Book Review: Level Up Your Life

Level Up Your Life is a book about self-improvement and adventure by American entrepreneur, fitness instructor, publisher, and writer Steve Kamb. The book shows people how to define goals and use a game setup of experience points and levels to accomplish those goals while avoiding various pitfalls along the way. The book is divided into six sections, each of which contains three to five chapters.

Kamb begins with a brief introduction, describing several of his most interesting adventures as well as the life he led before deciding to change his life. He talks about the online community he founded about changing one’s life to be more active and adventurous, then invites the reader to join.

The first section begins by going into greater detail about Kamb’s own experiences and backstory than did the introduction. The middle is a warning about getting stuck in the research and planning stages of an adventure without ever actually going on the adventure. The final chapter of this section is an exhortation to stop waiting and thinking you cannot live the life you want to live.

Getting started on a hero’s journey is the subject of the second section. Kamb begins by laying out the basic story arc that almost all heroic characters follow. Next, he asks the reader to describe one’s normal life and then create the superhero alter-ego that one wishes to become. The following chapter presents several common excuses that people use to justify not living a more interesting life and rebuts each of them. The sixth chapter contains advice on dealing with people who offer discouragement and resistance to one’s ambitions. Kamb ends this section by explaining how game mechanics such as experience points and leveling can be used in real life to help one learn skills and achieve goals.

In the third section, Kamb discusses how to set up one’s Game of Life. He lays out the rules that his group uses, but one can create one’s own list. The ninth chapter gives examples of character classes from role-playing games and how they might translate into real-world skill sets. The point of the chapter is to describe one’s ideal leveled-up character. The next chapter explores various quests that one could pursue in order to get from one’s current state to one’s ideal state. Kamb ends this section by sharing how he used the methods from the previous two chapters in his own quest.

The fourth section begins with more discussion of experience points and levels, then proceeds to discuss the need to self-impose both positive and negative reinforcement in order to cultivate discipline. An excellent bit of advice is given here: rewarding yourself should take the form of something that will aid in one’s quest, not something immediately pleasurable that will hinder one’s efforts going forward. In the fourteenth chapter, Kamb explains the importance of willpower. He suggests altering one’s environment to make pursuing one’s goals require less willpower and working against those goals require more. Following this, the need to create flow and momentum in one’s life is explained. The section concludes with a chapter about team-building that describes the roles of mentor, peer, trainee, and wildcard. Finding people to fill each of these roles helps make a quest more productive and interesting.

The fifth section uses the examples of four well-known fictional characters and how they overcame adversity in their stories to discuss how to prepare the body and mind for any adventure, nurture an adventurous spirit, and make necessary sacrifices in pursuit of success. The stories of Bruce Wayne, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, and Katniss Everdeen contain a multitude of lessons, making this the longest section of the book.

In the last section, Kamb reminds the reader that tomorrow is not guaranteed and whatever is worth doing should be started now. He encourages those who have completed their personal quests to share their stories and knowledge so that less experienced people can learn from them. The final chapter encourages those who have done great deeds to avoid resting on their laurels and move on to another adventure. The book concludes with a list of resources, acknowledgments, and a repetition of the offer to join Kamb’s online community.

Level Up Your Life is one of the better self-help books out there, and the online community is an added bonus. The greatest criticisms of the book would be that it is too much of an advertisement for the online community, and that while it is excellent for someone who is enduring life but not enjoying it, it is far less useful for someone who already uses similar methods with great success in some areas of life but is held back by failures in other areas. Even so, Kamb has created a book that is worth reading (and a website worth visiting).

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Against Empathy

Against Empathy is a book about the negative effects of trying to feel what other people feel by Canadian American psychology professor Paul Bloom. The book makes the case that concern and compassion function better in the absence of empathy. It also makes the case that empathy is a driving force behind much of the cruelty and irrationality in the world. The book is divided into six chapters and two shorter interludes, each of which explores a different aspect of empathy.

Bloom begins by defining his terms and laying out the case he intends to make over the whole book and in each chapter, as any good academic would. Adherence to definitions for the purpose of avoiding confusion is done well throughout the book, and is especially necessary when a word as widely defined and misused as empathy is in play. Rather than arguing in favor of psychopathy, Bloom advocates thinking with our heads rather than our hearts so as to reach a more consistent and helpful morality. Nor does he argue that empathy is completely bad; only that it does more harm than good.

The first chapter makes the distinction between cognitive empathy (recognizing another person’s feelings without feeling them oneself) and emotional empathy (experiencing the world as one thinks that someone else does). The shortcomings of the latter are the primary focus of the book, namely that empathy can lead to ignoring unidentifiable victims, denigrating logical choices that have superior results, letting our biases lead us astray, overrating present costs versus future costs, and sending unnecessary aid. The chapter ends with responses to objections raised by Bloom’s colleagues during the writing of the book.

In the second chapter, Bloom explores the neuroscientific aspects of empathy, including mirror neurons, the role of preconceptions of other people, and the difference between understanding and feeling. The difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy is important here, and it can be detected in fMRI scans. Bloom then discusses how empathy is currently measured, as well as the shortfalls of such methods.

The failures of empathy in the pursuit of virtue are the primary subject of the third chapter. These failures occur because empathy works as a spotlight, illuminating some problems and leaving the rest in the dark. This causes people to choose to help suffering individuals instead of suffering masses, to care less about the problems of a perceived out-group, or to engage in high-time-preference thinking. There is also the matter that one person can never truly feel what another person feels because one person does not have another person’s aggregate experience. In short, empathy interferes with a rational assessment of how to make the world better. Bloom concludes the chapter by praising economists for avoiding empathy in their analyses.

Next comes a half-chapter-length interlude about empathy and politics, which deserves more attention than it gets here. Bloom correctly states that empathy is not a useful measure of where one falls on a map of political views, but says little about libertarianism and nothing about anarchist or reactionary thought. The shortsightedness discussed earlier leads to incorrect long-term policy decisions, and empathy can lead judges to take decisions contrary to the letter of the law.

The fourth chapter is about the relationship between empathy and intimacy. Bloom argues that empathy runs counter to the special nature of a close interpersonal relationship, instead leading one to treat one’s family no better than strangers. He mentions an interesting hypothetical case of a pathologically empathetic person and shows how psychologically harmful this condition can be. It is interesting that there is no clinical name for this condition. Next, Bloom explores the difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in Buddhist philosophy, which contains a similar distinction and a similar recommendation about embracing cognitive empathy while rejecting emotional empathy. After this, the difficulties that doctors may encounter if they are distracted by emotional empathy are discussed, as well as the negative effects that receiving emotional empathy can have on patients. Then, Bloom makes important distinctions between having useful past experiences, caring about people without using empathy, and having emotional empathy in the present. The positive role of empathy in apologizing for misdeeds is examined, and Bloom has no counterargument on this point.

The second interlude considers empathy’s ability to serve as a foundation for morality, especially from the beginning of life. Bloom considers that empathy may be foundational for young children but harmful for adults, much like human breast milk. He considers that selfishness may motivate kind acts, but finds the explanation wanting on the grounds of misunderstanding both natural selection and psychology. The topic is left as an open question, but the evidence discussed suggests that even young children are capable of caring without internalizing another person’s feelings.

In the fifth chapter, Bloom explores how violence and cruelty are linked to empathy. In particular, he discusses how empathy can lead people to commit cruel and violent acts, especially toward people who have themselves committed atrocities. Bloom correctly posits that violence will always be with us, as some problems are insoluble without it. Here, the spotlight nature of empathy is seen to maximize the impact of victimhood while minimizing the impact of perpetration, which leads to escalations of hostilities between nations and blood feuds between families. Empathy can lead people to falsely believe that they are doing good deeds when they are being cruel and violent. It can also lead wartime leaders to fail to recognize sacrifices that must be made to win the war. Next, Bloom looks at the nature of psychopaths and the role that dehumanization plays in atrocities. He shows that these are concerns are different from concerns about empathy. He ends the chapter by comparing empathy to anger, and finding both to be unworthy of removal from a person’s psyche, but in need of subordination to rational deliberation.

The final chapter addresses the role of reason and defends it against several attacks. After all, an argument that presupposes rationality can be undermined by a case that people are fundamentally irrational. This chapter could have been improved by including the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas or Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as it would have added a strong defense of objective morality. Like so many controversial academics who encounter social justice warriors, Bloom was told to check his privilege, which he rightly dismisses as nonsensical, though “SJWs are the real bigots” is not a sufficiently sharp response. He addresses the concern that regardless of the virtues of reason, humans are incompetent at it. But this can be shrugged off by noting that reason is objective and thus not subject to individual competency. The arguments in favor of determinism lead to performative contradictions if taken to their logical conclusions, but Bloom does not attack them in this fashion. A second attack on reason comes from psychological studies that show how people can be subconsciously influenced, but to know this is to know to take corrective steps to eliminate the problem. Finally, Bloom makes the case for rationality by discussing the strong correlation between high IQ and success, as well as the correlation between self-control and success. He briefly returns to politics to note the irrationality there, but concludes that this is due to the political systems rather than the participants themselves. Bloom ends the book by conceding that empathy can have good results, but that this is the exception and not the rule.

In a sense, Bloom does not go far enough. The concept of conspicuous compassion is barely mentioned, and there are some cases in which psychopathy can be used for beneficial results. The final chapter is in need of stronger logical cases against Bloom’s critics. Even so, Against Empathy is thought-provoking and much-needed to stem a tide of books that take too bright a view of empathy.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: Good Guys With Guns

Good Guys With Guns is a book about concealed firearms and their effects by sociologist Angela Stroud. The book discusses the rise in concealed carry permits, the way armed citizens interpret their environments, and the role of gender, race, class, and culture in firearm ownership through a series of interviews conducted by Stroud.

The interviews illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. A survey of these errors will be more edifying than a more typical book review, so let us explore where and how Stroud goes wrong.

In the opening chapter, Stroud claims that gun advocates ignore empirical data which show that women might be more harmed than guns than protected by them, but there is good reason to ignore such data.1 She describes security, family values, individual freedom, and the defense of vulnerable people from criminals as being inherently masculine values rather than healthy values for any person regardless of gender. Later in the chapter, she describes her research methods, detailing the number of interviews, the types of people interviewed, the length and location of the interviews. She concludes the chapter by describing her own views and how they were changed by her research activities.

The second chapter opens with Stroud describing her concealed handgun license (CHL) test experience and criticizing her instructor for calling out incompetence and foolishness in other people during the shooting part of the test. She then argues that gender roles are social constructs while showing little recognition of the biological and environmental realities upon which such constructs are built. This is a recurring error that she makes toward a variety of subjects throughout the book. On the subject of good guys and bad guys, she neglects to mention a third type of character (who might be called an antihero guy) who breaks the rules not to take pleasure in violence for violence’s sake, but due to desperation and/or rules which promote injustice. Like most of her supposed binaries, this is actually a sliding scale between two pure extremes. Her interviews with men reveal some expected results: firearm ownership and use provides a bonding experience for males; men who are vulnerable due to aging or lack of size feel more secure when armed; and men carry guns as part of their traditional role as family protector. But she dismisses the concerns of the men who feel vulnerable as “elaborate fantasies,” seems to have no concept of peace through mutually assured destruction, and presents the vulnerability of women without guns against men as a social construct rather than a frequent empirical fact. She claims that men who want guns to defend their families but are frequently away from home and men who believe it is their job to defend their families because they are physically stronger but want women to have guns as equalizers are in contradiction, but there is nothing contradictory about these positions. Later, she suggests that a response to being robbed is to let the robbers get away with what they want, which shows no understanding of how incentives work.

The third chapter is about Stroud’s interviews with women who carry guns. Again, the interviews reveal what we might expect: women are usually introduced to guns by men instead of other women or their own initiative; many women who carry firearms do so to reject the need for men to protect them; women do not have access to as many institutionalized opportunities to learn about guns as men do; carrying firearms can restore a sense of strength and confidence in women who have been victimized; women can gain a sense of pride from mastering what is thought of as a predominantly male activity; and women with children typically value their children’s lives above their own. Stroud claims that it is paradoxical for women to fear men and rely on them for protection, but this is only true if it is the same men in both cases. Her analysis of women’s vulnerability as a social construction is flawed because it relies too strongly on empiricism; while it is true that men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, the average woman is more victimizable than the average man due to the difference in size and physical ability. Her claim that arguing against common female perceptions about guns amounts to reinforcing the patriarchal nature of gun culture is an example of kafkatrapping. She continually attributes to patriarchy what is actually the result of male disposability.

The fourth chapter discusses perceptions of good versus evil, and how race and class shape those perceptions. Stroud claims that crime is a social construction, but because crime is defined as violating the law, it follows that the law is also a social construction. This makes the idea of determining good guys versus bad guys with respect to their obedience of the law or lack thereof entirely subjective, making her analysis of people who carry firearms illegally highly questionable. Her discussion of the perception that young black men are viewed as criminals neglects to mention crime statistics which show that they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime. This is especially interesting given her claim in the next chapter that there is a lack of awareness of data on criminal victimization. Stroud contrasts those who respect a business owner’s right to refuse service to anyone with those who will not support a business that prohibits firearms on its premises, but these positions are mutually consistent as long as one does not violate a property owner’s wishes. She glosses over an instance in which a female demonstrates privilege vis-a-vis males. She speculates about what might have happened to a man who caused an incident if he had been black instead of white as though it were a foregone conclusion that the police would have fired on him rather than restrain themselves and assess the situation. As mentioned earlier, good versus evil is not a binary construct, but a sliding scale with various shades of gray. That said, the reason that women are almost never mentioned as bad guys is partly because men are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime and partly due to the relative disposability of males.

The fifth chapter covers self-defense and personal responsibility, from protection against criminals all the way to doomsday prepping. Again, Stroud seems to have no sense of objective reality, instead referring to threat perception solely as a social construct. The belief that the outcasts of society are necessary to define its boundaries demonstrates an inability to step outside of binary thinking and look at how a society can define itself in terms of what it is for rather than only what it is against. Stroud discusses free markets as though they have existed, and is critical of the supposed result of them, in effect blaming capitalism instead of cronyism or communo-fascism. She claims that white perceptions of the high rate of homicides among blacks can only be viewed as a case of white racial apathy, but it may also be a case of whites expecting blacks to take responsibility for solving their own problems and fixing their own communities instead of expecting the state to do it for them, especially because the state has caused most of their problems. She seems incapable of understanding privilege as something that is earned and inequality as something that is both extant and just, though perhaps not at its current extent. Ultimately, she regards individualism not as an empirically observable fact, but as a fiction of whiteness. That those who have enough wherewithal and firepower to survive would be the only survivors in a complete breakdown of civilization is the result of any logically sound consideration of disasters, with the exact nature of who survives a particular scenario providing the definition of “enough” for that scenario.

The final chapter discusses the social implications of an armed citizenry. Stroud repeats the mistake of viewing the idea of a threatening other as a social construct rather than an empirical reality. She asks how it can be that gun violence is both so common that good people need guns for defense but so uncommon that restrictions on gun purchases are unjustified, without considering that the answer is that the restrictions which do exist have a terrible track record of stopping criminals. For some reason, she believes that criminals will obey gun control laws even though they disobey laws by definition.2 The idea that gun restrictions represent a slippery slope toward confiscation is not a baseless conspiracy theory; it is demonstrated by a multitude of cases. She speaks of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman incident as though it was black versus white, but it was really black versus Latino. She confuses social responses with state responses, which need not be equivalent. We know how Adam Lanza gained access to guns; he killed his mother and took her guns, meaning that no gun control law that forbade him from owning guns would have worked against him. That government must play a role in creating stronger communities and keeping guns away from violent criminals is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence. To say that we must refuse to become victims in a democratic society is to ignore the fact that democracy necessarily victimizes people. Finally, she speaks of structural social inequality that perpetuates injustice while seeking more government involvement without realizing that government is inherently a structure that causes social inequality between its agents and the citizenry and perpetuates injustice in favor of its agents against the citizenry.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Rating: 2/5

Footnotes:

  1. Empiricism cannot provide a sufficient explanation of a situation in which counterfactuals are important. This is because empirical methods only allow us to look at the choices which were made and the consequences thereof. Examining what would have happened had a different choice been made requires one to use rationalism instead. With regard to gun issues, this means that studies which suggest that being armed could make one more likely to be harmed must be taken with a grain of salt, as there is no way to know what would have happened to armed people in a counterfactual in which they were unarmed, and vice versa.
  2. Also note that the Supreme Court has ruled in Haynes v. United States (1968) that some gun control laws which are supposed to apply to criminals do not because this would violate their Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate.

The Case For Bringing Religion Into Politics

In a July 23 interview with Scott Pelley of CBS, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was asked about internal Democratic National Committee emails which had been released recently. One of the email chains included a staffer’s suggestion that they ask questions about Sanders’ religion in an attempt to undermine him with religious voters. Clinton said in response, “I am adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process. …That is just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” But is it? Let us make the contrary case that the religious beliefs of a candidate should be part of the political process.

In the philosophical sense, a religion is a set of principles by which an adherent is supposed to live. As these principles are supposed to be the guiding precepts by which a believer makes decisions, it is especially important for people who are going to choose who will wield state power to know about the stated religious views of each candidate. Knowing this will allow voters and rival candidates to detect hypocrisy, anti-empiricism, and aggressive tendencies, none of which are desirable in a person who wields state power. It also allows people to consider whether any heretical views held by a candidate are for good or ill.

Hypocrisy

It is in the nature of politicians to say one thing and do another, or to espouse contrary principles when pandering to special interest groups or demographics which are at cross purposes. This is understandable, given the perverse incentive structures which are invariably present in democracies. But some engage in more blatant hypocrisy than others, doing so out of internal corruption rather than merely as a reaction to the prevailing political system. One indication of this is for a politician to claim a certain religious affiliation while acting in contradiction to the teachings of that religion. This can be a sign that the candidate will flip-flop on important issues, as those who lie to voters about one thing will be more likely to lie to them about something else.

Anti-Empiricism

Religions are frequently a source of anti-empirical beliefs, as most prominent religions were founded long ago when current scientific knowledge was unavailable. In the absence of reason and science, religion offered people what they thought were answers for phenomena which eluded their understanding. But accepting answers on faith is dangerous on two counts; they are probably incorrect, and it keeps people from searching for a proper understanding of the correct answer. When politicians take answers on faith rather than seeking rational, scientific explanations, the policy results can be disastrous. As such, it is important for a voter or rival candidate to know whether a candidate believes, for instance, that the Earth is flat and/or less than 10,000 years old just because an ancient text tells them so. This is an important indication that the candidate can be made to believe almost anything without asking for proper evidence.

It must be noted that not all anti-empiricism is undesirable. There is nothing wrong with opposing the entry of empiricism into fields of study in which it does not belong, such as mathematics or economics. And because empiricism requires rationalism in order to be used, it cannot overrule pure reason. As such, logic overrules experience and a priori truths are not subject to empirical study. But religions do not generally offer such strongly rational truth; instead, they rely upon divine revelation, which believers are taught to accept without evidence.

Aggressive Tendencies

When most prominent religions were founded, the world was a more violent place. Punishments for behaviors which aggressed against no person or property were commonplace, as was genocidal behavior toward neighboring people of different faiths as well as conquered peoples. But understanding of moral principles (if not their practice) has advanced since then, and most people have come to rightly condemn such behavior. When a candidate espouses a fundamentalist or literalist interpretation of a religious text which calls for such behavior to be practiced throughout the society, it should give voters pause. This can require some study on the part of voters and other candidates to detect, as openly supporting wars on religious grounds is no longer fashionable in the West, but such tendencies can still be observed among religious neoconservatives.

Many religions also include content which is opposed to free markets, private property, and freedoms of thought and association. If such content influences a candidate to support such policies as high taxes on the wealthy, expansion of common spaces and/or welfare statism, restrictions on activities which do not aggress against any person or property, or policies which discriminate in favor one’s own religion and/or against other religions, voters and rival candidates should be aware of this.

Heresy

Some people claim to be an adherent of a particular religion but have a different understanding from most people of the meaning of the teachings of that religion. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if such heretical beliefs lead a religious person away from hypocrisy, truth denial, or aggression. But those who define terms differently in one aspect of life will almost certainly do so in other aspects, and this is important information for voters and rival candidates to know. Whether this is for good or ill depends upon the particulars of each case, but it is an indicator that a candidate must be given more than a cursory examination in order to be properly understood.

Conclusion

For the above reasons, it is entirely appropriate to bring religion into the political process. It is a tool that voters can use to examine a candidate for flaws, as well as legitimate grounds for one candidate to attack another for character traits unbecoming of a person who would wield state power.

The Most Likely Reason For Disarming Social Security Beneficiaries

On July 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama regime is seeking to ban gun ownership for Social Security beneficiaries if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. This has the potential to affect about 4.2 million people; about 2.7 million are now receiving disability payments from Social Security for mental health problems, and another 1.5 million do not manage their own finances for a variety of reasons.

If taken at face value, the Obama regime is seeking to strengthen background checks for gun ownership in an effort to prevent mass shootings, while critics say that the move conflates people who merely have memory problems or difficulty managing finances with people who are violent and dangerous. But we should remember Reece’s razor; whenever there are several possible explanations for a government action or policy, the most cynical explanation is the most likely to be correct. Let us find a more cynical explanation.

Let us begin with a few basic truths. Whenever politicians seek to disarm people, it is generally because they are either afraid of those people and/or because they seek to do something to those people that will be more difficult if those people are armed. If there is a state within a geographical area, then a certain group of people are exercising a monopoly on initiatory force within that area. Those people necessarily have a monopoly over the law, as no other group of people has the means to force their will upon everyone else. Thus, the law means whatever the leaders of that group say it means.

In this case, those who are unable to manage their own affairs are considered to be those with “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.” For the moment, anyone who has been declared incompetent to manage pension or disability payments and assigned a fiduciary is considered to meet the above definition. But as explained above, they have the ability to change this to target anyone simply by redefining the sufficiently vague terms “subnormal intelligence,” “mental illness,” “incompetency,” “condition,” or “disease” to suit their liking.

Why would those who wield state power seek to disarm elderly and disabled people? The most obvious answer is that they are preparing to do something to those people which would lead them to retaliate against the state, and are therefore afraid of those people. The most obvious candidate for this activity is a significant reduction in retirement and disability payments to the elderly and disabled. Recent government reports show that unless a change occurs, Medicare will be insolvent by 2030 and the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2034. After these insolvencies occur, Medicare payments will be reduced by about 20 percent and Social Security payments will be reduced by about 25 percent even if no changes occur to reduce them further, such as continued shrinking of labor force participation and a combination of rising interest rates on the national debt and hyperinflation brought on by irresponsible Federal Reserve policies.

This could be the difference between an elderly or disabled person being able to tread water financially and such a person becoming insolvent, and this is going to make people angry enough at politicians and their minions to try to harm them. A move to disarm elderly and disabled people suggests that the Obama regime knows that a financial storm is coming which can make these insolvencies occur sooner than predicted, along with the accompanying social unrest. To be perfectly blunt, they want to grab guns from these people so that these guns cannot be used to shoot at them (or their successors) in the near future. It is hard to imagine a more cynical explanation than this, so it is most likely to be correct. Prepare thyself accordingly.

Seven observations on the Charleston church shooting

On the evening of June 17, a mass shooting occurred at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The gunman killed nine people and wounded one, with senior pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney among the dead. All were African Americans. The next morning, police arrested 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a white man, who had fled to Shelby, N.C. He now faces nine murder charges and one charge of using a deadly weapon in a violent crime in South Carolina, and may also face hate crime and/or terrorism charges at the federal level. Seven observations on the events follow.

1. Madmen like Dylann Roof are made, not born. A mass murderer never truly acts alone. Roof is known to have had an unstable family environment with an abusive father, a mother who had affairs, and divorce. He attended six different schools between fourth and ninth grade, eventually dropping out of high school. Without an education, employment, or parental guidance, he turned to drugs and violent racist teachings on the internet. Had he had a stable family environment and sound parental guidance, this chain of events could have been avoided.

2. The statist left will not let a crisis go to waste. Within hours of the shooting, President Obama used the shooting to call for new gun control measures. Hillary Clinton followed suit shortly thereafter. To politicize a tragedy and use it to put emotion above reason and evidence is par from the course for those who seek to expand the power of the state and curtail individual rights.

3. No proposed gun control measure would have stopped Roof. As is usual as of late, gun grabbers have focused on universal background checks, assault weapon bans, high-capacity magazine bans, and denial of firearm access to the mentally ill. We know that a background check would not have stopped Roof because it did not; he passed a background check before purchasing a .45 caliber Glock 41 pistol. We know that an assault weapon ban would not have stopped Roof because he used a handgun, which is not considered an assault weapon. We know that a ban on high-capacity magazines would not have stopped Roof because he reloaded five times with standard-capacity magazines, according to an eyewitness. Laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people would not have stopped Roof because he had not been diagnosed with a mental illness.

4. Stopping criminals is not the true purpose of gun control. The true purpose of gun control is not to control guns, but to control people. The rational self-interest of those who wield state power is to expand that power and protect their grasp on it. Disarming the subjects of the state leaves them dependent on government for defense against common criminals and helpless to defend themselves against agents of the government. The endgame is to allow government agents to commit crimes under color of law that they would not be able to get away with if the people were armed. This strategy has a long history; for example, Toyotomi Hideyoshi decreed in August 1588 that “[t]he people of the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other types of arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues and tends to foment uprisings.”

5. Evil people with guns are best stopped by good people with guns. More people need to be armed so that thugs like Roof can be exterminated on contact before they cause so much damage. Although this mass shooting ended because Roof could not find anyone else alive whom he wanted to kill, most mass shootings end when armed people close in on and confront the shooter. It would have been easy for an armed churchgoer or security guard to kill Roof during any of the five times that he had to reload his handgun. Unfortunately, South Carolina’s carry laws ban the carrying of arms in churches unless express permission is given by the church officials or governing body of the church, rendering most churches into victim disarmament zones.

6. The path to the above solution is anti-political. It is against the rational self-interest of those who wield state power for the citizenry to be well-armed. Most Republican politicians have some aversion to putting more guns into the hands of poor people and African Americans, and most Democratic politicians would prefer not to put more guns into the hands of anyone who is not a government agent. The political system is rigged against independent and third party candidates, so while some of them would support this agenda, their efforts will be all but meaningless. The goal of arming more citizens so that they can protect themselves must therefore be accomplished by anti-political means, such as 3-D printing of firearms, neighborhood watch programs, and militia organizing efforts.

7. The Confederate flag debacle is a sideshow, but a predictable one. The leftists know that they cannot win on gun control and want to feel like they can do something, even if it would have absolutely no effect against mass murderers, so they are going after an issue where they can win: outrage over the Confederate flag and an initiative to remove it from display on government property, such as the South Carolina State House. Of course this has gone too far, such that classic films are no longer being showed, strategy games set in the Civil War period are being removed from stores, and tearing down Confederate memorials is being considered, but when has the idea of going too far ever mattered to leftists? The reality is that there are far bigger fish to fry. We should be more concerned about the approximately 200 nation states which are still operating and engaging in murder, slavery, kidnapping, robbery, and other violent crimes on a massive scale than about the flag of a nation state which has been defunct for 150 years.

Book review: Education Free and Compulsory

Education Free and Compulsory is a collection of three articles written by Murray Rothbard in 1971 about the origins of compulsory public education, as well as the moral and practical cases against it.

Rothbard begins by noting that each person is self-educated to some degree, as education is not limited to formal schooling, but is also formed by everyday experience. He then states the fundamental limitation of formal schooling: it can teach children a subject of study, but it cannot teach them to think. It can only give students the tools they need to be able to think more effectively. Next, Rothbard points out that any imposition of uniformity does not bring the lowest people up; instead, it smashes the highest people down. This is an aggressive act against the brightest students, as resources that would in a free society be used to help the brightest students achieve greatness are instead squandered on the least capable children, who will likely be unproductive members of society no matter what is done to educate them. Rothbard deduces that where instruction is necessary, the instruction is always best done on an individual basis and is usually best done by a child’s parents.

The next two chapters explore the historical origins of public education, beginning with its origins in ancient Greece and Rome. Next, Rothbard observes that education was relatively a private, free market affair in the Middle Ages. He then discusses the modern form of public education, which began with the Lutheran and Calvinist models of religious indoctrination, advanced to the Prussian model of statist indoctrination, and was forced upon American children during the Progressive Era.

While the book is a useful historical guide, it lacks some of the philosophy and libertarian principle that Rothbard’s writings are known for. And at under 100 pages, Education Free and Compulsory is a rather terse treatment of the subject. While any fan of Rothbard will enjoy the book, anyone who is looking for an exhaustive treatment of the issue should look elsewhere.

Rating: 3/5