My apartment is filled with books. By my count, I have more than a thousand of them and, estimating conservatively, I’ve probably read about eight hundred of those thousand (a result of many of these books having been picked up in large batches either from used book stores or remainder sales and then later passed over in favor of newer fare that seemed more interesting). I’ve long taken pride in this, having forced friends to help me to shuttle dozens of boxes packed with them through four homes throughout my 20’s. If anyone in the social circles I run in qualifies as a bibliophile it’s myself. But, regrettably, like so many other things, I regret to inform you that, so far as I am concerned, that’s probably a thing of the past. In the last year, I’ve bought but a single physical book – the Parks and Recreation tie-in “Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America” and, at most, I’m likely to buy one more before the year is out – the annotated edition of Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn.
That’s not to say that I’ve stopped reading. Going through my list of Kindle books, over the last year I’ve purchased – and read – George W. Bush’s Decision Points, Ron Chenow’s Washington: A Life, Edmund Morris’ Colonel Roosevelt, Joseph Ellis’ First Family, Ronald White’s A. Lincoln, Manning Up by Kay Hymowitz, Mad as Hell by Dominic Sandbrook, 1920: The Year of Six Presidents by David Pietrusza, Eisenhower 1956 by David Nichols, End Game by Matthew Glass, A Bright Shining LIe: John Paul Vann in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan, Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg, In the Plex by Steven Levy, Idea Man by Paul Allen, The Social Animal by David Brooks, The Secret Knowledge by David Mamet, Mr. Speaker by James Grant, The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Yes, Prime Minister: a play by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs, Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield, The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, LIfe at the Bottom by Theodore Dalymple,, Carthage Must be Destroyed by Richard Miles, Gladstone by Roy Jenkins, After America by Mark Steyn, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Chris Colin, In My Time by Dick Cheney, Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, Confidence Men by Ron Suskind, An Empire of Wealth by John Steele Gordon, Lone Star Nation by H.W. Brands, The Blast of War by Adam Teiichi Yoshida (yes, had to include that), The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and The Forever War by Joe Halderman. As a long-time fan of conservative-leaning science fiction publisher Baen, I bought from them advance reader copies of Extremis by Steve White, The Amazon Legion by Tom Kratman and A Rising Thunder by David Weber, which I plan to read next.
If you add up my total reading from the year, which includes a few re-reads of old favorites (I’m presently working my way through the second volume of William Manchester’s lamentably-unfinished The Last Lion) I’ve probably read somewhere between forty-five and fifty books over the last year. I bothered to write them all to simply make a point – if someone who is in the top percentile of all readers (and I think I pretty much have to be) can only be moved to buy physical books for novelty reasons (the Parks and Recreation book is big and glossy and seems to be designed to be physically appreciated and the annotations in the special edition of Heir to the Empire are difficult to read physically), then is there really much hope at all for printed works in the future?
Obviously the exact figures vary but, given an average Amazon price of about $10-$20 for eBooks coming from traditional publishers, let’s say that I’ve spent $600 on books through Amazon over the last year. By way of comparison, buying those books at retail – which I would have had to do in order to have them immediately (I am not a fan of waiting for books to arrive in the mail, once I have set to reading I wish to finish the book immediately), would have cost well over $1000, perhaps approaching as much as $1200-$1600.
The economics of it are simply too good for people who have to print physical books to compete. Sure, it’ll be years before you get everyone to convert over but it seems quite clear to me that the math adds up: the days of the ordinary physical book are over. They’re going to go the way of the vinyl record – a novelty item clung to by a handful who insist upon the superior qualities of (and are willing to pay a premium for) tangible media.
Insofar as this essay is already incredibly self-referential, I see no reason to stop now and will continue to set loose my thoughts. When I set about writing my first real book, The Blast of War I didn’t give even the slightest thought to attempting traditional publication. There were a number of reasons for this: I always intended to write it in a format (as a faux-history book) that would be difficult to place on the shelves, the time-frame in which it sought to tell the story was approaching too quickly for traditional publishing timelines, and the audience for the sort of work I was proposing was probably too limited for most publishers. But there was another overriding reason: publishing electronically would allow me to keep 70% of the retail price of the book (meaning that I make as much off a $3 e-book at a traditional author would off a full-priced physical book) and I could, the control freak that I am, retain complete control of the content of the book. Given these facts, why would I want to take on the hassles of selling physical books?
The other day I was wandering through the remnants of one of the last video stores in Vancouver, now shoved into the back of one of the last record stores in Vancouver – Zulu Records in Kitsilano. I never had much of a physical music collection – by the time I was a teenager we were already at the beginning of the digital era – but I used to have a large collection of DVD’s and, before that, VHS tapes. I was an avid customer of the video stores of days of yore – I had cards to rent at both Blockbuster and Rogers Video before I could drive. I used to walk half a mile up a hill to rent movies (and even the occasional television show) on VHS. Now the video store is practically extinct, over the last year and a half I’ve watched as the scattered survivors of the breed, like isolated Confederate armies and posts after Appomattox, have surrendered to history one-by-one.
As much as I admit that I use and approve of the change – how much easier is it to find a movie on Netflix or a thousand other digital services than to trudge to the store, search the racks to find a copy of something in stock, and then to return home? – I must admit that I find something about the process awe-striking. As an ardent capitalist I must admire how efficiently the market has found a solution – a product with superior qualities replaces in inferior one and life goes on – there is something strange in seeing an institution that had been something of an anchor point in a short life vanish off the face of the earth with such startling speed.
When will the end of the book store come? I believe that it will be much sooner than anyone expects. The readers who sustain them – those who buy more than the latest (heavily-discounted) bestseller will be driven to adopt the alternatives quite quickly – the economics of the matter are just too attractive for it to be otherwise. Already, in the United States, we’ve seen the Borders chain shuttered. I imagine that there we’ll see more of the same in the near future and, as they go, so will the vast logistical chains that nurture them become unviable.
That, I am not afraid to admit, I will mourn. I learned to read when I was three and, by the time I was eight I was a sufficiently proficient reader to end up carrying a chewed-up copy of Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins to the 3rd Grade. I’ve had books with me – and generally carried one or more almost everywhere – for as long as I can remember.
There was a thrill – a sort of tactile pleasure – in the old world that is impossible to replicate. Recently, on a stroll down Granville Street, I noticed a painted sign on the side of a building advertising a bookstore that \no longer exists. When I saw it, I flashed back to a very distant past – I remembered that sign. I remembered that store. Once, on some Saturday or Sunday in the distant past – I was probably twelve or thirteen or fourteen years old – I spent two or three hours romping through that used book store and finding amongst it some treasures that I had never seen anywhere else. In particular, I recall that I acquired my first copy of C.M. Kornbluth’s Not This August there and chanced upon a hardcover first edition copy of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising that, alas, carrying a price worthy of a Clancy first edition (that is to say, perhaps $30) was beyond my youthful means. That copy (or perhaps one from somewhere else, I don’t think I ever asked) would later show up under the Christmas tree. I suppose that such pleasures will now be denied to our children – that such scenes will be a distant to them as kerosene-lit Victorian Christmases seemed in my own childhood.
There was a thrill of discovery in old books that is difficult to replicate today. I do wonder if we should lose something there. As a child I learned so much from the books that I had available to me – the old copies of Jane’s Fighting Ships* that the Coquitlam Public Library stocked by refused to allow to be checked out, the worn copy of Herman Kahn’s Thinking About the Unthinkable that opened up a world of cold-blooded strategic thought to a young teenager. When information was harder to get, it carried a greater heft than it does today.
Alas, the times change and we ought to change with them. Given this, I’ve made a difficult decision – at the first opportunity, the books I’ve lovingly collected are going to be carefully stored away somewhere. It really just doesn’t do to have a collection of something so live and vital displayed that just abruptly halts in 2009 or so. I have no desire to be the resident of the museum. But I’m going to keep them and, someday (given my present circumstances, in a future distant from now) and in some other place, I’ll put them back out and use them to inspire future generations with the story of the worlds that came before them.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver-based blogger and the author of The Blast of War.
* Incidentally, if someone is trying to find a Christmas present that I would find charming and moving, I see that old copies of Jane’s sell fairly cheaply online these days. I’m not really partial to any particular year – I have always been fascinated by having the chance to read up on the service life of old ships, especially veterans of the Second World War that continued in service somewhere in the 1970’s or 1980’s, though.
I’m going to depart from my usual commentary to offer an endorsement of what I believe to be the best television show that (almost) no one is watching: HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim. While fact that the show’s third season premieres next month suggests that it has at least some fans I think that it’s still fair to suggest, at least using the Pauline Kael-standard of judgement (I don’t know anyone who watches the show, except for people I have specifically introduced to it), that its fan base is much, much smaller than it deserves to be. In light of this I feel that it is fitting and proper that I depart from my usual hobby of prophesying the end of the world unless my advice is heeded in order to get some more people to watch a show I really love.
“There’s no transitive property in having a slutty wife,” one character explains to another in response to his excitement at discovering that the man cuckolding him is an NHL player in one second season episode. If you don’t see the inherent humor in that line, the show probably isn’t for you. Created by Steve Dildarian, a former ad writer, the show is the story of Tim and his co-workers, friends, and acquaintances. Most of the problems in the life of twenty-something Tim (actually, I believe that Tim is twenty-five. I was initially going to fudge that belief for whatever reason, but there you go) are entirely self-inflicted, the result of his chronic inability to stand up for himself and his willingness to go along with the insanity of most of the world around him despite the fact that he’s just smart enough to see that he’s being taken on a road to disaster. “I don’t like where this is headed,” he’ll often comment as he’s being dragged from one fiasco to another.
I’ll tell you up front that the show probably isn’t for everyone. Several people who I’ve tried to sell on its virtues have been turned off by its poor animation quality. Others have a problem with the fact that much of the humor on the show is frankly deeply cynical and, well, kind of sadistic.
Take, for example, the second segment from the show’s pilot (each episode is broken into two short stories). Tim’s brash co-worker Rodney rents out a club to throw a bachelor party, but only Tim and his friend Stu show up because Rodney, as it turns out, is generally detested by everyone that he knows. Taking pity upon Rodney, Tim agrees to help make up stories of how wild the party was in order to make everyone who didn’t come feel bad that they missed it (with Stu agreeing to go along because he doesn’t “give a shit”). However, they fail to agree upon a story for Tim that evening, resulting in Tim coming into work the next day to find out that the story that they made up for him was that he got drunk and was raped by a bum on the grounds that that sounds like something that might happen to him. Tim then spends the rest of the segment first unsuccessfully attempting to convince people that the story is a lie and then, having decided that going along is the easier path, has the truth exposed by two NYPD officers who then coerce him into going on “60 Minutes” to play the role of a victim for a segment on “Bum Rape.”
Personally, I think that the above is hilarious (and the original segment – based upon a previous animated short that Dildarian created with the premise “what happens when your girlfriend comes home before your hooker leaves?” is great too) but, I can see how it’s not for everyone. Another wonderful segment features Tim and Stu going to see an eponymous “Unjustly Neglected Drama” from the 40’s that is described as being, “like an Arthur Miller play, but much slower.” Again, wonderful in my opinion, but if you have a hard time in seeing the humor in that, the show probably isn’t for you.
Yet, as I have emphasized that this is – and will always be – a divisive show, it’s still one that absolutely deserves to find a much larger audience than it has. Personally, I think that the show’s smart humor, unalloyed by the sort of false sentiment that is slathered on most other television shows, captures the spirit of the age better than anything else on television.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver-based blogger and the author of “The Blast of War.”
I ask for your pardon in advance. At the outset I had no desire to waste as many pixels as I have on the execrable and attention-seeking conduct of the so-called “Occupy” movement. With my new book, The Blast of War, exceeding my initial sales expectations I would probably be better off spending more time working on the sequel (which, nevertheless, I still expect to have ready and available before people start opening their new Kindles and Nooks come Christmas). However with their latest move here in Vancouver – from the Art Gallery to the Courthouse – they are much closer to me and their disruptions are a great personal and political irritant to me. When an ersatz revolution sets up camp a block from your home, I believe that individuals such as myself are obligated to make ourselves heard.
The Occupiers represent a brand of particularly-malignant political ignorance that, alas, cannot be ignored given how balefully destructive the effects of its poisonous mentality have been when spread throughout our society. In the end they are nothing more than a worse-dressed and less-hygienic resurrection of Huey Long’s bumpkin “Share Our Wealth” Louisiana populism. They have no higher conception of economics than a vision of wealth as some sort of sacred manna scattered from the heavens – or, I suppose, gifted upon us by whatever random deities they worship – that is being hoarded by a handful of greedy plutocrats. Having no concept of the sources of wealth and no evident ability to create wealth on their own terms, the Occupiers rationalize their own personal failures as being not the result of their own inadequacies but as an evil disruption of the natural order and, following upon their misunderstanding of the sources of prosperity, they harbor a magical delusion that the state can somehow simply hand more of it to them, as though wealth was something that existed independently of human exertions.
What we are faced with today – the real ill that afflicts our country and our society – isn’t the war between the “1%” and the “99%”. That notion is insulting and nonsensical, plainly designed as a slogan divorced from thought. If we buy into the notion that just the “1%” are guilty, what are we to make of those in the 98th percentile? Or, for that matter, someone such as myself who, while not amongst the richest here are certainly better-off than the average in North America and, therefore, are among the top 5% or so of all the people in the world? I may not be among the “1%”, but I’m richer than 95% or so of the people in the world (and, incidentally, anyone reading this is probably, at a minimum, better off than 90% or so of the world’s people), so what reason is there to believe that your revolution, if it was ever to leave the launching pad, would not target us as well?
No, my friends, the conflict today is not between those with and those without. I believe, in the worlds of Calvin Coolidge, that everyone is entitled the rewards of their own labor, be they ever so large or ever so small. Alas, that is not the creed of the occupiers and their ilk all over the world – they believe themselves to be entitled to reward without sacrifice. The war today is between those who take and those who make. It is between those who create wealth and those who feel entitled to it as a reward for their existence, as though it was the just inheritance due to them on account of their birth amongst the aristocracy of man.
That is what is wrong with society and the world today. We have too many looters. Too many free-riders. Too many groups and too many people who believe that they are entitled to a living independent of the value of their work. This is not a matter of rich versus poor – it is a matter of the productive versus the unproductive. The University Vice President of Diversity Management is as much a looter – and is just as guilty – as the man who accepts middle class welfare by claiming a fraudulent disability.
We may laugh at the pathetic antics of the occupiers today – but we should not ignore them. They are the outward manifestation of a malignancy that has already metastasized throughout our civilization. Their illogical and disordered thinking might be easily mocked – but they are still dangerous. They are merely the most vocal and gauche members of a vast class of looters whose unending war upon the productive now threatens civilization itself.
In their view of the occupiers and their allies – left-wing politicians, public sector workers, and the like – the rest of us are their slaves, expected to docilely provide them with whatever sums they require to spend on whatever they feel like. They think that the rest of us are like those granted Dhimmi status in those Islamic countries governed under the strictest interpretations of Sharia law – that we are allowed to practice our obscure and false religion of private commerce so long as we pay the required tax and accept a second-class citizenship. One can only escape this tax – called the jizya in Islam – through a religious conversion to the looter faith.
I wish that the Occupiers and their friends would reflect deeply upon the state of the world. Their welfare systems are collapsing for the same reason that those Islamic states that practices Dhimmitude have always suffered: when you wage war upon the productive, you give all but the most stubborn and bloody-minded people sound reasons to join the ranks of the non-productive. No free nation can, pace Abraham Lincoln, survive half-slave and half-free. In the end, we shall have to become all one thing or all the other.
“This is what democracy looks like!” the protestors like to scream at passers-by. They’re wrong. This is what the end of democracy looks like. When democratic government degenerates into a contest over looted spoils between rival mobs, dictatorship cannot be far behind. Self-government, like Calvin Coolidge once reminded us, means self-support.
Yes, as ridiculous as so many of the protestors are, they are very dangerous indeed. Our economic troubles of today are severe – but they remain manageable. What is to happen – what will people of this sort do – if we find ourselves enmeshed in an even worse crisis a few years down the road?
The other day the Drudge Report carried a photo from the New York. It was a sign that read “99% means civil war.” Those who support the movement ought to realize the essential truth of this statement. If this movement is allowed to spread uncontrolled – if it is allowed to violate the law with near-impunity and to use force to attempt to implement policies, in violation of the rights and the will of the majority of the people, that amount to nothing less than outright confiscation of property than the ultimate result will indeed be civil war. No greater evil could afflict our society and yet, if this movement and mentality is allowed to spread and allowed to believe that it might ultimately be allowed to seize power and implement the full measure of its creed, than what alternative will there be?
“The supreme function of statesmanship,” Enoch Powell reminded us, “is to provide against preventable evils.” No evil is more preventable than that which looms before us now. And yet, I fear, none is more inevitable without preventative action. If the mentality of the looters is allowed to spread unchecked, if we allow the continued growth of a vast dependent class whose ever-increasing demands tax the strength and spirit of an ever-decreasing minority of the productive, some terrible events will come.
Someday, if economic conditions are allowed to deteriorate and if nothing is done to decrease the growing demands and size of the looter class there will come a demand that is so unacceptable, so far over the line, that something somewhere will break.
“99% means civil war” says the sign of the Occupiers. What they fail to understand is that it would not be the war that they are planning for. If they, the looters, mean to appropriate the wealth of others to their own ends, the war that they get will not be some sort of Marxist-fantasyworld uprising of the masses against some overclass. It will be a war of all against all that will tear apart families and friends and in which their will be no true victor. And, ultimately, the decision as to whether we shall have such a conflict rests in the hands of those in the streets and those directing them, because as they threaten to make war to seize what others have there are those, such as myself, who will accept war rather than surrender it.
These are dangerous days. The times in which we live require leaders of foresight and courage. Someone, somewhere, needs to stand up for those who pay for civilization. The great silent minority of the people who toil day in and out an expect nothing more from the world than the right to enjoy what they have earned – they are the backbone of the world. They are tired, put-upon, and suffering. And, regrettably, as much has already been asked of them – and as they have freely given it – more must be asked still. If we are to survive and rebuild our economy and civilization along fair and just lines, this silent minority must resolve to be silent no more.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver-based blogger and the author of The Blast of War.
At the outset of this election season I had planned to vote for “None of the Above” for Mayor by casting my ballot for a third party candidate. My reasons for doing so were simple enough: I don’t particularly care for the positions of the candidate of the NPA, the only right-of-centre party, on a number of issues. I believe that for Vancouver to truly succeed this city needs a leader made of iron – one who will stand instantly and firmly against disorder and for the law. I believe that we need a leader who recognizes that adherence to fashionable and development-slowing doctrines will result in our falling behind our neighbors – especially our friends in Surrey who are increasingly moving from being the butt of jokes to citizens of the best-managed city in the region. I don’t want Vancouver to be second at anything – and we will be if we’re led by people who spend more time on navel-gazing debates over productivity-destroying bike lanes than in figuring out how we can get some of the most valuable real estate on the planet redeveloped as quickly as possible.
We need a leader who recognizes that compassion is not measured by how much money we throw at social problems but in approaching them from first principles rooted in standards of universal justice. Our first obligation should be to the citizens of Vancouver: there is nothing written on Earth or handed down from heaven that requires us to take in all of the derelicts of the entire country and beyond. We should have a government that spends its time figuring out how to build a stronger, richer, better city – the greatest in the world – instead of one that is constantly distracted and diverted by the parochial concerns of a handful of radical activists who care not a whit for the general welfare.
Vancouver deserves a leader who is willing to endure condemnation and calumny to defend the people. One who will act in the broader interest of the average citizen, the great silent majority of Vancouverites who isn’t represented by the shouters and screamers. Twice this year we have seen our city government fail the broad majority of the people, both times with severe consequences for some businesses and individuals.
A leader would have been prepared, based upon history and a sound understanding of the increasingly-barbaric characteristics of the crowds of people who took to the streets (and flooded in from the suburbs, I need not add), during the NHL playoffs. A leader would have acted instantly in order to stop the disorders from even beginning in the first place and, had that failed, they would have acted resolutely to contain and end the riots and to immediately see to it that the perpetrators were punished.
That isn’t what happened, of course. Our present Mayor, Gregor Robertson, equivocated, waffled, and dodged. He cowered as the city burned. While the streets of the city were littered with glass and streaked with blood, he spent his time trying to get his story straight. This man isn’t a leader: he’s a politician.
And that is the overriding issue of this election. I may not be – indeed I am not – entranced by Suzanne Anton. However, she has not been truly tested yet. Mr. Robertson has and he has failed.
I absolutely do disagree with Suzanne Anton on a range of issues – as I expect that all of you may from both the left and the right. I think that this city has wasted an absurd amount of money on faddish “green” programs – that she has supported from beginning to end – that do nothing for the environment but which have wasted tremendous amounts of taxpayer money. I think that she, and most in her party, have an excessively narrow perspective when it comes to the question of the future of the Downtown Eastside. I wish that we had a leader who would forthrightly embrace what we all know the future of the region to be – that block-by-block we will retake that part of the city, it being some of the most valuable land on the continent, and redevelop it – and make realistic plans for that. And perhaps it is true that, thinking as I do, I ought to be a candidate for Mayor myself – and perhaps someday such a choice will be offered. However, I should note by way of salute to Suzanne Anton and her friends in the NPA, running for office in a city of nearly a million people is a tremendously expensive undertaking and one that requires full-time commitment and endless resources. The future of this city, for the time being, rightfully belongs to those who show up.
Thus, we are left where we are left. There is no perfect choice for Mayor, but there is a clear one. If nothing else, the facts of the so-called “occupation” of the Vancouver Art Gallery ought to spell that out for everyone to clearly see. There is a maxim I am fond of quoting – “the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.” Nowhere was that clearer than here. Anyone with common sense ought to have seen, from the very first, that such a protest – illegal on its face – could only end in disorder and the destruction of property. The real costs, when they are all added up, will surely spill into the millions. And we do not yet know how many people will ultimately be injured as a result of it. A leader of vision would have known all of this at the outset and would have stopped this fiasco from ever coming to pass. Perhaps a Mayor Anton would have acted no differently than Mayor Robertson did – that question belongs to the realm of the counterfactual at this point. We know what Gregor Robertson did. We know, based upon repeated and public demonstrations of this fact, that the man is a craven, pandering coward and that he is unfit to lead our city – and that is why I’m voting for Suzanne Anton today.
Adam Yoshida is a Vancouver resident and the author of “The Blast of War.”
I have a simple message for the residents of the “Occupy Vancouver” squat and their supporters: please depart in peace. You have no right to seize public lands and appropriate them to your own ends and your actions are simply intolerable. The Mayor, as cowardly and craven as he has been throughout this process, has to stand before the voters in twelve days. You may very well have a point when you say, “well, people die of drug overdoses regularly in Vancouver” – and that’s certainly a true statement – but it’s equally true that they don’t typically die in public in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Yes, there are and always have been and probably always will be rats in Vancouver, but we don’t normally encourage rat infestations in the heart of the city. Friends, you ought to recognize that when you’re trying to find a way to explain away a plague of rats that you have lost the argument.
Of course there is vice and disorder in some places in this city, as there is in every city, but no civilized place can long tolerate filth and anarchy in its public spaces. In the end, you will have to go. Either it will happen peaceably or it will happen violently. The Mayor and the city have demonstrated at considerable length that they have no desire to use force – and I am certain that they will futilely exhaust every other measure that they have available before they resort to it – but there can be no doubt in the minds of anyone that, in the end, if you do not go on your own accord you will be made to do so.
Now, I am certain that there are some among the ranks of the protestors who would welcome violence. But the rest of you should make no mistake about it – anything of that sort will do far more harm to your cause than good. You would do well to remember a fact that I am fond of pointing out to those who support the “Occupy” movement: chaotic demonstrations of the sort in which you are now engaged have never produced any positive results for the left beyond the endorphin-rush felt by the participants. In 1968, at the height of the anti-war movement and amid a mass global youth movement unlike any in living memory, 60% of Americans voted for either George Wallace or Richard Nixon for President. Four years later, with eighteen year-olds now granted the vote, 60% of voters cast ballots for Nixon alone. Disorder is the father of reaction.
Politically, of course, I would welcome that result. From a narrowly political point of view, the far-left can do nothing more to discredit their cause than to engage in the sort of wild, anarchistic antics that we see in Vancouver today. The result of a clash between the protestors and the police would not be more sympathy for the cause, but the cementing of the sense of popular disdain for it that it already spreading. However I – and I believe that I share the feelings in many Vancouverites in this regard – am weary of these sorts of antics in general. We’ve already seen our city scarred and disgraced by a riot once this year: we don’t need another. I’m happy to win this argument on the merits, rather than by default. Just go away and let everyone get on with their lives.
I would suggest that you take this as a moment to reflect upon the nature of the cause with which you stand. The Occupiers and their supporters, I am sometimes reminded, are “idealists” and this very well may be the case. That does not, in my view, change the fact that you are wrong about many big and important things. Nor does it excuse anything. Even a novice student of history quickly learns one thing: the worst hells are created by those seeking to build utopias.
The tragedy of the left is that it continues to believe, in spite of thousands of years of evidence against the proposition, that people are inherently good and that humanity is perfectible. The greatest crimes – genocides, deliberate famines, and other acts of mass murder – have always been committed by those who could solace themselves with the certainty that these things were done in the name of some higher good. It is well and good enough to abstractly state that some idea or another is noble in theory but has proven to be wrong in practice – however, this is an idea that only holds water for anyone who lacks all connection with the flawed state of humanity. If an idea fails in practice, then it is wrong in theory and sentiment as well for any attempt to implement it can only bring tragedy. Thus we have the sick spectacle of, in New York City, people who have allegedly come together in the name of a more humane future being forced to construct special tents within their camp in an attempt to abate the epidemic of rapes of both men and women being conducted by predators in whom they had naively reposed their trust. Thus in Vancouver we have a movement that was, so I am told, supposed to represent the struggle of ordinary workers against economic royalists defined instead by its heroin and rat problems. These outcomes were not impossible to foresee.
Searching for utopia is always dangerous. Idealists somehow seem to believe that they can will a better world into existence by the mere act of courageous thought. When this fails to achieve results, as we have seen time and time again all over the world, idealists tend to turn to sterner methods whose criminality can always be justified when weighed against the benefits of eternal peace and perfection. I sometimes recall what Whittaker Chambers wrote of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – how, on every page, one could almost hear a voice commanding, of weary necessity, “you, to a gas chamber – go!”
One can laugh at the absurdity of the provisional list of demands put out a few days ago, but the truth is it that if the things on that list were ever to be enacted, the result would be the deaths of billions of people. I am certain that you would, were we to have an extended debate, attack me for a supposed lack of faith in modern science for some reason or another even as you demand the dismantling of a modern agricultural system that is the only thing that stands between a fair-sized portion of the world and starvation. If we decided, as you appear to want, to try and feed everyone with locally-grown organic non-GMO produce the result would be death and privation on a scale worse than anything ever seen in the history of the world. “Let them eat Kale,” says the latter-day Marie Antoinette.
Those would-be revolutionaries who claim to speak in the name of democracy – “this is what democracy looks like!” they like to scream as they march through the streets – have failed to fully consider the implications of their baleful doctrine. If they are free to break the social contract, resist the law, and seize political power through force, what is to prevent others from doing so? If they are, as some of them have asserted, immune from the law then why am am I – and why isn’t everyone else – not immune from the law as well? Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that you and your friends were to find themselves in power and that you were to attempt to enact the sort of policies that you would prefer. Doing so would, of course, require a great increase in both the level of taxation and of regulation. Given the means by which you would attain power, why would I ever pay your taxes or obey your regulations?
We have settled upon our system of representative government – as flawed and imperfect as it is – because it remains the one reliable system of arbitrating our disputes without the use of force against one another. But if you decide that you have the right to break with the system when it doesn’t suit you – to seize public property, to struggle with the police, and to attempt to force changes in the system that I and many others have voted and given our time and money to create – then why should we respect any government that you support? Should, God forbid, you ever come to collect your new taxes from me or demand that I in some other way comply with your demands, what moral objection can you raise if my response it to tell you to shove it? You would do very well to reflect, as you contemplate a course of constant confrontation that would undermine the democratic system, that the people who are more in sympathy with my views have both more money, more weapons, and fewer doubts about the efficacy of force than you probably do.
You may well retreat, if faced with the practical effects of the things you advocate, to the fortress of your good intentions. However, there can be little doubt that the ultimate results of your fearful ideals, were they ever put into practice, would be starvation and civil war.
Yet, my friends, for all of that I still retain some sympathy for you. Because many of you – and I’m not talking about the professional protestors here but rather by the ordinary citizens who have been or were seduced by the rhetoric – have identified a rather elemental truth: the world doesn’t work and things cannot continue as they are for very much longer. You are right to be angry and you are right to feel betrayed. It’s just that most of you are wrong about the sources of our troubles and how to fix them.
Are they excesses of Wall Street and the banks obscene? Of course they are. I don’t think that anyone disagrees with that. I don’t think that, when it comes to the most grotesque behavior, even Wall Street is prepared to defend Wall Street. What you and others have failed to see, however, is that they are not the problem: they are a symptom of the problem.
I hear a lot of talk about “greed” these days. Yes, bankers who took unjustified bonuses of millions are greedy. Absolutely. But, ladies and gentlemen, they were only able to do that as the result of the actions of the generation that came before us, a generation of self-seekers who collectively chose to live for themselves and to stick all of us with the bills.
The generations that came before us made a number of selfish, short-sighted, and sometimes just stupid decisions that have come to haunt all of us.
Let’s step back for a moment and discuss a basic question. What is capital? At its root, capital is a surplus created by labor. And what, ultimately, is done with capital? It is – or at least it is supposed to be – transferred from the old to the young (typically by means of investment or inheritance) in order to renew and improve society.
However, across most of the world, the generations before us did two things. First, in advanced Western societies, many parents chose to have far fewer children than they did in the past – children being the pension plan of the thousands of generations that lived before the dawn of the 20th Century. Second, these people decided to reward themselves for their temporal fortune by granting themselves substantially longer and more luxurious retirements than those known by well, anyone, in the history of the world. Much of this was – and is – to be paid for by dubiously-financed government and private pension plans and the like.
At the same time, largely through artificially-imposed restrictions in the form of regulations, they also decided to stifle the sort of economic innovation that normally creates new breakthrough enterprises. Notice, if you look at things closely, how most of the genuine developments that we’ve seen in our lifetimes have been in the handful of industries, such as technology, that were initially new and obscure enough to evade heavy control by the government.
You add up these factors: lack of young people and new enterprises to invest in plus an absolutely requirement for extremely high returns on capital to finance an endless decrepitude and you get exactly what we’ve seen in recent years – the creation of a series of an endless series of economic bubbles as a great river of capital rushes towards any promising opportunity.
Sure, the bankers profited from all of this. But they didn’t start it nor, really, could they control it and, given the money that was allowed to flow to them, who can really blame them for taking a piece? After all, they’re only a human.
If you think that somehow bankers are uniquely greedy, I suggest that you take a look at the market for post-secondary education over the last few decades. One of the major factors that has driven protests, especially in the United States, is the massive increase in student loan debt. Here again we can, if we look closely, see exactly how poor decision making – and excessive government control – has created a crisis for ordinary citizens.
Why is so much money lavished on college education these days? Why, for that matter, does everyone “need” year and year of post-secondary schooling? I’m sure that all of us have seen the amazingly-difficult high school tests from the 19th or early 20th Century floating around the internet. Nor, if you really think about it, is it as if the average job has become more complex in the era of the internet and modern technology. Imagine the job of a bank clerk without Excel or calculators, for example.
The education crisis that exists today was created, like so many of the problems we now face, by people with more compassion than clear-eyed vision of human failings. Decades ago, people abusing statistics noted that people with high school diplomas had better life outcomes than those who dropped out. Forgetting the elementary statistical principle that causation does not imply correlation, they decided that they could make life better for everyone if they made it so that everyone graduated from high school.
Which sounds easier to you: make people smarter and more dedicated (and therefore more likely to graduate from high school) or make it easier to graduate from high school? We all know the answer and, like all humans, educators, when given the choice, took the easier path. The result was that the high school diploma, previously enough to land many people good jobs, was debased.
Nor could, at this particular point in history, employers rely upon aptitude tests in order to select employes because lawyers and judges had, in all of their wisdom, decided that the fact that sometimes one group of people will do better than another group of people on an aptitude test was automatic proof that such tests were discriminatory.
Thus, quite by accident, did the Bachelor’s Degree become the most expensive aptitude and literacy test in the history of the world.
All of a sudden you had millions of people who never before would have bothered going to university suddenly decide to go to college. Of course, there was only a limited number of these who had a desire to complete degrees in practical disciplines like science, engineering, and mathematics. The rest were sold arts degrees of little practical value but, in spite of this, demand still exceeded supply and so, as is wont to happen in such situations, prices increased.
The increase in the cost of education put it beyond the financial reach of many. So, in an act of compassion, the government stepped in to ensure that young people – to whom financial institutions would otherwise be reluctant to extend credit – could borrow what they needed.
Now, all of a sudden, you had more money chasing a limited supply. So, what happened? Prices went up more. And then, shortly thereafter, so did the amount that one could borrow. It created a vicious cycle.
Where did they money go? Well, one needs only look at the vast increase in the ratio of administrators to faculty over the last few decades to get an idea. The money was there and so Universities spent it on lavish new facilities, Vice Presidents of Diversity, and other luxuries.
Was this greed? Yes. Is it any different than any of the imaginary “crimes” of which the banker is accused? I don’t believe so. It was the natural response of almost any human being when confronted with more money than they’d ever expected to see in their lives.
If you want to have a conversation about “greed”, then let’s talk about all of the people in our society – not just the bankers – who want things that they didn’t earn and have no right to. Let’s talk about people who never did an honest day’s work in their lives who expect to be supported by taxpayers while they live for ninety-four useless years who, in fact, feel entitled to it. Let’s talk about public workers who feel that they have earned the “right” to retire at the age of fifty. Let’s talk about epic abuses of worker’s compensation system that were meant to help the needy but which some now treat as an upscale version of welfare. Debating the so-called 99% versus the 1% is stupid because, in global terms, pretty much anyone who lives in Vancouver is among the 1% and, if you’re not willing to take that into account when having this debate, then it’s hard to take any of your rhetoric about “equality” seriously. Certainly, anyone in Vancouver today is among the top 1% – in terms of relative wealth – of all of the people who have ever lived in the history of the world.
If you really want to get down to it, the debate isn’t the 99% versus the 1% – it’s those who take from the system versus those who pay for it. We have a system today where an increasingly-beleaguered minority of workers in the private sector are asked to pay the costs of living for virtually everyone else. If you really want to be angry at the elites within society, don’t be angry at them for their wealth be angry at them for their willingness to ally themselves with a massive coalition of freeloaders with whose support they are able to maintain policies which cripple and loot the middle class while creating a world of over-credentialed and under-educated leaders who, they hope, will eternally preserve the existing social stratification.
If you really want change – if you really want to make things better – then you’re going to have to think about what’s really wrong with society and you’re going to have to think about how change is really made. Positive and sustainable change doesn’t come from a rabble in the streets. When you try and force change by the means of the mob you get the French Revolution. In every such case – the last days of the Roman Republic, France post-1789, Russia in 1917, and so forth – disorder has been followed by dictatorship. If you really want fundamental change – and I agree with you that such change is needed – than you need to look to the successful revolutions throughout history. You need to look to the handful of times where societies have undergone a sustainable transformation – look to the Glorious Revolution or the American Revolution for inspiration. What we need today isn’t a revolt of the proles, for the proles cannot reasonably be expected to govern. What we need is for the outer party to overthrow the inner party.
I have a lot to say – and there are many things to debate. However, ladies and gentlemen, none of these things are possible so long until you abandon your present course of lawlessness. Your public association with the disorders created by this band of totalitarian anarchists is doing you no favors.
The time has come for this to end. Go home now – and do so in peace – before this ends in ugliness that Vancouver doesn’t need.
What is the exit strategy? That’s the question that I ask myself every time I walk past the “Occupy Vancouver” squatter’s camp outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery. When I consider the question, I remember Colin Powell’s famous question about the most-notable “occupation” of the last decade: “tell me how this ends.”
I have no illusions that those reading this have varied opinions as to the merits of the grievances voiced by the whole “occupy” gang and that’s not the debate that I want to have now – or that we should be having at the moment. My concerns are of a more practical nature. You may think that the issues being raised by the squalid camp full of urchins are valid but, even if they are, I think that it is indisputable that the way they have gone about raising them is not only wrong but, in fact, potentially dangerous to both lives and property. We’ve already seen the reports and the reality of drug and other substance abuse in the camps: when was the last time someone suffered a drug overdose at an ordinary protest? In Oakland we’ve seen how these protests can escalate into violence and already, in Vancouver, there have been multiple acts of vandalism. One store, at the corner of Howe and Dunsmuir, has pasted stickers on its damaged display windows reading, “This is not Free Speech – This is not Peaceful Protest – This is Vandalism.”
The occupiers like to march down the streets, thereby disrupting the business of ordinary people, shouting, “this is what democracy looks like.” They’re wrong. We exist under a social contact whereby the people agree to resolve their differences through common institutions and agreed processes rather than on the streets. The supporters of the occupation can prattle on about their supposed “non-violence” all that they want but, ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that aggressively seizing public property and daring the police to evict you with the implicit threat that there will be violence if they attempt to enforce the law is an act of violence in and of itself. It is the moral equivalent of aggressively invading someone else’s personal space and screaming abuse at them, daring them to strike you.
When the civic process becomes a contest of who can put the largest mob on the streets, you don’t have democracy: you have anarchy. That this is the goal of at least some of the protesters ought to be self-evident from the countless hand-scrawled and sprayed anarchy signs that abound at the makeshift camps. This is not a novel invention – the historically-minded among us will recall that we have seen this kind of behavior before. In Rome, in the 2nd Century BC, the Gracchi brothers mustered plebeian mobs with promises of free land in order to secure their personal power. In revolutionary France the people ruled the streets of Paris for a time, storming the Bastille and making and unmaking governments. In the defeated Germany of 1918 a general strike forced the Kaiser from power and ushered in the turbulent era of the Weimar Republic. In Russia a popular revolt brought an end of the rule of Nicholas II. Riotous assemblies don’t bring about democracy – they bring about reaction which, in turn, means dictatorship. The people – the real 99% – want to go about their business in peace and when they see disorder rule the streets they will turn to the strongest hand in order to bring peace at any price.
I have no idea what the occupiers actually want but, if you listen closely to their rhetoric – especially their frightening and baseless idea that they somehow embody the will of 99% of the people by the mere power of repeated assertion (it does stand to reason that many of the people who bought The Secret stand among the occupiers) – it stands to reason that they would reject any elected government, however popular, that did not meet their own vague standards of approval. What they fail to recognize is that even if they were to succeed and prove capable of overriding ordinary constitutional processes through some higher appeal to The Will of The People the result would simply be further disorder. The occupiers appear to think that this will be some sort of “One Man, One Vote, One Time” scenario wherein their will, having been ratified once, will thereafter be eternal when, in actuality, their success would simply be the first in a series of endless revolts and civil conflicts that only a dictator backed by an army could suppress.
The longer this goes on, the more dangerous it becomes. We’ve already seen this in Oakland. I don’t know what to make of the reports of the protestors struck by a silver Mercedes there. It may well have been an accident. It might have been an act of individual rage. It might well, if the protestors attacked or otherwise threatened the car or vehicle, even have been an act of self-defense. What I do know is that if this goes on it will not be the last such incident because, all of their vain delusions aside, the occupiers don’t represent anymore than a tiny fraction of the population but they are causing economic losses and disruptions for a vast majority of the people.
In the absence of the lawful defense of the people, in a situation where lawlessness it tolerated by cowardly politicians, others will act. One does not have to reach back far to think of examples – the “hardhat riots” of the early 1970’s where construction workers and stockbrokers in New York went toe to toe with anti-war protestors or perhaps even to Colombia twenty years ago when a mix of frustrated citizens, rival drug dealers, and rogue military and law enforcement officials decided to eliminate the threat posed by Pablo Escobar when the government proved not to be up to the task. The longer this goes on the more likely it becomes that some other group of vigilantes is going to stand up and try to restore public order on its own. It is, after all, exactly what has happened in every other case where governments have, through weakness or cowardice, tolerated extended disorders.
I know how this ends: it ends badly. If governments had shown courage and resolution on the first day and insisted upon the enforcement of the law a happier solution might have been found. Now there are only a handful of options. First, governments can belatedly do their duty and enforce the law. That will certainly mean, as we have seen in some places, disorder. Second, they can elect to do nothing – a course which will mean additional destruction of property and almost certainly deaths as the situation drags on and, further, it will mean an escalation of the level of violence to be expected when it eventually does become necessary to use force to suppress the protests. Third, governments can capitulate to the protests – something which might prove harder in fact than in theory in that most of the demands that the protestors are expressing have nothing to do with the levels of government now being called upon to deal with them. Of course, even assuming that municipal governments could throw some amount of money at the protestors and make them go away, the inevitable long-term result of such appeasement would be a future repeat of this fiasco.
Now, there are degrees of how badly this ends. The sooner that the government acts, the better. Alas, for the moment, it appears that we are forced to wait upon dithering Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is enough of a businessman to know what a fiasco that this is, especially in the aftermath of the Olympic riot, but who fears that acting will cost him the support of his base. In truth, however, there is another option.
Section 4 of British Columbia’s Police Act provides that, “if the minister considers that it is necessary or desirable, the minister may, on terms approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, provide…policing and law enforcement… in a municipality.” In other words the Attorney General (and by extension, the Provincial Government) has, if it desires it, the power to override the decision of the Mayor of Vancouver and end this mess immediately. While, under ordinary circumstances, I am a supporter of maximum local autonomy in a case such as this, where there has been a clear dereliction of duty by the Mayor, I believe that it is both necessary and proper for the Province to act.