounters with bureaucrats or politicians in which a bribe was not demanded. Moreover, you must grovel and beg in front of these (figuratively and literally) diseased people. Even then there is no guarantee that they will do the job.

I remember that on many occasions the bribes were not about approving something, but just to release my files so that I could take them myself to the next diseased creature. Only a citizen whose mind has not been destroyed and numbed would not feel humiliated by what he goes through at government offices. Not only is the bureaucrat after money, but he relishes the act of demeaning citizens, in a corrupt attempt to make up for his deep-rooted inferiority complex and self-hatred.

Demeaning others leaves the Indian bureaucrat feeling good about himself, at least for the moment. The irony is that all this makes him seriously sick, physically, mentally, and spiritually. His children go astray and he never understands why. As you discover reading The Lord of the Rings, in a tyranny, there is no single tyrant. Everyone is tyrannized by everyone else; everyone's spirit is subdued by everyone else’s. A bureaucrat must sit with people of his kind, who scheme against one another, forever wallowing in the rotting sewage of envy, hatred, and a strange kind of showmanship. In reality, however, they have nothing to show but impotence, for they never create anything useful or productive. They, their wives and kids, and even name-dropping relatives, show off their status in an exaggerated way, through noise, heavy-handedness, armed goons in costumes, and big cars with sirens.

Not only is the bureaucrat after money, but he relishes the act of demeaning citizens, in a corrupt attempt to make up for his deep-rooted inferiority complex and self-hatred.

A casual observer might believe that all you have to do is get rid of such bureaucrats. All you have to do is to change the party in power and streamline regulations and remove corruption through an empowered constitutional authority that politicians cannot touch.

Why then why did private companies fail to sustain their proper character?

The problem is much deeper than an observer might imagine. It is a problem that cannot be reached by the typical libertarian prescription of reducing the size or composition of government. When the prescription is applied, things don’t not turn out much better; and the improvement certainly does not last.

What most people fail to understand is that the state is little more than the sum total of the collective mind.

In India, even a perfectly created product has a very short half-life. My new gym has grown old within months. The dust piles up; the equipment rusts, rather rapidly. My new car earned a big dent, the day I bought it. Every vehicle gets smeared with dents. I don't know anyone who hasn't had several injuries and close calls with death. Day-to-life faults happen with amazing regularity, a frequency that could never have been imagined or statistically expected. The most resilient equipment burns away if you do not think of using a surge protector, for the electricity company will increase the voltage by misconnecting the wires at the main poles. Normal cars need to be redesigned to ensure that they work because, for example, there is almost universal adulteration of petrol. Refrigerators that are designed to keep working as long as they are plugged in stop cooling when water condenses and freezes in their air-pipes as a result of frequent electricity cuts.

Every time you take anything for repair, even a minor one, you get a patch-up job. You are looked upon with amusement if you ask for a good, clean job. No self-respecting workman would want to have anything to do with you, irrespective of the money you offer. Expediency is the mantra. If ever there is a serious repairman, he needs immense cognition to isolate the problem. The others patch whatever they can get away with patching. When you tinker with a system or an individual piece of equipment, trying to correct the problem, you often create more problems, for your tinkering — however innocent it may be — undoes the other patches. This situation exists not just with equipment but with absolutely everything in life. Most Indians waste a very large part of their day putting out existential fires. My five hours of no electricity today, in what is among the best neighborhoods and those most catered to, are one of my smaller worries, for at least I know what the problem is.

So what is the deeper problem?

Unfortunately, but predictably, the bureaucrat described above is merely a reflection of the larger society. He is the tip of the iceberg. This is always the case, but what most people fail to understand is that the state is little more than the sum total of the collective mind. The visible state — the government — and its tyranny is a symptom of the underlying problem: a society that breeds and sustains the statist poison. Individual Indians will decry corruption, but virtually everyone will pay a bribe to gain an unfair advantage over others or take bribes by rationalizing it away. Even written contracts have no value. It is considered fair game if someone steals your money and gets away with it. Most people will not rent their property, for they fear it will not be returned. Most people, even the guy on the street, have a perfect prescription for how I should live my life and will offer it to me unabashedly. Respect for others as individuals and their properties is a completely alien concept. This, combined with fatalism (a product of a superstitious mind that is immune to the concept of causality), is the reason behind the chaos on the roads and every other area of life. I contend that the Indian road is a visual representation of how the Indian mind works.

You cannot have a small government in a society in which everyone wants to control everyone else's life, where no one can be trusted to do a job properly, where the concept of how to make money is not wealth-creation but manipulation and theft. You cannot avoid building a large and corrupt police force in a society where the individual cannot be trusted. You cannot stop a complicated structure of regulations and government in a society in which individuals cannot think straight, clearly, or rationally.

If someone wants a real, sustainable change he should work in the arena of critical thinking and individualism, not on imposing superficial Western ways.

A tyrannical government is a product of a tyrannical, corrupt, and statist society. Even before the society changes, it is the individual who must change. A free society is unsustainable without free-minded individuals. Those who want real change must work on the root: the individual.

The general totalitarianism, indolence, dishonesty, lack of work ethic, confused thinking, irrationality, superstition, and lack of respect for other people have too much momentum on their side to let private companies stay good. The initial euphoria, mostly of a drunken kind, a catharsis, lasted for no more than a few years. What you culturally see in India is not different from what the West was like perhaps 500 years back. India's problems cannot be dealt with unless the society has gone through the reformation, enlightenment, and scientific revolution that happened in the West.

What differentiates the West from "the Rest"

For vices to be replaced by virtues — the way in which a rational individual perceives them — the concept of reason must take precedence. For those who do not think by means of reason, for those whose culture is not based on it, the vantage point from which vice and virtue are considered is very different. For such people, touching a low-caste person to help him might be a sin, and forcefully occupying the property of a poor person to build a temple might be a virtue.

Lacking appreciation of all this, the US government — assuming it was well-intentioned — spent many years lavishing its resources in attempts to bring democracy, the rule of law, etc., to societies where such constructs have mutated back to what they originally were. Those truly interested in bringing a change must understand that outside the West, the mainstream's way of thinking and conceptualizing the world, its way of imagining and perceiving the world, and its resultant aspirations and motivations are driven by undercurrents that are essentially pre-rational. It is the undercurrents that must be changed. They must, indeed, be replaced by reason and individualism.

The problems of India are extreme, but they aren’t just India's problems.

In my travels around the world, I am reminded of this again and again: there is the Western civilization, which values the individual and the concept of reason; and there is the rest, the area of the world in which most people haven't a clue about what individualism means or, if they have a clue, abhor it, even after hundreds of years of interactions with the West and even after the advent of the internet, easy information, and cheap traveling.

Reason and individualism are a rare fruit, a very expensive one. Without it, democracy, the rule of law, and regulations against excessive state power have limited and mostly unfavorable effects. That is the problem of India today.

And not just India. Most places outside the West are in a mess, living a contradiction, having some material development but lacking the necessary basis in reason and individualism, and hence of ethics. Even the West has increasingly lost these concepts. This might be making the world an extremely unstable place. But, again, I digress.

If someone wants a real, sustainable change he should work in the arena of critical thinking and individualism, not on imposing superficial Western ways, trying merely to reduce regulations or reduce the size of the public sector.

The future of India

With China slowing down, Russia failing to impress, Brazil in stalemate, and the economies of the West in stagnation or decline, the focus of those looking for economic growth has moved to India.

Despite producing some of the largest numbers of so-called scientists, engineers, and so forth in the world, India is an extremely wretched country. Relatively speaking, a huge amount of economic growth has taken place since 1991, when it is believed that India started to open up — from GDP per capita of a few hundred dollars then to $1,625 today. In my view, the date when India started to change economically was a decade earlier. India had started opening telecommunications to impress visitors during the hosting of the Asian Games in 1982. This in turn opened channels for an easy import of information and technology through the telecommunications cable. Things developed from there. But now that the low-hanging fruits of imported technology have been extracted from the tree, India is stagnating again.

The mainstream media disagree, strongly. During the past year, the euphoria of the old days has returned to India. The stock market has recently been the highest ever. Foreign institutional investors are flocking again. They see India as the next China, ignoring the fact that India is one of the rare countries that hasn't had an event to shake off entrenched interests, social habits, and patterns of thinking during the past many centuries.

How Modi can change a country of 1.25 billion is something that no one really wants to think about, for these are times of euphoria.

Deaths of hundreds of thousands every year in avoidable calamities of course haven't triggered any shakeup, and hence cannot be called revolutionary. Also, it pays to remind ourselves that the so-called independence movement in India was a political event. As a rule of thumb, a political event is an active avoidance of introspection. India's certainly wasn't a cultural movement or even a shakeup. In a way, it was the antithesis of a shake up. Before that, entrenched interests had participated in the revolt against what came to be known as the Bengal Renaissance, which the English supported. Democracy allowed the basest of elements to rise to the top, making entrenchment worse and a possibility of a shake up more remote and entangled.

India's newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, is behind today's grand hopes. Everyone is looking at him. Alas, Indians are so badly trained (and unable to think straight and clearly from the perspective of reason) that supervising a mere few of them often feels impossible. How Modi can change a country of 1.25 billion is something that no one really wants to think about, for these are times of euphoria. Hence, the cycle starts again.

There are far too many hopes about this deity. Modi's deification is perhaps the most visual symptom of India's problems: the society looking up to someone or something external to bring salvation. Today's youth have far too many material expectations, taught them by the TV, but not enough productivity. This might be a very dangerous cocktail in the making. Even if it isn’t, I see no way for India to experience meaningful change unless it gives up its irrationality and superstition. I see nothing on the horizon that is capable of teaching critical thinking to the youth.

For those who care to imagine, India may be, culturally and intellectually, where China and Russia were in the late 19th century. Then, India was indeed going through its own renaissance — the Bengal Renaissance — until it was nipped in the bud by half-baked, uneducable people (Gandhi, Nehru, etc.) who went to study in England and learned nothing more than what their irrational minds could accept: intellectual rationalizations for socialism. They neither got nor were capable of getting even get an inkling that what had made England great was reason and individualism. A bottom-up renaissance was corrupted into a top-down design to change India, the so-called independence movement.

At some point, India has to pick up the threads where it left them, with the premature end of its renaissance. Would that require it to suffer what China and Russia suffered in the early 20th century? It shouldn't, and I would hate to see that happening, but is there any other possibility that human history shows?




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Hong Kong: Democracy and Liberties

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As I write (October 15), protestors in Hong Kong are still trying to make the city more democratic and to wean it off Chinese government influence.

Protestors were seen cleaning up after themselves and even helping out the police with umbrellas during downpours. Indeed, HK is one of the most civilized places I have been to, and I visit several times a year. Despite its congestion, people respect your space and are hard-working, making it one of the freest, safest, and most competitive places in the world.

China itself is a communist dictatorship, or so it is believed. When the UK transferred the administration of HK to China in 1997, the world was convinced that China would destroy HK’s liberties. Between 1997 and 2003, the HK property market fell between 30% and 50%, and in some areas even more. A mass-migration happened to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Democratic pressures lead to consistent increase in the size of government, as the majority insists on getting more and more from the pockets of wealth-generators.

By 2003, the realization had set in that the Chinese Communist Party had no intention of destroying HK’s liberties. HK continued to boom and stayed as one of the freest places in the world. China not only did not flood HK with continental Chinese, as had been suspected, but it maintained a visa regime like that which had existed before they took over: even today it is Chinese who need a visa to visit, not Indians, the stark enemies of China. Those who had left HK for good started returning. Businesses, the stock market, and the general economy boomed.

Within HK, you could speak, shout, and write against China and the Communist Party, on the streets and in the parliament, and still find yourself feeling as secure as you would have in a similar situation in Canada or the UK.

International observers — from social democrats to believers in the free market — sacrificed their integrity when they refused to admit that their forecasts about what China would do with HK had been proven wrong. They refused to express respect toward China for how well it had maintained HK. Even a criminal deserves fair treatment.

But should HK not get democracy, more liberties, and freedom of speech?

People’s understanding of democracy is utterly twisted, in an Orwellian sense. “Begging the question,” they treat liberty and democracy as synonymous. As defined, “democracy” is a system in which the government is elected, in some form, by the majority of people. By itself the concept says nothing about institutions of liberty and the size of government.

The fanatic believers in democracy, despite the common failure of democracies around the world — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, and more recently in Libya and Egypt — refuse to see the shallowness of their New Age religion. They refuse to see that democratic pressures lead to consistent increase in the size of government, as the majority insists on getting more and more from the pockets of wealth-generators. This invariably leads to overall reduction of liberties and relegates the majority to the culture and mentality of beggars.

The bazaar of bribes was conducted openly, without an iota of fear. People were groveling and pleading. The bureaucrats were demeaning these people and shouting at them.

But what about the freedom of speech and liberties that democracy promotes? As a student in my university in India, I could be beaten up without any moral hiccups if that was what the majority decided. These days, I podcast interviews of people from around the world, to discuss cultures. Most of my contacts feel flattered and are happy to talk. The country with the highest refusal rate for interviews is democratic India. In fact, the rate is close to 100%. In India, you can speak against systemic corruption, as long you do so in vague, broad terms, although what really matters in any fight is to pinpoint corruption of specific institutions. Hardly an Indian will talk to me about specific corruption.

Institutional corruption entangles people, for they must be a part of it even if they hate it, if they want to survive. Last week, I was in a government office in India. There were more private “facilitators,” to help navigate the corruption, than bureaucrats. The bazaar of bribes was conducted openly, without an iota of fear. People were groveling and pleading. The bureaucrats were demeaning these people and shouting at them. Where are liberties and freedom of speech in the world’s biggest democracy?

Should it be so difficult to understand that democracy and liberties are not synonymous?

If you want freedom of speech and other liberties, you must fight for better institutions, preferably private and non-democratic and hence unpoisoned by the majority who care less for virtues and more for material pleasures.

Or let’s consider the world’s second biggest democracy and the most passionate proselytizer, the land of the free, the USA. Americans can talk freely about broad, amorphous subjects. But can they talk about specific ones? How many people can claim to speak their minds openly about race, native Indian issues, the sexual orientation of others, women, etc.? And how many fail to speak freely because they fear they might get into the no-fly list or in the records of the CIA or that an unhappy government might initiate IRS audits? When at American airports, I make sure I don’t utter certain words — even in an innocent sentence — to avoid having a SWAT team descend on me. The lack of freedom of speech has become so institutionalized in the minds of Americans that they don’t even realize what they don’t have.

In comparison, non-democratic Hong Kong is a freewheeling place where people have the freedom to say what they think. There is hardly a country anywhere in the world better in comparison. Only those prepared to fool themselves or incapable of deeper thinking conflate freedom of speech with democracy.

Another way in which the international society, the secular but fanatic believers in democracy, has lacked integrity is their failure to recognize that some of the best improvements in liberties and economic growth have appeared in non-democratic countries: HK, China, Singapore, and Macau. Korea and Taiwan grew the most when they lacked a proper democratic system. So did Japan and Chile. I struggle to find a nation in recent times that has begun to succeed under democracy.

Our lack of integrity is not just a standalone vice. It detaches us from seeing the truth, from weighing the situation properly and assess what must be done to improve society.

But given the liberties and higher intellectual environment in HK — as I concede above — should its people not have the right to vote freely for their own government? Aren’t the students and people of HK — as I concede above — among the most civilized people anywhere?

It is an error to believe that what people say is what they want. The fever of democracy has now been sweeping the world for a few years. This is not a demand for more liberties or improvement in human rights, as they seem to demand, but in essence a demand for a magic wand, to get something for nothing.

People should fight for more liberties and an even smaller government. But “democracy” will take them in the opposite direction.

Collectives and mass movements are based on such desires and it is an error to expect higher ideals from them. Ready to follow unexamined romantic ideas, students of HK are supporting leftist elements. While a parliamentarian, Leung Kwok-hung, a Che Guevara lover, shouts and protests against the Chinese regime openly and without fear while he is in HK, I wonder if he would allow the same liberties to others if he came to power in a democratic Hong Kong.

One of the worst political disasters of recent times has been to give the vote to students. However good they might be, they simply lack the life experience to understand the relationships between ideas and, if they do, to weigh them based on their importance. They lack the experience to comprehend life in its complexities. Formal education at best is about learning the alphabet of life. But life must be lived and experienced to create prose from this alphabet. Moreover, education around the world, including HK and Singapore, indoctrinates students in what must be accepted as beliefs. And it is the “progressive” agenda of those in the West and their wishy-washy Marxist ideology that is now a matter of faith among students around the world. HK’s recent movement is heavily influenced by this.

So, what should Hong Kong do, if not fight for more liberties? HK has perhaps the smallest government in the world and is among the freest societies. Even then it’s worth reducing the size of its government, one hopes to nothing. Yes, indeed, people should fight for more liberties and an even smaller government. But “democracy” will take them in the opposite direction. Moreover, fighting on the street is always a wrong start, for it presumes that the protestor can infringe on other people’s liberties, to somehow gain larger liberties for everyone. Our path must be in sync with our goals. What one sees in HK today is the path backwards.




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The Joy of Work

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Chef is a film about the joy of cooking, but more than that; it is a film about building a business, doing something you love, working together as a family, and promoting one’s enterprise in the age of social media. It’s a small film with a surprisingly big cast that includes Scarlet Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr., along with a slew of other well-known actors with whom director Jon Favreau has worked on such bigger budget blockbusters as Iron Man.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is an innovative head chef at a popular Los Angeles restaurant. He loves food, he loves cooking, and he loves the crew he has assembled in his kitchen. He is a true artist with a knife and a stove. But his focus on his work has led to a rift within his family. He is divorced from his beautiful wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), and he doesn’t know what to do on “divorced-dad weekends” with his charming 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony); he’s always in a hurry to get to the farmer’s market and plan the menu for the restaurant, and Percy is just in the way.

When Carl and his kitchen crew learn that a top food blogger (Oliver Platt) is coming to the restaurant Saturday night, Carl wants to create a variety of new dishes to showcase, but the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants to stay with the tried-and-true menu that his regular customers know and enjoy. The blogger writes a scathing review, and Carl responds with his first-ever tweet, which he doesn’t realize is public. Their cyber war goes viral, and soon Carl is out of a job.

The red tape that surrounds the food truck industry is almost insurmountable. Sadly, such obstacles keep many small entrepreneurs out of business permanently.

All of this leads to a classic road trip movie. Carl starts a traveling food truck business and takes Percy and his best friend, sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) with him. Together they travel from Miami to Los Angeles, developing delicious sandwich menus based on local foods and ingredients they discover in regions along the way. This is what makes the movie sing. Father and son work in perfect sync as they develop flavor combinations, cook sandwiches side by side, and discover local specialties. Percy tweets pictures and details about their journey, and customers eagerly await their arrival in new cities. The film becomes a delightful tribute to the small family business and the wonders of social media. Do what you love, and do it with the people you love, and life will be good — even if you are living in a food truck.

Of course, no one could really do this. America might be the home of the brave and the land of the free, but it’s not the land of the free market. Carl wouldn’t really be able to do this on a whim in a matter of days. As Kasey Kirby and Laura Waters Hinson demonstrate in their fine documentary about the food truck business, Dog Days (this year’s Anthem Film Festival winner for Best Libertarian Ideals), the red tape that surrounds the food truck industry is almost insurmountable. Never mind that Carl is providing a product that customers crave and willingly purchase; you can’t sell food without health inspections, business licenses, and location permits, and these all take time and money to secure — lots of it. Sadly, these obstacles keep many small entrepreneurs out of business permanently.

But red tape is not the point of this film, so Favreau wisely sidesteps the issue by giving a brief nod to the permit requirement and then asking us to suspend disbelief about the time it would take to acquire these permits in every city along the road. He focuses instead on the sheer joy of working together in a family business. Like many families today, the Caspers have been pulled so far in different directions that there’s an empty space where the home once was. As the story starts, Inez is a successful event planner who must be available for her clients beyond the standard 9–5 workday. Carl’s chef duties are mostly performed in the evenings. Percy’s “job” is school. Maids and gardeners take care of the work they might have done together at home. They are related by DNA and by a family name, but their productive lives are completely separate. The things that give each of them a sense of identity — the things they produce — are unconnected. Like many couples today, their root system dies as they branch out in different directions.

When the family business brings them together, the Caspers feel joy again. Yes, they work hard. Yes, it’s hot and humid in the truck. Yes, young Percy gets hurt sometimes — he burns his hand on the lid of the sandwich maker, and he cuts his finger with a paring knife. But he doesn’t let it stop him. He loves working with his dad. He loves providing food for customers who line up to taste their sandwiches. He loves mimicking his dad and knowing that his own work matters.

Carl says to Percy as they embark on their adventure, “I may not do everything great in my life, but I’m good at this. I manage to touch people’s lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.” It reminded me of Whoopi Goldberg’s commencement address to the Mercy College graduates at Sing Sing this year. As she praised their accomplishments she said, “I tried to go to college but I had learning disabilities and I failed. My mother told me, ‘You might not be good at this, but you are good at something. You just need to find it.’ And I found it.” Chef celebrates the joy of finding what you’re good at; the joy that comes from doing work that is productive, creative, useful, and fulfilling; and the joy that comes from doing it with those you love.


Editor's Note: Review of "Chef," directed by Jon Favreau. Aldamisa Entertainment, 2014, 114 minutes.



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