If you don’t condemn Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as a villainous tyrant, if you don’t call for regime change in Russia, and if you don’t demand that the rest of the world arrest and prosecute him on charges of mass murder, you may as well call him Vladimir the Great and prepare to applaud his next conquest. In a speech he was giving in Poland on March 26, 2022, Bystander-in-Chief Joe Biden inadvertently said something sensible when he went off-script and blurted, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Here he echoed Senator Lindsey Graham, who, on March 3, stated during a television interview: “Somebody in Russia has to step up to the plate. Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?” Graham doubled down: “The only way this ends, my friend, is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country a great service and the world a great service.”
Meanwhile, Hungary, which has forgotten Russia’s invasion in 1956, has re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, (born in 1963), a proud Putin puppet, to a fourth consecutive term. Strategically, Hungary lies along Ukraine’s western border, so Russia has an ally within NATO and the European Union from which to attack Ukraine on what would otherwise be its safe side.
Putin has greater plans. He has tested the resolve of the rest of the world and found it timid. Hungary has his back. The United States has turned its back, mumbling the word “sanctions.” Joe Biden’s handlers have cautioned us against taking the President at his word. The American news media, in order to steer our attention away from the single enduring crisis of a lifetime, have turned up the volume on Disney’s social activism and some non-incident of resounding insignificance at the Oscars.
Could a true leader — if there were one — rally the responsible nations of the world (assume NATO) to stand up to Putin? Could we not call his bluff on nuclear weapons? We’ll never know. There is no leadership, only hand-wringing and calls for “diplomacy.”
A Little History
Before World War One a map of Europe showed four bordering empires (in addition to some countries you’d expect to see such as France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain). These four empires were all ruled by monarchs, not parliaments. Some of the modern-day countries that were partly or entirely ruled by these monarchs were:
the German Empire
part of Poland
the Austro-Hungarian Empire
the Czech Republic
part of Romania
part of Poland
the Ottoman Empire
part of Syria
part of Russia
the Russian Empire
part of Latvia
part of Poland
The end of World War One (1914-1918) left Europe and the eastern Mediterranean with a different map. Standing as countries with distinct or near-distinct borders were:
And standing, with reduced borders at the end of World War One, were:
Turkey (the core of the Ottoman Empire)
Russia has nothing like the concise ancient history of Egypt, China, Great Britain, or Italy. The city of Kyiv, anglicized until recently as Kiev, was founded by Kyi, a Slavic knyaz in the 500s. Knyaz is a title which we loosely render in English as “prince.” No one knows for certain, but the root of the name, Russia, (they pronounce it Ross-E-ya), may have arisen in the 800s from a word used to describe the Viking invaders and pillagers, also known as the Varangians or the “rus” (pronounced “roos”), who plied the rivers between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The largest of these waterways, the Dnepr River, runs through the center of Ukraine. Those raiders rowed their boats along these waterways and conscripted others along the way to do the rowing as well, and the rowers may have been called rus. The people in the region of Kyiv were known as the Kyivan Rus by the time of Knyaz Oleg in the late-800s.
Russia’s oldest city-state, Novgorod, at first a Viking outpost, began to take form in the late 800s as well. Oleg and succeeding grand rulers of Kyiv appointed rulers over Novgorod from the late 800s until about 1020. It was in A.D. 862-863 that the Greek missionaries Methodius and Constantine (later calling himself Cyril) traveled into Ukraine and, among the local people, are said to have stumbled upon the rudiments of what is now the Cyrillic alphabet, the same alphabet currently used in one form or another for the languages of Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, and some other Slavic countries. (A possible origin of the alphabet that Cyril developed further is a theme in my 2017 novel of Ukraine and Khazaria, Fire, Wind & Yesterday.) Methodius and Constantine became the patron saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, in part for their contribution to rendering the Holy Scriptures in the languages of the Slavic people.
A century later, V. V. Putin’s namesake, Volodymyr, the ruler of the Kyivan Rus, adopted Byzantine Christianity in A.D. 988 on behalf of what was becoming a confederation of regions, the Rurik Dynasty, which for most of the next three centuries would be the largest and most powerful state in Europe. When the Mongols invaded the lands of Kyivan Rus in the 1200s Moscow was an insignificant trading outpost, easy to miss where it lay deep in the forest. The Principality of Moscow, also called simply Muscovy, became significant starting in the late 1200s. The first Russian to call himself “tsar” (derived from “caesar” and presuming the same level of self-importance) was Mikhail of Tver in the early 1300s. Continuous use of the term, tsar, by those ruling Muscovy, came a couple centuries later and lasted until 1917.
The Russian Revolution and subsequent upheaval (1917-1922), which deposed the tsar and imposed dictatorial rule, saw the brief existence of an independent Ukrainian People’s Republic. This was quickly overpowered by the Russia which found it prudent to include Ukraine as a founding republic in the formation of the new mega-nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — the USSR.
In the immediate aftermath of World War Two (1939-1945) the USSR, pretending to be the voluntary union of like-minded (socialist) republics, usurped several countries along its western border, or at least installed puppet governments in many — among them Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the eastern third of Germany — and moved in military hardware, thus drawing across Europe what was known for more than forty years as the Iron Curtain.
For the brief existence of the so-called Union of (Soviet Socialist) “Republics” (1922-1991) several countries were wholly or partly mismanaged and aggressively exploited by the totalitarian (self-described communist) regime centered in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin cites a thousand-year history in which Ukraine (the Kyivan state) was a region of Russia. This is a distortion of the facts typical of the Lenin-to-Putin dynasty ruling Russia. He is counting the period beginning with Vladimir’s adoption of Christianity in A.D. 988. Ukraine didn’t arise from Russia. Russia grew out of Kyiv.
Putin claims that his mission is to de-nazify Ukraine, which is about as logical as if he intended to de-Disneyfy the country. Finland, a region within imperial Russia before World War One and not currently a member of NATO, may need to be de-nazified next. And maybe Sweden needs to be punished soon afterward, for its army’s incursion into Moscow in 1610 and subsequent battles over the 90 years after that.
Negotiating a Settlement
Ukraine must declare flatly: “We are interested in nothing but Russia’s complete removal from Ukraine’s sovereign territory. We will negotiate nothing with Vladimir Putin. What we will consider are proposals for Russia’s reparations.”
Diplomacy is the art of assuring that justice is set aside so that aggressors don’t whine afterward — if diplomacy reaches a conclusion and there is an afterward. To do justice for Ukraine, diplomacy must be set aside and a settlement imposed upon Russia. How? By a united world telling Russia that this is the way it will be and that if Russia fails to abide by it, the rest of the world will suffocate Russia until its people overthrow those remaining in power.
An opening premise:
Spain is a sovereign nation. Poland is a sovereign nation. Israel is a sovereign nation. Canada is a sovereign nation. The same must be said for Japan (which once tried to rule China), India (which was once under British rule), the United States, and you can name many more.
A second premise:
Ukraine is a sovereign nation and should be enjoying the continuing peace that it recently knew and which every other nation expects for itself. Ukraine’s boundary as established under Soviet rule was recognized by Russia when the Soviet Union was dissolved and the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics became, once again, separate countries. Other sovereign nations on Russia’s border include Finland, Mongolia, and China. (Belarus has voluntarily remained a vast region under Russia’s command since the breakup of the so-called USSR and never stood alone as a sovereign nation.)
A third premise:
The map of the world at the beginning of this millennium, which describes the boundaries of a relatively stable world order, defines the nations which mutually recognized one another’s sovereignty at the time, the aspirations of some to possess others notwithstanding. The rest of the world recognized Russia’s boundaries from 1992 onward and Russia supposedly had relinquished claims to its former Soviet Republics. Others wish to possess Israel. North Korea and South Korea wish to possess one another. China wishes to possess Taiwan. We get that. We live with but do not recognize the claims that create those tensions.
A fourth premise:
Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory was unprovoked and unwarranted. In so doing Russia, apparently indiscriminately, committed crimes of aggression against innocents. Russia owes Ukraine reparations as well as the severed heads of those in power who ordered it done.
The only sensible settlement of Russia’s war against Ukraine will have these provisions:
The borders of Ukraine will be those which it had at the fall of the USSR. This includes Crimea and the eastern steppe.
The Russian perpetrators of the war will be brought to trial in Ukraine on charges stemming from the consequences of their actions. Those perpetrators include V. V. Putin.
Russia will pay the cost, either in money or in needed resources, to restore the infrastructure of Ukraine and the housing of its people to a reasonable semblance of its pre-war status.
Russia will disavow all present and future claims to any portion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Russia will likewise disavow all claims to the sovereign territory of every other nation in the world.
Ukraine will disavow all claims to any portion of Russia’s sovereign territory and to any other nation’s sovereign territory.
Ukraine will pledge never to launch a retaliatory war against Russia.
Either country may cede territory to the other at the assent of the other with no un-negotiated strings attached.
Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, is free to associate with any other nation in any way it may deem prudent or useful. This includes the liberty to join NATO and the European Union.
Russia and Ukraine make no restrictions on the actions and free associations of one another so long as those actions and associations do not interfere with the other’s free actions and associations.
Diplomatic relations between the two nations may be established according to the will of the people in each country as expressed through the government each population retains in power.
The world’s failure to impose these terms will assure future aggression on the part of the demons who currently rule Russia. The world’s failure here will also serve as an invitation for China to overrun Taiwan at its leisure. It will also be tantamount to a declaration that, should the United States re-interpret the history of North America to its advantage, then the U.S. is just as right and free to add the sixteen provinces of Canada into its union of states. Mexico will be just as right to reclaim Texas. Germany could re-annex its territories of the 1890s. The examples are endless and most don’t require a distortion of history for justification.
Any settlement that leaves Russia any authority over one square meter of Ukraine, that does not prosecute those responsible, and which lets Russia walk away owing nothing, is a crime committed by the rest of the world. It’s sad to realize, though, given the history of diplomacy, that precisely such an inadequate settlement is the most likely outome if any settlement is reached at all.
A Parting Thought
The following is an excerpt from a tribute I wrote to my Uncle Woody, who, as a frightened kid in uniform, was killed in Korea in 1952. A version of this also appears in the novel, Cold Morning Shadow:
I have this idea about war. It’s like, if the bully punches you once, but you’re not prepared to resist, then you’ve been warned, and you’d better be prepared for the very next punch. If, sooner or later, the bully punches you again, and you’re still not prepared, by default you have decided to accept whatever he decides to deliver, because life isn’t fair and the strong decide how the rest will live.
Once a bully hits you, though, he has forfeited all his rights: the right to choose your response, your weapon, the setting, the timing, the intensity, and the duration of your response, whom you enlist to help you, and whether he survives or is reduced to dust.
If the bully is a kid on the playground, you can surround yourself with protective friends or go to the principal. If you’re a nation and the bully is another nation, you have no one to run to. It’s up to you, and you had better not be ducking around and trying to find your escape route and protecting you nose while he rearranges your internal organs. You’re sure as hell an idiot if you’re trying to talk peace while he dislodges your teeth.
If you’re a nation, and a bully hits you, I think you should lay him out flat, suddenly, and with everything it takes to forever prevent the next punch. I know America doesn’t start wars, but when America gets sucked in by some tinpot dictator with a bad haircut and a pet word for God, (P. J. O’Rourke’s words, not mine), I cannot comprehend why we tiptoe around with so-called diplomacy and feed our soldiers to their bullying. If the bully punches first, I think he ought not have time to draw another breath before he gets knocked out cold instantly. The United States has had the ability to do that ever since the end of World War II.
Regarding the post, Ukraine and Your Future, the painting by Ilya Yefimovich Repin is titled “Cossacks Writing a Letter to the Sultan of Turkey” and this is a modern-day approximation of the legendary correspondence between the two parties. Ukraine’s response to Vladimir Putin has put me in mind of this splendid story:
Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks, A.D. 1676:
As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians — I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks. Sultan Mehmed IV
Zaporozhian Cossacks of Ukraine to the Turkish Sultan:
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you, that can’t slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we’ve no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother. You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and clown of Hades, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our cock. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw your own mother! So the Zaporozhians declare, you basest of runts. Y ou won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse! Koshoviy Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Brotherhood
It’s only three weeks into Russia’s murderous assault on its neighboring country, but Ukraine fatigue is already setting in. If you are one of those Americans, ignorant of that region’s geography and history and feeling sorry for the Russians killed in Ukraine’s resistance, this brief piece will not untangle your confusion. It may prod you to some research, though, and that will be to your benefit.
What will the world look like geo-politically in a few years? Keep in mind that the crisis of today, the situation that is just so wrong that we must rush to the “negotiating table” and invoke “diplomacy” (an absurd word if there ever was one) — today’s crisis becomes a scab on a wounded earth for a generation and then the scab crumbles and falls off. Those who will be opinion-makers twenty years from now are still in diapers today. To them, Russia’s reconquest of Ukraine will be a fact, a nasty scar, not a travesty that should have been prevented or that must be undone.
The news-packaging industry will drop Ukraine not when the war there ends, for it will not end, but when Americans show by what they pay attention to on social media and tweet about that they’re more interested in the next baseball strike or the next actress offended by a scarcity of gasoline or cosmetics. Ukraine’s desperate struggle will be overshadowed when Russia turns its tanks and missiles on its other neighbors; Georgia and Kazakhstan are easy marks.
For the present — the next two to five years, here’s where we are headed.
China will divert the hand-wringers’ attention to Taiwan. This is the island in the western Pacific Ocean, about the size of Switzerland but with three times the population, that has been a country independent of totalitarian China since 1949. At first, as the “cultural revolution” was winding down, Taiwan called itself China and insisted that its leadership was the real government of China. This was no more effective than it is for China to call itself a “republic.” Mao Tse-tung insisted that his was the real government and, besides, he occupied the mainland.
In recent history, seventy-five years has been long enough for worldwide acceptance of a country’s independence. Two of my grandparents were out of diapers seventy-five years after the War of 1812 (which lasted until 1815) and no one was suggesting that the United States was still a territory of Great Britain. Taiwan is a free, independent country. China isn’t buying that.
China cannot move tanks into place, alerting the world weeks in advance of its pending takeover. Instead, a swift air-and-sea assault, calculated to succeed almost overnight, will overwhelm the island nation. Weeks later the United States, pledged to defend Taiwan to the death, will be scrambling to suggest a city in a neutral country where a negotiating table might be set up. But Taiwan will be won and China won’t deign to “negotiate.”
China’s next objective will be to annex Outer Mongolia, a country whose constitution was introduced in 1992 after representatives visited the United States to learn about our Constitution. An arrangement may be offered that is similar to its relationship with Tibet, affirming China’s sovereignty but granting Mongolia a parody of autonomy. Annexing this independent country will cause some friction with Russia, but China will make none of the mistakes that Russia has made in its imperialist aggressions of the past 40-50 years, beginning with Afghanistan.
The United States will “object strongly” to China’s conquests. China knows how easily it can weaken the United States. Right now it relies on its American customers, who are as dependent as addicts to China’s products. But China takes a long-range view. China also knows that its greatest ally for raw materials and ultimately for customers is the Russian empire.
China also knows that Vladimir Putin is finished. Putin will be punished within his own country for his blunder in Ukraine. Ukraine will fall to the Russians, but Russia will step out of that quagmire with a new emperor, and probably one who can project the charm of a Volodymyr Zelensky while concealing the ambitions that ruined Putin.
A new Russian president will understand Russia’s deepened isolation from western Europe and so will relinquish his country’s century-old pretenses of unity with Europe. He will embrace the overtures from China toward a vision for a strong European Union-style cooperative in central Asia.
China’s long-term strategy will be to turn its back on its markets far away from Asia, for it can see that it has already bled most of the available wealth from the United States. Its products have been cheap for 50 years, since Richard Nixon’s bold but naïve rapprochement with Mao Tse-tung.
Nixon may not have been foresighted so much as he facilitated the result in this country. As China began demonstrating its ability and willingness to produce whatever Americans wanted, the United States began virtuously to outlaw manufacturing. Agencies were created and regulations written in this country seemingly to assure that production would be shifted not only to China but to any country where workers earned pennies in worthless currencies against the dollars that were once paid to Americans, where workers have no protection from hazards, where there are only pretenses of concern for the natural environment, where industrial waste is flushed away untreated or piled in agricultural and forested land, where the skies are a permanent yellow-gray, where the oligarchs grow rich, just like the oligarchs in the U.S. Congress and regulatory agencies.
We want the luxuries that such manufacturing makes possible but we have made certain that its horrible side-effects are visited on other countries whose individual citizens don’t matter to us.
It’s a very sinister future if it unfolds this way. This, though, is the best we can hope for. We have given away our best technology and we cannot replicate its products here. When China turns its back on us we will be left without the ability to manufacture anything of consequence and with laws that prevent the building of anything resembling a factory. Just writing the environmental impact statements for a paper mill can provide half a career’s work for an army of lawyers. And perhaps that is as is should be. Perhaps we should not be wreaking such havoc on our world as it takes to give seven billion people all the luxuries that Americans enjoy today. But then, perhaps we should all go back to living as my grandparents did in the 1880s, which is not far removed from the way most of the world’s population still lives today.
Vladimir Putin may still believe that a wave of victories will secure him a place above Lenin in Russian history. Ukraine, though, is frustrating him. The near future, the next generation or so, will follow a path very much like that outlined above if Putin retains his delusions and fails to identify his Brutus. If he becomes angry, though, the world faces the reaches of his wrath, which will not manifest itself in his face or his speeches. Provoked enough he will use so-called tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine to hasten their surrender, risking “severe economic and diplomatic sanctions” from Europe and America. If any NATO country intervenes in any way, all NATO countries are susceptible to a nuclear pushback.
If Putin strikes anywhere outside Ukraine with anything worse than a tactical nuclear weapon, the future as surmised in the earlier part of this article is out the window. A nuclear attack anywhere in the rest of the world has only two possible consequences: Total worldwide capitulation to Russia (presumably to Putin, if he is still in charge), or nuclear annihilation. How the United States responds to a nuclear missile attack will depend upon our leadership when it happens. Waiting for the senate to approve the names of candidates to attend the negotiations with Russia after a Russian nuclear attack will only assure our surrender. And perhaps that is as it must be. The only conceivable defensive response would be for the nuclear-armed NATO countries to launch, within seconds, or at the latest within minutes of an initial Russian nuclear strike on a member nation, all missiles needed to completely destroy Russia’s nuclear offensive arsenal. Militarily, tactically, politically that is the only alternative to surrender. I believe we have neither the procedures in place to do that nor the will.
I’m glad I studied Russian intensively when I was young. I have retained much of it. It looks as though it will come in handy before long.
If I were motivated to take such an interesting journey, I could step out my back door and hike 55 miles through the Maine woods to the border with Canada without crossing a paved road. (I’d reach U.S. 1 just before the border, to be precise.) Since I’m a wildlife biologist and Registered Maine Guide, this particular hike does not entice me. My feet have trod plenty of forestland and I can think of more interesting places to explore.
Imagine, nonetheless: I hoist my backpack and set out east by northeast. I submit to you that I could walk the distance in an almost-straight line, weaving a little in order to side-step a tree or skirt a pond.
I submit to you, as well, that if you would stand me on a low platform and then strike me with a blast of 250-mph wind, I surely would be bulleted into the forest as a molecule propelled by a sneeze, but I wouldn’t travel 55 yards, not to mention 55 miles, before I would be smeared against a tree trunk, never to take a step farther.
It is February, 2022, and we are two years into this covid pandemic. We now know that, before there was news of human infection with SARS-CoV-2, our oracle, Anthony Fauci, MD, was transferring money to a lab in Wuhan, China, to fund gain-of-function research into the genome of that virus — that is, to fund whatever China wanted to do with U.S. taxpayer money, since accountability for that country’s actions is non-existent.
That is not what surprises and appalls me. I marvel, instead, at the passionate response to the facts manifested in two factions of Americans. In the nearly three quarters of a century that I have observed human folly, it should not astonish me that freedom-loving rebels — the people who could most effectively return this nation to a constitutional republic — have chosen to rise up as a cohesive force against… against masks and vaccines.
I have been sounding the alarm for decades as the IRS has grown to resemble Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors.” I have been demanding explanations as the banking industry has secured permission to charge me a fee to store my money in its “vaults” and charge me three percent for the privilege of spending it instead of paying me interest of at least three percent. Where were those rebels as these boots were being driven into their necks? All of a sudden they have risen up as one against… against masks and vaccines.
What person among them has not taken a needle to prevent annual influenza strains? What person among them has not worn a protective covering somewhere? What person among them has not buckled a seatbelt? Stepped through a metal detector? Paid for a license to perform a basic human function? I do not wear a mask outside my home because the government tells me I must. I don’t give a damn what the government tells me to do. I wear it because it protects me and it protects those whom I encounter.
The absurdity of the anti-masker, anti-vaxer movement is compounded by Republicans in Congress who have suddenly detected a threat to freedom. Where were they, all through my lifetime, as our property was being handed to the banks and our freedom was being handed to the regulators? I want to blame those abuses on the Democrats, but the two parties now resemble each other so closely that both are equally responsible for our loss of future.
I am closely and warmly acquainted with a woman, a medical doctor in fact, who protests masks and needles based on her Christian faith. I propounded to her that the God I worship is interested in the substance of my soul, not the agent in my arteries or the strew in my stomach. “God created us to be his image on Earth,” she countered. “And the virus is 200 times smaller than the spaces within a mask.”
Regarding her first point, I argued that, in my vulgar condition, I more closely resemble the virus itself than God, although I do understand that, as one Christian apologist has said, “You may be the only Jesus that some people will ever see.” So, yes, I try in all encounters to behave as Jesus would.
To her second point, I compare the virus going through a mask to my initial example of hiking through the forest. If the virus has the leisure time to meander through a manmade filter with holes 200 times its width, it may indeed “hike” right through a mask. But propelled at the rate of a sneeze or a lungful of exhaled or inhaled air, I suspect that the mask will act as would the forest against my randomly-catapulted body. Is it a perfect barrier? No. But it is better than most alternatives including the alternative of no barrier at all.
I live with someone who has a serious auto-immune disease. I live with someone else who was born in the 1920s. I myself am a fourteen-year survivor of a heart attack. We are all three highly vulnerable to the severe immediate effects of “covid” and to its long-term effects as well. None of us has yet become infected with it. We have taken advantage of the protection in vaccines. We wear masks in public. We appreciate the courtesy others show by wearing their masks.
To those who have suddenly come to the defense of my freedom not to wear a mask, how about joining me by the millions to defend my freedom not to fund a corrupt government? How about throwing the bums out and electing 435 new members to the House of Representatives this fall, not to mention 33 or 34 new senators? Then I will believe in your commitment to freedom.
It has been a long time since I was last reminded how small and insignificant I am. In spite of its pretensions to virtue and social responsibility, Facebook is really just the modern face of corporate greed and manipulation, vices which it pretend to despise. I need to use it as I originally started out doing, to make connections — (I’m still “bumping into” old childhood acquaintances) — and just stay clear of its bulldozer blade.
David A. Woodbury, 14 December 2021
THIS THIEF, FRAUD, AND FACEBOOK EMPLOYEE DOES NOT VIOLATE META/FACEBOOK’S “COMMUNITY STANDARDS” – a personal experience
Some years ago Facebook invited me to create a page — a space, distinct from my profile, where I might feature a hobby or business. And so I did. When it had enough “Likes” Facebook assigned it the URL (universal resource locator) of my choice. Thus, https://www.facebook.com/RegisteredMaineGuide became my first page. At the time, I was actively making a little money as a guide in fishing, hunting, and wilderness exploring.
Later, I created the page /ProverbialBeer for my beer-making hobby, /MaineMapleSyrup for that hobby, and then /BabieNayms and /ColdMorningShadow for two of the books that I’ve written. All of these were contained in my /woodbury.david Facebook account.
Nowadays Facebook invites us to compose a “story” of some sort, join a chat, join a group, set up a business identity, and more. I have added a business identity, but mostly I avoid those confusing digressions. The whole Facebook experience now feels like navigating a Maine coast fog in an ill-equipped trawler.
Through the years I have followed all of Facebook’s recommendations for keeping my account secure. On November 17, 2021, however, my account was hacked by someone in the Philippines with the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. I reported this as soon as I discovered it, and two days later Facebook restored my profile to me after I held my driver’s license up to my computer’s camera and let them take a picture of it.
I was grateful and went back to Facebook-as-usual until December 4th. It was then that I discovered I was no longer the administrator of /RegisteredMaineGuide or any of my other Facebook “pages.”
Facebook — or Meta, as we are now asked to call its parent company — believes they resolved the November 17th hack. I tried reporting the newly-discovered problem with my pages, (and in case you think you get to describe the problem, you’re mistaken), but I was led again and again around the same circle: Secure my account by changing my password. I followed through a couple times, getting dizzy with the ‘round-and-‘round, so I began looking for another way to request help.
I did some more digging into the settings for my compromised pages and found lists of people who had been assigned “admin” privileges in each one, reducing me to “analyst” on each of them — in other words, no control. I took screen shots.
In some of its “help” guidance Facebook asked how they could improve their support, adding that they would welcome screen shots. Since there is no way to report hacked and stolen “pages” separately from a hacked account, and since they think they have resolved the hacked account, I tried explaining the difference in 500 characters or less through the improve-our-support interface. I did this again and again, asking that someone please respond to me about it. Facebook sometimes presented a box on the screen cautioning me that this is not the place to report a problem and that I will not receive a reply.
I continued daily assaults on the AI (artificial intelligence/absolute ignorance) of Facebook’s support services, unattended by human eyes, for about a week. During this time I looked up several of the names who had been granted admin privileges in my pages. I settled on one who appeared most often and who seems to have a genuine active Facebook account/profile of his own, Phạm Linh, in Vietnam. Ironically, he claims to work for Meta. Aha! — I thought — Facebook will certainly want to know this — he’s made himself the admin of my pages, also appears as my “friend,” and he pretends to be a Meta employee and even links his profile to meta.com.
I found a link on Phạm Linh’s profile to report a suspicious account, so I clicked it. There was no option to provide supporting details. I could only click Pretending to Be Someone Else (among other options) and then click Submit. I did and waited a few hours. Sure enough, Facebook replied that this person’s profile does not appear to violate their “community standards.” And since his profile says he’s one of their own and making that claim doesn’t violate their standards, then I must accept that as Facebook admission that Phạm Linh is indeed their own employee. I tried again a day later using a different violation from their list (Harassment). Same result.
I tried this approach as well on the profile of Jeonard Balmaceda Jimenez, another unauthorized admin on one of my pages who also claims to be employed by Facebook. Same result. I tried reporting Violation of Intellectual Property. That’s also acceptable in their community standards.
Phạm Linh’s most recent timeline post is from November 6th, so I thought maybe he doesn’t look at his profile very often, but on December 12th I composed a polite message to him nevertheless. Since my screen shot of the message thread is restricted to a tiny box, here you will see a screen shot of the part showing his reply followed by a transcript of the entire exchange.
Here’s what I know so far:
Phạm Linh works for Facebook — Meta has confirmed this. (Claiming so on his profile meets with their community standards. Who is this “community” by the way? Clearly it doesn’t include me.)
As a Meta/Facebook employee, Phạm Linh bought my pages from some source that sells Facebook identities.
With Facebook’s permission, Phạm Linh is demanding a ransom. (The amount that would satisfy him is unspecified, nor am I going to ask the price.) If I pay him, separately from his Meta salary, he will return control to me.
Meta/Facebook has no option within its “support” system whereby I can reach a human being, by email, chat, phone, message, or any other means.
Meta’s web site lists no contact information — no main office address or phone number. It does provide one email address, email@example.com, for “press inquiries.” (What’s a press inquiry?)
To survive in the wilderness such as the forest that surrounds my home, an animal that is not, in some combination, cunning, camouflaged, cautious, or vicious will not survive. The internet is a wilderness. To a predator in another part of the world, an American is a fat, bumbling meal to be pounced upon and consumed. That is Phạm Linh’s perspective. (Given that I was an American GI during the Vietnam war, he is doubly justified, I suppose.)
To survive in the city you must be some combination of chic, undefinable, unapproachable, or evasive. Facebook is a quintessential city creature. With its fashionable transformation to Meta it has reinforced, among its qualities, the arrogance of unapproachableness. I have been violated in their boudoir. Facebook cannot be approached with my complaint. But Facebook still invites me to create a story. OK. Here it is (but not using the “story” format).
It remains unresolved. If you have pages in Facebook, be warned now that they are for sale by Facebook employees and you can pay the ransom to get them back — maybe. These pages which I created are no longer my own. I cannot add to, modify, or delete them.
This story, with all its screen shots, still resides on my Facebook profile, https://www.facebook.com/woodbury.david/, with numerous comments. Among the comments are a couple of telephone numbers that one friend suggested might reach the company. I tried one. It did reach a recorded menu at Facebook telling all callers that they must search the Facebook web site for answers. I didn’t bother with the second phone number.
I did compose a letter with the necessary details and mailed it to the physical address that appears on their web site, 1101 Dexter Avenue N, Seattle, Washington. Ten days later I sent a second one just asking how they were coming on my request. Both letters were returned as undeliverable. I suppose that I too could refuse to accept all mail and refuse as well to be contacted in any way. And I could pretend at the same time to be a friendly entity that encourages people to communicate with one another.
On the supposition that, since Meta’s web site invites press inquiries sent to the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, I assumed that there might be an email address, email@example.com. Therefore, I composed a message, included the URL for this article, and sent it off from the email address associated with my Facebook account. It bounced back immediately with this caveat:
Your message to firstname.lastname@example.org couldn’t be delivered. email@example.com only accepts messages from people in its organization or on its allowed senders list, and your email address isn’t on the list. -How to Fix It- It appears you aren’t in the same organization as the recipient or your email address isn’t on their allowed senders list. Contact the person you’re sending your message to (by phone, for example) and tell them to ask their email admin to change the settings on their mailbox so it will accept messages from you. Was this helpful?
Frankly, I no longer care. For most people, it appears that Facebook is viewed with the same love and respect that they afford the IRS and the insurance industry, to name two of our other necessary evils.
It has been a long time since I was last reminded how small and insignificant I am. In spite of its pretensions to virtue and social responsibility, Facebook is really just the modern face of corporate greed and manipulation. I need to use it as I originally started out doing, to make connections — (I’m still “bumping into” old childhood acquaintances) — and just stay clear of its bulldozer blade.
The article that is linked below may be the best analysis of what our rulers in the United States will never understand about their responsibility to govern. All of what Ayn Rand has to say, in this piece by George Smith for libertarianism.org and republished at fee.org (the Foundation for Economic Education), are thoughts that have stewed in my mind but never come to words, at least not words as clearly expressed as she did.
As Smith says: Rand knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy. It has always been about the individual vs. the state.
In a letter written on March 19, 1944, Ayn Rand remarked: “Fascism, Nazism, Communism and Socialism are only superficial variations of the same monstrous theme—collectivism.” Rand would later expand on this insight in various articles, most notably in two of her lectures at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston: “The Fascist New Frontier” (Dec. 16, 1962, published as a booklet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute in 1963); and “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus” (April 18, 1965, published as Chapter 20 in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal [CUI] by New American Library in 1967).
Rand knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy between socialism (or communism) and fascism, according to which socialism is the extreme version of left-ideology and fascism is the extreme version of right-ideology (i.e., capitalism). Indeed, in The Ayn Rand Letter (Nov. 8, 1971) she characterized fascism as “socialism for big business.” Both are variants of statism, in contrast to a free country based on individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism.
She warns especially against choosing the middle of the road between the two extremes of the same collectivism, a position that gives us, as I have written elsewhere, the Pigrolet.
Note: This article was originally added here in October 2017. It has been brought forward because it remains timely if not downright urgent with the unbelievable incompetence-to-govern among all who hold office in the nation’s capital. If it becomes unavailable at the FEE link in the preceding paragraph, it is available in a downloadable PDF file by clicking below.
My regrets for the length of this piece, first published at DamnYankee.com, but so much is at stake and much needs be said. I originally wrote this as a letter to The Weekly Standard after reading its 2006 article, “Banned in Boston – The coming conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty” by Maggie Gallagher, 05/15/2006, Volume 011, Issue 33. The magazine did not publish or acknowledge my letter. And so, I offer it here.
In Maggie Gallagher’s engaging and informative articleabout Catholic Charities of Boston in the wake of Goodridge (a decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Court), neither she nor any of the legal beagles she interviewed so much as mentioned the simplest solution of all. Churches can simply restrict themselves to performing the sacrament of marriage and forgo acting as agents of the State (with a capital ‘S’ to use Nock’s catch-all term) in certifying a couple’s intentions. Then, those churches interested in marrying same-sex couples but located in states that only recognize male-female marriages can confer the sacrament of marriage on any couple the church alone approves, and likewise for churches that recognize only male-female marriages in states where same-sex civil unions are sanctioned. Never mind that people, such as myself, who are not interested in the government’s sanction of anything we do, can even exchange conventional male-female vows in a non-controversial church ceremony and save the fee downtown.
If a church turns in its permit to certify the civil status of a union, couples married in the church but seeking government sanction as well can then go downtown, right after the wedding or years later, pay the fees, repeat their intentions before a state official if need be, and submit to the State’s blessing at their convenience.
People do the opposite all the time: They save a trip to the church alter and get their civil union, commonly called a marriage, certified at the town office after a religion-free ceremony at a banquet hall. Some even show up at a church years later and ask for a church ceremony, to make it right in the eyes of God. (And some never bother with either ceremony, opting for what we used to call a common-law marriage.) This is tolerated more in today’s American culture than ever before; we are collectively unperturbed by any arrangement of co-habitation.)
In this country, perhaps more than in others, we have adapted to a concept that a marriage is one thing and one thing only, that it is the exclusive privilege of the State to sanction, and that, as an option, a church can be called upon to bless it. This is incontrovertibly backwards. The experts Maggie Gallagher interviewed do not seem able to shake this misconception, and thus they predict endless debate and litigation. I wish they had re-examined the common American concept of marriage, which has been confused with the wedding ceremony and all its trappings. Marriage is the union of two people – perhaps even three or more if the state becomes whimsical about it; a wedding is the ceremony that results in a marriage along with the festivity that typically follows immediately afterward.
As for Catholic Charities and the mess they’re in in Boston, it only proves that no good deed goes unpunished. In this country, a church that wants the State to stay out of its affairs will stay out of the government’s affairs. A church that engages in commerce, as Marc Stern pointed out to Gallagher, invites the State’s scrutiny and interference. So too for a church that provides community services cooperatively or under contract with a government agency.
Why, then, does any church assume the civil authority to certify a marriage on the State’s behalf? It may well be rooted in the Middle Ages I suppose, but a joint statement of intentions made in a civil hearing and an exchange of vows in a sacramental ceremony are two distinct things with two separate purposes. In spite of what legislatures or courts may declare about the civil certification of a union, if churches in the United States would just stick to the sacrament and stay out of the civil certification process, they could always be entirely free to perform the sacrament of marriage according to their own rules and with couples they select and approve, without asking the government’s permission to do so! My wife and I, for instance, submitted to our church’s questioning and the related scrutiny of our suitability to become wed. Unless the State presumes to take over that responsibility and force all churches to follow one doctrine on any subject of the State’s choosing, a church still has the final say-so.
People who desire a religious blessing are free to marry in a church and may decline to register the marriage with the civil authorities. And any couple of any description is free to decline God’s blessing and find a civil authority willing to register their pledge (and willing, later, to accept their revocation of it). It is when the church functions as an agent of the State and combines the civil arrangement with the religious sacrament that the State has an interest in who is denied the State’s arrangement by being denied the sacrament.
A church may choose not to acknowledge a marriage certified outside its rules, and the State may choose not to recognize the marriage of a couple who have not paid the registration fee and obtained, of all things, a “license.” (Is that still required?)
A marriage not recognized by the State is no less a marriage in the eyes of God. Americans seem more concerned with the definition of marriage according to the IRS than the definition according to sacrament. But, in spite of what the Internal Revenue Code may say about it, and I’m not going to waste time searching the Code, even the IRS makes no demand of proof that a couple filing a joint tax return produce a civil license to call themselves married. In the several decades that my wife and I have been married we have never been called upon to show it and we don’t even have a copy of any such license.
I submit that Catholic Charities of Boston, if unable to reconcile the two definitions of marriage, must remain true to its own traditional definition. The church’s standards remain constant, or one can hope that they do, while the State is free to write a law declaring the union of peanut butter and jelly a marriage (requiring a permit), if it wants to. Not realistic? What about the union of three people, then? Is that so far-fetched? And how would a church handle a legislative or court definition like that? If some rich socialite can will her estate to her terrier, what’s to prevent the State from taking the next logical step and permitting her to marry the dog first?
If Massachusetts loses the services of the Catholic adoption agencies because the State has a better definition of marriage, and thereby a better definition of family, then let the State do a better job of handling adoption. That is, let the people of Massachusetts, who presumably are unperturbed by their elected representatives’ fiat in allowing the court to correct the church’s stodgy and now-erroneous definition, fork over the revenue that the State will need to go it alone in adoption services. The people of Massachusetts have said, through their representatives, that they don’t need the church’s help. Let them live with that decision.
It is plain that Massachusetts has, until now, consigned a number of children to Catholic Charities to be placed according to the church’s standards, or according to some standards jointly agreed upon. (And once placed, the children live under the parents’ standards.) The State now chooses no longer to consign children to that agency, (chooses in the sense that the agency felt compelled to close), because the agency’s standards, which are not changing with the whim of popular culture, were set centuries before there was a fickle legislature in Massachusetts with the voters’ assent to write ever-changing law.
Perhaps the next step will be for the State (of Massachusetts in this case) to follow up by visiting the homes where children have been adopted and ensuring that the adopting parents have the proper non-discrimination notices posted, thus assuring that the children rescued from Catholic Charities are subsequently protected from Catholic or Sunni or Hindu influence at home.
This is not a tirade against the exchange of devotional vows by homosexual couples, nor against adoption by homosexual singles or couples. (The latter — deciding who is suitable to adopt a child, is always the State’s sole responsibility.) This is merely a defense of the church’s right to remain unaffected by the State in the practice and promotion of its beliefs, and likewise an insistence that the State practice its shenanigans without regard for the sensitivities of any church. In either regard, that is as it should be.
Do I believe that homosexuals should not be parents? No, I do not believe that. Do I believe that homosexuals should endure State-sanctioned persecution? No, nor any persecution. Do I believe that the State, by prohibiting discrimination, will put an end to persecution? No. And that is where the State’s “solution” becomes insidious, for it is the State’s apparent belief that, by prohibiting discrimination and assiduously enforcing the prohibition, unlawful discrimination will evaporate. In its zeal, the State will neglect certain of its children, perhaps its most vulnerable citizens. It’s a legislative victory on behalf of those who feel stigmatized by society for their sexual orientation. It’s a tragedy, perhaps, for someone more vulnerable.
I do believe it is the duty of those whose activism brings about anti-discrimination legislation to concede that the law will not instantly change people’s perceptions or end discrimination overnight; to concede also that, while unlawful discrimination is not OK, there just may be a population more vulnerable than those whose grievance is redressed by a single act of a sacrosanct State, in this case, the decision of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.
A vocal cadre of indignant activists, whatever cause they advocate, and a complicit legislature or crusading court, should always consider these realities. That’s not to say that they should jointly search out all possible affected parties and concoct grievances for them too, but only that they should jointly acknowledge, and let the law make allowance for, the fact that, as a society, we are somewhat like a small crowd jammed into an elevator. I shouldn’t be expected to accept having the point of your umbrella jammed into my foot, but I should accept being jostled a little. You should accept my unintentionally offensive odor, but I should take care to bathe daily so that there is at least a limit to how smelly I can be from day to day. And when the door opens and opportunity presents, we should put space, but not hatred, between ourselves.
What’s missing here is tolerance, or, as Maggie Gallagher quoted Marc Stern, “‘Live and let live’ is the only thing around the world that works.” Isn’t it fair to say that those protected by the anti-discrimination law, (the entire body of those protected, as distinct from their most vocal advocates), are chiefly seeking tolerance for what sets them apart? Isn’t it also fair to say that those thus protected owe their fellow citizens tolerance for their various beliefs and standards as well, however distasteful? That was briefly the objective in America, when the law set out to prohibit harmful acts and promote responsible action — before law became the monster it now is, dedicated to the eradication of any notice of obvious differences, the police state of political correctness. It should shame the Massachusetts legislature, and indeed, the people of Massachusetts who permit that body to represent them, that the chief beneficiaries of this new mess will be the lawyers, who will likewise miss the point of tolerance, to the considerable expense of the people whose taxes support them.
A church’s only role in American society, in order to assure First Amendment protection, is to preach its doctrine and exhort its listeners to faith and right action. Marc Stern agrees when he says, “Beyond speech, nothing is safe. People exhorted may then individually put their faith into practice without too much threat of State interference. But churches have become big business in America, some, no doubt, with more paid accountants than clergy. Concerted action, in contrast with individual action, makes a church appear very effective in its doctrine and charity, but it also calls the church to submit, account, and justify. I do not disapprove the State’s legitimate scrutiny of many churches’ big-business affairs, since the Constitution calls upon the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.
For churches worried about whimsical, peanut-butter-and-jelly definitions of marriage, why fret whether federal or state legislators will one day grant religion-based exemptions? This was a development that Robin Wilson speculated on in Gallagher’s article. Why not simply turn in your permits to confer civil status to a marriage and restrict yourselves to conducting religious ceremonies only? And offer newlyweds an instruction brochure explaining, for whatever town or municipality they’re in, how to register for a State license to be wed as well, either before or after the church blessing. For those few couples who still wait for their wedding night, they’ll have to choose whether the celebration of the sacrament constitutes the wedding or the hearing on their civil petition. That decision may depend more on whether they’re interested in the IRS benefits, probate, and insurance beneficiary status or in the blessing of God.
Even if the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, or in Massachusetts, gives up certifying the civil status of marriages, the result of Goodridge for Catholic Charities of Boston remains the same. Massachusetts voters have put them out of the adoption placement business. I’m glad I’m not a child-pawn in that state’s politics.
The net profit of my first few years of life appears to have been a fairly explicit understanding of the fact that ignorance exists… This understanding came about so easily and naturally that for many years I took it as a commonplace, assuming that everyone had it. My subsequent contacts with the world at large, however, showed me that everyone does not have it, indeed that those who have it are extremely few. They seemed particularly and pitifully few when one contemplated the colossal pretensions which, in its modesty, the human race puts forth about itself… a society by and large “too ignorant to know that there is such a thing as ignorance”!
…As time went on, I became convinced that Calvin’s idea of invincible ignorance had a validity… But why should ignorance have persisted as a fixed quantity throughout human history, as apparently it has done; and why should the direct effort at enlightening ignorance remain as inveterately impracticable and inadvisable today as it was in the days of Socrates, Jesus, Confucius, Im-hotep, or it must have been found to be by the wiseacres of the Neolitic period, if any such there were? Albert Jay Nock
The Darwin awards come to mind, but that’s only one type of stupid. Compare Nock’s observation above with…
THE BASIC LAWS OF HUMAN STUPIDITY by Carlo M. Cipolla, with illustrations by James Donnelly
The First Basic Law of Human Stupidity asserts without ambiguity that:
Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
At first, the statement sounds trivial, vague, and horribly ungenerous. Closer scrutiny will however reveal its realistic veracity. No matter how high are one’s estimates of human stupidity, one is repeatedly and recurrently startled by the fact that:
a) people whom one had once judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid, and b) day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one’s activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments.
The First Basic Law prevents me from attributing a specific numerical value to the fraction of stupid people within the total population: Any numerical estimate would turn out to be an underestimate. Thus in the following pages I will denote the fraction of stupid people within a population by the symbol σ. [sigma]
The Second Basic Law
Cultural trends now fashionable in the West favour an egalitarian approach to life. People like to think of human beings as the output of a perfectly engineered mass production machine. Geneticists and sociologists especially go out of their way to prove, with an impressive apparatus of scientific data and formulations, that all men are naturally equal and if some are more equal than others, this is attributable to nurture and not to nature. I take an exception to this general view. It is my firm conviction, supported by years of observation and experimentation, that men are not equal, that some are stupid and others are not, and that the difference is determined by nature and not by cultural forces or factors. One is stupid in the same way one is red-haired; one belongs to the stupid set as one belongs to a blood group. A stupid man is born a stupid man by an act of Providence. Although convinced that fraction of human beings are stupid and that they are so because of genetic traits, I am not a reactionary trying to reintroduce surreptitiously class or race discrimination. I firmly believe that stupidity is an indiscriminate privilege of all human groups and is uniformly distributed according to a constant proportion. This fact is scientifically expressed by the Second Basic Law which states that:
The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
In this regard, Nature seems indeed to have outdone herself. It is well known that Nature manages, rather mysteriously, to keep constant the relative frequency of certain natural phenomena. For instance, whether men proliferate at the Northern Pole or at the Equator, whether the matching couples are developed or underdeveloped, whether they are black, red, white, or yellow, the female to male ratio among the newly born is a constant, with a very slight prevalence of males. We do not know how Nature achieves this remarkable result but we know that in order to achieve it Nature must operate with large numbers. The most remarkable fact about the frequency of stupidity is that Nature succeeds in making this frequency equal to the probability quite independently from the size of the group.
Thus one finds the same percentage of stupid people whether one is considering very large groups or one is dealing with very small ones. No other set of observable phenomena offers such striking proof of the powers of Nature.
The evidence that education has nothing to do with the probability was provided by experiments carried on in a large number of universities all over the world. One may distinguish the composite population which constitutes a university in five major groups, namely the blue-collar workers, the white-collar employees, the students, the administrators, and the professors.
Whenever I analyzed the blue-collar workers I found that the fraction σ of them were stupid. As σ’s value was higher than I expected (First Law), paying my tribute to fashion I thought at first that segregation, poverty, or lack of education were to be blamed. But moving up the social ladder I found that the same ratio was prevalent among the white-collar employees and among the students. More impressive still were the results among the professors. Whether I considered a large university or a small college, a famous institution, or an obscure one, I found that the same fraction σ of the professors are stupid. So bewildered was I by the results, that I made a special point to extend my research to a specially selected group, to a real elite, the Nobel laureates. The result confirmed Nature’s supreme powers: σ fraction of the Nobel laureates are stupid.
This idea was hard to accept and digest but too many experimental results proved its fundamental veracity. The Second Basic Law is an iron law, and it does not admit exceptions. The Women’s Liberation Movement will support the Second Basic Law as it shows that stupid individuals are proportionately as numerous among men as among women. The underdeveloped of the Third World will probably take solace at the Second Basic Law as they can find in it the proof that after all the developed are not so developed. Whether the Second Basic Law is liked or not, however, its implications are frightening: the Law implies that whether you move in distinguished circles or you take refuge among the head-hunters of Polynesia, whether you lock yourself into a monastery or decide to spend the rest of your life in the company of beautiful and lascivious women, you always have to face the same percentage of stupid people – which percentage (in accordance with the First Law) will always surpass your expectations.
The Third (and Golden) Basic Law
The Third Basic Law assumes, although it does not state it explicitly, that human beings fall into four basic categories: the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit, and the stupid. It will be easily recognized by the perspicacious reader that these four categories correspond to the four areas I, H, S, B, of the basic graph (see below).
If Tom takes an action and suffers a loss while producing a gain to Dick, Tom’s mark will fall in field H: Tom acted helplessly. If Tom takes an action by which he makes a gain while yielding a gain also to Dick, Tom’s mark will fall in area I: Tom acted intelligently. If Tom takes an action by which he makes a gain causing Dick a loss, Tom’s mark will fall in area B: Tom acted as a bandit. Stupidity is related to area S and to all positions on axis Y below point O. As the Third Basic Law explicitly clarifies:
A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
When confronted for the first time with the Third Basic Law, rational people instinctively react with feelings of skepticism and incredulity. The fact is that reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behaviour. But let us abandon the lofty plane of theory and let us look pragmatically at our daily life. We all recollect occasions in which a fellow took an action which resulted in his gain and our loss: We had to deal with a bandit. We also recollect cases in which a fellow took an action which resulted in his loss and our gain: We had to deal with a helpless person. We can recollect cases in which a fellow took an action by which both parties gained: He was intelligent. Such cases do indeed occur. But upon thoughtful reflection you must admit that these are not the events which punctuate most frequently our daily life. Our daily life is mostly made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness, and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties, or harm. Nobody knows, understands, or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does. In fact there is no explanation – or better there is only one explanation: The person in question is stupid.
Most people do not act consistently. Under certain circumstances a given person acts intelligently and under different circumstances the same person will act helplessly. The only important exception to the rule is represented by the stupid people who normally show a strong proclivity toward perfect consistency in all fields of human endeavours.
From all that proceeds, it does not follow that we can chart on the basic graph only stupid individuals. We can calculate for each person his weighted average position in the plane of Figure 1 quite independently from his degree of inconsistency. A helpless person may occasionally behave intelligently and on occasion he may perform a bandit’s action. But since the person in question is fundamentally helpless most of his action will have the characteristics of helplessness. Thus the overall weighted average position of all the actions of such a person will place him in the H quadrant of the basic graph.
The fact that it is possible to place on the graph individuals instead of their actions allows some digression about the frequency of the bandit and stupid types.
The perfect bandit is one who, with his actions, causes to other individuals losses equal to his gains. The crudest type of banditry is theft. A person who robs you of 100 pounds [£] without causing you an extra loss or harm is a perfect bandit: You lose 100 pounds, he gains 100 pounds. In the basic graph the perfect bandits would appear on a 45-degree diagonal line that divides the area B into two perfectly symmetrical sub-areas (line OM of Figure 2).
However the “perfect” bandits are relatively few. The line OM divides the area B into two sub-areas, B1, and B2, and by far the largest majority of the bandits falls somewhere in one of these two sub-areas.
The bandits who fall in area B1 are those individuals whose actions yield to them profits which are larger than the losses they cause to other people. All bandits who are entitled to a position in area B1 are bandits with overtones of intelligence and as they get closer to the right side of the X axis they share more and more the characteristics of the intelligent person.
Unfortunately the individuals entitled to a position in the B1 area are not very numerous. Most bandits actually fall in area B2. The individuals who fall in this area are those whose actions yield to them gains inferior to the losses inflicted to other people. If someone kills you in order to rob you of fifty pounds [£] or if he murders you in order to spend a weekend with your wife at Monte Carlo, we can be sure that he is not a perfect bandit. Even by using his values to measure his gains (but still using your values to measure your losses) he falls in the B2 area very close to the border of sheer stupidity. Generals who cause vast destruction and innumerable casualties in return for a promotion or a medal fall in the same area.
The frequency distribution of the stupid people is totally different from that of the bandit. While bandits are mostly scattered over an area stupid people are heavily concentrated along one line, specifically on the Y axis below point O. The reason for this is that by far the majority of stupid people are basically and unwaveringly stupid – in other words they perseveringly insist in causing harm and losses to other people without deriving any gain, whether positive or negative.
There are however people who by their improbable actions not only cause damages to other people but in addition hurt themselves. They are a sort of super-stupid who, in our system of accounting, will appear somewhere in the area S to the left of the Y axis.
The power of stupidity
It is not difficult to understand how social, political, and institutional power enhances the damaging potential of a stupid person. But one still has to explain and understand what essentially it is that makes a stupid person dangerous to other people – in other words what constitutes the power of stupidity.
Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behaviour. An intelligent person may understand the logic of a bandit. The bandit’s actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality. The bandit wants a plus on his account. Since he is not intelligent enough to devise ways of obtaining the plus as well as providing you with a plus, he will produce his plus by causing a minus to appear on your account. All this is bad, but it is rational and if you are rational you can predict it. You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty manœuvres, and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defenses.
With a stupid person all this is absolutely impossible as explained by the Third Basic Law. A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy. Because the stupid person’s actions do not conform to the rules of rationality, it follows that: a) one is generally caught by surprise by the attack; b) even when one becomes aware of the attack, one cannot organize a rational defense, because the attack itself lacks any rational structure.
The fact that the activity and movements of a stupid creature are absolutely erratic and irrational not only makes defense problematic but it also makes any counter-attack extremely difficult – like trying to shoot at an object which is capable of the most improbable and unimaginable movements. This is what both Dickens and Schiller had in mind when the former stated that “with stupidity and sound digestion man may front much” and the latter wrote that “against stupidity the very gods fight in vain.”
The Fourth Basic Law
That helpless people, namely those who in our accounting system fall into the H area, do not normally recognize how dangerous stupid people are, is not at all surprising. Their failure is just another expression of their helplessness. The truly amazing fact, however, is that also intelligent people and bandits often fail to recognize the power to damage inherent in stupidity. It is extremely difficult to explain why this should happen and one can only remark that when confronted with stupid individuals often intelligent men as well as bandits make the mistake of indulging in feelings of self-complacency and contemptuousness instead of immediately secreting adequate quantities of adrenaline and building up defenses.
One is tempted to believe that a stupid man will only do harm to himself but this is confusing stupidity with helplessness. On occasion one is tempted to associate oneself with a stupid individual in order to use him for one’s own schemes. Such a manœuvre cannot but have disastrous effects because a) it is based on a complete misunderstanding of the essential nature of stupidity and b) it gives the stupid person added scope for the exercise of his gifts. One may hope to outmanœuvre the stupid and, up to a point, one may actually do so. But because of the erratic behaviour of the stupid, one cannot foresee all the stupid’s actions and reactions and before long one will be pulverized by the unpredictable moves of the stupid partner.
This is clearly summarized in the Fourth Basic Law which states that:
Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
Through centuries and millennia, in public as in private life, countless individuals have failed to take account of the Fourth Basic Law and the failure has caused mankind incalculable losses.
The Fifth Basic Law
Instead of considering the welfare of the individual let us consider the welfare of the society, regarded in this context as the algebraic sum of the individual conditions. A full understanding of the Fifth Basic Law is essential to the analysis. It may be parenthetically added here that of the Five Basic Laws, the Fifth is certainly the best known and its corollary is quoted frequently. The Fifth Basic Law states that:
A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
The corollary of the Law is that:
A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.
The result of the action of a perfect bandit (the person who falls on line OM of Figure 2) is purely and simply a transfer of wealth and/or welfare. After the action of a perfect bandit, the bandit has a plus on his account which plus is exactly equivalent to the minus he has caused to another person. The society as a whole is neither better nor worse off. If all members of a society were perfect bandits the society would remain stagnant but there would be no major disaster. The whole business would amount to massive transfers of wealth and welfare in favour of those who would take action. If all members of the society would take action in regular turns, not only the society as a whole but also individuals would find themselves in a perfectly steady state of no change.
When stupid people are at work, the story is totally different. Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus the society as a whole is impoverished. The system of accounting which finds expression in the basic graphs shows that while all actions of individuals falling to the right of the line POM (see Figure 3) add to the welfare of a society; although in different degrees, the actions of all individuals falling to the left of the same line POM cause a deterioration.
In other words the helpless with overtones of intelligence (area H1), the bandits with overtones of intelligence (area B1), and above all the intelligent (area I) all contribute, though in different degrees, to accrue to the welfare of a society. On the other hand the bandits with overtones of stupidity (area B2) and the helpless with overtones of stupidity (area H2) manage to add losses to those caused by stupid people thus enhancing the nefarious destructive power of the latter group.
All this suggests some reflection on the performance of societies. According to the Second Basic Law, the fraction of stupid people is a constant σ which is not affected by time, space, race, class, or any other sociocultural or historical variable. It would be a profound mistake to believe the number of stupid people in a declining society is greater than in a developing society. Both such societies are plagued by the same percentage of stupid people. The difference between the two societies is that in the society which performs poorly: a) the stupid members of the society are allowed by the other members to become more active and take more actions; b) there is a change in the composition of the non-stupid section with a relative decline of populations of areas I, H1 and B1 and a proportionate increase of populations H2 and B2.
This theoretical presumption is abundantly confirmed by an exhaustive analysis of historical cases. In fact the historical analysis allows us to reformulate the theoretical conclusions in a more factual way and with more realistic detail.
Whether one considers classical, or medieval, or modern, or contemporary times one is impressed by the fact that any country moving uphill has its unavoidable σ fraction of stupid people. However the country moving uphill also has an unusually high fraction of intelligent people who manage to keep the σ fraction at bay and at the same time produce enough gains for themselves and the other members of the community to make progress a certainty.
In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to σ; however in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity (sub-area B2 of quadrant B in Figure 3) and among those not in power an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals (area H in basic graph, Figure 1). Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the σ fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell.
There is genius at work in this thesis. It came round about by way of reader Sam Keen, who sent us a thin gray monograph printed in Bologna, Italy. The trail eventually led to Carlo M. Cipolla [1922-2000], the author, who is currently  Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley
=Kevin Kelly= Whole Earth Review, Spring 1987 p 2 – 7
Note: A different translation from Italian to English uses the term “pillagers” in place of “bandits” and “naïve” in place of “helpless.”
I’m looking at a ninety-two-year-old man right now. He is sitting across the room from me. He was born before the stock market crash of 1929, before the Great Depression. Before World War II. Calvin Coolidge was President when Dick Noyes drew his first breath. My wife of 46 years is his daughter.
In an early episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, which first aired on television in 1962, Jed Clampett comes into the kitchen — I think it was at the cabin in the Ozarks, but I could be wrong — and he tells Granny that Mr. Drysdale told him they’re going to pay him in some new kind of dollars. Grannie scoffs and says: “There ain’t no new kind of dollars.” Jed turns to Jethro and asks: “What’d he call them, Jethro?” Jethro replies: “Mill-ee-on dollars.”
What we have, compared with 1962, is a new kind of dollars, but the effect is quite the opposite of what it was for the Clampett family.
We have just passed the vernal equinox of 2021 and my father-in-law is still breathing. Herbert Hoover had not yet been inaugurated President when this old fellow was born. Automobiles were still being built with wooden wheels. Adolph Hitler had not yet been appointed Chancellor of Germany.
And I’m here looking at a person who was breathing the same air as New York’s newly-inaugurated governor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Dick would be four years old before Roosevelt assumed his first of four terms as President.
GOLD IN OUR POCKETS
There are U.S. gold coins stamped with Dick’s year of birth. That’s how recently people still owned their own wealth, whether they stored it in a secret place at home or stored it in a commercial bank — effectively lending it to a bank at interest — it was their money, their wealth, their property.
If you had a few dollars back then, and a few dollars had a lot more purchasing power than today, and if a bank held any of it for you, you could accept gold certificates or silver certificates in exchange. At any time, though, you could demand — (“payable to the bearer on demand”) — the certificates’ stated value in gold coin. Or in silver — the bank was flexible.
This occurred during the lifetime of the man across the room who is still living. Breathing. In fact, in February 2021, he was skiing at Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain. (He usually spends a couple months in winter at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, but the pandemic this winter has curtailed his contact with other people.)
The bank that held your gold back when Dick Noyes was a child paid you interest, as I’ve said, for the privilege of using your gold while you didn’t need it. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, until I was well into my teens, I had a passbook savings account at a local bank that paid 5¼% to 5½% interest. A bank recognized that it was still borrowing money from me.
A bank like that, back then, pooled the savings of little people like me and loaned it to borrowers at a higher interest rate, say 8%, for purposes a borrower might have such as a mortgage or automobile financing. The difference between the bank’s 8% lending rate and the 5% or so that it paid to borrow it from me was how the bank paid its expenses and still made a profit.
But I was a child then, and that was too much interest to allow banks to pay children and people like my parents, who were school teachers, in the opinion of big bankers and Congressmen, who openly coveted the money that little people were earning. If a bank was making enough profit to share that much with its lenders, including me, it should be those with power not passbooks cashing in.
It took a few years. It wasn’t until 1961 that a fixed-rate time certificate, a certificate if deposit as we now know it, was established, (although versions of the CD had been around for hundreds of years). Certificates of deposit were paying close to 20% in the late 1970s and early 1980s, earning more than passbook accounts because banks can loan only the money they have in assets. CDs entice customers to leave their money in the bank for reliably longer periods, making a baseline of assets more predictable. The interest paid is the bank’s cost for the money it lends to borrowers.
Banking is the one “industry” exempt from and expected to act contrary to anti-trust laws. Conspiring with competitors to fix rates across the industry, to assure profits for all the industry’s members, is something that every other industry would love to do — after all, who doesn’t want to run a company that can’t fail?
The people in power back in the 1960s and 1970s also realized that, if they could re-write regulations — and they did, then instead of letting banks pay you interest for lending them your money, as had been happening, banks could henceforth keep their loan profits and charge the small account-holders for the banks’ “services.” After all, they take the trouble of tabulating your money and keeping it “secure” from everyone (except the federal government’s option to seize it).
Today, we still receive a fraction of a percent in “interest” on the money we lend the banks when we keep it in savings accounts — an annual “yield” of one to two tenths of a percent, for instance. A savings account with a balance holding steady at around $20,000 throughout the year sees a dividend of about $2.50 a month — a veritable joke.
We also pay never-before-heard-of mystery fees. One hit with a fee generally exceeds the annual interest on tens of thousands of dollars in an account: account access fee, monthly service fee, hard copy statement fee, inactivity fee, account closing fee, maintenance fee, and wire transfer fee, to name a few. (Never mind the questions that this last one raises — how are wires used in transfers differently than the wires used to connect to the internet, for instance?)
The banking industry is driving us toward an all-plastic, all digital payment system. What do the banks stand to gain from this? When you pay cash, the seller gets every penny that you hand over. When you pay by card, the company that issued the card (loosely, a bank but also any of other bank-like entities) gets 1.3% to 3.4% of the transaction right off the top. The price of the item is the same either way. (More on that in this article.) Yes, but the seller pays that, you say. (See the article here called Invincible Ignorance and make sure that it doesn’t apply to you.) Yes, the seller pays that, but the price of everything in the seller’s store has been raised to include that credit/debit card fee. The price of everything in America must include all the costs that go into it, including the banks’ extortion in the exchange.
When the banks succeed in persuading Congress to impose a 100% digital payment system, so that the banks can skim a percentage from every transaction that occurs in the country, it will amount to a government mandate that we citizens purchase a service from a private company (the bank). This was already challenged under the “Affordable” [sic] Care Act. Initially that act required that an individual buy insurance or face a penalty. The Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate was a “tax” and thus a constitutional use of Congress’s taxing power — a use which Congress had not specifically voted to do. Therefore the act was amended to read, in essence: “You must buy insurance, and if you don’t, you shall receive the punishment of a $0 penalty. That’ll teach you!”
The matter has not ended, though. At last reading, as this article from National Review explains, the case has been pushed back to a lower court and there are lawyers graduating from law school today who may be able to make a full career litigating this one matter. What’s the point of all this, you ask? Well, in part, it’s to point out that this is your government serving you as you have elected it to do. More to the point, though: It should be instructive for Congress when that body eventually decides that you must make all your purchases with a card. That will be tantamount to requiring that you buy a service from a private company, in this case a bank instead of an insurance company, and once again Congress will be using its taxing power if it requires you to buy a service from a private entity. Maybe this time, though, Congress will come up with a more slippery way to impose the tax — by declaring that banks aren’t entirely “private” entities, maybe? Stay tuned to this one; it will be sickening. With so much money at stake and with the Siamese-twin relationship between Congress and private banks, the banks will prevail, if the whole affair doesn’t result in fiscal collapse.
When I was nine and ten years old I delivered the weekend edition of the Toledo Blade on a small paper route in the western Ohio town of Gomer. It was Saturday afternoons when the papers reached me. In wintertime, with an early sunset, I would be out after dark to reach my scattered customers.
I earned a few cents a week. I recall that, at one point, I had four customers stretching from the southwest end of the village, near the turnoff for Ridge Road, to the east end of town, near Sugar Creek Local School and next to a stream called Pike Run. In a round trip I covered over a mile on foot, often in wind-whipped snow or rain. There were times when I would trudge home through what were probably minor snowdrifts, with frozen tears on my eyelids and with wet feet and frozen bare hands, which was my own fault for setting out inadequately dressed for the weather. It was during such blizzards that I learned the advantages of walking backwards into the wind — I recall it vividly.
Just after Christmas, 1960, we moved the ten miles or so to a house in Lima, where almost immediately I took on a Lima News paper route with around 80 customers. It was an afternoon daily paper with an enormous Sunday morning edition.
For the first three or four years, of the seven-year period that I ran that paper route, a subscription cost 35¢ a week. That included the Sunday edition and, of course, home delivery. I walked the route or rode my bicycle, and every Friday evening and Saturday morning I went around to collect, carrying a zippered canvas bag that slipped over my belt.
Each week I collected about $30 — customers often tipped me a little. Other customers who, I knew, were a week in arrears would sometimes argue that they were not behind in their payments, and so I’d settle for what I could get. So it averaged out. What I earned from each subscription slips me now — something around ten cents a week per customer, most likely. That’s around $400 a year.
THE WAYS IT WEIGHS
When Dick Noyes was a kid, the value ratio of gold to silver was 16:1 — a troy ounce of gold was worth 16 troy ounces of silver. With any new design of a coin the weight was sometimes changed as well, but generally the silver dollar contained at least .75 of a troy ounce of silver and a $20 gold piece at about an even one troy ounce.
A $20 bill or 20 silver dollars would buy you a $20 gold piece — 0.966 of an ounce of gold. Further back in history, the ratio of silver to gold for centuries averaged about 17:1. (Today, by the way, giving the market some freedom to set the relative value, the ratio is 69:1.)
(One ounce avoirdupois, a “regular” ounce of something by weight, equals 28.3495231 grams. Sixteen ounces equal one pound avoirdupois or just under 454 grams. A troy ounce, used for measuring precious metals, equals 31.10347677 grams, just under ten percent more than a regular ounce. A troy pound, however, equals twelve troy ounces, not sixteen, so a troy pound is just over 373 grams. The origins of the troy system and the term used to describe it are lost to history.)
EXECUTIVE ORDER 6102
Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated President, March 4, 1933. One month later, April 5, 1933, he signed Executive Order 6102 under authority of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 as amended by the Emergency Banking Act, which Congress passed five days after President Roosevelt took office. (That, sure as hell, was set up in advance!)
Under threat of a fine up to $10,000 (in 1933 dollars) or up to ten years in prison or both, E.O. 6102 created a new law, “forbidding the hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States” and required that all persons must deliver all such gold and gold certificates to the Federal Reserve by May 1, 1933. Did you get that? Everyone in the country had just three and a half weeks to fork over their gold! In exchange they would receive $20.67 per troy ounce in paper money: National Currency, Federal Reserve Notes, or Silver Certificates.
A person was allowed to keep only $100 in gold coin as well as certain specified coins of numismatic significance. (You’re thinking: OK, but some weeks after turning in all but $100, one guy might casually and quietly exchange something of value with his neighbors — sell them some hogs or loads of gravel or provide some musical entertainment — and presently he would accumulate another hundred dollars in gold coin. What then? Such is the nature of trying to regulate people who can outsmart the system.)
Silver was to disappear later, when I was a teenager, but more on that in a while.
The 1933 Emergency Banking Act with its provision to confiscate gold was hustled through Congress on the premise that it would stabilize the banks by preventing the hoarding of gold. It would prevent people who owned something of intrinsic value, however little their hoarded wealth, from saving it. It would prevent people from saving their money. It would prevent people in the United States from saving what was rightfully theirs.
Did that sink in?
WHAT IS MONEY, ANYWAY?
For at least 5,000 years, money and gold were one and the same. Money and silver were one and the same, but the difference in value was due to the perceived relative scarcity of one over the other. Units of gold and silver as well as a few other precious substances could buy just about anything.
Money today is a government’s representation of a medium of exchange. Currently no government permits anything of value to fill that role. Instead, every country uses a substitute, also called “fiat” money, meaning simply that a ruler has declared that the paper certificate fills a void. Fiat money does not have intrinsic value or inherent utility. (There are better materials for stuffing a mattress.)
A fiat is informally defined as a gap, a void, a crack. It is also a declaration by a ruler — a dictator, a king or queen, a president. Fiat money, by decree, creates a void by removing what works and replacing it with a substitute. Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino gives us the letters for the FIAT automobile — no relation to the declaration that confiscates the good and fills the space with the bad.
In the worst case, fiat money is not backed by a commodity with value, such as gold. That, in fact, is where most of the world stands today. Debt and unfunded promises far exceed any government’s resources in precious metals or other solid commodities to back its currency — and let us not forget that what a government actually does hold in precious metals has been confiscated from the people who, in a free world, would own the substance that serves as their medium of exchange. A government guarantees the constant value and stability of its money but mainly on the strength of that government’s assurances and reputation. The word, fiat, suggests something filling the gap by decree: “It is what I say it is because I am your ruler and I say so.”
WHAT IS A MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE, THEN?
A medium — a commodity, a substance, a quantity of items that serve as a symbol of agreed-upon value — is useful in conducting commerce or trade (exchange) between individuals or groups. Without it, a farmer would need to push a wheelbarrow full of wheat to town to buy a knife from the blacksmith, provided the blacksmith was in need of the wheat. A blacksmith would need to carry some iron implements around that he hoped he could exchange for shoes to fit his children or to obtain coal for his forge. A shoemaker would need to carry an assortment of boots everywhere to trade for furniture. A furniture-maker… well, let that be enough. If each one can carry a quantity of something else, something small — units representing value that also have intrinsic value, then their exchange of goods can be expedited.
When and how, in our pre-history, humans began using something besides their own handiwork as a medium of exchange, we can only guess. It was an early development in every culture.
WHAT IS INTRINSIC VALUE?
Most of what we look at and handle daily is common and ubiquitous — the air we inhale with gusto if we’re fortunate or choke on if we’re not, the water that pelts us from the clouds, the dirt or pavement beneath us, the perishable but renewable things we eat or wear. Anyone can readily obtain these things in some form or another with notable exceptions where water is scarce or where political lunacy has caused famines.
Possessing a quantity of air or water or a patch of plain dirt is not at all remarkable.
Apart from these are the more esoteric “things” we can possess such as knowledge, lineage, a sense of wonder, and let’s not overlook faith, hope, and love. Anyone can possess these in any measure. We can imbue a remark with knowledge or love, imparting information or hope, but even though these esoteric things have value, they cannot be instantly handed over to another person in exchange for goods or services, especially not in constant and visible measure. (I’ve had the pleasure of attending a church, however, which was grateful for donations of “time, talent, and treasure.” At least more than treasure was appreciated.)
Between these possessions lies a class of mostly material things any one of which people universally desire just for itself, for its own sake, for some utility that it has on its own. In some circumstances, knowledge of something important has intrinsic value, but this is not common and universal and timeless. In some circumstances, clean water (not to mention clean air) has intrinsic value, but it is a substance of fleeting presence, not easily carried about, and who can own it?
Among Earth’s less common resources are a few precious and semi-precious metals and stones. Nothing else has ever quite matched them for desirability. The ones that have remained most reliably coveted are both scarce and have at least some limited practical usefulness as well. Soft but durable gold, for instance, has long been shaped into goblets, pounded into foil for gilding, arranged artfully into jewelry, and in more recent times incorporated into electronic components due to its superior conductivity and corrosion resistance.
Among non-metals, diamonds are comparably desirable in both ways, for ornamental uses and for some limited practical applications. This is not to dismiss the value of quite a few other gemstones and several other scarce metals.
The origins of the use of materials with their own intrinsic value, such as these, as a medium of exchange, is lost to history. Humans, stolen from their homelands or captured in wars and subsequently pressed into slavery, have been treated as possessions with intrinsic value as well, although a human is not durable in the timeless sense of precious metals.
WHOSE MONEY IS IT?
To be more precise, whose property is it?
Money with intrinsic value is property. Fiat money represents property but lacks one key attribute: value. Wealth is a measure of property — a cumulative concept encompassing varied things of value. And since, in the United States, a government can hold property in trust for its citizens but cannot own property, the question of who owns the money is clear: Not your government.
When money was made of something that had intrinsic value it had eight key properties: 1. It was universally valuable in that everyone wanted it — never mind why they might want it — whether for its attractiveness or magical properties or special usefulness in ways other than as money, 2. it served as a medium of exchange that practically everyone could agree upon — people would never believe any ruler’s decree that gold was worth less than desert sand for instance, 3. it was sufficiently scarce to have steady value and its value didn’t change with whimsical disruptions such as the weather or a change of governing monarchs, 4. it was easy to transport discreetly (although vulnerable to thieves), 5. it was virtually indestructible where other precious commodities such as dried meat would rot and crystals or dried bread would turn to dust if transported roughly, 6. it was a convenient way to store your wealth where you could reach it when needed, 7. it actually belonged to the person who held it — no other individual and no group even backed by military force could claim any right to own it, and 8. it was private — it was no one else’s business how much you had nor could others, even backed by military force, discover how much you had unless they could threaten or trick you into revealing its amount or its whereabouts.
For at least 5,000 years and perhaps two or three times that long, gold has possessed all of these properties. Silver has as well, but it is more easily obtained and thus not as “precious.”
The federal government of the U.S., from its founding, has had the responsibility to coin money, not because the government owns the money, but because the federal government could achieve three things that could not be done reliably by amateurs: It could assure the consistency of the alloys used in coins, it could assure the content by weight of each coin, and it could produce the intricacy of design that could not readily be duplicated by amateurs.
The federal government did not mess around much with paper currency until the early part of the Civil War. Until then, citizens could accept any form of a promise-to-pay, of course, whether written by a friend on a scrap of paper or printed by special printing presses for a bank, with fancy script and engraving. Some cities and states dabbled in issuing their own currency as well. And so bank notes, cheques, and other scrip was around.
And it is entirely legal, if closely monitored, for entities other than the federal government to issue money of some sort, from mass-transit tokens to store coupons to IOUs.
Wealth, however, belongs to individuals, or to groups of individuals in portions they regulate among themselves. An example of the latter are stocks in private corporations. Before the computer age, certificates of stock ownership were works of art. (Some examples are provided at this site.) Like a gold certificate, a stock certificate represented a portion or measure of the property behind it, (a designated number of “shares”).
In 1933, in an act of singular and sudden impact on history, Franklin Roosevelt and the Congress of the United States swooped in and strangled the arteries of commerce until the lifeblood of private exchange flowed to a trickle, and that was only the trickle of privilege that will always exist for special people.
The lifeblood was the medium of exchange itself, the gold. When the United States suddenly confiscated what its rulers hoped would be almost all the nation’s gold, what did other countries do within their own borders? Since gold no longer flowed in the USA, it certainly would not be flowing from the USA either in the pockets of travelers or the strongboxes of traveling businessmen. What gold might be transferred from government to government would henceforth be neither known to nor under the control of any country’s citizens. And so, everywhere else, similar decrees became necessary, whether the people of any other country wanted to continue using gold as money or not.
Before the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 about 7,000 independently-owned banks were scattered around the country. Once the first Federal Reserve bank opened in 1914, a system began to take shape, ostensibly to create a network of central banks under a board of directors who would have sufficient power, benevolent only of course, to prevent the collapse of small banks in any kind of a crisis.
To get it started, the country was divided into eight to twelve regions, each having its own Federal Reserve city, i.e., San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and so on.
By 1927, the Federal Reserve bank of New York alone held 10% of the world’s entire store of monetary gold. Even before the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, many who were opposed to it were suspicious of granting that kind of authority to a “money trust” of super-rich and powerful men — at the time represented by just three names believed to be controlling Wall Street, (J.P. Morgan, George F. Baker, and James Stillman).
Perhaps mistrust of such giants of finance was warranted, and changes in the final wording of the act may have been somewhat successful in thwarting their manipulations of affairs to their own benefit and their misuse of their own great financial influence. But perhaps, also, the law put too much faith in the honesty of the sort of people who would be chosen to govern the Federal Reserve, who already had the necessary experience to be appointed to such positions of trust. Ideally, a government entity needs to be managed not only by individuals who are cheerleaders for the bureau but also by some who are suspicious of the need for the agency’s existence in the first place. Such an ideal has not guided the selection of the Federal Reserve’s directors.
Better ways to prevent bank collapses may have been proposed following the financial crisis back in 1907 and again at the start of the Great Depression, ways to begin insuring the deposits of little people in little banks around the country, but no proposal stood a chance of objective consideration unless it assured that certain powerful people retained control and assured that banks and their owners would become wealthier in the end.
We will never know whether there is a better way, for, in October, 1929, the stock market collapsed, and Dick Noyes was just ten months old.
It’s all ancient history? Did I mention that my father-in-law, born in 1929, is still with us?
WE HAVE BARELY ENTERED A NEW ERA
With the seizure of gold in 1933 and with the expedient of electronic data processing less than a century later, money has now become imaginary. Wealth, however you might define it, exists at the suffrage of those running the federal banking system. Banks are no more protected from collapse than they were before 1913; the only protected wealth is that held by those who control everyone else’s.
Banks now have NO ASSETS. There is nothing of intrinsic value stacked in their vaults. If a bank even has a vault, it contains only bundles of fiat money — paper. Soon, even this will be eliminated. A bank today is only an arm of the federal government, a contractor of sorts, charged with assisting the government in keeping tabs on everyone’s shares in the country’s foggy nothingness called money. A bank’s assets these days are not stacks of real money but mountains of debt. They buy and sell debt. (It may be best not to even try to wrap your mind around that.)
Perhaps there is a better medium of exchange than precious metals which have the eight key properties listed earlier, properties that only precious metals have satisfied until now, though. Maybe there is a substance which the world has at its disposal but has never tried. We, the living, will never know that, for our world is currently under so much surveillance that nothing else can be tried. That is, if a few innovative people were to propose and attempt to use some commodity besides imaginary money — paper currency and cryptocurrency being entirely imaginary and intrinsically worthless — if a few innovative people were to begin using a new medium, or if barter became widespread as a substitute for fiat money, that activity would eventually be reported to or noticed by the Internal Revenue Service, and the activity would be stopped. (The IRS has already interfered with small-scale barter when it has popped up from time to time.)
Under the current definition of money, the numbers after the dollar signs in your on-line bank and credit union statements are as solid and as private as fog. Visible, yes. Moveable, yes, also as ephemeral; it can all vanish in an instant of data sabotage. The numbers attached to your name are public; federal inspectors and regulators (“the people” as prosecuting attorneys fondly refer to the government) can look at your account balance and activity on a pretext. And it is seizable; you can be locked out or wiped out at the whim of a bureaucrat or a judge. All eight of the key properties of real money are missing from the fiat money of the present, but, crucially, the last two: belonging to the person who holds it, and being private.
From 1933 until 1964 a dollar was essentially defined as three quarters of an ounce of silver — an ounce minus the government’s share. (The lower denominations are proportionally smaller: a half dollar contained just over three eighths of an ounce and so on.) From the time my parents moved us to Lima, when I was ten, right through the year 1964, I was going into the bank along my paper route, passing a $5 bill (not necessarily a silver certificate) or a few ones across the counter, and exchanging them for those large, round, silver dollars minted up until 1935. Even then the bank was dispensing them with dates going back to 1878. I still have many of the ones I obtained that way as well as a good deal of other small change from the period.
Silver dollars in circulation were well worn and not desirable to serious coin collectors. As a child, though, I collected coins of any condition in Whitman folders. I still have some of that small change, including the Lima News coin bag, still full of coins of the era.
Dimes, quarters, and half dollars had been struck in U.S. coin silver (0.900 fine) from the earliest mintage in the 1790s, (each one’s weight in silver proportional to its denomination). Production of silver dollars was suspended after 1935, until the Eisenhower dollar was minted from 1971 to 1978. This coin, still an inch and a half in diameter, was struck in silver for those who could afford them if they even knew about them, and in a nickel-clad copper version for circulation, but of course these were mostly hoarded until the Susan B. Anthony dollar was introduced in 1979 (and last made in 1999). The SBA dollar was, at last, a subtle nod to the devaluation of the dollar over the previous hundred years: It’s essentially the same size and made of the same metal as the United States one-cent piece up until 1857.
While dimes and quarters were made of silver until 1964, they were stamped from the different, cheap nickel-clad bronze planchets beginning in 1965. But from 1965 until 1970 the alloy for half dollars was reduced from 90% silver, or coin silver, to 40% silver, so they still looked silverish and didn’t have that brown ring around the middle that you see on modern quarters and dimes. A quarter today may contain about four cents worth of metal if treated as scrap.
THE VANISHED HALF DOLLAR
President Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963. I was 13 and sitting in Miss Whitling’s seventh grade math class when the announcement was made over the loudspeakers at the end of the school day. Here is that afternoon’s Lima News that I have saved ever since that day. For 1964, at the direction of Congress, the Bureau of the Mint replaced Ben Franklin on the silver half dollar coin with an image of Jack Kennedy. In 1964 the Mint issued 281,205,528 million Kennedy half dollars — still in coin silver as were the 1964 quarters and dimes.
When the half dollar was reduced to 40% silver in 1965 and the rest of our coinage went to the “clad” composition, people began to realize that the 1965 half dollars still had some intrinsic value while the rest of that year’s coinage did not. So a few people gradually began stockpiling their silver coins. Some Indian-head pennies were still in circulation as well as silver dimes, quarters, and halves of the Barber design, buffalo nickels, and other older varieties. I was young but I understood and had already been squirreling every strange coin I had found while making my rounds. I still remember showing my parents a strange piece of change now and then.
There were news stories in those days attempting to explain the difference — that the halves would still be made partly from silver until further notice, while the rest would not. Confused, everyone who acquired half dollars from that point on kept them. Lots of them, jars of them, coffee cans full of them.
Franklin and Walking Liberty halves disappeared from circulation as older designs are wont to do when a new piece is introduced. But people also kept all Kennedy halves released into circulation from year to year, right through the 1970s and 1980s and up to the present — if they even see one at all. More than two billion “clad” Kennedy halves have been minted. Most have been released by the Mint to the Federal Reserve banks. If your local bank doesn’t request any from the Fed, though, then you’re rather unlikely to get your hands on them that way. For the most part, banks have ceased bothering with them because they simply disappear once they go out the door.
And since people won’t spend them, suspecting that they’re rare or worth more than a few pennies apiece, they will never again show up in circulation.
A SIDE STORY
In 1972 the U.S. Army sent me to Deutschland (West Germany). Being a coin collector and also in touch with history, I took a roll of Eisenhower dollars with me along with a roll of Kennedy half dollars, both in the cheap copper-nickel version. On my second day in-country, as I rode the train from Frankfurt to Augsburg, I discreetly offered an Ike dollar to a German gentleman who had bought lunch for another G.I. and me on the train. (He had just given us each a cigar to smoke after lunch.) He became quite excited to see the coin, and his excitement reached a couple members of the train crew nearby. Within minutes I had swapped most of my coins for a quantity of German money, which at the time, at three Deutsche Marks to the dollar meant I reached Augsburg with something around DM100 in my pocket.
In 1996 I made a two-week solo trip through Ukraine and western Russia. Again I took a roll of Kennedy half dollars. On a couple of occasions in each country, after becoming acquainted with one of the natives, I again pulled out one of my coins. (I had been advised before going there that the people love little gifts.) In every instance, they declined it after little more than a glance. (That was OK. At that time, with Russian currency at an exchange rate of around 5,000 roubles to the dollar, they were accustomed to mostly paper money, although coins appeared occasionally. They didn’t recognized Kennedy’s profile on the coin and probably suspected that it was a cheap medal of the sort the Russian government was known for distributing on any excuse.)
As I was leaving Russia, though, I had to fill out a form at the airport declaring the amount of money I was taking out of the country. I had taken care not to carry any quantity of dollars while I was there. Instead, I would take withdrawals on my debit card in roubles only when I needed cash. I declared that I was leaving with about 100,000 roubles in paper money, worth about $20. I didn’t declare that I was taking any dollars out of the country.
What’s more, I had bought a pile of old Russian imperial coins from a vendor on the street (and had purchased a few in the Kremlin’s gift shop). These I had counted ahead of time and presumed to enter on the declaration as if the amount was in modern currency. And so the face value of a couple hundred imperial coins was perhaps 20 roubles — next to nothing, although back when the coins were issued, before 1917, a dollar and a rouble were both based on about the same amount of silver — and quite a bit of the imperial coinage I was carrying out of the country was in old Russian silver.
These old coins were strewn across the hard panel at the bottom of my duffel bag, under my clothes. When my bag went through the x-ray scanner, though, what should appear near the top of my clothes but a black metal cylinder! The airport security officer unzipped my bag, pulled out the light-ochre paper wrapper, and handed it to me. “Open it,” he ordered me in English. I did and pulled out the top half dollar, at the same time worrying that I had not remembered to declare that I was taking this roll of $20 out of the country — actually $19; a couple of them were gone by then. The security officer’s face brightened and he asked politely, again in English: “Can I buy one from you?” I told him he could have it! He pulled out a wallet, handed me an American dollar bill, and so I sold him two. Then he waved me through and, within a couple of days, I was literally “home free.” After leaving Russia it didn’t matter how much money I was carrying. I did away with the paper wrapper before boarding the flight, though, and let the remaining half dollars lie on the bottom of my carry-on — my only piece of luggage — for the rest of the return trip.
IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION?
Being clear on all the differences since my youth, I continued spending the newer cheap-metal half dollars. As I did, over time, I encountered store clerks who did not recognize them, who did not believe they were real, and who even rejected them sometimes. I did the same with Eisenhower (Ike) “silver” dollars — full-size dollar coins issued in copper-nickel during the 1970s and fully intended by Congress to be used as legal tender.
But there is a herd mentality that dictates people’s responses to change, arising partly from indifference — they’re too busy with trivial matters to pay attention or care, and partly from ignorance — they suspect that there is no way they’ll ever know enough about a subject like this and so they submit to the ukase of their elected leaders. After a decade of confusion (which did leave some concerned people fuming), the country adapted to the new, worthless medium of exchange, and by the mid-1970s the transition from money of intrinsic value to 100% fiat currency was accomplished, just as the complete transition from fiat cash to 100% digital money is nearly accomplished, to the benefit of the ruling class who had foreseen the need, from the start, to relieve the people of their personal property — their wealth, however meager.
When a stage magician does this it’s called sleight of hand — he appears to give you an ace of hearts but when you turn the card up and look at it again, you discover that you have the three of clubs. With our money, most people haven’t bothered even to turn the card over. The magician in this case has said: “Wait, I’ll be right back,” and then he has disappeared forever. Our reaction, trusting and waiting, is the behavior that the instigators and elite beneficiaries of the changeover were counting on.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
And so, when I was a kid — until I was 14 years old, a dollar was still defined as, because it was equal to, one twentieth of an ounce of gold or three fourths of an ounce of silver. In 1974, President Ford signed an order permitting not just special citizens but ordinary citizens as well once more to own gold. Initially, following this opening, gold could be bought in bullion for $32 a troy ounce. I bought some coins.
Silver was still pretty quiet then. In fact, in 1975 or so, I took a bag of silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars — all common coins I had previously hoarded, of average wear and dates — to a coin shop. I intended to spend it at face value, along with some paper money, on another gold coin or two. The bag held $55; I had counted it. The coin shop owner looked at it disdainfully, then regarded me over his half-lensed reading glasses, and said: “I don’t have the time to count it. Bring me paper money.”
I kept the silver instead — the coins in my Lima News bag, and bought my gold, a little anyway, somewhere else.
Gold climbed quickly from $32 an ounce but was still as low as $113 in 1976. In January, 1980, it spiked to $737 but for the next 25 years it settled back into a range of $250 to $500 per troy ounce. By December, 2005, it crossed the $500 mark, and in September, 2009 it passed $1000 and hasn’t looked back.
The value ratio of gold to silver, as I write this sentence (25 March 2021), is now 69:1 and a troy ounce of silver is selling for $24.94 (call it $25) while gold is at $1725 an ounce.
BUT WHAT IS A DOLLAR NOW?
Your government is confusing matters greatly. Since the 1980s, you have had the option to buy, from the U.S. Mint, real silver dollars, newly minted, stamped with the year of issue (1986 and up) and the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR. Each one declares itself to be one ounce of .999 fine silver. It’s a tenth of an inch larger in diameter than the silver dollars that were in circulation when I was young.
Similarly, coins in the 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢ denominations continue to be minted in coin silver. These are included in special mint sets and proof sets and are intended for collectors and as special gifts for dignitaries and so on.
Along with these, since the 1980s, your government has issued gold coins in one-ounce and fraction-of-an-ounce weights in nominal denominations of $50 (for one ounce) on down to $5 (for one tenth of an ounce). Coins in palladium and platinum are also sold by the U.S. Mint.
The denominations are not the prices of the coins, though. Prices are about double the market value of the metal at the time of sale.
When people could hold their wealth in cloth bags and wooden boxes, the wealth in the country was in the control of the people who owned it… Now a dollar is a “relationship,” a concept, a promise payable in nothing but more promises.
The government advises that these special coins are sold as investments and are not intended as currency (money). But, since their intrinsic value is intact, they are money to anyone who wants to use them as a medium of exchange. I have, in fact, used them that way a couple of times in the past decade. I bought a unique, $2,000 gun for about $100 face value in silver, and I bought a new MacBook Pro for under $100 face value in gold.
But these are not the coins of the realm. These are not the currency of our wages and salaries, our purchases and our bank accounts. They used to be. Now the Treasury mocks us by offering them as expensive portrayals of what, in my father-in-law’s lifetime and in mine, circulated as our medium of exchange.
When a dollar’s value was set by something “concrete” and when people, if they so chose, could hold their wealth in cloth bags and wooden boxes at home, the federal government was in a bind. The wealth in the country was in the control of the people who owned it. That frightens and frustrates politicians because, if we had wanted to, we could empty the banks and empty the treasury and possess it ourselves. This was the intent of the founders but is not in our modern big government’s dearest self-interest. (Even the founders counted upon people to keep most of it in banks where it earned interest and where the government could then borrow it and issue bonds to cover the debt.)
Now that it has no concrete foundation, a dollar is a “relationship” (against the fiat currencies of other countries), a concept (it ought to have value), a promise (payable to the bearer on demand — payable in nothing but more promises, that is).
The dollar’s current ambiguity is to the government’s advantage in many respects, but perhaps most significantly in its relationship to federal debt and inflation. For each dollar the federal government borrows it will repay later with a dollar that has far less purchasing power.
The one unit of our money that still has intrinsic value, in fact greater than its face value, is a penny minted before 1982 (and some that were struck in 1982 as well). There is a special absurdity in that.
If I had $100 in my coffee can at home in 1962-1964 — and there were times when I probably did — mainly in silver coins, that $100 would be worth close to $2,000 today just for the silver. (A dollar in silver money held 0.77 of an ounce of precious metal, so the price of a full troy ounce of silver up until 1964 was $1.30.) I was, though, encouraged to keep it in “the bank.” We used the Metropolitan Bank in Lima, so that’s where I had my passbook savings account.
In 1966, three months before my 16th birthday, I bought a car for $395 — a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker, the very one pictured here. It was in splendid original condition and I drove it from Ohio to Maine the following summer when the family moved to my father’s home town of Farmington.
Today I can use the price of an ounce of silver as an approximation of the rate of inflation from the time silver was taken out of our coinage: 0.77 of an ounce of silver, the amount of the metal in a silver dollar, defined $1 in 1964, therefore a full ounce was worth $1.30. Now a full ounce costs $25. That just tells me that a dollar was 19 times more valuable then. That’s a pretty good indication of the rise in prices since 1964. Some things can’t be compared outright, though. A pound of corn meal is the same substance as it was 60 years ago, yes. Cars in the early 1960s, though, were pretty bare-bones. Power steering, power brakes, air conditioning — these were options that used to cost extra. Now we pay that extra in the base price of every car. Seat belts came in the mid-1960s. Computers and electronic fuel ignition were unheard of in cars. Even so, the price of a new, well-equipped sedan 60 years ago was around $2,000. Now the price is close to $40,000. A loaf of bread that was 19¢ then can run you over $4 today. I don’t need to go on.
SO LET’S REFORMULATE OUR MONEY
In the 1790s the smallest denomination of U.S. coinage was the half cent. In the 1850s the half cent was phased out. If the dollar of the early 1960s was worth 19 time more than a dollar today, then a penny today is worth little more than one-twentieth of a cent of 60 years ago. And a penny was barely useful then. Why, oh why, are we still making them???
It’s no wonder that in 1982 the U.S. Mint began stamping pennies out of copper-plated zinc, a much cheaper metal than bronze (which is an alloy of copper, tin, and sometimes small amounts of other metals or metaloids). The one unit of our money that still has intrinsic value, in fact greater than its face value, is a penny minted before 1982. They’re still out there if you’re inclined to pluck them from your pocket change or stir the penny cup next to a cash register.
But a dollar today can barely buy what you could get for a penny when Dick Noyes was a child. Isn’t it time to eliminate the small change?
The smallest coin and smallest fraction of a dollar that can be justified any longer is the quarter. Twenty years ago I wrote my representative in Congress and recommended four coinage denominations, 25¢ – 50¢ – $1 – $2, and paper money starting at $5. (The cost of producing $1 coins, even the Sacajawea (Sacagawea) dollars that were then being promoted, which are durable enough to circulate for decades, is far less than the cost of keeping an equal number of $1 bills in circulation.) Half dollars that have been hoarded could return to circulation and would have value roughly comparable to the half cents of the early 1800s.
Of course, there was no interest in Congress in my idea, and so we’re still being oversupplied with zinc pennies.
A TOUR OF OUR RECENT COINAGE
Did you notice, by the way, that of the 24 coins pictured together above, nine depict men and fifteen depict women? Altogether we can put names to the images on thirteen of the coins if you count both heads on the Sacajawea dollar. (And yes, Lincoln appears twice among the thirteen.) Four depict American Indians, one man and three women. At least a couple other coin varieties of the early 20th c88entury, not included in this photo, also depict Indians. The Barber designs, (dime, quarter, and half dollar at the left of the middle three rows) in fact depict “Miss Liberty” although the result is quite masculine-looking. Miss Liberty adorns eleven of the 24 coins pictured. Of the eight men pictured, two did not serve as President.
The last two coins in the preceding photo, the Sacajawea dollar and the $10 gold piece, illustrate the supreme absurdity of our current currency. The Sacajawea dollar has a copper core and is clad in manganese brass (which is 77% copper). In other words, it is not only of the same size but has just about the same copper content as a penny of the early 1850s. And it presumes to imitate, in size, color, and subject, a half-ounce gold piece of 100 years earlier — and it calls itself a dollar, the same as the largest coin in the photo, the walking liberty silver dollar, which has been minted in the same years as poor Sacajawea. She would be better honored to adorn the larger coin.
A dollar is not quite as ephemeral as an evaporating puff of steam or a drifting wisp of fog, but there is little else to compare it to. And that’s how our rulers want to keep it. In each generation, Americans will have a new experience with money, a new scale for the value of a dollar, a new relationship with the then-current medium of exchange.
Old people, such as Dick Noyes, and I, now in my 71st year, will have our own perspectives, but we won’t be able to make you younger ones grasp it as we do. You can’t relate to it, and, really, you don’t want to hear it. I understand. You don’t have the time. It’s hard to appreciate what it was once like, anyway. And what’s the point of trying to see into the past? There’s no going back.
That right there is the truth. There’s only the future, and your complete dependence on government — on the ruling class who sit on the real money and regulate the fiat money while permitting you to fondle a little of it — is being ever more and more assured. The motives of people who insist they must rule you for your own good, those who always want to help you, whether you want their help or not, and who are successfully forcing you to live under their smothering helpfulness, may be pure in original intent. We who elect them to office are mostly — and naïvely — motivated by the desire for happy outcomes. But those who are elected, wanting happy outcomes too, are motivated by the determination to impose happy outcomes. Those people, in every generation, in every government in every country, are the dangerous ones.
The old ways were not necessarily better. Nor were they demonstrably worse. But the new ways have not done away with the evils of the past — the inequities, the corruption, the hazards, the propensity of some to lord it over others. We still have scammers and thieves. In spite of the expensive, government-run “wars” on drugs and poverty we still have the addicted and the poor in the same measures as always. We still have the mentally ill, even though we now insist that they must try homelessness and suffer the universal unavailability of services. (The mentally ill were provided housing and services in the not-so-distant past. Conditions in mental institutions were often atrocious, but then again, so are year-’round conditions in a tent city beneath a railroad bridge on the edge of every city, large and small.)
We still have corruption among regulators and overseers. In both dominant parties we still have politicians owned by labor unions and corporations. We still have price-gouging purveyors of “services.” (Time-Warner/AT&T, I’m talking about you.) Corporations create demand for their products by persuading Congress that such “innovations” as electric cars and windmills are holy, never mind the toll each takes on the environment both in manufacturing and in junk left behind when their brief period of usefulness has ended.
So forgive us oldsters for our skepticism. We have been through a few cycles of popular enthusiasm over the same old tricks trotted out in new costumes. We are holding the three of clubs, while you youngsters and idealists and collectivists believe your card is the ace of hearts.
In my novel, Cold Morning Shadow, after remarking on the extermination of real money as discussed here, Henry Clay Comosh poses the question: “Who else gets to see something happen for the first time in five thousand years?”
I realize the era has come to an end when humans used a medium of exchange that has intrinsic value. Ending it, though, was so unnecessary. And the replacement for it is so very inadequate.
First there was this meme, challenging me to explain to my supposedly oppressed friends why I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton for President in 2016. A meme is that “unit of communication” invented in 1976 by the unregenerate Richard Dawkins.
Now comes another one, this time asking: “Why, when Jesus talks about feeding the poor, it’s Christianity but when a politician does it, it’s Socialism?” (Never mind that, as with almost all memes, this one too stumbles over grammar. Neither the word nor the concept of socialism is a proper name. It does not need to be capitalized. Or, to paraphrase Falkland’s maxim, which applies to the crafting of legislation but can be widely adapted: When it is not necessary to do it [capitalize], it is necessary not to do it.)
I have been challenged by variations of this meme, usually in phrasing like: “You want to separate children and parents at the border and you call yourself a Christian?” “You want to deny medical care to children and you call yourself a Christian?” “You object to feeding the hungry and yet you call yourself a Christian?”
Along the way it becomes obvious that the do-gooders in one particular political party in the U.S. have shrink-wrapped each of the party’s top issues into meme-ready non-sequiturs.
No, and No
Taking the last example above — a corollary to the first, and granting for the moment that it even deserves a response, my answers are No, and No.
No, I don’t object to feeding the hungry. And No, I don’t call myself a Christian. Christian is your word — which is essentially what Jesus answered when Pilate asked whether he was king of the Jews: “King is your word.”
“Christian” falls within the language of collectivism — grouping people according to some contrived characteristic or one vaguely held in common. (See Groupthink and Eric Hoffer.) This expedites the mission of social do-gooders: They can elevate, exonerate, or vilify all members of the group, the better to apply group solutions to problems not all members share or apply pressure and enforce restrictions that not all members deserve. It forces individuals, who do not perceive themselves as poor or distinguishable by skin color or harmed by derogatory epithets to line up like first-graders in the 1940s to be sprayed with the DDT of government protection.
I am a disciple of Jesus, the Christ — the Messiah presaged in the Old Covenant. And I am a creature — an individual creation, of El-Elyon, in awe of my God. I’ll confess straight up that Jesus deserves better disciples than I am. I don’t, however, fit your catch-all category under the heading of “Christian.”
So, No to calling myself a Christian. And No, I don’t think “we” should stop feeding the hungry or stop helping the poor or stop providing medical care to children. (It’s already illegal to deny medical care to children or emergency care to anyone of any age.)
What’s this “we” bullshit, anyway?
Here is where your memes disintegrate under inspection. There are two errors in the “we” part of your challenge. “We” is where you bring in coercion. And your “we” cannot answer Jesus’s challenge to me. I cannot participate in covering for you and whatever you and your friends do can’t fulfill the call issued to me, for Jesus challenged us as individuals.
I especially can’t fulfill the call issued to me by joining a mob that is extorting money from people you and your friends are jealous of and by giving that money to a gang of lawyers who will sprinkle a trickle of that cash over the heads of a few recipients who fit the mob’s profile of a deserving group. (As we already know, according to the accusers behind the meme, Christians do not deserve assistance of any kind, only exclusion and ridicule.) Jesus didn’t tell me to join a mob, then steal from one vilified group (rich people) and give it to a gang purporting to represent another group.
When Jesus talks about feeding the poor, he’s talking to me. He is watching what I do — with my money and my other resources — for someone I can reach out to. Jesus doesn’t care whether I funnel my charity through Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Jesus doesn’t call on me to first coerce someone else to open his purse so that I and my friends can redistribute the other man’s wealth. And Jesus especially doesn’t call on me to form or join some overwhelming mob/army/party/coalition and demand that others give to the poor at my mob’s behest.
So, yes, when a politician talks about feeding the poor, it’s socialism. It is grandstanding. It’s telling you that, if you vote for the right politicians, who will force the rich to fork over bigger “voluntary” income taxes to the lawyers in government — if you just agree with that tactic, you, who do not have the big bucks won’t have to contribute a dime but the poor will be fed and you will have met your Christian duty — if you call yourself a Christian.
But what if “we” don’t compel the rich to contribute more? What if we little people, collectively, can’t feed the poor just on the strength of our taxes and the taxes already seized from the rich?
In this country, the United States, the top half of taxpayers pay 97% of all federal income tax. And the top one percent account for 37.3% of total income tax revenues.* This isn’t their fair share? And, yes, we continually hear that this or that billionaire didn’t pay a penny in taxes last year. Really? And they aren’t in jail? Your trusted, innocent-eyed politicians have created the tax code. Crucify them, not the rich guys who used the loopholes the politicians created and kept their own money.
Jesus didn’t forbid us to contribute to organizations that we know are effectively helping people in need — a rare disease research foundation, the Soupman, the Red Cross — you can name several of your own. Jesus didn’t forbid us to work together to express our love for our neighbors, through a church, a local American Legion post, Habitat for Humanity, an ad hoc local committee to help a family who lost their home to a fire. For some generous people, a group effort is the most effective way to use their time, talent, and treasure. There is a chasm of difference between banding together voluntarily to help someone in need, and banding together to coerce others to pay for what you don’t want to pay for yourself.
Poverty in America
It seems to me that, before the welfare state was conceived and implemented in its modern form, there were the rich, there were the average folk, and there were the poor. It seems to me, also, that in the ninety or so years of continuous and lavishly-funded welfare in the western world, there are still the rich, the average folk, and the poor — in about the same proportions.
In the first 50 years of the federal War on Poverty, 1964 to 2013, taxpayers provided $22 trillion to be redistributed to poor people, adjusted for 2012 dollars.** (When the program began, a dollar was defined as 0.925 of an ounce of silver. That definition was rescinded with the coinage of 1965.) You can do the math on how much that $22 trillion amounts to per poor person who has lived during that period.
The big difference is the general state of poverty. What is now called poverty would have been pretty comfortable living conditions in this country a century ago. What was “middle class” (another collectivist term) when I was a kid is abject poverty today. It’s a matter of perspective. It’s not that the poor today lack food, although the truly poor do, and it’s not so much that those under today’s definition of poverty can’t meet the cost of rent plus other necessities, although the truly poor can’t. The state of poverty today in the United States is hugely a matter of community living conditions.
People who have been herded into victim groups and corralled in ghettos by the political system, and cheated of learning by the education system, are culturally, more than financially, deprived. The “solutions” arising from the instinct for collectivist intervention have solved nothing.
Public education suppresses individual inquiry. Labor law suppressed individual enterprise. Government funding of government-approved “arts” suppresses individual expression. And you wonder why people have not escaped the ghettos.
Before I listen to your argument that there isn’t enough money among us average folk to feed the poor in our individual, non-governmental efforts, I’ll wait for you to look into where all the money the rich are already contributing in taxes is going. I’ll wait for you to explain how nearly $42,000 per year per poor household of three, in food and subsidies and extra government services, did not make a dent in poverty in 50 years.***
In the novel, Cold Morning Shadow, one character points out that governments nowadays expend great sums to extract gold from the ground only to bury it back underground. It may as well not exist, he argues. It certainly does not exist for those of us who are supposedly in charge of our own government but can neither touch our gold or know where it is hidden.
Maybe we need to take the same attitude toward the ridiculously rich. Ninety-seven percent of our tax revenue comes from the richest half of the population. Maybe we just have to regard the rest of their money as we do our national hoard of gold — it’s beyond our reach. Treat it as if it doesn’t exist. Let them have it. (Never mind, for the moment, that it is actually what sustains our economy by sustaining the industries and jobs which provide further tax revenue; that’s Economics 101 and is evidently beyond the comprehension of most Americans, thanks to public education.)
I am a child of God and a disciple of Christ. I’ve been challenged by Jesus to look after others in need. I’m not called to tell other people what to do. I’m not called to join with dozens or thousands or millions of my friends to make other people do something I think they ought to do. I’m not in a position to judge that the rich aren’t doing enough. Jesus can judge them if he wants to, and I won’t criticize him if he doesn’t.
I don’t know what any particular rich person is doing beyond the lens of public scrutiny. I don’t expect the government (id est, you or me and millions of friends), under the leadership of self-righteous do-gooders, to steal from other people and do my duty for me. I have no influence in the world anyway except in two small ways: I may, on my own, relieve someone else’s pressing need from day to day, and I may, just may, improve the world by improving the one human unit over which I have control: myself.
Examine your sanctimonious memes before you wave them in front of me. I’m through responding to them.
***Using 1989 figures from https://usafacts.org as the mean between 1964 and 2014: Mean U.S. population – 246,819,230, percentage in poverty – 12.8% (31,592,862), mean War on Poverty spending per year – $440,000,000,000.