Saturday, July 4, 2015

Do The Right Thing

     It’s more than the title of an overhyped Spike Lee movie. It’s a way of life...or it should be.

     Many people talk a good game. They proclaim, propound, and promise. They make extravagant statements about what they would do – or will do – if this or that should occur. They pose as Twenty-First Century versions of Patrick long as they know they won’t be called on it.

     Sportsmen call that “the locker-room game.” It has no effect on the eventual score.

     Today, the draft of the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress, which had voted unanimously for independence from Great Britain two days earlier. (To the anonymous commenter who quarreled with me about that: brush up on your history. It’s a matter of public record.) As I wrote yesterday, the fifty-six delegates whose names appear on the document probably spent a good deal of the time since pondering the consequences of their decision. For many, the consequences would be terrible indeed.

     They did the right thing: the thing their consciences urged upon them. They did it knowing that that price could be their lives.

     Contemporary Americans are much slower to risk such a price.

     There’s a significant amount of game theory involved in my former trade, which has compelled me to become acquainted with a few highly useful concepts. The two of interest today are minimax and mainchance.

     If your gaming strategy is to minimize what you could possibly lose, you’ve adopted the minimax approach. You will select your moves such that no matter what your opponent(s) might do, your maximum loss has been minimized. Games in which the players adopt the minimax strategy tend to be boring and highly predictable, especially if there’s no random element in the mix. Payoffs will be low, and over time every player’s aggregate winnings and losses will tend toward zero. In other words, clear victories or losses are rare, unless the game’s rules are inherently biased toward or against some of the players.

     If your gaming strategy is to play for the highest possible return and not worry about potential losses, you’ve adopted the mainchance approach. Needless to say, as most real-world games tend to associate great potential gains with equally great potential losses, this requires courage. Games in which the players choose the mainchance strategy can be wild – and wildly exciting. Oftentimes a player “goes broke” from his choices, and must leave the game. Mainchance delivers winners and losers as minimax does not.

     A revolutionist must be a mainchance player from the very first. The penalty for being an unsuccessful revolutionist is almost always death plus the attainder of one’s family, often out to second and third cousins. Exceptions are rare.

     It says something about the human psyche that as regards the deliberate triggering of dramatic social upheaval, we find minimaxers among the well off and well-to-do, and mainchancers far more often among those who have little or nothing to lose.

     You might be wondering what this is headed toward. You have good reason; I’ve been more circuitous even than my usual.

     Perhaps you’re familiar with the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Oregon couple who declined, out of Christian conviction, to make a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding. Just recently, the state of Oregon piled injury upon injury:

     Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian finalized a preliminary ruling today ordering Aaron and Melissa Klein, the bakers who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to the couple they denied service.

     “This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage,” Avakian wrote. “It is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal.”

     In the ruling, Avakian placed an effective gag order on the Kleins, ordering them to “cease and desist” from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.

     “This effectively strips us of all our First Amendment rights,” the Kleins, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which has since closed, wrote on their Facebook page. “According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech.”

     Were you aware that a state official has the power to silence dissent? I wasn’t. Indeed, I don’t think he does – freedom of speech is a Constitutionally protected right – but the question I find most interesting is whether the Kleins will defy him.

     They’ve been fined a huge amount of money – probably more than their bakery took in over a whole year. The bakery has been closed. They’ve been subjected to enormous torrents of vilification by the activist homosexual community. I don’t know whether they have any means of subsistence. They have very little, if anything, left to lose...but they have a great deal to gain by challenging this upstart official directly, charging him with abuse of power under color of law and compelling him to answer those charges in a federal district court.

     One of the blessings of our time is that the Internet enables those of us who believe in their cause to support them, with verbal encouragement and funding.

     Consider also the recent case of harassment of Reason magazine:

     The United States Department of Justice is using federal grand jury subpoenas to identify anonymous commenters engaged in typical internet bluster and hyperbole in connection with the Silk Road prosecution. DOJ is targeting, a leading libertarian website whose clever writing is eclipsed only by the blowhard stupidity of its commenting peanut gallery.

     Why is the government using its vast power to identify these obnoxious asshats, and not the other tens of thousands who plague the internet?

     Because these twerps mouthed off about a judge.

     Last week, a source provided me with a federal grand jury subpoena. The subpoena1, issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, is directed to in Washington, D.C.. The subpoena commands Reason to provide the grand jury "any and all identifying information"2 Reason has about participants in what the subpoena calls a "chat."

     The "chat" in question is a comment thread on Nick Gillespie's May 31, 2015 article about Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht's plea for leniency to the judge who would sentence him in the Silk Road prosecution. That plea, we know now, failed, as Ulbricht received a life sentence, with no possibility of parole.

     Several commenters on the post found the sentence unjust, and vented their feelings in a rough manner. The grand jury subpoena specifies their comments and demands that produce any identifying information on them.

     That’s bad enough...but it’s not the end of the story:

     Last Friday the folks at Reason confirmed what I suggested on Thursday — that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, after hitting Reason with a federal grand jury subpoena to unmask anonymous hyperbolic commenters, secured a gag order that prevented them from writing about it.

     Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch describe how it all went down. Read it.

     So, the truth is out — and it's more outrageous than you thought, even more outrageous than it appears at first glance.

     What, you might ask, could be more outrageous than the United States Department of Justice issuing a questionable subpoena targeting speech protected by the First Amendment, and then abusing the courts to prohibit journalists from writing about it?

     The answer lies in the everyday arrogance of unchecked power.

     An organ of journalism was forbidden by a federal gag order to write about an egregious abuse of power. Ponder that.

     If it can forbid an American organ of journalism to report on the most important sort of story – the abuse of State power – “our” government is no better than that of North Korea. Surely the editors at Reason know that. Yet they remained silent about the abuse targeted at them. Why?

     I don’t read minds; ordinary English text is enough of a challenge. But if I had to place a bet, I’d wager that Reason’s editors feared that the feds would contrive to ruin them and their magazine completely, even if they were eventually to win in court. In short, they have more to lose than they cared to venture.

     John Peter Zenger, call your office! Urgent! Urgent!

     The critical paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, whose approval we celebrate today – see previous tirade – sets forth the rationale for the American Revolution:

     We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

     Those two hundred words are among the most famous ever written, and deservedly so. But the real punch comes at the very end of that famous document:

     And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

     No other phrasing of “and we really mean it” has ever come near to that one.

     As you’re aware, I always go by my full and correct name, whether in the flesh or on the Internet. I consider it a matter of propriety – I don’t want anyone else to have to answer for my statements – but I also consider it a matter of integrity. I intend to stand behind my words. Should I be proved wrong, I’ll admit it. Should I change my mind about some issue, I’ll explain why I did so. I want the record to be clear and complete.

     Most Internet commenters won’t do that. Why not? What do they fear? Hate mail? Awakening to a severed horse’s head?

     When I’ve been harassed over the Net, it’s almost always been by some clown who goes by an anonymizing moniker. That’s his right, I suppose, but it makes it fairly easy for me to dismiss him as just one more low punk without any courage at all, much less enough to stand by his convictions in an open contest of intellect. I suppose they’re not bright enough to realize what worms they’ve revealed themselves to be, but that would be part of the syndrome, wouldn’t it?

     There’s neither honor nor integrity in rejecting one’s own identity. There’s no profit in it for anyone...and there could be consequences for innocent others, as the federal harassment of Reason has shown.

     I once described my readers’ favorite character thus:

     His quality was plain and open. He did not hide, and he did not strut.

     That character endeared himself to my readers in exactly that way: He always said what he meant, without unnecessary artifice, and he always did what he thought was right, regardless of the possible cost. He was a genuine hero in a world overrun by pretenders and antiheroes, and hundreds of readers continue to email me, pleading for more stories about him.

     Have another genuine hero:

     “Oh please, Chris. You’re totally self-sacrificing, oblivious to personal danger, and resistant to temptation, though God knows I’ve tried. I knew what you were going to do for those kids the moment I saw the expression on your face. You right wrongs. You fight for the little guy. Why do you think that Chatterjee chick calls you the Hammer of God?”

     We can’t all be heroes – no, sorry, David, not even just for one day – but we can all speak plainly and stand behind our words. We can all defy those who would intimidate us into anonymity or silence. Are some of the fears that impel us to conceal ourselves legitimate? Possibly, even probably. But they fall far short of “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

     If you would like to honor the Founders in a true commemoration of their courage and their achievement, you can do that much. Swear this day that you will always go by your right name, and never deny your own words. Swear it to yourself if to no one else. You’ll know whether you’ve fallen short of that standard...and you’ll punish yourself for it.

     Lend strength to those who have come under the State’s hammer by lending not merely your words but your name to their cause: the cause of freedom.

     Happy Declaration of Independence day.


Linda Fox said...

OK, Francis - I changed my profile.

If it costs me my job, can I come bunk with your family?

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) We've got plenty of room, dear. A nice hot tub and two 60 inch TVs, too. And over three hundred DVD movies!

cmblake6 said...

I've written a post at my other page referring my readers here. This was a superb collection of thought, and I felt it eminently shareable. Well said, sir.

Navvet55 said...

Though I do use the "navvet55" moniker as it is an acknowledgement of sorts of my past military service and year of birth, I have, and will continue to, use my name. Only it appears I will have to do this more often. Wonder when they will stop my retirement pay as a form of (trying) to get me to comply (to whatever they want)? Or I could do the best of both worlds, and sign every comment and or post thusly:

Guy S. Sochor