Friday, April 16, 2010

Strawman Takedown Digression


Every once in awhile, it's worth taking time to permanently dispose of an argument which has precisely zero merit, but which pops up frequently (usually in "shorthand title" format so that its weakness isn't immediately visible each time it's used).

The shorthand title strawman I'm going to take down this time is "silo abandonment."

"The abolitionist," writes Murray Rothbard, "is a 'button pusher' who would blister his thumb pushing a button that would abolish the State immediately, if such a button existed. But the abolitionist also knows that alas, such a button does not exist, and that he will take a bit of the loaf if necessary – while always preferring the whole loaf if he can achieve it."

That's one quote of many on the subject, by the way. The whole "button" thing apparently started with a remark by Lawrence Leonard Read, concerning wage and price controls, in the 1940s; Rothbard took it to its logical anarchist conclusion.

In purported reply to all of which Robert Capozzi sniffs:

All coercion ends tomorrow. There is no national defense, no police, no courts. Further, there is no way to enforce contracts, save individuals taking matters into their own hands. All transit systems stop. All airline travel stops, for there is no air traffic control. Most water and sewage systems stop. Street lights go off. Nuclear missile silos are abandoned, or commandeered.

Or:

Silo abandonment is the most extreme implication of [the Non-Aggression Principle] I can think of. Those who staff the nuclear silos are paid in "stolen" dollars, therefore those positions should be abolished and the silos abandoned.

There's a lot wrong with Capozzi's replies (not least, the fact that he ignores millennia of existence proofs of, and a century-and-a-half of scholarly literature on, the fact that defense, police, courts, contract enforcement, transit, travel, and water service can be provided for sans state), but I'm going to stick to "silo abandonment" here because it's the argument he seems to consider most compelling. Suggest any measure that cuts the size, scope or power of government to a non-trivial degree rather than simply empowering "serious" "pragmatists" to feel that they've contributed a new twist to the Rube Goldberg Theory of Governance, and Bob will immediately blister his thumb keying the "silo abandonment!" macro he's apparently set up on his PC.

His use of "silo abandonment" as an argument against abolitionism, the Non-Aggression Principle, the hypothetical Button What Disappears the State, etc., is a strawman. Let's run his hypothesis through some skeptical examination. Hypothetically:

You're one of the members of the military team controlling a Launch Control Center or its associate Launch Control Facility for Minuteman ICBMs.

One morning you're kicking back, sipping coffee and watching CNN before your rotation on whatever duty you have, when the BREAKING NEWS logo appears and some talking head pops on to inform you that the US government no longer exists.

Why? How? Who cares? Maybe Congress unanimously voted to permanently adjourn and the President said "screw you guys, I'm going home." Maybe some unidentified enemy spiked the ink at the federal paycheck-printing center with a powerful but non-human-to-human-contagious virus and all government employees who aren't isolated at a missile facility are now dead. Doesn't really matter. The state's gone, and there you are in your little room.

So, what are you going to do? Most people think that if the state disappears, society will fall into carnage and chaos. I doubt it, but let's assume you think that.

You can:

a) Try to hitch-hike to Minot, North Dakota on your own;

b) Hang out with your well-armed friends behind a set of blast doors, nibbling away at a food stockpile that will probably last you several years (having been designed to sustain you after a balls-out missile exchange with the Russkies), while the world falls to pieces everywhere else.

You can:

a) Strike out with nothing and hope to make it from scratch in this brave new world of chaos; or

b) Hold on to the $7 million missile, warhead of unknown but probably large value, and millions of dollars worth of associated equipment which the vanishing state has abandoned to your care and de facto ownership until someone happens along who wants to buy it (and probably rent your services to maintain/operate it).

In Bob Capozzi's world, you're ... well ... stupid. Before the ring of "no more state" has cleared your ears, you've abandoned safety and security for unknown risk, and you've thrown away potential wealth, preferring actual poverty. And not just you, but the entire LCC/LCF crew. Not one of you has the brains to pour piss out of a boot with instructions written on the heel.

In the real world (even a real world with a "make the state disappear" button), highly unlikely.

For one thing, I'm betting you made it through at least third grade before the Air Force handed you the keys to an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. You're probably able to figure out for yourself that if things really are going to shit outside, it's better to stick with a food stash, some blast doors, an M-16 and some friends than go with the backpack and "Boise or Bust" sign. And you're probably able to figure out that if things aren't going to shit outside, your current situation is still likely better than going solo (for one thing, what if the reports are wrong -- court martial for Absence Without Leave!).

For another, your presence on this particular crew indicates that you're the kind of person who's got a group loyalty thing going. Anybody who's willing to live like a mole in a hole in the middle of nowhere to babysit a government rocket probably isn't the "walking away at the first opportunity" type.

So, what else ya got, Bob?

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