Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Would a Conservative Star Wars Look Like?

The new Star Wars installment in the canon, The Force Awakens, Rolls Over, and Hits the Snooze Bar, drew the ire of some on the Right for having a woman heroine and a black Storm Trooper. The spin-off, Rogue One, generates more of the same because it's even more ethnically diverse. (Not to be confused with the film about the Mary Kay lady who goes over to the Dark Side, Rouge One.)

Since a lot of the themes in Star Wars, like the notion of heroic resistance trying to overthrow an oppressive empire, lend themselves to liberal political themes, the suspicion has arisen that Star Wars is essentially liberal propaganda. So what would a conservative Star Wars look like?

The Empire are the Good Guys

There's an alternative Lord of the Rings story, The Last Ringbearer, originally written in Russian by Kiril Eskov, that posits that Mordor was the civilized part of Middle Earth and that its overthrow represented the triumph of the superstitious, ignorant and backward outer world. Think about it. All we know about Middle Earth is what the trilogy tells us, and history is written by the victors. What if it's all Elvish and Gondorian propaganda? What if the "cleansing of the Shire" (an add-on mercifully left out of the already ponderous films) was actually a last gallant attempt by Saruman to establish an outpost to preserve a remnant of civilization?

So turning Star Wars on its head makes sense. All we know is what the Rebels have told us in the films. What if they lied? What if it's all Rebel propaganda? Remember how Obi-Wan described Mos Eisley as "a wretched hive of scum and villainy?" What if that describes, not just one backwater spaceport, but the whole of the Galaxy? Here are a few scenarios in which the Empire might be the good side. Note that these aren't mutually exclusive.

The Empire is Bringing Civilization to a Backward Galaxy

Early in A New Hope, Luke grumbles about being stuck at his uncle's farm instead of being able to enroll at The Academy. Exactly what Academy isn't made clear, but it's obvious that on these backwater worlds, chances for advancement are slim. (We ought to bear issues of scale in mind. A well-developed planet would be richer and more advanced than Earth, and probably quite capable of having its own MIT or Harvard.)

We could picture the Empire as a sci-fi British Empire, deposing corrupt local governments or co-opting them, imposing the rule of law and civilized customs. Naturally, die-hard adherents of the old regime seek refuge outside Empire-controlled space. They might engage in guerrilla raids for revenge, for profit, or as part of a larger strategy to recapture their homelands. Needless to say, the Empire would have to, er, strike back. And in a modern twist, we might find anti-colonialists opposing the Empire simply for being an Empire.

The Empire is Stamping Out Criminal Warlords

Two words: Jabba the Hutt. What? You want to count "the" as a word, too? Okay, fine, whatever, pedant. Jabba pretty much runs Tatooine. So we've got a planet under the thumb of a criminal overlord. Now multiply Tatooine by however many other planets in the Galaxy and you can see what the Empire is up against.

Law and Order: Galaxy. Courageous Imperial expeditionary forces swoop down on criminal lairs, rescuing hostages, freeing slaves, and wiping out criminal gangs. Or the SVU version, where we see the breakup of rings trafficking in sexy alien slave girls. No Miranda, no lawyering up, and they do have ways of making you talk. Sure, a civilization advanced enough to have star ships should also be capable of getting information by brain scans or really effective drugs, but the rough trade is more fun.

The Empire is Fighting Murderous Religious Fanatics

The Jedi base everything on the religion of the Force, and they slice and dice people handily with light sabers. Sounds a lot like ISIS. Also the Jedi don't convert everyone but keep their secrets among a select elite. So it's a cult, too. Ferreting out covert Jedi agents would make for some good plot lines. The Jedi don't marry, so we can imagine they'd impose a pretty puritanical society, ruled by embittered and sexually frustrated Jedi. Sounds more and more like ISIS all the time.

Now portraying the Empire as agnostic or even secular wouldn't be conservative enough. They need a religion more palatable to American tastes. It would have to believe in a Supreme Being and would have to reinforce what conservatives view as acceptable conduct. Picture something like the 1966 film Khartoum, where Victorian Brits face a fanatical army led by the self-styled Mahdi.

The Empire is Breaking up an Ossified Bureaucracy

Look at episodes II and III, where we get a serious look at Coruscant. The entire planet is a city. A breeding ground for crime and government handouts. 

Check out this dialog from A New Hope:

Governor Tarkin:

The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

General Tagge:

But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Governor Tarkin:
The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
How libertarian can you get? We need a bureaucracy to govern. No we don't. We just let local government run everything. Billions of bureaucrats are thrown out of work. Many, embittered, join rebellions.

Maybe There's Something Worse than the Empire

The Yuuzhan Vong, for example. This was an extragalactic race that revered pain and death and hated mechanical technology. All their own technology was biological. Their professed reverence for life didn't stop them from killing 365 trillion sentient life forms when they invaded the Star Wars galaxy. (A semi-canon race: see Wookieepedia)

You can pretty much see that willy-nilly destroying all the inorganic technology on a planet would condemn most of that planet's population to death. Taken to its logical conclusion, even a stone scraper would be forbidden.

On the other hand, imagine collaborationist movements yearning for a return to an imaginary pre-technological Eden. You'd have the collaborationists and the Yuuzhan Vong spouting the most chiched eco-babble, all the while merrily slaughtering all opposition. And the Empire would be the Good Guys in this war, while defending against extremist environmentalists.

The Empire are the Bad Guys

Face it, it's always more fun rooting for the underdog, plus we're so used to seeing the Empire portrayed as evil that it would be a serious shock to start thinking of them as good. So have no fear, there are ways to make the Empire evil but liberal.

The Empire is Communism Resurgent

Communism managed to roll up everything conservatives abhor, like opposition to private property, opposition to religion, stifling dissent, and bureaucracy, plus elevating groups that were considered inferior. So all that really needs to be done is spin the Empire as standing for those things. Make it sound as if there's some grand theory behind the Empire to make it clearer just what the Empire is. As one Marxist advised, screenwriters should try to get a few minutes' good Marxist content into each film. Well, that can work both ways. Portray the Empire at its most ruthless, and "get a few minutes' good Marxist content" in as well to drive the point home. They're not incinerating Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru because they're mean, but because Owen and Beru are reactionary, revanchist, anti-social elements. Uncle Owen's moisture farm is taken over and run as a collective. (And eventually wrecked, since ideological correctness takes precedence over technical competence and nobody is accountable for damages.)

Coruscant, once hub of a prosperous Republic, now becomes a grim Marxist prison state, permeated by a secret police, its proud buildings crumbling under neglect and inefficiency. Innovation and scientific inquiry are stifled, with researchers blacklisted if they fail to follow party orthodoxy with sufficient fervor. 

The unifying philosophy of the Empire might be the Sith, now out in the open and preaching some mishmash of pseudo-populist and social welfare notions. Recruits who actually have The Force are trained as Sith, those who don't become informants, secret police or privileged party functionaries.

The Republic (and the Empire) are Bureaucratic Morasses

The Republic ruled everything from Coruscant, and its fall was merely the inevitable result of a bloated government collapsing under its own weight. The Empire broke up the central bureaucracy, throwing billions of bureaucrats out of work. What happens to them? Maybe they starve because the Empire lacks resources or the interest to save them. Maybe vast areas of Coruscant become shanty towns, or once occupied government buildings are taken over by squatters. Maybe they're sold as slaves, or just dumped on some empty planet someplace.

Meanwhile, the Empire, somewhat leaner but still just as mean, continues to run things business as usual. Planets as populous as Earth are still run the way the Republic ran them. So the outlying planets are free of Coruscant but still as bureaucratic as ever. Picture an episode where a colonist is expelled from his land because he can't pay his taxes, meet some regulatory standard, or maybe some protected species lives there. With his life's work stolen from him, he joins the Rebellion. Or he objects to the way the Empire educates his children and flees with his family to an outlying, Rebel-controlled system.

So the "separatist movements" in The Clone Wars are really the Good Guys. They're not interested in toppling the Empire, but merely in being left alone.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why do some conservatives hate liberals so much? What horrible things did we ever do to them?

This is how to get an answer banned by Quora. I submitted this as an answer to the question in the title and it was banned for violating their "Be Nice, Be Respectful" policy. "Be Nice, Be Respectful" apparently doesn't include responding to questions about what, specifically, violated the policy. (Quora did reinstate my privileges after review, but they never did answer what was supposedly wrong about it).

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Oh yeah! This is the question Thomas Frank should have asked in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” He had enough page space to write about some guy who pretends to be Pope Pius XIII, but he never got around to this one.

So let’s call this “What’s the Matter with ’What’s the Matter with Kansas?’?” Also, let’s agree that many, probably most liberals, do not do these things. So in case I forget to qualify with “many,” “most,” “a whole bunch,” etc., bear that in mind. Let’s simplify and just abbreviate “Far too many liberals” as “FTML.”

What Frank should have asked is, “What did FTML do to alienate the working class?” And the answer is, what didn’t they do?

Let’s go back to the Sixties. FTML openly cheered for the enemy during wartime. Geez, what else do you need?

FTML backed corrupt labor unions that threatened workers, killed reformers, and pushed rules that defended the laziest and most incompetent workers. Just read up on the futile efforts of the NYC school system to get rid of bad teachers.

FTML push for laws and regulations that conservatives neither want nor need.

FTML want to usurp control over private property. They see the way to address injustice as stripping rights away from everyone.

Gun control. Again, fixing a social problem by stripping rights from the law abiding.

FTML side with criminals instead of civilization. Want to reduce wrongful convictions? Reform the justice system to focus solely on guilt or innocence instead of procedure.

FTML have never seen a regulation or tax they didn’t like.

FTML ridicule the patriotism and religion of conservatives and stereotype them in a way they’d never tolerate with regard to minorities.

In short, conservatives see FTML as a threat to their property and liberty, and as gratuitously insulting. And uninformed, because the things FTML say about them show that they’ve never seriously read a conservative opinion in their life.

However, I also have a post on what conservatives need to do to recapture the center, and it’s not gentle. Consider this a companion piece. And frankly, I don’t see a single thing conservatives are doing these days to protect my freedom. Attack net neutrality? You seriously expect any computer-literate person to support you? So I will suppress my gag reflex and vote for Hillary.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Star Trek and What (Some) Conservatives Mean By Socialism

In a very revealing piece on the site Learn Liberty, Ilya Somin posts a piece called "Star Trek Is Far from Libertarian – Here’s Why." It's revealing because I think it offers clues to what many conservatives mean by "socialism." Seriously, how can there be a debate about whether something is libertarian or socialist? That's like arguing whether an animal is a walrus or a kangaroo.

Note: in keeping with standard Star Trek notation, TOS refers to The Original Series, TNG to The Next Generation and DS9 to Deep Space 9
But at least from a libertarian perspective, the otherwise appealing ideological vision of Star Trek is compromised by its commitment to socialism.
The Federation isn’t just socialist in the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist. It’s socialist in the literal sense that the government has near-total control over the economy and the means of production. Especially by the period portrayed in The Next Generation, the government seems to control all major economic enterprises, and there do not seem to be any significant private businesses controlled by humans in Federation territory. Star Fleet characters, such as Captain Picard, boast that the Federation has no currency and that humans are no longer motivated by material gain and do not engage in capitalist economic transactions.
That last quote is probably based on the following dialog from the TNG (The Next Generation) episode "The Neutral Zone" where the Enterprise picks up three cryogenically frozen humans. One, Ralph Offenhouse, a 20th century financier, is concerned over losing his wealth.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy. 
Ralph Offenhouse: You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Power to do what?
Ralph Offenhouse: To control your life, your destiny.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: That kind of control is an illusion.
Ralph Offenhouse: Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not.
......................................
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: This is the 24th century. Material needs no longer exist. 
Ralph Offenhouse: Then what's the challenge? 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich yourself. Enjoy it.
But where, exactly, is the evidence that the Federation government controls everything? True, we don't see any corporate logos. The premise that humans have given up cupidity or corporate corruption in favor of altruism is far-fetched but scarcely more than the idea we have given up warfare. Still, there are episodes - lots of them - where people seek self advantage through unethical means. In the TNG episode "Where No One Has Gone Before," a Starfleet engineer arrives with a companion to "improve" the ship's warp drives. Although the engineer thinks he really has discovered ways to improve the engines, (and makes himself obnoxious by boasting about it) in reality he's been duped by his companion, an alien intent on exploring the universe in his own way. So the engineer wasn't really trying to pull a con, but he was certainly all too eager to believe he was a genius. In fact, almost all the instances in Star Trek of some human character behaving unethically, it's to gain power or rank, not material possessions. 

It's by no means clear that the Federation lacks private corporations. Several TNG episodes refer to the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, and there's no mention of who runs them. And even a U.S. Navy shipyard has lots of private contractors. It's like arguing that World War II America was socialist because we don't see private corporations figuring prominently in The Longest Day or Tora, Tora, ToraI.

Remember, Above All, Star Trek is Science Fiction

Science fiction is also social fiction, a platform where alternative societies can be explored. The "science" part is getting there, to some distant planet, the past or future, or some alternate time line. In a lot of "science" fiction, the science is almost entirely secondary to the social part. In the episode "A Piece of the Action (TOS)," the only science-related components were the Enterprise visiting a planet and then discovering that a previous ship had accidentally left a book about Chicago gangsters behind. The people of that planet, mistakenly thinking that was how advanced societies worked, modeled their society on gangland Chicago. The action in the episode revolved entirely around Kirk and Spock trying to survive and get control of the situation. And the majority of Star Trek episodes are of the form "Enterprise arrives at X, finds weird or dangerous society on X, tries to relate or escape."

Also, science fiction in print can afford to be a little more independent because the audience is smaller and advertisers know what they're getting into. But Star Trek was a TV show, and a risky one at that. The producers were risking a lot of money and the advertisers a lot of consumer good will. Unlike the Irwin Allen potboiler Lost in Space, which aired at the same time and which was campy, predictable, safe fluff, Star Trek dealt with things that were fairly edgy at the time. There were lots of things that viewers and sponsors wouldn't have accepted. The pilot episode had a female captain. That was taboo. Uhura and Kirk's interracial kiss launched many viewers into near apoplexy. Gay characters would have meant ratings and sponsorship death. Not mentioning religion explicitly didn't ruffle many feathers, and reference to bizarre alien religions has earth parallels, but if the series had treated Christianity as extinct, or as superstition, viewers would have gone ballistic. By the later series, it was possible to be a little more frank, especially about sex. In "Up the Long Ladder (TNG)," a female member of one colony seduces Riker rather blatantly, then the colony is told that to have sufficient genetic diversity, each woman will need to have children by at least three males, which Riker's seducer finds intriguing. That would certainly not have gotten past network censors a decade earlier.

Diversity and Conflict

Somin laments:
The Federation’s Diversity Turns Out to be Only Skin Deep
The uncritical acceptance of socialism may be a manifestation of the Federation’s more general troubling ideological homogeneity. Especially among the human characters, there seems to be remarkably little disagreement over ideological and religious issues. With one important exception (discussed below), few human characters oppose the official Federation ideology, and those few are generally portrayed as fools, villains, or both.
The Federation is a collection of racially and ethnically diverse people who all think alike, at least when it comes to the big issues. The series’ creators likely intended this as an indication of humanity’s future convergence toward the “truth.” But it is also subject to a more sinister interpretation: just as socialism tends to stifle independent economic initiative, it also undermines independent thought.
No, not "Convergence toward the truth," but merely the classic science fiction technique of projecting bizarre or unacceptable traits onto alien societies to be able to deal with them more impartially and less threateningly. For example: the episode ("Mark of Gideon" TOS) deals with a planet that is disastrously overcrowded, and Kirk is lured there because he carries a lethal virus. The leaders of the planet explain they hold procreation sacred but will allow denizens to volunteer for exposure to the virus to thin out the population. Placing the story on a future Earth would have provoked a firestorm, but placing it on an alien planet allows viewers to watch the story while being able to pretend it had nothing to do with human society. The irony here is that such an overcrowded planet would have had essentially no liberty, yet libertarians tend to dismiss discussion of overpopulation. Also, projecting a bizarre social trait onto an alien society allows it to be portrayed in a more exaggerated form. The Ferengi in DS9 and TNG are grasping capitalists and misogynists on a scale even Monty Burns on The Simpsons could hardly rival.

There's little ideological division among the humans because the real ideological divisions are between the Federation and other alien societies. Furthermore, the Prime Directive, porous as it is, creates a plot device that forces the humans in Star Trek to stand by and allow other cultures to keep their objectionable practices without interference, and also explore the limits of tolerance. For example, in "A Taste of Armageddon" (TOS), the Enterprise visits a planet that has been at war with a neighbor for centuries, but rather than actually attack each other, they had set up a system whereby computers simulated attacks and each planet then killed that number of their own people. Kirk concludes it had all become too neat and antiseptic and destroys the computer, confronting the warring planets with either real Armageddon or negotiations, which they agree to enter, mediated by the Federation.

Let's also remember that Starfleet is a self-selected society of people who commit themselves to a body of regulations that are rarely mentioned explicitly because they're internalized. You don't see people throwing trash on the floor just like you wouldn't see it on an aircraft carrier. Nor do you see a bunch of people barricading themselves in the holodeck until their demands are met. Because Starfleet still has court-martials. So, yes, in one respect Somin is right. The Enterprise is not a libertarian society, any more than its maritime ancestor was. But you can't conclude that the Enterprise's society (either one) is as authoritarian as the Enterprise itself is. And you can't conclude that the absence of private corporations on the Enterprise (again, ether one) proves their absence in the society as a whole.

There are, in fact, a vast number of things left unstated in Star Trek. Surely it would be useful for away teams to have small personal vehicles rather than having to walk everywhere they go, but we never see any such thing. Except for cases where the crew goes into the past, or to some alternate-history planet ("A Piece of the Action (TOS)," "Bread and Circuses" (TOS)) or has some adventure on the holodeck, we never see ground vehicles at all. Do Federation citizens transport everywhere? We never see aircraft. Absence of evidence in Star Trek is not evidence of absence. The vast majority of the series takes place on what is essentially a military post, completely self contained and self sufficient, and far more isolated than any naval vessel at sea. And while you'd see personal squabbles on a naval vessel, you probably wouldn't have seen people actively protesting U.S. policies, still less face-to-face with the commander. So there's no more ideological conflict on the Enterprise in space than you'd expect on the Enterprise at sea. We'd expect anyone who displayed blatant confrontation with policy on either the maritime or space Enterprise to be put off at the nearest port, probably under arrest.

Also, there were a lot of ad-hoc devices simply to move the plot along or prevent problems. Starting with the transporters themselves. Originally characters were supposed to travel by shuttlecraft, but transporters were created when the shuttlecraft set wasn't done in time. Transporters have a distance limit because, otherwise, who needs spacecraft? Replicators originally served food and only later other things. Supposedly they couldn't replicate dilithium crystals, latinum or living things. A number of plots hinged on replacing failing dilithium crystals, replicating latinum would have crashed the Ferengi economy, and replicating living things would have created some issues. Red shirts killed on an away mission? Just replicate them before they go as insurance, or store their transporter data and reproduce them later.

Incidentally, the excuse given for not replicating living things is their complexity. But given that transporters deconstruct and reconstruct people at the atomic level, that's simply an ad-hoc
device. Incidentally, even if you could store data at the atomic level, it would take as many atoms to store the data for a human being as there are atoms in a human being.

The reality is that Star Trek never says explicitly who builds warp drives or installs the view screens or the turbo-lifts or mines the ores to make all that stuff.
The problem here is not just that Star Trek embraces socialism: it’s that it does so without giving any serious consideration to the issue. For example, real-world socialist states have almost always resulted in poverty and massive political oppression, piling up body counts in the tens of millions.
Despite Somin's acknowledgement of "the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist," that's precisely what he's doing here. Just look at the piles of bodies and the concentration camps in socialist hell-holes like Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and so on.
But Star Trek gives no hint that this might be a danger, or any explanation of how the Federation avoided it. Unlike on many other issues, where the producers of the series recognize that there are multiple legitimate perspectives on a political issue, they seem almost totally oblivious to the downsides of socialism.
Now I agree 100 per cent it would be interesting to see how the Federation created a utopian economy free of want. Just as it would be interesting to see how they eliminated warfare on earth. I mean, we were still in the aftermath of global nuclear war when humans and Vulcans first met, and in the TNG episode "Encounter at Farpoint," we hear allusions to "The Post-Atomic Horror," implying that things were pretty ugly there for a while. So how exactly did we sort it out? Especially, how did we prevent would be dictators from coming to power and recruiting others to their cause?

“The love of money is the root of all evil,” from 1 Timothy 6:10 (King James Bible), is often misquoted by leaving off the first three words.  As Offenhouse said: "It has never been about possessions. It's about power." Or in Henry Kissinger's words, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." The name of the game is power, privilege, status, and comfort, and since money is the path to most of those things, unrestrained drive for its acquisition leads to all the evils we associate with economic injustice.

However, the problem is not money per se, but the greed for what it can buy, and we can see that by looking at cases where money, as the saying goes, was no object. One example was the nomenklatura, in the former Soviet Union. The nomenklatura were mid-level bureaucrats and party officials, and while they were not rich in monetary terms, they enjoyed all the advantages of wealth by being in a position to control day-to-day official decisions to their own advantage. They were the people who went to the head of the waiting list for automobiles and good apartments. They were the people whose children managed to avoid conscription into the army.

The writer C. S. Lewis described another environment where money had little importance, in these terms:
What an answer, by the by, Wyvern [College] was to those who derive all the ills of society from economics. For money had nothing to do with its class system. It was not (thank Heaven) the boys with threadbare coats who became Punts [bottom of the social order], nor the boys with plenty of pocket-money who became Bloods [the ruling class]. According to some theorists, therefore, it ought to have been entirely free from bourgeois vulgarities and iniquities. Yet I have never seen a community so competitive, so full of snobbery and flunkeyism, a ruling class so selfish and so class-conscious, or a proletariat so fawning, so lacking in all solidarity and sense of corporate honour.
Probably the starkest possible illustration was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, chronicled in the film The Killing Fields. For a time, Cambodia became the only country in recorded history to abolish money. What the Khmer Rouge did offer was access to necessities and the few comforts still available – and power - completely unlimited power over everyone else, literally including the right to kill with impunity. If one is looking for a test of the idea that “The love of money is the root of all evil,” this was a controlled experiment in which about a fourth of the country was slaughtered. 

The Post-Scarcity Society

Somin poses the question:
Does Lack of Scarcity Make Good Economics Moot?
Well, define "good economics." Considering the profligate way that some conservatives treat fossil fuels or the environment, things that they seem to believe are functionally infinite, it appears that the answer is "yes."

Defenders of the series’ portrayal of socialism claim that economic systems are no longer relevant in a “post-scarcity” society. Thanks to the remarkable technology of the replicator, Federation citizens can effortlessly produce almost anything they want, rendering the difference between socialism and capitalism meaningless.
I personally doubt that a system that gave out things, no questions asked, would work for long. The most likely outcome is that a very large number of people would settle into a vegetative, passive consumerism. The space ship in Wall-E  portrays such a society. There are plenty of science fiction stories where societies without want become dystopian through boredom or frustration. Another possible outcome is that people, freed from want, would seek stimulation by dominating others.  Probably the most important questions not answered in Star Trek are what motivates people to do anything at all, since characters in Star Trek take their jobs seriously and regularly face danger. The second, related question is, are there any negative consequences to becoming completely inert and passive? Are such people allowed to experience the negative effects of an inert lifestyle? Do they, say, have their survival needs met but no comfort needs?
But the world of Star Trek is not in fact one where the problem of scarcity has been overcome. Some crucial goods cannot be replicated. The most obvious are the replicators themselves; in all the many Star Trek TV episodes and films, we never once see them replicate a replicator! The same goes for the dilithium crystals, which power starships. Planetary real estate also apparently cannot be replicated, which is why the Federation and its rivals often fight wars over it.
It's true there are turf battles in Star Trek, but they seem to be more about controlling strategic areas and approaches, rather than the planets themselves. For example, in the TNG episode "Journey's End," a planet is colonized by Native Americans who have gone, well, native. Thanks to a truce between the Federation and the Cardassians, this planet is now part of Cardassian space. Rather than leave, the human inhabitants agree to accept Cardassian rule. There's no hint that the Cardassians plan to pave this planet over and build condos. They just seem to want jurisdiction.

In fact, the population density in the Federation seems to be very small. There are scads of habitable but uninhabited planets. Think about it. Humans have been around for roughly a million years out of 4.6 billion. The chances of a randomly selected earth-like planet having indigenous intelligent life on it is roughly one in thousands. We do occasionally hear of a planet with numerous cities, but there are also lots of planets where the only inhabitants are some hermit scientist, or some isolationist sect that's carved out a home somewhere. In "The Way to Eden" (TOS), a group of future hippies finds a planet that seems to be a Garden of Eden, apart from the acid fruit and poisonous plants. But their intent was to find a place where their group, half a dozen or so people, could settle, and be the sole inhabitants of the entire planet. And nobody seemed to think that, in itself, was impossible.

Let's also point out that with replicator technology, someone could construct a shell around a large asteroid and make it habitable. Or install artificial gravity capable of retaining an atmosphere. Or use replicators to replace a toxic atmosphere with a breathable one. Real estate would scarcely be a problem.

Star Trek Insurrection (Star Trek IX) deals with a plot by another species (the Son'a) to steal the rejuvenating radiation source from the rings of a planet occupied by a peaceful race (the Ba'ku) Because it's not real science fiction if the names don't have a ton of glottal stops. But from all appearances, the Ba'ku consist of a few hundred people. Now if there's a problem here, it's imagining a species living indefinitely in a tiny area of a planet rather than expanding. But with so few people on the planet, why not just find a nice spot a few thousand miles away, build a whole bunch of health spas, and rake in whatever the scheming aliens rake in in their economy? Or for that matter, simply build a few space stations orbiting in the ring plane. Now this is indeed a Star Trek with baffling economics. 
Just as we enjoy far greater material wealth than our ancestors, so the Star Trek universe is one with vastly greater abundance than what we have today. But that does not mean either we or they have completely overcome scarcity, and thus can ignore issues of economic organization.
Just what everyone wanted: tuning in to Star Trek for an economics lecture. This is a little like complaining that Moby Dick never talks about the U.S. economy while the Pequod  is at sea. Seriously, saying Star Trek is socialist is like saying the Pequod is socialist. Everyone gets fed, everyone has a place to sleep, everyone has shelter, everyone dies when the ship sinks. 

Well, there is an economy of sorts in Star Trek, it's just that scarcity is never a central conflict in any of the episodes, probably because it never realistically impinges on anyone's plans. We never hear, for example, that the Federation is going to mothball a quarter of the fleet because of budgetary constraints. Indeed, the fleet can take catastrophic losses, like in the Battle of Wolf 359 against the Borg, and rebuild. We never hear that some scientist can't do his research because his grant was turned down. Still, in Voyager, the energy needs of the ship lead to rationing of replicator use. This is purely a plot device to keep the dramatic tension up. Since replicators and transporters can convert mass to energy and vice versa, all Voyager would need to do is snag a small asteroid to have all the mass it needed. In the DS9 episode Homefront, cadet Sisko is in danger of using up his transporter rations by traveling home so frequently. Since this all happens on Earth, it's not clear what would limit transporter use, unless it's just a disciplinary rule of Starfleet Academy. 

Finally, there's the need to trade with non-Federation species. In the very first TNG episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," we see crew members on shore leave haggling with locals over the price of goods. The Ferengi, a caricature of capitalism at its worst, trade in some metal called "latinum," which replicators can't reproduce, supposedly because of its extreme quantum complexity, but actually because if we could replicate latinum freely, it would destroy the Ferengi economy. Also, dilithium, the power source for starships, can't be replicated, again supposedly because of its quantum structure, but in reality as a plot device to make scarcity of dilithium a plot element.

In one TOS episode, real scarcity played a role. In "Conscience of the King," Kirk crosses paths with an actor whom he suspects of being Kodos, a mass murderer. The actor, former governor of a colony, killed 4,000 colonists when rations ran short. However, rescue arrived soon after, and the disgraced governor faked his own death in a battle. His daughter, unfortunately, knows who he is and has been killing off witnesses to the massacre. In the end, Kodos takes a phaser shot to atone for his sins and save Kirk. (Nobody explains what Kang was doing).

This criticism is actually very simple to deal with. The ideological conflicts are almost entirely with non-Federation races. Ideological conflicts among the Federation characters are mostly over how, or whether, to violate the Prime Directive. 

Socialist or Libertarian?

I'd say Trek is about as libertarian as it gets. The Federation never tries to prevent people from replicating whatever they want, apart from dangerous things like weapons or toxins, and they're free to do so without corporate opposition as well. Data's maker built humanoid androids without any kind of regulation or licensing at all. Nobody ever gets served with papers saying he can't replicate some patented item. And while there are turf battles, population density seems to be very low, and there are any number of episodes where some lone wolf scientist or recluse has a planet all to himself. People don't seem to have much trouble procuring spacecraft.

The TOS episode "The Way to Eden" illustrates spacecraft logistics nicely. The Enterprise is ordered to intercept a stolen spacecraft, which is headed toward the Romulan Neutral Zone. Stealing the ship seems to have been more a matter of convenience than poverty. The Enterprise pursues the ship because it's (a.) stolen and (b.) about to create a major armed crisis. The thieves turn out to include the son of a VIP, so they're given delicate treatment, which they reward by taking over the Enterprise, steering it to Planet Eden, and then stealing a shuttlecraft. Again, convenience, not poverty. Although there are many episodes where some Starfleet craft gets stolen or hijacked, not once is there any hint that people can't privately obtain ships. We don't see the Enterprise stop some other ship at random and say "Sorry, you're not allowed to engage in space travel."

On the holodeck, there seem to be few limits on anyone's fantasies. There are safety protocols, but they can be overridden easily, as Worf does in practicing his Klingon martial arts. Nobody ever gets censured for their sexual escapades, on the holodeck or in real life. (Except once: in the TNG episode Booby Trap, Geordi replicates design engineer Leah Brahms to help figure out how to escape a sticky situation. In Memory Alpha, the real Leah Brahms visits the Enterprise, finds Geordi's holodeck recreation, and is not amused.  Moral, wipe your browser history. Especially if you're fantasizing about a real person who might find out about it.)

It's true we don't see any explicit mention of corporations, but that's balanced by the equal lack of any interference in interstellar travel and settlement, or private consensual (or holodeck) conduct. Other things we never encounter in Star Trek are characters complaining about taxes or burdensome regulations. We never hear someone complain that he can't supply phasers because Starfleet's regulations take up all his time. There are laws. The trader in "The Trouble With Tribbles" responds to a question about tribbles being dangerous by indignantly answering that transporting dangerous species is against regulations. And in "I, Mudd," Harry Mudd is hiding on an undiscovered planet, on the lam after violating a long laundry list of laws. But if the absence of corporations in Star Trek is evidence of socialism, the absence of any mention of taxes or excessive regulation points just as strongly toward a libertarian society. 

Let's also note that the post-scarcity society brings benefits to business people as well. They never have to worry about their supply chain. They never have to worry about worker unrest because they can give their workers whatever they want at no cost (or build robots). They can simply transport their waste into deep space or use it as replicator mass to make something else. In fact a replicator would be a perpetual motion machine. Zap up a fully charged battery, then, when it runs down, zap up another. Paperwork? Fine. Hire people to do it and use your replicator to house them in a palace and feed them caviar three meals a day. Or build robots.

Actually, Star Trek never really explores the implications of robots very deeply. Actually, they're always called "androids." But since it's possible to build highly intelligent androids ("I Mudd's" mostly voluptuous female androids, Data in TNG) or wholly functional humanoid holograms (The Doctor in "Voyager."), it's curious that the Federation doesn't relegate all the work to androids. This, I submit is another plot device, since having all the bad stuff happen to non-people would eliminate all the drama.

So Why Call Star Trek "Socialist?"

The "evidence" that the Star Trek universe is socialist consists of the entirely negative line of evidence that there is no mention of private companies, plus assertions that people no longer struggle for material goods.

Wait a minute. The evidence that the Federation is socialist is based on its ability to satisfy everyone's needs and free society from want? Isn't that tantamount to saying capitalism
can't do those things? 

Furthermore, isn't that exactly what capitalism promised to do not so long ago? A car in every garage, a chicken in every pot? (Or maybe vice versa - I always get them confused) But beginning about fifty years ago, critics began pointing out the shortcomings of capitalism. It hadn't eliminated poverty, it hadn't provided health care or justice or education for all. And so we lost our blind faith in it. Capitalism may yet deliver a utopian society, but there will be reversals and a need for constant correction. And very likely, a continuing need for vigilance against the temptation to abuse the system.

Why did we stop believing blindly? Because we had enough integrity to admit our shortcomings honestly. Marxism never did that. Only under Gorbachev's glasnost', when the Soviet Union was tottering toward collapse, did the Soviet Union allow the sort of open criticism that might have saved it a couple of decades earlier. Salvador Allende never admitted his experiment in Chile had failed, nor did Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, nor Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Faced with honest criticism, Marxist societies responded with repression.

We still have faith that capitalism can produce a just and prosperous world. But it's not going to be as easy or seamless as those Norman Rockwell paintings seemed to suggest. And we're also a lot more aware of the ways it can be subverted, something else Marxism never dared face about itself.

The strongest clue as to what really makes Star Trek "socialistic" is the exchange between Captain Picard and Ralph Offenhouse: 
Ralph Offenhouse: You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Power to do what? 
Ralph Offenhouse: To control your life, your destiny. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: That kind of control is an illusion. 
Ralph Offenhouse: Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not.
Note that Offenhouse would be dead if he hadn't been beamed aboard by an advanced spacecraft (that he did nothing to create) and then revived by advanced medicine (that he also did nothing to create). He's boasting of things he had neither a right to nor control over. Offenhouse's "control" is as pure an illusion as you can find, the living embodiment of Obama's notorious remark "You did not build this." And what does power "To control your life, your destiny" mean? A few million dollars will buy all the travel and possessions most people could ever use. Sex, too, if you don't want to face the difficult problem of actually forming a relationship. Offenhouse can already have any material good he likes. No, Offenhouse wants power over other people

The one thing replicators can't provide are services. Presumably there are robots to change adult diapers and provide therapy to the handicapped. Also one episode described the ships as "self-cleaning." Still, there seem to be lots of busy people on starships, so there must be lots of human jobs, plus people who want to do them.

The Really Weird Socialism Claim

If it's weird to claim Star Trek is socialist merely because it provides people with all their needs, that pales in comparison to the claim from some software developers that open-source software is "socialism." It's socialism for you to give away your personal intellectual property, that you created. And why? Because it interferes with somebody else selling a similar product for a profit. In other words, I have a right to withhold some service from people if they don't pay for it and you are depriving me of my "right" to dictate to other people if you offer the same product for free.

I suspect Somin and the open-source critics equate "socialism" with private individuals not having power over others. And that's the thing that grates on me with most libertarians, too. We hear all about government abuses of power, very little about private abuses. Instead of shutting down Obamacare as socialism, how about shutting down the copyright and patent offices as corporate socialism? It comes back to Offenhouse's statemet: "It has never been about possessions. It's about power."


Sunday, July 3, 2016

References and Wikipedia Bashing

Twenty years ago, references were a huge deal. They were all in hard copy, the most relevant ones in journals. The only way to find them was to compile a list of relevant journals and keywords. If you were lucky, there were cumulative indexes by field, but you still had to go through them, year by year. If not, you had to search the annual indexes of each journal. Citing references saved the reader mountains of effort as well as demonstrating that the writer had done thorough research.

Bibliography began to fall behind the times when ISBN's appeared. Even today, most editors will insist that a book be cited by publisher and location. The way publishers merge and split, a book can be handled by three different publishers before hitting print (a textbook I co-authored was). A publisher may have offices in half a dozen cities, and the actual printing is done someplace else far away. Yet the long obsolete practice continues, while the ISBN, a unique identifier, still isn't the standard. There are now analogues for journals and musical scores.

Nowadays, if you doubt the veracity of a statement, you can paste it into Google and get hits all you like. And if you want a stricter filter, Google Scholar. Citing references is still a useful way to direct readers to especially useful sources. Or obscure ones, like, the last American to die in combat in World War II was killed on Guam by Japanese holdouts after Japan had surrendered (http://auntiecharo.guam.net/archives/2005/08/index.html). But there simply is no longer any need to cite sources for things like the overall history of World War II or who signed the Declaration of Independence or what happened in the Battle of Gettysburg. Actually, for things that fall into the domain of common knowledge, there never was.

So let's be brutally blunt. The people I see on line demanding sources don't give a rat's @$$ about rigor or intellectual standards. In fact, even when you do provide sources, people will simply ignore them. For example, the whole "Giordano Bruno was a martyr to science" myth has been decisively demolished (See the, ahem, references). So when I've actually cited these sources, people go right on parroting the Bruno myth. So people who ask for references on line don't really care about the references. 

It's solely a cheap and lazy way to pretend to be scholarly. Ditto Wikipedia bashing. Quite a few tests have compared Wikipedia to conventional print encyclopedias, with Wikipedia coming out looking very good. However, Wikipedia is not aging gracefully. Its bureaucracy is ossified and commonly abusive, and articles with any controversial content can be (and increasingly are) shouted down. One of the most egregious cases was that of historian Timothy Messer-Kruse, who found that the truth about the notorious Haymarket Affair of 1886 was a good deal more complex than the conventional simple victimization narrative implied. His attempts to edit the Wikipedia entry were shot down, his attempts to use the actual trial transcripts as sources rebuffed, and even after publishing two scholarly books on the subject, his views are treated as footnotes (see the, er, references). In fact, his article on the affair in The Chronicle of Higher Education quotes Wikipedia editors as saying, in effect, they consider only secondary sources (the exact opposite of scholarly practice) and do not attempt to evaluate sources critically at all.

To consider another example, the article on "the Rapture" originally focused heavily on the teachings of 19th century Scottish preacher John Nelson Darby, who seems to have been the person most responsible for popularizing the doctrine. The idea that the Rapture is a modern cult doctrine didn't sit well with modern believers, and today the article is cluttered with references to earlier Rapture-like teachings, whether they had any lasting impact or not, and Darby's seminal role is thoroughly obscured, though his biographical article is (temporarily at least) clearer.

Like most innovative academic enterprises after a short time, Wikipedia has fallen into the hands of the fuddy-duddies. The problem with academic publishing is that overly tight quality control stifles innovation but wide-open publishing, like many of the open-access on-line journals, releases raw sewage into the marketplace of ideas. I used to ask how bad it could be if we just let anyone publish their ideas. Now I know: real bad. However, none of those problems lessen the utility of Wikipedia as a source of basic facts and, still more, a source of references. And if you have any doubt about some fact in Wikipedia, cut and paste it into Google (or Google Scholar). Most of the people who dismiss Wikipedia as a source wouldn't have a clue where to find a scholarly reference and couldn't read one if they had one.

No, neither Wikipedia nor print encyclopedias are legitimate scholarly sources. So why does every university still have print encyclopedias? Because they're useful places to go to get an overview of a topic, as well as find references (Wikipedia's article on Galileo cites 181 sources). By the way, another reference on Galileo et al is "Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion," edited by Ronald L. Numbers, Harvard University Press, (2009) ISBN's 0674054393 and 9780674054394. Presumably Harvard University Press is acceptable?

B-but Burden of Proof

I had someone hotly disagree with these ideas recently, falling back on the idea that the person who makes a positive claim has the burden of proof.

So that means if a creationist disagrees with me saying evolution is a fact, I have to provide him with references showing otherwise? Some sovereign citizen type takes issue with my saying the laws apply to him? A modern-day geocentrist (yes, that's a thing) demanding proof that the earth goes around the sun?

Nope. Those particular examples are all  tendentious. The person demanding "proof" has no intention of accepting anything you offer him. He just wants an argument. And that applies to at least three fourths of the cases where someone on line demands references. When I criticized Neil deGrasse Tyson's remake of Cosmos for its historically inaccurate glorification of Giordano Bruno, I got plenty of people demanding references. It so happened I knew of several (cited below). Did anyone say "Oh, I guess I was wrong?" (Left as an exercise to the reader).

In many other cases, people ask for references because they just don't know. That's fair and reasonable, but, if the references are well known to anyone well versed in the subject matter, the person has just revealed himself to be unqualified to engage in the debate. Courtesy might move me to provide references, but don't try to pretend you're informed. You're not. There's a vast gulf between "I don't think you can back up your claims" and "I don't know enough to evaluate your claims." So if you demand to know how scientists can be so sure rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, I can point you to a couple of good books. But don't pretend you're qualified to argue with scientists about the age of the earth. You have just revealed you don't have a clue about the facts. In political debates, if you're going to challenge the opposition, you're not informed if you don't know what they commonly use for sources

Once someone has provided references, they have met the burden of proof. Now the burden is on you either to agree or provide counter-evidence. And "Breitbart isn't a valid source" doesn't cut it. Breitbart might not be a reliable source, but the only permissible argument is "Breitbart is wrong about this particular issue, for these specific reasons."

References

Galileo and the Specter of Bruno, 1986; Lerner, Lawrence S. and Gosselin, Edward A., Scientific American, Vol. 255, Issue 5, p.126.

Was Giordano Bruno a Scientist?: A Scientist's View. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253432071_Was_Giordano_Bruno_a_Scientist_A_Scientist%27s_View [accessed Jan 6, 2016], Originally published in American Journal of Physics, 1973, v. 41, no. 1 p. 24-38.

Messer-Kruse, Timothy. "The “Undue Weight” of Truth on Wikipedia." The Chronicle of Higher Education (2012)http://chronicle.com/article/The-Undue-Weight-of-Truth-on/130704/ [accessed 3 July 2016]

Wikipedia Policies Limit Editing Haymarket Bombing: 
http://www.npr.org/2012/10/03/162203092/wikipedia-politicizes-landmark-historical-event [accessed 3 July 2016]

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Big Black Hole in the Middle of the Constitution

The Constitution is widely celebrated for its uses of compromise. The interests of large states and small states were compromised by having a Senate with equal State representation, and a House with representation proportional to population. The friction between slave and free states was resolved with the (infamous to many) compromise that slaves were counted as three fifths of a person for representation purposes. Concern over one branch of government becoming ascendant was addressed by a system of checks and balances. Election of the President was entrusted to the Electoral College (a term not found in the Constitution), whereby the States selected the President, but by a channel outside of Congress. Concern over the powers of a central government were addressed by a Bill of Rights curtailing the Federal Government. But there's respect that has largely gone unnoticed where the Constitution completely failed, and it's rearing its head now. No, it's not the infamous three-fifths compromise that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person, nor the failure to phase out slavery. Basically, the Constitution completely lacked any way for the Federal government to protect citizens from rights abuses by the States. Reactionaries were given free rein over State and local affairs, and until recently, they still had it. And they want it back.

The Articles of Confederation versus the Constitution

The Articles of Confederation contain a surprising amount of material that was incorporated into the Constitution. But there's also a huge amount of detailed specification of what the government could and couldn't do that was replaced by broad, generic language in the Constitution. In particular, the Articles stated: 
Article II.  Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
Whereas the Constitution states:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof. (Article I, Sec. 8) 
The new Constitution wasn't an immediate hit. A lot of people still didn't want a strong central government. They didn't like the direct taxation powers of the Federal Government, or the creation of a Federal judiciary, or the creation of standing armed forces however tiny. And they didn't like omitting that word "expressly" or that power to provide for the "general welfare." And a lot of people still don't. The supporters of the Constitution came to be called Federalists, and their opponents, predictably enough, as anti-Federalists. 

An interesting crossover occurred during the ratification of the Bill or Rights. Many Federalists, proponents of the Constitution, supported the Bill of Rights, either on its own merits or because they saw that a Bill of Rights would aid in ratifying the Constitution. And many anti-Federalists, opponents of the Constitution who had demanded a Bill of Rights in the first place, began to oppose it, hoping to block the ratification of the Constitution itself. It's a classic case of "be careful what you wish for; you might get it."

To the extent that we try to shoehorn 1787 factions into today's terminology, we'd probably label the Federalists "liberals" in the sense that they favored a more powerful central government, and Anti-Federalists "conservatives." But the Anti-Federalists ended up giving birth to a remarkably liberal document, the Bill of Rights.

The Compleat Constitution?

So the Constitution gives the Federal Government the power to collect taxes, pass necessary laws, and defend itself, including suppressing insurrections. It prevents the States from doing anything to endanger the United States as a whole, like raising their own armies or entering treaties with other countries. It prevents States from harming each other by making war on each other or interfering with interstate commerce. What's missing? There is no provision for protecting the rights of people within the states.

That really wasn't big on anyone's radar in 1787. Memories were still fresh of the British Government suspending colonial charters, most of which had Bill of Rights protections like free speech and religious tolerance. It was felt that the gravest danger was the Federal government violating personal rights, or interfering with the power of States to protect personal rights. Anything States might do to endanger civil liberties could be handled at the State level by voting the violators out. In theory.

However, despite the sage words of the Founding Fathers about "tyranny of the majority," there was no corrective available to deal with tyranny of local majorities. A minority group oppressed at the local level would have no effective means of fighting back, because they would not be able to muster a majority capable of removing their oppressors from office. Indeed, it would be entirely possible for local majorities to suppress minority movements, as indeed happened in the South with respect to anti-slavery advocates.

It All Started With Urban Runoff

In the 1820's, John Barron and John Craig owned a prosperous wharf in Baltimore. The city embarked on a series of street and drainage improvements, which funneled water and sediment to the area of the wharf, eventually silting it up and destroying most of its value. Barron sued for damages, won, but saw the judgement overturned on appeal. Eventually the case made its way to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that Baltimore had violated Barron's rights under the Fifth Amendment by taking his property without just compensation.

Barron lost. The Court ruled that the Bill of Rights had been conceived as a restraint on the Federal Government only, and did not apply to the States. 

The logic of the ruling noted that Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution contains a list of things forbidden to the Federal Government, and Article 10 contains a much shorter list of things forbidden to the States. Despite prohibitions in blunt and absolute terms in Section 9, there are identical prohibitions directed at the States in Section 10. Both sections forbid ex post facto bills and bills of attainder, leading the Court to conclude that the Constitution only prohibited the States from doing something, if it said so explicitly.  It's worth noting that Chief Justice John Marshall had been involved in the Virginia ratification of the Constitution and knew many of the drafters of the Constitution, as well as many of its opponents. So it's fair to say that Marshall's understanding of the original intent of the Constitution transcends mere speculation.

But if the Fifth Amendment modifies the Constitution, why doesn't it apply everywhere, despite the original intent? After all, the amendment changes the Constitution. That might be a cogent argument, except that the Bill of Rights was ratified immediately after the Constitution and is almost an integral part of it. And it's very unlikely Congress and the States would ratify the Constitution as a limitation on the Federal Government and then immediately change its intended jurisdiction to cover the States, too. (Although you could argue that, rather than change the text of the Constitution itself, they would simply use the Bill of Rights to make corrections.)

The Barron v. Baltimore ruling, of course, nowhere says "The Bill of Rights doesn't apply to the States" because the Supreme Court doesn't roll that way. The Court rules only on matters immediately before it, so it only says the Fifth Amendment applies only to the Federal Government. But anyone who tried to press a different Bill of Rights case at the state level, say one involving self-incrimination, or public support of religion, would immediately be hit with the counter-argument that if the Fifth Amendment doesn't apply at the State level, the plaintiff's case shouldn't either.

So if the Bill of Rights only applies at the State level, what prevented the States from devolving into petty dictatorships with political censorship, religious persecution, and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment? Ignoring, for the moment, instances of those very things happening, the Revolution was fought over British interference with colonial charters, most of which included safeguards of property rights, trial by jury, legislation by parliament or assembly, and varying degrees of religious tolerance. The colonists were afraid of losing rights that were generally accepted in England, and many of the anti-Federalist opponents of the Constitution were concerned that a strong central government might abrogate those rights as well. The Bill of Rights was specifically intended to protect rights already taken for granted within the States. Searches were a particular hot button issue, since one of the principal grievances of the colonists had been broad "writs of assistance," which allowed law enforcement to search premises with little probable cause or limits on what could be seized.

There are a lot of things state and local government do right, because they work, and because the citizens want them. There's no law requiring the states to have state parks or universities, but every state does. Cities are not required to have libraries, but thanks in large part to the pioneering effort by Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century, most do. And many State constitutions contain safeguards that reiterate the Bill of Rights.

The Dark Compromise

It's remarkable that there were very few Bill of Rights rulings by the Supreme Court before the 20th Century, but that was because of the legacy of Barron v. Baltimore. Defenders of local control of social legislation took the initiative to erect further barriers against Federal action. For example, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibited the Army from intervening in domestic affairs, and the act was specifically passed to prevent the Army from ever being used to enforce Federal laws as had happened under Reconstruction. Effectively, the sole purpose of the law was to protect white lynch mobs from military intervention. The "Southern Bloc" in Congress was able to stop any attempt to impose Federal policies at the State level, such as passing anti-lynching laws.

Basically, the Constitution created a brilliant and enlightened Federal system in return for allowing the anti-Federalists free rein at the State and local level. And for 150 years, they did. It was perfectly possible to be a progressive in national and international affairs and a reactionary in local matters. One example was William Jennings Bryan, who ran three times as a progressive Democrat but also prosecuted the Scopes Trial. Another was Woodrow Wilson, who championed a League of Nations and a lenient approach toward the defeated Central Powers after World War I, but was also an avowed racist.

The Incorporation Doctrine


The Fourteenth Amendment created one crack in the barrier between the Federal and local governments. Section 1 reads:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Beginning with Gitlow v. New York, in 1925, the Supreme Court began to rule that protections under the Bill of Rights were among the liberties that States were forbidden to abridge without due process. The reasoning is, admittedly, a tad circular. If the Bill of Rights applies only at the Federal level (as Barron v. Baltimore held a century earlier), then nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment changes that. Nevertheless, the Court has extended the Bill of Rights piecemeal as cases arose (because that's how the court works) and even to this day, parts of the Bill of Rights have not been fully incorporated. For the most part, the process was pretty non-controversial since many of the protections of the Bill of Rights were already in place at the State and local level anyway.

It's important to understand the process that began with a dock in Baltimore and ended in the 20th century. For most of that time, it was perfectly permissible for States to support religion. Madison's original conception of freedom of religion read:

The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed. 
Clearly, Madison's conception of separation of church and state consisted of not creating a national church, and protecting people from religious persecution. States could and did support churches. Massachusetts funded the Congregational Church until 1833, and New Hampshire required legislators to be Protestant until 1877 (though it's unclear if it was actually enforced). One of the very few Bill of Rights cases in the 19th century was a Mormon challenge to Federal anti-polygamy legislation. The Supreme Court ruled that while opinion was inviolable, the government could police actions it regarded as harmful, and upheld the ban.

Censorship was also permissible. States could, and did, censor publications considered indecent or seditious, and banned such things as pamphlets on birth control, union and anti-war literature, and so on. "Banned in Boston" once meant exactly that.

The three things about the Incorporation Doctrine that are critical to note are:

  1. Until the 20th century, the Bill of Rights did not apply in the States.
  2. Nothing in the Constitution explicitly says "the Bill of Rights applies to the States, too."
  3. The Incorporation Doctrine was created by the courts. The courts could conceivably reverse it.
It is absolutely amazing and appalling how many people who claim to know the Constitution never heard of Barron v. Baltimore or the Incorporation Doctrine. They think that things regarded as unconstitutional today were always unconstitutional. The weren't.

The Empire Strikes Back


As long as the Federal and local governments operated in separate spheres, friction between the two was minimal. But in the 20th century, Federal actions increasingly impinged on local affairs. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal created programs and regulations that affected local affairs. The hold of the Southern Bloc began to slip. Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948 and sacked the Secretary of the Army for continuing to obstruct the order. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 marked a new escalation of Federal control over local affairs. And led to a lot of cars bearing "Impeach Earl Warren" bumper stickers.


Meanwhile, the anti-Federalists at the local level began to feel more and more threatened. Their vision of society was white and male dominated, and while people could be free to believe and worship how they pleased, society would be governed by Christian assumptions and values. Local society would have broad authority to ban things it considered objectionable, though the "right" people would know perfectly well where to go to get prostitutes, pornography, abortions and (during Prohibition) alcohol. Lower-class crime would be harshly punished. Problems not resolvable under law could be handled more.... informally, and extrajudicial violence would be treated leniently. Rewards in the society should go to the "worthy," and voting rights would be restricted to the "responsible" elements of society. In the 1920's and 1930's, the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan gained wide power, based on an insecure middle class afraid of Jews, labor unions and Socialists as much as blacks. The New Deal aroused indignation from business classes resentful at the growth of taxes and social programs for the "unworthy." The chipping away at white supremacy angered many, though as long as open discrimination was legal, the danger could be contained.

Then on June 25, 1962, the Federal government pressed the red button and launched the arsenal. That was the day that the Supreme Court outlawed state-sanctioned prayer in the schools. It was the Fort Sumter, the Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 (to be a bit anachronistic) of the Culture Wars. It didn't merely ban the brief utterance of a formulaic prayer at the start of the school day, it was a national-level repudiation of the idea that society was explicitly Christian, and that localities could define the values they would impose on their citizens. 

In short order came a raft of rulings expanding the rights of criminal suspects, and the passage of civil rights laws. Barry Goldwater's opposition to civil rights legislation had two effects. He lost the 1964 election in one of the worst defeats in history, but Southerners switched their allegiance en masse to the Republican Party. In 1973 came Roe v. Wade, that struck down state bans on abortion, but that ruling amounted to little more than "making the rubble bounce" because the edifice of local control of social affairs was pretty much in ruins anyway.

After years of frustration at their inability to repeal Roe v. Wade or other liberal legislation, plus their outrage over the election of liberal President Barack Obama, conservatives created the "Tea Party" movement, which invoked the image of the Boston Tea Party at the start of the American Revolution. Asserting that compromise had only led to retreat, conservatives in Congress adopted a progressively more intransigent stance. In 2016, their anger had risen to the point where they made Donald Trump a serious contender for the Republican nomination. As the campaign looked increasingly like it would pit Trump against Hillary Clinton, the election looked like it would pair up two opponents more mutually antagonistic to the other side than any election since the election of 1860 where Lincoln was elected.

What the Tea Party and Donald Trump have done is launch a full-scale anti-Federalist counter-revolution. Many of their backers reject the idea that the Federal government has any power at the State or local level. They call for the repeal of Constitutional amendments that have increased the power of the Federal government, like the 14th, 16th and 17th. What they ultimately want is to recreate the vanished world from before the Incorporation Doctrine. To paraphrase Michael Moore's documentary, "Dude, Where's My Country?" the Tea Party's answer is "Dude, the people you took it from are taking it back."