Friday, August 9, 2019

Ask Me Why I Think I Need A Gun

I first wrote about gun control in 2012, unfortunately things only seem to have gotten worse. There have been more mass shootings and calls for outright gun confiscation have commensurately grown louder.

There are a few main arguments for and against gun control. The pro-gun control crowd talks about "common sense" solutions and questions why anyone would "need" a "weapon of war". The pro-Second Amendment folks also hold a very diverse range of views with some supporting universal background checks and a tiny minority of others genuinely believing that the right to defend one's self is unlimited to the point that tanks should be sold at gun shows. And while it's true that most Americans fall into the middle of the extremes, popular opinion doesn't really matter much if you're talking about something that's a fundamental right.

Humans have always made weapons for hunting and defense, and they've also made them to conquer, rape, and pillage. The technology has decidedly changed over the years but that doesn't mean basic human rights change. In the past a trained archer might have been able to fire a bow at a rate of 10 arrows a minute. Can you imagine when the crossbow was invented and any regular guy (or woman or even child) could accurately knock out a bad guy with bolt after bolt after bolt? I can hear the calls for regulation even now. 
The gun, simply defined, has been around for a thousand years. It took the place of the crossbow, the arrow, and the sword because it is immeasurably more efficient. But like the old days of arrows and bolts, a gun that can fire 5 rounds a minute verses multiple rounds in a second doesn't change the ultimate fact: a person's ability to provide for their families and to protect is inviolable.

The Bill of Rights is called that because it lists well understood rights. Not privileges. Rights. The founding documents of the country and the countless letters and articles written at the time all go on at length about how humans are endowed with inalienable rights, that those rights don't become unnecessary when opinions change, that they can only be denied on an individual bases because that person did something wrong, and that the purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power of government, not the person.

While it is certainly true that America has never been able to fully live up to that promise of life, liberty, and happiness for all, the entire purpose of the country is that never-ending struggle to create a more perfect union. To that end, slavery was abolished and a woman's inherent right to vote was recognized. The whole course of the nation's history has been one of expanding liberty, not taking it away.

Sadly, when bad things happen people have a natural tendency to attack everything associated with the tragedy. After Pearl Harbor, we threw Japanese-Americans into prison. After 9/11, we eviscerated privacy rights, and many wanted to actually ban an entire religion. And after each senseless mass shooting, many want to restrict fundamental liberties for a false sense of security - regardless of the fact that this inherent right to personal, individual gun ownership is something the Supreme Court has validated.

The right to self-defense is both an individual right and a collective right. The individual has every right to defend themselves from a home invader and, collectively, we have the right to defend the nation from hostile forces. Neither the individual nor collective right can firmly be protected if the other isn't also protected. A country with a well-regulated military can still be invaded and overcome. But a country with millions of citizens who can all exercise their own right to defense is a whole lot harder to subdue, as history has shown many times over.

Mass grave of victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

My early childhood coincided with the end of the Cold War, and in that relatively short time countless tragedies have been visited upon the world by governments, criminal cartels, and terrorist groups. I don't consider these things merely distant and foreign warnings, nor do I think of them as some truism of the world that doesn't really mean that much. These are real events affecting real lives, and I think it's important to keep them in mind. There's little need to search the far-off past for examples of unarmed people being dragged off in cattle cars, a quick review of some of the things that have happened in my lifetime should be more than sufficient warning.

In my lifetime a terrorist group managed to take over one of the oldest societies in the world in Afghanistan, which also enabled the events of 9/11 a decade later.
I've seen the Chinese government engage in cultural genocide against millions of Uyghurs. It has imprisoned upwards of a million of them with no due process, broken up thousands of families, and created a biometric database to track the entire population.
I've seen civil war in the Balkans. And wars where the government turned completely against its own people in Libya and Syria.
I've seen genocides in Rwanda, Sudan, and against the Rohingya of Myanmar.
I watched as ISIS nearly overran two countries, killing thousands in the process.
I've seen the governments of Poland, Russia, and others take draconian actions against peaceful LGBT citizens, and the establishment of concentration camps for them in Chechnya.
I've seen drug cartels take over entire swaths of Central America.
I've watched Venezuela go from one of the richest countries to hell on earth.
As a North Korea analyst, I can see each and every day prison camps operating that hold upwards of 200,000 people.
I saw human rights abuses in Chile and throughout South America that resulted in the torture and deaths of tens of thousands. All with the backing of our own government.
And, yes, I also learned about Nazi Germany where six million died in the Holocaust. I learned about the Soviet government-sponsored famine in Ukraine that resulted in over three million deaths - and that even today evil men are prolonging a war in Ukraine with the backing of Russia. I learned about the killing fields in Cambodia, the mass purges in the Soviet Union, and the extensive crack downs on speech and religion that has never stopped in China.

Yet, despite the countless examples of international repression it is still hard to ever consider such tyranny happening in the United States. But the fact is most Americans actually think the federal government is a threat to liberty instead of the protector of liberty it was meant to be. And in 2017 only 23% felt the government had the consent of the governed - something that is the very cornerstone of the concept of government itself. Sadly, you don't need to look at polls or even consider the horrors foreign governments have visited on their own citizens. The concern about tyranny, government oppression, and state-sponsored violence can be dramatically justified by looking at our own history.

The US is no stranger to the creation of a surveillance state. The government has shown it doesn't care about your right to privacy and is more than willing to violate it owns laws. It engaged in domestic genocidal activities all the way into the 20th century. Even the much-loved Lincoln ordered the largest mass lynching of Native Americans in history. And speaking of Lincoln, the causes of secession may have been slavery, but the war itself was ignited by the government's willingness to send soldiers to kill other Americans. Regardless of the historical debates, the Civil War resulted in over 600,000 deaths and the US was the only country in history to end slavery in the context of a war.
Later, you have Texas Rangers murdering innocent Mexican Americans by the hundreds during La Matanza.
In the aftermath of 9/11, it even became dangerous to openly support the Constitution or to belong to 3rd parties. Various training manuals and reports from military, police, and other law enforcement agencies have listed potential "extremists" as those who promote judicial reforms, supporters of Ron Paul, holding pro-2nd Amendment views, and even disparage against homeschooling.
The government maintains kill lists and "no fly" list (which are notoriously inaccurate), all compiled in secret and without giving citizens the benefit of due process. Incidentally, gun control advocates have wanted to use the no-fly list as part of a plan to prevent people from owning guns.

And all of this adds to the current background where millions of Americans believe the Trump administration is setting up concentration camps. Where people see the vast abuses of government and law enforcement, but still insist that the only people who should have guns are those very people keeping kids in cages. The cognitive dissonance is stunning.

Calls for "common sense" gun control or banning "assault weapon" sound benign, but the history of gun control in this country has a long a dangerous history. Just like many other things, governments used Jim Crow laws to deny blacks the ability to own guns (or even certain knives in the case of Florida). What seems like common sense is only valid if it doesn't infringe on the rights of other people. 
Something like a universal background check comes with very real questions. A true universal background check law would mean that a dad couldn't give his daughter an heirloom rifle for her 18th birthday or that two friends couldn't exchange guns without first seeking the permission of the government. Then you add in something like Red Flag laws. These laws deny due process, violate privacy, and would begin to infringe on the rights of everyone who has ever been to a therapist, anyone who is a veteran, and anyone who smokes weed.

What about common sense bans of "assault weapons"? First you have to define what an assault weapon is. Many guns used legitimately in hunting have the same general characteristics of guns people have called "assault" or "military style." There is no unified, clear-cut definition of what those phrases mean. Often, they simply mean a gun that looks scary. Additionally, the only way such a ban would work is if you take the guns off the streets. In other words, go house to house and confiscate them. Otherwise you'd still have millions of "bad" guns in circulation, able to be stolen or end up on the black market where only criminals will have access to them.
Gun confiscation is the only way to make bans work. But even in a country like New Zealand, where gun laws have traditionally been strict, after the Christchurch shootings the gun buyback rate was only around 1%. Put another way, 99% of the owners of the now illegal guns have refused to voluntarily surrender them. Should New Zealand police start busting down the doors of these otherwise innocent and peaceful citizens?

When all is said and done, these "common sense" reforms end up looking extremely complicated and would require vast amounts of new government power to enforce, all while not addressing the root causes or affecting many other shootings. A 2014 study looked at 142 mass shootings and found that semi-automatic rifles were used in only 25% of the cases, meaning that 75% were committed with things like pistols, revolvers, and regular rifles. Context is also very important when discussing gun violence overall. The US doesn't have the highest rate of gun violence in the world and the bulk of gun deaths in America come from suicides. Of course that's not a good thing, but these proposed changes to gun laws wouldn't have much of an affect at all. Not to mention that plenty of shooters got their guns either illegally or because law enforcement systems failed and allowed people who already shouldn't be able to purchase a firearm to acquire one. 

I also feel it's important to note that crime rates have fallen sharply since the 1990s.

Of the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, one was a Trump supporter while the other was a socialist. Clearly violence isn't the sole domain of any one political ideology. What every mass shooter has in common (or anyone who murders others for that matter) is the ideology of hate. They view Hispanics as invaders, they view Democrats as anti-American, they view gays as abominations, they view all conservatives as warmongers, they view a cheating spouse or rude boss as subhuman. They see other human beings as less valuable and less worthy of life. This points to a cultural problem we must look directly in the face. 

Japan has far higher consumption rates of video games than we do, but little violent crime (or any other type). The former countries of the USSR have much lower rates of religious adherence, but also have managed to not have the issues the United States does. Blaming violent games or a lack of God is just a way to try to oversimplify reality and skirt the very real problems driving violence.  
Just as systemic racism or police violence are uncomfortable things to confront (or to even acknowledge), we must look at what's fueling hate and "otherism," and why so many seem to be unable to find belonging within society as a whole, as well as their inability to find healthy ways to discuss and resolve their frustrations (real or imagined).

The reply to that by gun-control advocates is "why not at least stop them from being able to use those weapons?" Again, "those weapons" require definitions and preventing their use means a major growth of the very same government that abused its power countless times. Thus, while giving a government with an undisputed history of racism, discrimination, abuse, and murder even more power, we get to ignore the real problems indefinitely - just as with laying the blame at the feet of games. 

So, yes, I very much want mass shootings to end, but I am absolutely not willing take the word of our government that it won't do bad things. I am absolutely not willing to give up my right to defend myself. And more importantly, I recognize that just as I have no right to demand that you give up your rights to speech, a fair trial, or to not be a slave, I also have no right to demand you limit or give up your right to own a gun. And if I don't have that right, you certainly don't have the right to demand others do.

--Jacob Bogle, 8/9/2019

Saturday, December 15, 2018

North Korea is Calling. Where's the Libertarian?

People who are passionate about things tend to have a near savant ability to turn any feature of conversation back around to their topic of obsession. For many of those who lean libertarian in their philosophy and politics, it's either foreign policy (end the wars) or economics (End the Fed). In my case, it's North Korea. I have been studying the country for around seven years and there isn't a topic I can think of where I can't pull out some DPRK related story or use a news item about the country to underscore some libertarian concern elsewhere.

I have touched on a number of North Korea-related things in my own writings (or should I say, I have brought out topics of libertarian interest in articles on North Korea), but I try to avoid injecting strict lines of ideology into my work because so much of it is supposed to be based on things like the interpretation of satellite imagery, and less outright social and political commentary.

The libertarian side of the political spectrum, of course, isn't for want of publications or think-tanks. From large outfits like Reason and CATO to countless smaller bloggers who may only have a few hundred regular readers, a lot of things get discussed. But what I have noticed is that there seems to be a shortage of articles dealing with North Korea. That isn't to say they don't exist, but, from my perspective, North Korea is a pool whose depths can never be fully plumed and, unfortunately, rarely are. Now, that could be because I am a DPRK wonk, but it's not exactly a super obscure area of research, either.

Unlike having to draw from the past to show how socialism fails or that the natural state of being is freedom, North Korea offers us a live, real-world drama that is unfolding before our very eyes. And this drama demonstrates with ever greater force how the underpinnings of libertarianism are not only valid, but the outcome of greater liberty is shown to be unavoidable. Exploring the past offers tremendous value to any form of study and commentary but relying on the past to carry an argument also runs the risk of being less relatable to those who didn't experience those events in some way.

Most of my life has been lived after the Cold War. Often quoted people like Mencken or Rand are distant voices whose own lives and views were shaped by events very few of today's population lived with. And so, I return to North Korea. It is a communist hold over that has been undergoing a slow-motion evolution toward greater freedom and openness, not because of orders from on-high, but driven by the people from the ground up; an ultimate expression of libertarianism in action.

I have countless ideas for articles, most of which I am certain I will never write. So at the risk of losing out on page views but in the hopes of spurring on interest in this field (as well as giving liberty-minded people new examples to use to bolster their message), I want to run down a few main topics that should offer a lot of depth to anyone willing to write about it.

1) Women's Rights

Image source: BBC/GETTY

Yes, I know, the only rights are individual rights, but North Korea is the most collectivized country one can think of. Individuality is severely suppressed, and group mindsets are the norm. Women's groups, youth groups, worker's groups, are all mixed with the historic Confucian traditions regarding sex and family. Despite technically being granted equal rights, for much of North Korean society, the woman retained her traditional role; unable to find agency for herself and at the mercy of both the state and her husband (domestic abuse is a rampant problem). However, in the years following the 1990s famine, women have become the driving force in the marketization of the country. They have also been brave enough to take full charge of their lives and make up the majority of those defecting the country.

The general opening of society as a result of economic growth and a rising middle class has also given women greater agency in their personal lives. Dating, hereunto largely a family/state arranged matter, has become something the younger generation can now actually engage in. Sneaking out of the house, holding hands, and taking nighttime walks have all become part of life. And the overall understanding of how sex works (which has been medieval in many instances for both boys and girls) is now helping women take charge over their lives, be safer, and no longer exist solely as the property of their husbands. Even the more "seedier" side of things has become more common with older women renting out extra rooms for an hour or two for couples to get to know each other.

With their hard work and immense bravery, the economics of North Korea have changed drastically over the years. And since economics affects pretty much everything else, most of the other topics flow from this point.

This NK News article from 2013 and Reuters' "In North Korea, men call the shots, women make the money" have good rundowns on the topic.

2) Access to Information and Communication

Open-access to information is nonexistent in North Korea, and information and communication controls are among the tightest in the world. However, that veil has begun to show cracks. 
The practice of control is a balancing act. If you enact measures that are too strict or that move the bar too rapidly, you risk setting off rebellion in the form of black markets in goods and information, which could eventually lead to the collapse of the regime. If your new attempts at control aren't tough enough, you risk the people ignoring them, which, in turn, can also lead to the collapse of the regime.

North Korea has, thus far, managed to be responsive enough and harsh enough to prevent open acts of revolt on large scales, but also acquiesced enough to respond to the desires of the people. This has allowed the government to survive for 70 years, but the trend is still the same: greater freedom. One day, this will either lead to massive and brutal crackdowns to save the ruling class, or it will have North Korea finding itself sitting in the place of an open and free country. And while the North Korean government may currently be more advanced technologically than its people, the story in the rest of the world is that of average citizens finding ways around censorship and control. There is no reason why the people of North Korea will be any different when it comes to closing this gap.

North Korea was one of the last hold outs when it came to allowing cell phone use. In 2002 approximately 20,000 North Koreans had cell phones. These users were the country's elite. Today that number has swelled to nearly 4 million people and users now extend to every strata of society. Telecommunication infrastructure has likewise grown by leaps and bounds and today there are at least 920 cell phone towers in the country, with new ones coming online all the times. Use of cell phones in a country where even getting a landline requires a substantial government approval process, has helped enable trade among citizens, trade across borders, the sharing of otherwise banned information and political gossip, facilitate escapes, and much more.

Granting cell phone use is, of course, also used by the government to promote its own ends (the same can be said for allowing market activity). It gives the government new tools for surveillance and new sources of cash (the DPRK has partnered with the Egyptian company Orascom and this nets the country millions in revenue). At the same time, they also provide the people with ways to avoid the government, to earn money under the table, and to breakaway (even if ever so slightly) from the all-powerful grasp of Pyongyang. As mentioned, it's a balancing act for survival to the eyes of the government. 

Access to the global internet is impossible for all but a few hundred to a few thousand highly trusted individuals. However, the country does have its own "walled garden"; a closed intranet system that can be accessed at schools, libraries and other institutions. Here too, the computers needed to use the intranet means there are disk drives and USB ports all over the country. This has led to the country being flooded with otherwise highly illegal content like South Korean TV shows, news from Chinese sources, and even Hollywood films. This outside information has, more than anything else, been the vehicle that has helped break the spell of the Kim family. Today's youth no longer worship the leadership or believe that their country is the greatest on earth. It helps give them tools the government has worked hard to eradicate like, critical thinking skills. With access to more information, the lies and controls of this 70 year old system begin to fall away.  

3) Housing, Consumer Choice, and Leisure

2017 International Trade Fair. Source: Kyodo News.

North Korea is ostensibly guided by the Juche Idea, which is often translated as "self-reliance". This is supposed to mean that North Korea should develop itself free from outside control or reliance on external aid. Under this philosophy, the goal of building their socialist paradise can only be achieved by feeding themselves, developing their own technology, creating their own unique art, and producing their own goods and services in their own way. In theory, it's a form of autarky. In practice, however, North Korea is heavily dependent on the outside world. From an economic perspective, this isn't necessarily a negative thing. It shows that trade is the life blood of any country and that reaching out economically enables survival, as opposed to the ideas of would-be isolationists.

The result of trade is economic growth. That growth means disposable income, a rise in private property, and a middle class (or jangmadang) for the first time in generations. Where people had been wholly dependent on the government's Public Distribution System prior to the famine and economic collapse, the invisible hand of the market has shown that even after recovery, nothing can compete with people making their own choices.

Pyongyang has grown from a collection of Soviet-style block apartments to one with rows of modern-looking high rises and futuristic districts. Greater wealth and choice breed the desire for more choice and better living conditions. In response, the government has built ski resorts, new beachfront properties, improved infrastructure, and has recently began to build new kinds of parks in every major city. This has all been a result of the government bowing to public pressure. But the government isn't the only player. Private citizens, upstart companies (legal, black market and grey market), new military endeavors, and other entities have risen to fuel construction booms.

People's desires for modern apartments means military carpentry groups (the best skilled in the country) are paid to fulfill their wishes. This puts money into the hands of military families and the military itself, which in turn helps the government overcome problems related to sanctions (more on sanctions below). New mining companies means greater levels of resource extraction and thus higher levels of trade with China. A ton of coal goes out, flat screen TVs come in.
Again, this leads to more money in the hands of the people and broadens their range of choices. And all of this trade means people are travelling around the country more than ever. What used to be a difficult process of obtaining travel permits (as you are not allowed to leave your city without permission) has now become a fairly straight forward system of paying bribes. This means the government gets their money and the people can earn theirs through trading. All of this internal travel and trade also results in people wanting to move to new towns. The result that is residency permits are now widely bought and sold (the houses themselves still technically belong to the state), which helps to fuel further residential growth and construction. 

It's all a rather large self-supporting cycle borne from people taking matters into their own hands. An ineffective and highly restrictive system has turned into an albeit messy but functional process through which people make their own choices and help grow the economy, reaping the benefits of consumer choice in process. 

4) Long-term Sanctions Don't Work

That long-term sanctions don't work, is something libertarians have understood for a very long time. Be it the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, or North Korea, sanctions overwhelmingly harm civilian populations and the poorest stratum of society far more than the elite, leadership classes. Sanctions are also an act of violence, and so are incongruent with many of the values espoused by the nations who so often vote for and enforce them. Sanctions fail at a fundamental level because, by their very nature, they challenge people to overcome them. Whether it is outright avoidance, developing methods to lessen their effect by becoming more efficient in the affected sectors, or developing ways to get around them by inventing new technologies, sanctions act as a kind of evolutionary pressure selection system, but for economics. North Korea is no stranger to this.

The goal of sanctions is to pressure the government into giving up their weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, their nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But North Korea has been under various sanction regimes for decades, and today not only do they have fully functional nuclear weapons, but they have the capacity to fire a missile and hit any part of the United States they wish. This has been accomplished through a mix of sanctions avoidance (by working with other rogue countries and with the assistance of China) and the forced development of domestically produced weapons components. Instead of stopping WMD development, North Korea just took the long view and used many indirect routes to accomplish their goals.

Similarly, sanctions have only had a limited effect on the lifestyles of the country's elite. Luxury goods continue to flow into the country and North Korea has been making their own cloned versions of popular electronic devices, such as the iPhone. The country has also found the hundreds of millions needed to construct ski resorts and beach condos, high rise apartment blocks and 4D theaters.

In both the military and domestic spheres, the growing development of their internal economy (which had languished for many years) has enabled the creation of an ever-expanding middle class. This unique mix of official and unofficial, domestic and military economies provides each of these sectors with crossover support. In other words, there's a lot (relatively speaking) of money being made all over the place and that has allowed the regime to overcome sanctions in many ways.

5) Average People Can Force Change

North Korean defectors reaching South Korea in 1997. Source: AP

As Alex Gladstein, member of the group Flash Drives for Freedom, has said, "History has told us that outside information and culture have helped end dictatorships in many places around the world". From workers rising in Poland and creating Solidarity to the bold actions of average people at Tiananmen Square, to even the current Yellow Vest movements in France, when the people have had enough, governments will respond. Trying to stop dissent with force is only the final move before a government either relents or is overthrown. History has shown us this countless times.

Through legal and illegal economic activity, reclaiming personal agency, gaining knowledge about the outside world, breaking through indoctrination and learning that your country isn't a socialist paradise, engaging in normally common tasks like switching apartments or crossing a border, through all of these people are daring to have more and to be more than what their government decides. And because of this, the Kim regime has had to make changes. They have had to acknowledge that a famine happened and that it was "partially" the fault of government policy. They have had to allow the growth of market activity. They had to turn a blind eye to property ownership in many instances. And they have had to allow in things like cell phones and personal computers.
The recurrent theme? For a regime to survive it must bend to the will of the people.

The examples I have given (and in so many other ways) all provide evidence that people can indeed change things. The axiom that all governments are derived by the consent of the governed applies just as much to liberal democracies as it does to totalitarian states. If the people get fed up with something, governments are going to have to make changes or start shooting. North Korea has been smart enough to make limited official changes and wise enough to turn their eyes away from what is going on in the streets. 

There are many paths toward liberty and not all of them are clean. North Korea's path has been rather messy. From rampant corruption (which is needed to bypass the official Party line on economics) to the fact people are still executed for trade and passing on South Korean dramas, this hasn't been an easy journey, but there is still no doubt it's a national journey that is opening up the country to the world more and more.

None of this is to say that North Korea has turned into some laissez-faire utopia. North Korea is still the most repressive, centralized, and cruel regime in existence. However, the trend from total control to greater liberty has been inexorable. Today's Northern citizen has more de facto freedom, economic choice, and access to information than at any other time in the history of the country. And all of this continues to grow. There's no need to focus on the Cold War or the Soviet Union to find examples of the never-ending drive toward freedom. We can watch it happen every day in North Korea. The full cycle from tyranny to liberty may take years more to complete, but, make no mistake, it is happening, and we should use North Korea as both a warning and as an example to the world.

To bring things back to the title question, where's the libertarian, I hope I have shown that these five areas are filled with potential content, and that they serve as inspiration for liberty-minded writers to take on these subjects and more within the setting of North Korea.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/15/2018

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Thoughts on Envy, Greed, and Evolution

Envy and greed. They are words with different meanings but they also both play varying roles in our perception of fairness and justice, particularly when it comes to things like finances.

Most people tend to feel that the super-rich have “too much” (material wealth, power, etc.) and that it’s unfair. Many think that those who have something to give are obliged to give it (this is even reflected in numerous religions). We are taught to share from a very early age and people who don’t share are typically shunned and attacked. These feelings seem to be rooted deep within and such moral outrage can pop up at just about time.

Envy is defined by Google as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck;” and “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else).” The evolutionary advantage of envy is theorized to be that it aided in our efforts to achieve and gain more. It helped spur us on as a species.

Greed is defined as “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” Greed is typically viewed as envy gone wrong, but it too played a role in our development and in that complex feeling of “unfairness” we so often experience.

My hypothesis (I say “my” but I doubt I’m the first to have the idea, however, it came to me recently during a 2 am internal dialogue) is that this unpleasant sensation, bordering on righteous anger, caused by the feeling of unfairness is an evolutionary throw back to when we lived more communally and depended on others more directly for our own survival.

While it’s true our modern world has never been more connected and interdependent, the distance between where your food comes from and your table has never been greater. Additionally, we rarely engage in trade or bartering without the same medium of exchange: cash (or some variation thereof). We can get food, shelter, entertainment, find mates, etc. from a vast number of places, but the labor we engage in to acquire those things is often completely unrelated to what it is we're tying to get. A plumber has little directly to do with growing food and a farmer has little to do with film making. This means that there are fewer direct and deep interrelationships on matters of survival than there had been in the past.

We experience “unfairness” whenever we see someone with too much (however subjective that may be). Be it too much money, power, land, food, too large a home, too much anything. Our higher reasoning and thinking skills seem to be placed on hold as we grumble to ourselves or amongst a group how that person doesn’t deserve what they have and why they should give much of it away. 
After all, there are certainly plenty of people in the world who have far less (often including ourselves). But I’m not so sure this feeling is a simple matter of immaturity or naked greed on our part; although, that is undoubtedly part of the puzzel.

I am starting to think that the fundamental reason why we feel that way, and feel it so reflexively at that, is because it is our brain telling us something doesn’t seem right (fair) with the situation. A part of our brain that evolved thousands of years ago when the world in which we lived was very different.

To help illustrate what I’m talking about, I will turn to the animal kingdom.

Scene from A Bug's Life, Disney, 1998.


Ants, as we all know, work and live communally. Despite being small, ants have a hierarchy and a fairly complicated system of communication and social structure. This structure only works when each member of an internal group (foragers, for example) does their job and shares their knowledge, gains, or other labors with the group. No one ant can amass a huge collection of leaves to eat. And even their “queen” dedicates her entire existence to the continuation of the colony.

Moving up the food chain, we encounter lions. Lions hunt together and then share their kill with the dominant male (who helps protect everyone but doesn't hunt), their cubs, and other members of the group (which may be subsets of the larger lion pride). As with ants, it's not really possible for individuals to get portions larger than most. The group structure and nature of their existence doesn't lend itself to that easily.

Finally, we come to primates. There are 16 families and around 200 individual species of primates around the world, all with different behaviors and social structures, so a simplistic and broad comparison to humans can be difficult. Instead of looking at all of them, I will mention a few that share behaviors most people associate with only humans, such as warfare (one was documented to last 4 years!). 

Even in primate species* that engage in more extreme behaviors like war, raids, and even murder - chimps, red-tail monkeys, apes, etc.- sharing the spoils of war with the group (even among those that didn't participate) still remains a core function that enables the group to survive. 

(*I'd like to point out that primates aren't the only group of animals that engage in killing.)

I am not trying to suggest that, absent humans, nature would exist as some perfectly balanced, Hippie love-fest. That concept is an entirely man-made fiction. "Natural life" is a never ending parade of horrors with brief moments of calm thrown in randomly. But I am trying to build the case (without writing an actual paper), that cooperation and sharing is fundamental to the development of any society (something that is well proven) and that our feelings of injustice towards those with far greater resources is at least partially rooted in our deep past. 

Abundance is rare in nature and it was rare for most of human history. Regular surpluses of food only became possible with the advent of agriculture. Modern humans have been around for 180,000 to 200,000 years. On the other hand,the ability to control food supplies via cultivation was only developed 11,000 years ago - meaning that for ~95% of our history, abundance wasn't really possible without someone stealing from others. 

It makes sense that we would still retain emotional echoes of that long history.

The moral of the story, if there is one here, isn't that we should all live communally and do away with private property. The essence of free markets and capitalism (despite not being formally a "thing" until a few centuries ago) has enabled us to go from subsistence farming and hunting and gathering, to a world that grows 2-3 times the needed amount of food to feed everyone. 

Plato said that many of the injustices we face were those imposed on our own souls by things like anger, fear, lust, and actual envy. We should overcome those and thus no longer be subjected to such injustices of our own creation.

That essence, the fundamental drive toward self preservation and improvement, gave us pretty much everything that wasn't already here when the world began. And I mean everything. The moral is that instead of lashing out and rioting in the streets, perhaps we should recognize that oftentimes this urge to indignation is an emotional relic. Greed, hoarding, theft, these things do exist. However, economics teaches us that the "pie" isn't limited; your not having an apple isn't because I have one.

Being the bigger brained, generally self-controlled primates that we are, perhaps we should stretch that self-control a little more to this arena. 

--Jacob Bogle, 9/23/2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

Thoughts on Dunkirk

Dunkirk during evacuation. Image source: Imperial War Museum.

I went to see Dunkirk last night, and it reminded me of why I support international cooperation, including things like NATO and the UN, and why the statements of Trump and others are so offensive to me.

World War II bound much of the planet together in blood. Over 60 million people died, including over 400,000 Americans. That war altered our history as a species. The efforts and lives of so many, including the lives of a full 13% of Soviet citizens and over half of all European Jews, went in to fighting against fascism, genocide, and territorial expansion at the point of a gun. It's easy to gloss over statistics, but those aren't just numbers. They represent individual lives. Individual acts of courage, fights for survival, countless children, and tales of horror and humanity.

The evacuation at Dunkirk, to me, represents more than a defeat that actually ended up saving the United Kingdom. It was allies fighting to save one another. At the end of the battle, it was the French - historically the arch rival of the English - who sacrificed many of their men after the battle was lost to ensure that at least some of the British troops could evacuate to carry on against tyranny.

And before the light of Western Civilization was snuffed out, the near unlimited might of the United States entered the conflict. We weren't just trying to save our British cousins, or the French to whom we owe much for our own successful Revolution. As we discovered, too, we weren't just trying to vanquish Japan for their attack on Pearl Harbor, either.

We soon learned that the Allied cause was the salvation of the enormous progress gained after ages of struggle against evil and small-minded men who would seek world domination or the obliteration of a people based on race or religion.

From small towns in Tunisia to the ancient capitals of Europe, from little known islands in the Pacific to the never-ending steppes of Russia, from defending New York Harbor against U-Boat attacks to sending a life line to the Chinese as millions were killed in cold blood. We all fought together, Americans and Russians, British and French, Nationalist and Communist Chinese, Muslims and Hindu. The new world that emerged (which included the end of colonialism and the independence of dozens of nations) is not something we should easily discard because the Germans or the Mexicans or the pesky French "stole" our industry -- and yet we have grown ever richer and more powerful.

For all the faults and rightful criticisms of organizations like the UN and NATO, the last 75 or so years since the end of the war have been the most peaceful in Europe since the days of Rome, and the most prosperous and innovative period in human history.

But for some reason, a relative few dollars is too high a price to help maintain that order? The relationships that were forged in blood and fire, and honed over generations should be discarded? There are real current and growing threats that we're all going to have to confront. Pretending like they don't exist or thinking we can achieve victory piecemeal or all alone is to ignore the lessons taught by those 60 million lives. It’s a pity the abundance of knowledge history affords us is forgotten so easily.

--Jacob Bogle, 8/4/17

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Links in a Chain and Eternal Memory

I rarely use this blog for overtly personal things, but the last few weeks have been difficult for me and - as the blog's title says - I feel I have something worth saying and worth reading.

My dad and mom divorced when I was two years old. He moved away to California and it wasn't until I was about nine that he came back into my life. After a while he left once again. Things were never antagonistic. He wasn't a bad man. He never hit me or my mom, and never was verbally abusive. He just wasn't sure how to raise a son and lived with that guilt his entire life. That guilt meant that I only had sporadic contact with him since he often vanished without warning.

Jerry Lynn Bogle. Picture courtesy of Scott Walker.
A few months ago I received a phone call from someone I barely knew. He said he knew my dad, knew where he was living, and that he had Stage IV cancer. He asked if I had any interest in being reunited with him. I said yes. That random phone call from a virtual stranger enabled me to reconnect with my dad and allowed us to understand and forgive. I learned that my dad had been homeless for several years due to disability, and as the cancer progressed he spent a lot of time in the hospital. Because of that we didn't get to see each other everyday even after being reunited, but the time we did have with each other was positive.

After a major bout of pneumonia he was taken to Hospice. Everyone thought he had a month or so left. Unfortunately, less than 72 hours later, on June 9, he was dead at age 59. I am his only child.


Margaret Joy Coakley Koch
As I write this, it has been four days since I learned by maternal grandmother was gravely ill. I went to see her at the nursing home on Monday (July 9) and on July 10 she, too, passed away. She was 87. In terms of her children and their descendants, I am one of 75 who survive her: 7 kids, 23 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and 8 great-great-grandchildren.

I have always been fascinated by ancestry. Discovering one's heritage helps build a bridge between the past and present that not only gives one a sense of belonging and place, but can help to inform and guide one's future as well. In reality, no family is more or less special. Go back far enough and we are all related. It doesn't need to be that far either. Still, a family tree is made up of individual people and everyone is unique in some way. One love lost or never found, one illness or injury, even turning right instead of left could mean the difference of entire branches of that tree.

I am the product of my mother and a salt of the earth man named Jerry who helped to build structures across the country. And because of my mother, I am also the product of a small lady who always wore heels just to go outside and check the mail.

I am the product of these two very different people, and they are also the product of others. I'd like to talk a little bit about that.


Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I have been able to trace my ancestry back many generations. On my dad's side, I descend from a Scottish man named John Bogle who was born in 1530. On my grandmother's, from a man also named John, John R. Byrd. He was born in 1669 in Virginia.

Looking through all the parents of parents and so forth, I have in my family tree Civil War veterans, Revolutionary War veterans, pastors, tenant farmers, and men and women who braved crossing oceans to start a new life.

It would be impossible to list the details of all of their lives. There are hundreds of names. There are people from the former British Colonies, Scotland, England, Wales, and even Germany - all that have come together to emerge as a tall, skinny, dark haired-blue eyed, blogger from Murfreesboro, TN. One way to view those names in a family tree is as links in a chain. One link never connects and *poof* not only am I not an only son, but I and my 74 other relatives aren't here either.


One of the few family photos with most everyone in it. Taken circa 1995.
All life is fleeting and there will come a day for nearly all of us when the only thing people know about us are names and dates. Entire lifetimes - love, hate, birth, accomplishments, everything - reduced to a few lines of text. Even when going over all of the different things I know and remember about my dad and grandmother, when held up to the totality of their lives, I come away more than a little saddened. How is it that so much can happen, that so much can matter, yet so little remain?

The truth is, no matter how badly I want to know all of the things my dad did in California, or what my grandmother's life was like as she lived through WWII, all that really matters is they lived their lives in such a way to create some pretty good people. I am my father's legacy. My scores of aunts and uncles and cousins and I are the legacy of a grandmother born in Chattanooga. We do our duty and we serve witness to their lives by following the path they tried to lay out for us; despite their flaws.

To not let guilt stand in the way of relationships. To work hard to care for your family, even if that means you have to sacrifice. To not let petty disagreements or hurt feelings from decades ago allow those 8 great-grand kids from knowing the other 67 people they share blood with. And whether or not we are able to forge another link in the chain by having children of our own, to do our best to help those around us and make our corner of the world a little brighter.  

My own father helped the world when he gave what little he had while living in a car to those who didn't even have that. My grandmother helped the world by teaching us all about God and sharing her love of music.

Families can be complicated. Sometimes real hurt and anger can cause lasting rifts. 

I come from a collection of individuals. I exist because of the lives of countless others. I live now in the midst of dozens who all share blood. But just like my dad and grandmother picked how they lived their adult lives, I pick how I live mine. I can't change what has happened, but I can certainly decide what will happen by heeding the lessons of those who came before.

We may all be links in a chain, but we and those who come after us are also their eternal memory. Let us all remember that.

--Jacob Bogle, 7/12/2017

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How Much Did Each Vote Cost?

Without a doubt, 2016 will go down as one of the most unique and surprising elections in American history. With the votes now counted, we can start to ask the question, how much did each candidate pay for your vote?

(NOTE: the final financial reports won't be available until Jan. 31, 2017. As such, the figures for the 2016 election only represent what is known at this time, and the final amounts raised by each campaign will end up being higher. However, I don't foresee the proportion of cost-per-vote between candidates to vary much beyond what it already is.)

The billionaire won the election against a well entrenched establishment candidate, and both of them struggled to gain a few percentages over one another in scattered states while two lesser known candidates vied for the nation's top job as well. But before we look at the results of 2016, let's review the previous two election cycles.

In 2008, you had veteran politician (and military veteran) Republican Sen. John McCain go up against a relative new comer, Sen. Barack Obama. For the entire 2008 cycle, $1,681,000,000 was raised. The Democratic Party raised a little over $1 billion of that, while the Republican raised $606 million. In terms of the two nominees, Obama out-raised McCain, $748 million to $351 million.

Click for larger view.

This means that Obama spent $10.76 per vote and McCain spent $5.85 per vote. Overall, 32.5% of all funds came from donations of $200 or less. The top bracket of donations made up 22.2%.

The 2012 election was less expensive, with $1,325,000,000 raised. Once again, the Republican Party nominee was out-raised, $772 million to Romney's $450 million. The Libertarian and Green parties also raised millions. The Libertarian Party's candidate, Gary Johnson, raised $2.8 million and Jill Stein of the Green Party raised $1.2 million. Overall, 46.8% of all funds came from donations of $200 or less. The top bracket of donations made up 26%.

Click for larger view.

In terms of $ per vote: Obama spent $11.71/vote, Romney spent $7.38/vote, Johnson spent $2.19/vote, and Stein spent $2.55/vote.

This brings us to 2016.

2016 was the year of money, with both main candidates having a net worth of over $200 million for the first time in American history. This year's election was supposed to be the most expensive ever, with over $2 billion raised through direct campaign and party channels. The reality was a bit different. While there were countless millions (some say billions) worth of "free media" spent on Hillary and Trump (in terms of covering their full speeches, campaign stops etc.), the real figure will likely never be known. What is known is what the law requires. According to the FEC, $1.3 billion was raised by all candidates by the end of the October reporting quarter. (Remember, the total amounts won't be released until 2017)

Hillary Clinton raised $498 million, while billionaire Donald Trump raised $248 million (of that, $56 million came from Trump himself). Gary Johnson raised $11.2 million (the most for a 3rd party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992) and Jill Stein raised $3.5 million. Overall, 55.4% of all funds came from donations of $200 or less. The top bracket of donations made up 23%.

Click for larger view.

The cost-per-votes are: $7.97 for Clinton, $4.04 for Trump, $2.61 for Johnson, and $2.67 for Stein. 

I also want to look at the primaries. Clinton raised $328.6 million by the end of July while Bernie Sanders raised $236.5 million. Clinton received 16.9 million primary votes, Sanders 13.2 million. This equals $19.44/vote for Hillary and $17.91/vote for Sanders.

On the Republican side, Trump's main rival was Sen. Ted Cruz. By the end of July, Trump had raised $128 million and Cruz raised $92.8 million. Trump won slightly over 14 million votes for a cost-per-vote of $9.14, and Cruz had a cost of $11.98/vote with 7.8 million votes.

This election had a turnout rate of 53.6% which was the lowest voter turnout since the 2000 Bush/Gore election (which also resulted in the winner losing the popular vote). In terms of overall vote count, it's similar to the 2004 election of Bush/Kerry.

What does all of this mean? Simply spending huge sums of money is no guarantee of winning an election. I think it definitely goes a long way towards dispelling the notion that you can "buy" a place in the Oval Office.

--Jacob Bogle, Nov. 16, 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Are You Broken, Am I?

Having dealt with depression and dark periods off and on for many years, I have a special place in my heart for those who feel broken inside. People often ask, especially when dealing with younger people, “how can one so young be so broken?” It’s easy to write off moodiness or depression in teens as just a “phase” or simply being immature and seeking attention. Even I have off-handedly discounted the feelings of others. This was and is wrong.

The truth is, we are not born whole people. We’re born as basically blank slates. Sure, genetics will form a scaffolding, but it’s our environment and our internal search for identity and meaning that will ultimately form what we consider “whole” human beings. The reality is, when someone’s young and having strong emotional issues, it isn’t necessarily that they’re “broken,” they were never whole to begin with. And unless addressed, unless their lives and their reality are respected, that partially formed psyche will turn into an adult with a malformed sense of self; they will likely carry those scars and develop deeper problems.

The search for who we are can be relatively quick and easy, or it might never form into a coherent and satisfying identity. Of course we never stop growing and changing, but those original seeds – the scaffolding and early development in childhood and adolescence – lingers on, coloring every aspect of ourselves until addressed and redressed. Whether the eventual outcome is positive or disastrous, we have to remember that the bulk of our self-identity, the source fount of confidence and strength, all have their roots in our youth. Both biologically and environmentally, whether we consciously recognize it or not, that period is what enables us to become healthy and whole adults, or stunts us long into old age. 

The reason teens, in particular, seem to be never endingly sullen while also having periods of wildly positive energy followed by a desire to crawl under rocks and disappear, is due to the fact that their mental ability to properly categorize feelings, assess correct responses, react to stimulus, etc., is still being developed. There’s an almost Autistic quality to life during this period, where you feel everything but don’t always know how to deal with it, and so you either overreact or you shut down. And this period of life, where one’s mind and emotions are caught up in some vortex with occasional times of being becalmed, is the time in which our lasting selves are forged. 

You are being formed but you are not yet fully formed. Within those cracks lie the seeds of depression that can sprout at any time. Absent trauma, the person isn’t broken, they’re struggling to become whole. But, without proper respect and assistance, those pieces may not find each other and can go on to be the roots of any number of problems. 

--Jacob Bogle, 7/3/2016