Last Sunday was the birthday of Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken, a man whose written words I’ve read, pondered and quoted at length. Here, from Issues & Insights, is a neat tribute to the man and his thoughts. Excerpt:
Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, born Sept. 12, 1880, was a newspaperman, essayist, satirist, social critic and perhaps America’s most outspoken defender of liberty in the first half of the 20th century. Reflecting the difference between what was defensible as consistent with preserving our rights and what government did, a major theme of his writings was that “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.”
On his birthday, it is worth remembering some of the reasons Mencken offered to justify that shame, since, by his standards, our government is even more shameful today than when he wrote.
The ideal government of all reflective men, from Aristotle onward, is one which lets the individual alone – one which barely escapes being no government at all.
Good government is that which delivers the citizen from being done out of his life and property too arbitrarily and violently – one that relieves him sufficiently from the barbaric business of guarding them to enable him to engage in gentler, more dignified, and more agreeable undertakings.
The problem is that our government has exploded in a torrent far beyond those proper bounds:
All government … is against liberty.
Here’s my favorite bit from Mencken:
The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself … Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable.
I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.
I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
All government is against liberty. Some governments, of course, are wont to move harder against liberty than others; as far as the United States have fallen on the freedom scale, we’re still a long ways from North Korea. But the arc of government always bends in that direction.
In spite of my usual optimism, I’m not sanguine about the future of the American republic. Why? Because I’ve read a lot of history. It is in the nature of government to grow always larger and more intrusive. And, as Mencken points out, all government is against liberty. It’s a ratchet, not a dial, and thus only moves the one way. I’m not saying that a return to traditional American liberty-based government is impossible, but I wouldn’t bet a nickel on it happening.
What’s surprising these days is that it all seems to be happening so quickly. Actions by government – mass lockdowns, imprisonment of political dissenters, corruption of the military, partisan prosecutions by Imperial law enforcement -just seem to be spinning out of control.
Maybe, given honest elections, we could hold the bad things at bay a little longer. But we can’t rely on honest elections any more, either. Meanwhile, we can look back on Mencken’s work, realize once again how prescient he was, and wait for the next shoe to drop.
There’s an interesting blog out there called Master Resource, which presents free-market solutions on energy issues. Recently, on that site, author Steve Overholt produced a two-part post titled “Can-do Petroleum vs. Can’t-do Renewables.” Today I’ll discuss Part 2 of this work, following up on last week’s examination of Part 1. Excerpts, with my comments, follow:
Part II today discusses the original “natural” things as a substitute for petroleum. Three areas are wood, metals, and bioplastics.
First, let’s examine wood as a substitute for making three-dimensional parts:
- Huge areas of forests will be wiped out to get enough wood to replace plastic. This means thousands of miles of logging roads gouged through the mountains, causing erosion into pristine streams. Alternately, vast land areas will be converted to monoculture tree farms requiring pesticides and fertilizers for fast growth.
- The logs will need to be transported to sawmills on trucks. In contrast, oil and gas are transported by pipelines, which are far more energy efficient than trucks.
- Wood cannot be molded. Slow, energy-intensive milling processes must instead be used.
Consider metals as a substitute in making parts:
- Metal comes from mines. Try opening one of those in the U.S. these days. And recycling cannot yield the vast increase in metals required to replace plastic. Say good-bye to that gorgeous mountain wilderness you love.
- Metals are heavy. Using them instead of carbon fiber, etc. will greatly increase the energy needed by planes and electric cars.
- Most metals must be protected from salts, acids, caustics, and water that synthetics can easily withstand.
- Metal production typically requires much more energy than plastics production.
- Metals are much more difficult to machine, and much more energy is required to mold or form them. Molds for cast metals are often not re-usable. In contrast, molds for plastics are typically re-used thousands of times.
The discussion of wood and metal in this article serve as a kind of a preface; the real meat of the discussion comes in on bioplastics. For example:
Can bioplastics come to the rescue? A recent Netflix documentary entitled Broken examines problems related to fossil-fuel-based plastics. At the end of the program a well-meaning but destructively myopic “expert” advocates for using bioplastic “made from,” he said: “cassava, a tropical root found abundantly in Indonesia.”
Indonesia… as in that country pilloried by the Left for slash-burning rainforests for agriculture and critically endangering orangutans, rhinos, and tigers. Indonesia… the only place in the world where orangutans, rhinos, tigers, and elephants all live in the wild.
Greenpeace has on its website a page entitled: Indonesia Forests; Defending the Paradise Forests from paper and palm oil companies. Greenpeace bemoans the tragic destruction of 74 million acres of Indonesia’s rainforest for wood pulp and palm oil for export to make “things we throw away” such as paper.
Now the Left wants to throw cassava into the mix. Here’s the sad fact about growing cassava to produce bioplastics for the world: It would require 383 million acres of land, wiping out all the remaining rainforest in Indonesia, plus another 124 million acres from some other biodiversity hotspot.
Here’s a real onion on plastics:
Also important to know: As much as 95% of the plastic that is transported by rivers into the ocean comes from ten rivers in Africa and Asia. The most rational way to diminish the “Pacific gyre” of plastic waste would be to target that problem.
Nobody in the American or EU green movements are talking about that. I suppose it would be “racist,” or “colonialist,” or something. Nobody’s talking about China’s speed-run to build coal-fired power plants to feed their growing industries, either. The entire movement isn’t about facts, or costs and benefits; it’s all about control.
The article (and series) concludes:
The drawbacks of petrochemicals and plastics are widely publicized by “news” media, singers, actors, professors, and most anyone else with a megaphone. But the black-sheep facts of the alternatives are quietly herded out of sight, especially by Big Tech censors.
As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Sadly, too many people in the Imperial City seem to lack the brains to pound sand (and I emphatically do not exempt the current occupant of the Imperial Mansion from that assessment.) And what’s more, most of them are liars; even if they are aware of facts, they will set them aside in pursuit of an agenda – even if that agenda would set us back a hundred and fifty years in technology, medicine, transportation and quality of life.
There’s an interesting blog out there called Master Resource, which presents free-market solutions on energy issues. Recently, on that site, author Steve Overholt produced a two-part post titled “Can-do Petroleum vs. Can’t-do Renewables.” Today I’ll discuss Part 1 of this work, and Part 2 next Friday. Excerpts, with my comments, follow:
When I heard Joe Biden say in a presidential debate that he wants to “transition away” from petroleum by 2050, I wished I were there to respond. Here’s what I would have said: “We have to make things, Joe!”
There is an inconceivable truth for the renewables crowd, and it is this: Fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) are used in more ways than just burning for energy. They have important non-combustion uses… billions of tons per year of them worldwide. They are used to make things. These uses of fossil fuels are largely ignored in “news” media denunciations of fossil fuels as the wellspring of all evil.
There are a subset of Luddites among the “greens” who don’t want us to make things, of course – a plurality, although I’m not certain it it’s a majority. But most of them are just ill-informed nincompoops who don’t understand that ceasing fossil fuel extraction would eliminate most, if not all, of the modern conveniences they enjoy.
Several critical non-fuel uses of fossil fuels are:
- Synthetic polymers and chemicals
- Dyes and colorants
- Helium production
Unfortunately, when compared to the above fossil fuel-based materials, the “natural” materials the Far Left proposes are far more environmentally inferior, if not destructive. Drawbacks include:
- Hundreds of millions acres of forest and prairie will be converted to crops and pasture to achieve the transition from synthetics to plant- and animal-based fibers and leathers.
- Millions of tons of soil erosion, fertilizer application, and pesticide application will result from the massive increase in agriculture.
- Extensive new irrigation projects will be needed to grow all those crops, dewatering rivers and depleting groundwater sources.
- Millions more acres of forests will be cut for lumber and paper production.
- Mountains will fall to mine and quarry metal and stone “naturals.”
In addition, the only viable source of the critical element helium is natural gas processing.
Unintended consequences, anyone?
According the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), pharmaceuticals are primarily derived from petrochemicals. NIH reports that health care’s reliance on petroleum for pharmaceuticals and plastics is a longstanding concern.
Petrochemicals are used to manufacture analgesics, antihistamines, antibiotics, cough syrups, ointments, and much more. Synthetic plastics are used in heart valves and other specialized medical equipment. Petrochemicals are used in radiological dyes and films, intravenous tubing, syringes, and oxygen masks.
Petrochemicals provide the building blocks for most medicinal drugs. Nearly 99% of pharma chemical feedstocks and reagents are derived from petrochemicals. Natural alternatives do not exist for the vast majority of these building blocks…
Joe Biden(‘s handlers) in the 2020 campaign promised to move us completely off of fossil fuels by 2050. As you can see – as anyone with three IQ points to rub together should be able to see – this move would drive our society back to the mid-19th century. It’s not just medical items, of course – take a look at any car or truck made after 2000, and you’ll see a lot of molded parts. Now contemplate replacing those with steel, and think about the added weight and the reduced gas mileage to go with it. “But wait, Animal,” you might point out, “the government also wants us to switch to electric cars!” OK, so these heavier cars will have reduced range – and probably larger battery capacity, which batteries we still have not yet worked out disposal techniques when they, as all batteries eventually do, reach the end of their useful lives.
I found this piece by Theodore Dalrymple at The New English Review to be an interesting take on freedom of association. Excerpts, with my comments, follow:
Some years ago, I sat next to a pleasant Norwegian lady who had just moved to London. Her father had been against the move.
“How,” he had asked her, “can you bear to live in a fascist country in which they still permit men-only clubs?”
“And how,” I replied, “can your father bear to live in a fascist country in which men are not allowed to belong to men-only clubs?”
Unlike many modern people, the Norwegian lady saw the point: that a society in which people are not permitted to form voluntary associations whose membership they choose must be a highly dictatorial one.
But in England, a group of prominent women, including Cherie Blair, the wife of the former Prime Minister, has signed a petition to “force” the Garrick Club to admit women as members, which it has so far refused to do.
We’re seeing the same kind of agitation in the States, of course. Busybodies want to use the political force of government to compel private clubs to admit all and sundry as members – private clubs, mind you. Freedom of association is also freedom of disassociation, right? But not in the eyes of people like Cherie Blair.
The Club, which is nearly two centuries old, is named after David Garrick, the famous eighteenth-century actor, and has long had theatrical and literary associations. Dickens, Thackeray and Trollope were members, for example.
This suggests to me that the women, though prominent lawyers, are not very intelligent, or at least not very careful with their words: for by definition a club is committed to inequality and, if not quite to uniformity, at least to exclusivity.
A club to which everybody could be admitted would not be a club at all, but more like a voters’ roll, a street meeting or a mass demonstration.
Leaving the liberty issues aside for a moment, how would one presume these women would be treated by the existing membership, having used the force of government to, as it were, crash the gates and force their way in? Do they anticipate a warm welcome?
Mr. Dalrymple continues here with the really interesting bit:
According to their principle, private voluntary associations ought to be forced to accept as members anyone who felt himself to be unjustly excluded.
A Christian or Moslem club or association could not admit only Christians or Moslems, for to do so would be to discriminate on religious grounds.
A law to prevent discrimination in private associations would mean that the very idea of private associations would have no application, and a certain kind of illiberal liberalism would have achieved the point of dictatorship.
I have, however, thought of a swift remedy for the petitioners’ resentment: a two-week sojourn in Afghanistan.
But that’s not the point. A free society, one that actually realizes the goal of individual liberty, is incompatible with the kind of intrusion-by-government-force that these women propose. In a truly free society, men are free to form or join men-only clubs, women, women-only clubs. Christians can form clubs to admit only Christians, and so on. That’s freedom of association, and if someone whose sex/faith/whatever falls outside of that club’s stated roster, they can always engage in another essential aspect of a free society and mind their own damn business.
And that’s the crux of the issue. I never for the life of me will understand the compulsion some people have to be buttinskis. So someone formed an exclusive club that you can’t join unless you have hazel eyes, or unless your last name begins with “Z.” So what? Form your own damn club that you can’t join unless your last name begins with “R,” and shut the hell up about what other people are doing in their private clubs, which is 1) not harming you, and is B) none of your damn business!
H.L. Mencken once said “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Ronald Reagan once opined that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.'”
They were both right, and the recent Kung Flu issue has certainly proved it. Excerpt:
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York posted last week in his Daily Memo some interesting data that tells us a lot about Americans’ attitudes about their government. He tracked a long-term Fox News survey in which respondents are asked which message they would send the government if they had the chance: “lend me a hand” or “leave me alone.”
Over the course of the last decade, only in August 2020 did a majority (57%) say it would ask for government help. In that same poll, 36% said “leave me alone.”
This year, however, the numbers were flipped – 47% said “leave me alone” while 44% still wanted aid.
In some years, the results showed a strong distrust of government. For instance, in 2014, 59% wanted to be free of the state while a mere 32% wished for help. In February 2016, the beginning of the last year of the Obama era, the numbers were 54-39 in favor of the “leave me alone” group.
Interesting, as it seems that the amount of Americans who favor the “leave me alone” outlook seems to be in proportion to how much the government is interfering with their daily lives. The the ‘rona has illustrated nothing else, it has illustrated just how awful overbearing nanny-state government can be.
But what is truly striking are the results from the last two surveys. After a large majority of Americans wanted the government to step in last year, no doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a fairly significant shift back this year to a yearning for independence.
Why? There can be no doubt Americans were lent a hand in 2020 and 2021, and they got it good and hard, to borrow a portion of one of American journalist Henry Louis Mencken’s more famous comments. Politicians panicked, petty tyrants exercised unearned authority, and this country suffered in ways few could have ever imagined.
Meanwhile, government “experts” lied, obfuscated, and contradicted themselves. As early as January of this year, long before the Delta variant set off another round of mask mandates and spiteful threats of more lockdowns, the Edelman Trust Barometer found that 57% of the country believed “government leaders” were “purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”
Watching this unfold over the course of more than a year, Americans became fed up with government’s incompetence, fearmongering, failures, and inclination to rob us of our liberties. The pandemic responses from elected and unelected officials across the country uncovered an uncomfortable fact much of the political class has wanted to keep hidden: Governments are not made up of angels, but of flawed men and women, many following personal and political agendas, and still more who are simply unfit to be in any position of authority.
The power of government – the power to compel – always seems to attract those that are the least trustworthy to wield that power. The current administration is marked by a level of incompetence and outright, unapologetic, blatant corruption hitherto unheard of. Just look at Crackhead Hunter’s “art career”, a shameless piece of money-laundering that would make the Clintons blush with embarrassment (that they didn’t think of it first.)
The pandemic, of course, has resulted in a power grab by all levels of government like nothing we have ever seen. The CDC issuing a blanket eviction moratorium? Under what authority? The CDC has zero authority to make any such pronouncement, much less to enforce it with criminal penalties, and yet here we are; the levels of outrage from the political Right, who supposedly are in opposition to such power grabs, has been decidedly underwhelming.
And as for our fellow Americans? Well, they may tell pollsters that they would prefer that government leave them alone – but then, over great swaths of the country, they insist on voting for parties and politicians that most assuredly will not leave them alone.