I Fell in Love with the Desert

What is love like? I think love is absorbing. I think that love replaces all other thoughts. The desert did that to me. It replaced all other thoughts and I can’t shake the feeling that I want her to do it to me again. I want her to do that to me forever. I want that the only thing I can think about is her. I guess that’s love. 

I’ve always loved the outdoors but during my 20’s I spent much more time in the city than outside. This trip has reinvigorated my love of wide open spaces. When I started my epic American road-trip nearly three weeks ago, I was sure that I was going to find amazing locations and have interesting experiences, but I wasn’t quite as prepared for the dramatic way that certain places across the American West would dramatically change the way I saw the world and my place in it.

I’ve always loved the mountains and the sea and seen them both many times, but I had never been to the desert save for a few layovers in Vegas or Phoenix. It always looked so barren and so bleak. I once told a pretty girl sitting next to me on a flight that I thought no one could love the desert. She told me that she did, and that she thought the desert was very pretty. I remember telling her that I pitied her level of Stockholm syndrome. At that time, I couldn’t imagine loving a place unless it was flat, green, and lush, like the Mississippi river valley in which I was raised. But after spending about a week and half traveling (sometimes hazardously) through the effortless expanse of the Great Basin and the Mojave, I now realize how wrong I was. The desert is barren. The desert is bleak. The desert is beautiful.

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I sit here now in San Rafael, California- about thirty minutes north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate. This is an incredibly beautiful part of the country. It is green here. The weather is perfect. There is always a sea breeze and there are whales in the harbor. It isn’t anything like the desert. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about the heat, or the sand, or the silence of mountain valleys hidden away behind hundreds of miles of sage brush. I can’t help but think about the faces of the little animals I saw who, drawn by the sound of my car, came running in the vain hope that maybe, hopefully, I would spill some water.

I find myself missing the soul crushing heat of the place. When I spent my first night in the desert, at Colorado National Monument, I was amazed at how beautiful it all was, but surprised at how chilly I found it. Of course, we were up at about 7,000 feet, but I expected the desert to give me a little more than that. But when we spent our next night in the desert, at the aptly named Valley of Fire, we were almost at sea level and the temperature was approaching 120. My poor car, Serengeti, barely made it to the campsite. At first, the heat was mind-numbing. All I could think about was how hot it was. But then something strange happened. All I could think about was how hot it was. Everything else went away. All my frustrations, doubts, moments of self-loathing, worries, everything went away. It was hot. And the hot was all there was.

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Hot breezes blew across me like dragon’s breath. There was no comfort in them. The ice in my cooler melted within a few minutes and all my drinking water became hot. The jug of water I kept on the table for washing up was hot. Like, it was hot. Imagine having the sun beat you into the earth until your body screams out for water for it to be almost steaming when you drink it. Under other circumstances I think I might have been driven mad by it but there was peace in it all. It was hot. That’s all there was.

There was no respite in sleep either. My tent was an oven. The ground was so hot that it heated my sleeping bag and pillow to the point where it hurt to lay on them. It was hot. It was hot. There was only it was hot.

When night fell there was no sound. There was nothing. The wind howled ferociously above the canyon and yet nothing stirred- not the crack of a twig, not the folding of a leaf. There was nothing. It was silent. I think the desert will drive you insane if you let it. In fact, the trope of a stumbling mad man making his way across the Mojave is a long established creation. It’s not a lie. I easily imagined myself doing the same. When morning came I packed my camp, tried to clean the sweat off me and got back into the car, and for another thousand miles the desert dragged on and on. Endlessly. Infinitely. There was nothing else but the heat.

What is love like? I think love is absorbing. I think that love replaces all other thoughts. The desert did that to me. It replaced all other thoughts and I can’t shake the feeling that I want her to do it to me again. I want her to do that to me forever. I want that the only thing I can think about is her. I guess that’s love.

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time.

It struck me that while the bridge is a really impressive project of civil engineering, the emergent order that made the building of the bridge possible in the first place is the real wonder here.

I’m in San Francisco right now in the middle of a three week roadtrip. More on that some other time, but this morning as I was drinking my covfefe and staring at the bridge, I began to think on the complicated and elaborate process by which that hunk of metal was constructed. As impressive as the construction of the Golden Gate is, what seems even more impressive to me is the emergent order that existed around the building of the bridge.

The way I figure it, there are four types of activity. There are things that I do myself, such as mow the lawn or brush my teeth. There are things that other people do, such as cutting my hair or bailing on roadtrips. There are things that happen in the environment, like rain or fog. Then there is what Hayekians call the “emergent order”. Simply, the emergent order is the appearance of orderly systems out of unplanned group activity. For example, the baker bakes bread every morning, but he doesn’t grow the wheat or design and build his own ovens. Neither does any other baker, but they are all part of a logical system of organised panning that has arisen without the need for a central planner deciding who gets what flour or how many eggs. It just…happens. As if, as Adam Smith puts it, an “invisible hand” guides the entire process.

That bridge is a monumental achievement of engineering but also blood, sweat, and tears. But, the bridge itself is only part of the story. Consider the amount of labor and capital it takes to mine the steel that goes into the bridge or the amount of effort it takes to organise the trucks that carried everything to the job site. Even consider how ultimately complicated the chain of events was to put a sandwich in the lunch boxes of the workers. It was millions and millions of people working in harmony with each other, each pursuing their own ends but somehow, almost mystically, working in concert with each other in such an efficient way that the Golden Gate was able to be constructed without the designers of the bridge having to grow the food to feed the workers or invent trucks to carry the materials.

This emergent order seems planned, almost as if it was created by design, but the fact is that this process is ultimately extremely chaotic. And yet, despite the chaos of this remarkably complex chain of allocation, resources can be readily supplied to virtually anyone who needs them- cheaply and efficiently.

It struck me that while the bridge is a really impressive project of civil engineering, the emergent order that made the building of the bridge possible in the first place is the real wonder here. Everything from the steel workers, to the builders, to the designers and engineers, to the waitresses that served the workers their morning covfefe, what great things we accomplish when we allow the natural and organic process of the market to guide our decision making.

“Look upon my works ye mighty, and despair.”

The Disposable Male. Part II

The women’s liberation movement did a lot to free women from the shackles of their evolutionary imposition, but we often fail to see the biological and social constraints that men face as equally damaging or equally anachronistic.

Yesterday I mentioned the 10,000+ men and boys kidnapped or murdered by Boko Haram, and the Birkenhead Drill (women and children first), but these are not the only examples of male disposability. Men are much more likely to die on the job, to be the victims of violence and suicide, and men on average lead shorter lives. Our society places much greater value on the lives of women than it does the lives of men.

 

In thinking about this subject, I’m often lead to the question of why this is. Is this merely a symptom of patriarchal socialization, or is there a deeper, more fundamental reason? Full disclosure, I’m no evolutionary biologist. I’m not even a scientist. But, it seems to me that if there is a deeper reason for the association between male lives and disposability, it’s probably a link that stretches back far into antiquity- an evolutionary link. Let’s look at it this way, early man lived in family groups of ~150. These groups were then subdivided into “fission-fusion” tribes for foraging, where the composition of forage groups changes continuously. of that 150, half are women. Of that 75, how many are breed-able? Of those that are breed-able, how many of their offspring are A) female and B) post-pubescent? You end up with small numbers of child bearing women at any given time. A loss of just one of these child bearing women, could spell disaster for the larger group, purely in terms of genetic diversity.

Conversely, one adult male can sire many many children. There is no recuperative time between impregnation, and providing that “his females” have the proper caloric intake to sustain pregnancy and subsequent child rearing, one male has the ability to sire hundreds of children. His biological clock never really runs out. This is the origin of primitive gender roles. Each individual breeding female is too valuable to be lost to violence or famine. Males however are more or less interchangeable. This is why the males hunted (to provide the caloric intake necessary to bear and raise children) and warred (to primarily keep the females safe from harm). So when a male didn’t return from a hunting party or war party, I’m sure the tribe felt sadness for his loss, but better him than any of the breed-able women. This paradigm continued throughout the ancient, medieval, renaissance, and colonial world.

This may all seem far too archaic, but when you consider that human society didn’t change all that much until relatively recently, these biologically necessary gender roles remained in effect, despite the fact that they are no longer needed. The women’s liberation movement did a lot to free women from the shackles of their evolutionary imposition, but we often fail to see the biological and social constraints that men face as equally damaging or equally anachronistic. We are not equal until the lives of men are no longer considered disposable.

The Disposable Male. Part 1

What happened to those young girls, and continues to happen to women and girls throughout the developing world, was and is atrocious. But what often gets overlooked is the 10,000+ boys who were either kidnapped or murdered by Boko Haram since 2009. Yes, 10,000+.

On April 14 2014, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 200 school girls near Chibok, Nigeria. Motivated by the desire to impose Sharia upon Nigeria and claim the world for the global Caliphate, Boko Haram threatened to sell the girls into slavery if their (largely financial) demands were not met. The Western media response was swift. Every hour, every news channel featured in depth coverage, and even the then President and First Lady promoted the hashtag campaign #bringbackourgirls. Governments responded quickly as well, sending financial and military aid to Nigeria in order to counter the threat posed to women and girls by Boko Haram.

What happened to those young girls, and continues to happen to women and girls throughout the developing world, was and is atrocious. But what often gets overlooked is the 10,000+ boys who were either kidnapped or murdered by Boko Haram since 2009. Yes, 10,000+. Some of these boys were even locked in their homes and set alight or they had their throats slit as they slept, even with their sisters and mothers being set free. There was no hashtag campaign for them. In fact very few people even noticed because forcing boys into slavery in Africa is so common it hardly seems like news. Perhaps had we done something about the 10,000+ kidnapped or murdered boys prior to 2014, those 200 missing girls would still be studying in their dormitories.

But there is another reason why no one noticed. Men and boys are seen as disposable, and this isn’t simply a problem of third world barbarism. I think all men pray that they are never on a sinking ship with too few life rafts, lest the captain (in true Western tradition) shout “I’ll brain any man who touches a lifeboat. Women and children first!” Far from a trite patriarchal colloquialism, the “Birkenhead Drill” has been enforced famously several times, including on the RMS Titanic and more recently on the downed US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River in 2009. Tom Brokaw gleefully reported that, thankfully, after all the women and children were evacuated, there were enough life jackets for the men. Oh, what luck. Every man reading this somehow knows exactly how the decision to evacuate was made on board. Every man looked at each other and resigned himself to his fate should the plane sink. If any of them stepped out of that sinking craft before all the women and children were evacuated, lifelong ridicule would certainly be their fate and they all knew it.

During the last election, it struck me painfully how easily Sec. Clinton was able to dismiss the question of whether or not women should be forced to sign up for the Selective Service without giving a moments thought to whether or not its morally appropriate to subject men to that system. Why would she? War is almost exclusively the domain of men whether they like it or not. Only a handful of women are combat veterans and more than 95% of all military casualties since the Korean war are male. Even among civilian deaths, men are as much as 10 times as likely to die or otherwise be victims of violence during war time as women. When talking about purely sexual violence, the numbers switch, but men are still around 40% of all rape victims.

I’m well over my 500 word mark here. Tomorrow I’m going to post about why I think men are seen as disposable and Wednesday I’m going to say a few words on how we might fix this.

Little Biddy Babies

This isn’t just about freedom of expression and safe spaces, this is about a re-juvenile devolution into profound social gridlock, driven by absurdity and nurtured by political fatigue.

In the dead of night a tragedy occurred. Starting at 3 in the morning, crews working in the city of New Orleans removed a famous statue of Jefferson Davis the first, and, thankfully, only president of the Confederate States of America. I call it a tragedy not because I especially like Jefferson Davis or sympathize with the Rebellion, but because of the temper tantrum which precipitated this removal and which may signal the removal of many other cultural monuments, perhaps including one to my hero Thomas Jefferson at Columbia University.

Human beings are complicated. It’s probably the thing I like about us the most. Human beings can be, and often are, a mixture of conflicts. We’re all hypocrites in one way or another.  Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson Davis (as well as many of the others on the proverbial chopping block) are no different. They can be loved and simultaneously despised. But perhaps its too much to ask a modern political society to think more holistically about historical and cultural matters- matters which often contain a great deal of nuance.

The drive to make these historical figures into “un-persons” (to borrow from Orwell) is only part of a much larger story of the infantilization of America. Whether left or right, Americans are becoming increasingly thin skinned. The Right likes to throw around the phrase “snowflake” when liberals shut down free speech rallies at Berkeley or lectures at Villanova,  but burn a flag in front of a conservative and they’ll become just as “triggered”. Even saying the word “rape” is apparently nearly the same as rape itself. We can’t seem to handle things we don’t like anymore. We have become children, wailing for mother. Notable lefty actor and comedian Stephen Fry even took heat for saying as much as Dave Rubin’s show.  To the millennial Left (and to a certain extent the Right) refusal to accept the whole slate of liberal positions makes you into an enemy of the people, and any act against you, whether violent or not, is justified.

This isn’t just about freedom of expression and safe spaces, this is about a re-juvenile devolution into profound social gridlock, driven by absurdity and nurtured by political fatigue. If you don’t like something, a statue, a speaker, an idea, then fight it. Throw eggs at the statue, protest the speaker, or come up with a better idea. Trying to erase those things you don’t like from the world is childish. If it’s really that traumatic for you to encounter something you don’t agree with that you literally can’t even, then maybe take a Xanax and get on with your life. Don’t deny me the opportunity to look at that statue of Jefferson Davis and reflect upon my own self and possibly come to greater conclusions about the world because of it. You don’t own my brain, so stop trying to control what goes into it.

Grow up.

Lament for Republican Intellectuals

Rush Limbaugh is no Ayn Rand

On January 13, 1978, notable Conservative intellectual and founder of the National Review William F. Buckley Jr. took on then Gov. Ronald Reagan about the pair of treaties that would divorce the United States from her control over the Panama Canal Zone. I have always been a fan of both Buckley and President Reagan (despite their faults), but I had never seen this particular debate until last night. Anyone familiar with either of them will no doubt be aware of how charming, amiable, and smart the two of them are, but Buckley stood out during the debate as the more erudite and the more intellectually rigorous.

This got me thinking about who among modern conservatives inherited Buckley’s mantle after his death in 2008. George Will is the obvious candidate. He is smart, largely impartial, and has a jovial style that reminds conservatives that it’s okay to take themselves less seriously. I also get the impression that Will see’s himself in this same light. But Will lacks the polysyllabic, ten-dollar-words Buckley is famous (or infamous) for. This is not a trite distinction.

But who else on the Right can claim Buckley’s intellectual inheritance? I don’t think anyone can. This has left the Right in a state of intellectual absence. There are few Republicans who can articulate positions and think through problems as clearly as Buckley, or even the much maligned Barry Goldwater. Rush Limbaugh is no Ayn Rand.

The left doesn’t seem to have this problem. They have Gore Vidal, the late Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, Ta-Nehisi Coates and others. Despite the many sins of the intellectual left, the fact remains that even the most capable of Right-wing thinkers, including my love Rand Paul, can’t stand up to the rhetorical challenge alone posed by people like Chomsky and Vidal. Perhaps this situation can be best explained by the fact that the left seems to have conquered the Académie, but I think the bigger issue is that conservatives no longer want intellectualism- and, without demand, the supply has simply dried up.

Look at Ted Cruz. Many on the right call Sen. Cruz an conservative intellectual heavy-weight, but I often find myself wishing he would make more thorough arguments rather than spending time trying to make himself seem like an “every-man”. Trying to appeal to the audience’s emotional senses is not the mark of true intellectualism. When a conservative does try to elevate the conversation, they are often maligned. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was often the target of anti-intellectualism when he ran for Senate in 1976 (Moynihan’s Republican opponent, William F. Buckley’s older brother James,  often derisively referred to Moynihan as “Prof. Moynihan”). During the Republican primary race in 2007, Ron Paul was mocked for talking about the books he likes to read.

If sensible conservatives really want their party back from Trump’s vulgar populism, they have to start emulating Buckley and Will, not Bannon and Rush.

Where We Can Work with Trump

You’d think we’d be used to sleeping with the enemy by now, but even though there are several issues that can bring us on board the Trump Train, many of us feel a natural revulsion to racist, misogynistic, and nationalistic rhetoric. But let me make an argument to you: we can work with this guy.

As a good friend pointed out to me recently, we libertarians have to really take what we can get when it comes to federal politics. Gary Johnson’s lack luster performance during the last election means that over the next four years at least, we libertarians are going to have to make some strange ideological bedfellows. You’d think we’d be used to sleeping with the enemy by now, but even though there are several issues that can bring us on board the Trump Train, many of us feel a natural revulsion to racist, misogynistic, and nationalistic rhetoric. But let me make an argument to you: we can work with this guy.

Yesterday the President met with 12 of the nation’s most powerful CEO’s (including Elon Musk and Marillyn Hewson) to discuss his vision for the American economy. The whole opening speech he gives is worth a listen, but I’d like to zero in a several key points. First, I think it should be mentioned that meeting with corporations in this way smacks of corporate Fascism, but perhaps it’s not such a maniacal move. Many of these companies are more powerful than some nations, and so it makes sense in that context to meet with these CEO’s as the President might meet with foreign dignitaries.

There are two things the President said that really stroke my Capitalism boner. First he said that we are going to “cut taxes massively”. Of course libertarians jump at the opportunity to cut taxes but the obvious question that leaps to mind is “cut taxes for whom?” As long as he’s cutting taxes, I’m happy. But he stipulated that he wanted to cut taxes for the middle class as well as for business. If he can get the House to go along with him on this (and why wouldn’t they?), then I wholeheartedly welcome a major tax cut. Sure it will balloon the debt, but it’s unlikely that we were going anywhere on that front anyway.

Secondly, the President said that we were going to reduce the number of regulations “by 75%, maybe more.” And went on to say that if companies had their choice, they’d choose lower regulations over lower taxes every-time. He’s probably right on that account. We’ve seen a massive reduction in economic regulation before, during the Reagan administration, and it produced what is sometimes derisively called the “Reagan-Thatcher Economic Miracle”. I’m not saying that these policies were perfect then or will be perfect now, but what I am saying is that cutting regulations and taxes by as much as the President is promising is something that gives libertarians wet-dreams.

Of course, none of this is going to make me go out and buy a bunch of MAGA gear, and it’s also not going to soften my attitude towards the White Nationalist movement, but I’m personally reserving a lot of my criticisms of the administration until I’m convinced none of the above is actually going to happen. We’ll see. But I’m hopeful.