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Automation: A Luddite’s Dystopia and the Future of Work

Andrew Yang ran his presidential campaign on the promise of providing American citizens with a monthly stipend to counter the effects of job loss. According to Yang, up to 30% of jobs are at risk of automation.” The fear of the impact of new technologies is nothing new. The nineteenth century had its Luddites, a group of workers that took to smashing early industrial looms and other machinery in which they saw a threat to manual labor jobs. Technophobia is a retrograde and reactionary idea that continues to be popular, and as history shows, it is not justified.

It is easy to imagine the histrionics about the car when it was first launched in the market. The worry then was that the advent of the car would put carriage makers out of business. Absent was the foresight that one day cars would themselves create millions of jobs not just in manufacturing and service but also in software development as well as ancillary businesses such as gas stations, rest stops, delivery, and tourism—just to name a few. Also, the carriage part makers of the time adapted quickly to the new-fangled horseless carriage, finding their goods in demand. The invention of the lightbulb may have put most candlemakers out of business, but what of the millions of jobs it created since then that have made the presence of lightbulbs ubiquitous in our lives today: from the inside of your refrigerator to photo studios, camera flashes, lighthouses, flashlights, etc. More recently, we can recall what was said about the threat of desktop computers to typing pools—we all know how that played out. These examples beget the question that the technophobic prophets refuse to ask: what new jobs will automation bring?

It is a fallacy to believe that the only jobs available with the coming automation revolution will involve coding— relegated to a few computer science nerds and inaccessible to everyone else. Robots are not made out of code alone. I have a vacuum robot at home, which is mostly made up of plastic, metal, and silicone. This robot supports hundreds of jobs: after all, components have to mined (in the case of the metal bits), manufactured, shipped, assembled, and sometimes even serviced—not just programmed. I first saw my robot in a YouTube ad: a box had to be designed to contain it, the instructions had to be written and printed—the point here is that each new piece of automation will bring and sustain dozens of jobs along with it.

The purpose of automation is to diminish human capital costs to businesses, whether that comes from greater efficiency or a simple reduction in human error. Once those costs are decreased, businesses are free to use those savings to invest in other areas that automation cannot replace like managing, hiring, marketing, design, research, development, and everything else that humans do better than machines. Cost-saving brought on by automation will also allow companies to expand and open up new branches; enabling them to offer more services or goods which will require more hiring. This is a recipe for job creation, not destruction.

Automation will also lead to greater entrepreneurship and worker autonomy as well as to making manufacturing much more affordable. 3D printers, which are automated mini-factories, are already allowing entrepreneurs to set up small businesses from the comfort of their homes. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there have been calls to bring manufacturing jobs to the U.S. in order to reduce American dependence on other countries. This will hardly be affordable unless manufacturing can be automated; otherwise American companies would not be able to compete with low-wage workers overseas.

The wellspring of new industries is only one of the many benefits of automation—safety will greatly benefit as well. We are in the middle of a pandemic where a virus is quickly spreading from human to human; meanwhile millions of people are being kept from work to refrain from risking further contagion in crowded public transit. If automated, self-cleaning cars could take people to and from work and could deliver groceries and other necessities, then contagion rates and economic devastation would certainly could certainly be reduced. Instead, we insist on putting the lives of people at risk by crowding them into subways and buses where contagion risk is much higher, and we continue to gamble with the lives of drivers and customers when delivering food and other essentials to consumers.

National security is also set to benefit from the coming tech revolution. The defense industry is pushing along with delivering greater automation to the armed forces which will reduce the need to put military personnel in harm’s way and ensure greater accuracy when dealing with threats, both measures could one day help reduce our bloated defense budget. Robots are already being used in minesweeping, a high risk job that was once performed by divers.

Automation will replace repetitive, dull and dangerous work, and will remove humans from risky and often loud workplaces such as factory floors. The other side of this coin is that it will replace these jobs with more analytical and gratifying work. Less human hours will be spent on the arduous and boring tasks that are currently required to gather data, and more jobs will be created in order to analyze and interpret that data. The term “upskilling,” so often used in corporate jargon, will become a priority for companies wishing to remain competitive, a retraining of the workforce will be the only option to satiate the demand for more cerebral work.

When faced with technological change, it is easy to imagine the worst and allow fear and pessimism to drive our discourse as a society and the policy that follows. This might be an ingrained suspicion formed in our culture’s psyche by works such as Frankenstein or The Matrix. But how about viewing the coming wave of automation through more optimistic eyes? Not because of some kind of futuristic techno-utopian delusion but because the past has shown us that this is what we can expect.

After 6 Months Paid Leave, Cop Finally Charged After Entering Father’s Backyard, Executing Him

As frequent readers of the Free Thought Project understand, police officers mistake innocent individuals for criminals all the time. Often times, their fear gets the best of them and these folks who have committed no crime and harmed no one, are beaten or arrested only to be exonerated down the road. One man in Idaho Falls, however, will not have a chance to be exonerated because the police who mistook him for a suspect—executed him.

On February 8, 2021, Elias Aurelio Cerdas, a 26-year-old officer who graduated from training less than a year before the shooting, entered the backyard of Joseph “Joe” Johnson, a father of four, mistook him for a criminal, and executed him.

For nearly six month, Cerdas remained on paid vacation without charges but all that changed this week and he has been indicted for manslaughter.

According to East Idaho News, Cerdas was not arrested after being charged but issued a summons for his arraignment at the Bonneville County Courthouse on Aug. 23.

According to police, shortly after midnight early that morning, a Bonneville County Sheriff’s Deputy attempted to make a traffic stop at which point the vehicle came to a stop and the driver of the vehicle fled into a residential neighborhood. The deputy involved in the pursuit told fellow officers they were looking for a man in a black shirt.

During the search, police identified the man and found that he had multiple warrants for his arrest including Felony Battery on an Officer, and two Failure to Appear Warrants with original charges of Resisting/Obstructing Arrest, and Providing False Information to Law Enforcement.

Police claim the suspect, Tanner Shoesmith, 22, had a history of violent altercations with law enforcement which appears to be a cover for the way they acted when they found and then killed Johnson.

According to police, the passenger in the vehicle that was originally pulled over never fled and stayed behind to talk to police. Police claim this passenger had received a message from the suspect, who—while on the run from the cops — took the time to message the passenger and send him his GPS coordinates.

According to police, these GPS coordinates—sent by the suspect who was running from cops, to the passenger he knew was still with the cops—showed him in the backyard of a residence on the corner of Tendoy Drive and Syringa Drive—Johnson’s backyard.

Police then surrounded this house and killed the father of four in his backyard after claiming he had on a black t-shirt and was holding a gun.

“Sometimes everyone does what they think is right and tragedies happen,” the chief said at the time.

After killing the innocent man, a brief investigation revealed that he was not the suspect and, in fact, lived in the home and had committed no crime. Moments later, down the road, a deputy reported seeing a man running and the suspect was located in the back yard of a house, hiding in a shed. The suspect, who police claim has a history of violent interactions with police, was taken into custody without incident.

Since that day, police have failed to release any more information in regard to the shooting.

The Idaho Falls Police Department issued the following statement following news of the indictment, they stopped just short of claiming Cerdas was framed:

“The Idaho Falls Police Department has always and continues to recognize the human tragedy in this incident, especially for the Johnson family. Along with the rest of our community, all of us at IFPD hope and pray for them and wish this had never happened. The Idaho Falls Police Department thanks the Idaho State Police and other law enforcement agencies that conducted the investigation as part of the Critical Incident Task Force. It is a professional, thorough, and unbiased investigation which followed established and proven protocols and procedures and reports the facts. While the Attorney Generals Office’s review of the investigation has been irregular and seemingly arbitrary, we have full faith in the criminal justice system and the great people of Idaho Falls who will ultimately decide the outcome of this case. We will continue to support and participate in this process as all of the facts surrounding this investigation are put before the people of Idaho Falls for review. Until the process is completed, Officer Cerdas will remain with the Idaho Falls Police Department. He will be on limited duties which do not include public contact or the use of police authority.”

If convicted, Cerdas faces a maximum of 10 years in prison though it is incredibly unlikely he will spend any time in jail at all.

In a post on a GoFundMe page set up for Johnson, his wife Bree expressed how devastated the death of their husband and father has left them.

Joe was the sole income earner for our family. He worked hard every day as a mechanic to support our family while I took care of the kids and our home. He was so proud to buy us this house a few years ago and make a nice life for us. Everything he did was for his family. Not only have our lives been destroyed by the unimaginable grief of his life being taken from us, but our safe space and family home was violated in the most traumatic way possible.

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

All Gun Control is Racist

One could make a very good argument that our nation’s oldest and most successful gun control advocacy group was the Ku Klux Klan. Their earliest incarnation was largely a means of disarming newly freed blacks. For the last five years we have been hearing from much of the corporate media networks, such as CNN and MSNBC, that our nation is awash in Klansmen all across the country preaching their hateful belief in white supremacy.

This has seemed like an utterly baseless claim, built on the idea of “dog whistling racists” spreading their rhetoric with a wink and a nod. But over the last week I have come to realize they are absolutely right. They have cleverly taken off their hoods and white robes in exchange for a three-piece suit and a law degree as their distinguishing means of secret identification of their fellow bigots and appear to have gone through some serious rebranding. Changing the name of their organization from the KKK to the ACLU.

It was also about five years ago when the ACLU put out a public statement that their organization had decided to stop considering taking on any litigation that was predicated on defending the right to keep and bear arms as an essential civil liberty. But nothing could have prepared me for the more recently announced position from this organization which I once held in the highest regard. That the Second Amendment isn’t a right, it’s a manifestation of white supremacy and anti-blackness. Not only has the ACLU turned its back on the Bill of Rights they were founded to protect, they have collectively forgotten how to even read the Constitution.

The Constitution is not the law that governs us. The Constitution is the law that governs those who govern us. To act as though the Second Amendment is a grant to the people of a right to keep and bear arms is a legal absurdity. The right of every individual to defend themselves by force of arms is a natural right we had before our government was formed and it is a right we will have long after the American Empire collapses. As the preamble to the Bill of Rights states:

The States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added

The Second Amendment has nothing to do with protecting our right to arms. It is a declaratory statement that reminds the government that because this right exists, independent of any document stating as much, that they have no business ever taking arms from any individual.

It says nothing about race, and therefore any attempts by government to disarm any group of people cannot be restricted either through the democratic process or government fiat. Any time our government has denied the right to own arms to certain groups of people, or to remove the right to own a particular category of firearm from all people, what has taken place is an abrogation of the Second Amendment and is repugnant to their expressly delegated Constitutional authority.

And though the Second Amendment is an individual right, if, for the sake of argument, we grant the ACLU’s indefensible claim that the Second Amendment is a collective right of militias (or as Justice Stevens erroneously claim in DC v Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment is an individual right to arms, predicated on service in a militia) that doesn’t change the fact that the militias were never created as an excuse for a group of racist thugs to terrorize slaves by breaking into their quarters to ransack the place looking for weapons and escaped slaves. Not one shred of evidence backs that up. Every single source we have from the Founders as the government was being formed makes clear the militias are essential to make standing armies unnecessary if possible and if a standing army must be formed, the militia acts like a bulwark to protect the citizens should the government turn that standing army against us. It guarantees that if push comes to shove, the Second Amendment is there to make sure the people, and not the government, are the ones doing the pushing and the shoving.

The militia was not a domestic police force. We continued to approach law enforcement much the same as we did when we were still colonies under the British Common Law. There was generally an official, like a sherriff who could put out the hue & cry or enable the posse comitatus.

This whole argument by the ACLU shows the complete lack of principles that is fundamental to a “Living Constitution”—when a text can mean anything, it will always mean nothing.

It is a sad fact that when our government created this brilliant charter that is the Constitution, premised on limited government and individual liberty, we did not truly live those values right away. But the ACLU doesn’t really believe the Second Amendment is racist, they just don’t like the fact that the majority of Americans have not fully submitted to the government as their one and only protector. They need us to give up our guns for that to happen.

In fact, I can prove their disapproval has nothing to do with racism. The reason the statutory companion to the Fourteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1867 guarantees all individuals, including the freedmen was because too often, black were being denied their right to bear arms, in spite of the Second Amendment, not because of it.

“To have full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and estates, including the Constitutional right of bearing arms” (Civil Rights Act of 1867, Public Law 14 Stat. 27-30,)

If you extend this logic to the other amendments and statutes that were meant to protect the rights of freedmen that were often being denied you would have to say that voting is racist. After all, the Fifteenth Amendment needed to be passed, because despite being citizens, many freedmen were also being denied the right to vote by the same racists denying their right to have a gun for defense. The only principled conclusion the ACLU could reach is that voting is racist and democracy is a clear extension of white supremacy and anti-blackness that is supposedly inseparable from any right that was not universally recognized and equally protected for all people from the Constitution’s ratification in 1789 to today.

In fact, voting is even more bigoted than the right to bear arms. There has never been a time in this country when women were denied the right to own, carry or use a gun for all lawful purposes. But they weren’t allowed to vote for over 100 years until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. When the ACLU comes out against voting as a means of sexist oppression and declare democracy a bigoted curse of the patriarchy I will be happy to take their claims the Second Amendment is racist as something they actually believe.

I’m not sure why a group like the ACLU that, to their credit, seem to understand the very existence of a police force poses an existential threat to our safety and liberty take such a strong stand against citizens keeping arms to take responsibility for their own protection.

The ACLU recognizes that the truly corrupt cops are more than just “a few bad apples.” They aren’t the entire bushel either. But even the most honest, integrous police officer who genuinely wants to make his community better and do everything by the book are themselves a threat too. Because the book they follow imposes all manner of police powers that are wholly inconsistent with many of the provisions of our theoretically “limited government” and the vast majority of laws they enforce are entirely immoral prima facie.

Even police who may be very good, honest, ethical people in their private lives believe that they are doing the right thing when they throw people in cages for carrying a plant on them. They believe they are doing the right thing when they seize thousands of dollars in cash and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of personal property under civil asset forfeiture laws. Because the only people who carry cash and own nice things are all drug dealers, or something. The ACLU seems to understand all these things perfectly well and agree even these actions, though inside the bounds of the law, are outside the bounds of ethical policing. And yet they want these people who already have a dangerous excess of power to be the only people with guns, and that somehow we can trust them to only use that totalitarian level of control in a way that is helpful to law abiding citizens and used in proportion to the amount of force necessary against the criminal elements of society.

And that all gun control is inherently racist it seems absurd I would even have to explain why. Until the end of the Civil War, the several states were a de facto equivalent of our modern de jure constitutional carry. Once blacks gained their freedom and citizenship is when the first gun control laws were enacted. That these measures were officially known as “The Black Codes” tells you everything you need to know about their purpose. The next great gun grab was the passage of the NFA in 1934. This was sold to the general public as a necessary step to protect people from those shifty Italians that made up the mafia (who only came into existence after the government created a black market so lucrative, by passing the Volstead Act and eventually passing the Eighteenth Amendment’s prohibition on liquor).The government needed a scapegoat, so the violence they created wasn’t blamed on them. We just needed to get rid of those machine guns, short barreled rifles, and silencers that were so popular among the bootleggers, then these violent foreigners couldn’t kill each other anymore. Because of course they won’t just commit a criminal act and keep the banned guns they own.

Next was an amendment to the NFA under Title II,, known as the GCA (Gun Control Act) of 1968, passed bcause white people were terrified that groups like the Black Panthers were beginning to think they had a right to also have weapons for lawful self-defense. After the inner-city riots in Watts and Detroit, as well as the Black Panthers showing up in the Capital Building in California where the legislature was meeting, representatives got really scared and passed “The Mulford Act” in California that became the basis for the federal laws passed later on, unquestionably meant to take guns from these minorities tired of being treated as second class citizens and taking their rights into their own hands. That every major act of gun control here in America has always been motivated by racism is clear, we saw the same thing with the 1986 amendment to the NFA, known as FOPA, and the 1994 “Assault Weapons” ban that was part of the racist policies that were meant to get tough on crime and mostly ended up destroying the family unit in the inner-city where these policies were targeted.

I understand that from its founding we have often fallen short of living up to that vision of equal liberty for all people. But that doesn’t make it a bad idea, and it doesn’t mean the better solution is to give up our natural rights and exist in perfect and equal tyranny. I prefer perfect and equal liberty for all. I don’t know if that’s possible. But it’s worth continuing to strive towards. In the mean time I’ll take imperfect liberty over perfect tyranny every time.

Biden’s New Budget Busting Bill

Since the 1800s, surly Americans have derided politicians for spending tax dollars “like drunken sailors.” Until recently, that was considered a grave character fault. But Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act shows that inebriated spending is now the path to national salvation.

It was a common saying in America in the 1930s that “we cannot squander our way to prosperity.” But that was before the latest “best and brightest” crop took the helm of the federal government.

The Rescue Act is based on blind faith in government spending—the revival of the “Magic Bean School of Political Economy.” When he signed the bill on March 12, Biden declared, “We have to spend this money to make sure we have economic growth, unrelated to how much it’s going to help people.” The act’s $1.9 trillion price tag is proof of its beneficence. Biden boasted that he would be sending federal “stimulus” checks to more than 100 million Americans in the following 10 days. The White House called the bill “the most progressive piece of legislation in history.”

The biggest fear in Washington is that federal agencies will not be able to throw tax dollars at citizens, businesses, and local and state governments quickly enough. The Washington Post frets that “the sheer volume of new programs threatens to swamp federal agencies.” This is the sixth federal COVID bailout since last spring, and “a slew of other efforts to help struggling businesses…have been trapped in the federal bureaucracy.”

The purpose of this Rescue Act is to rescue faith in Big Government. In his televised address, Biden declared that in order to “beat this virus,” Americans must “put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people…We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us. All of us. We, the people.” At the time of Biden’s speech, the U.S. Capitol was surrounded by high fences topped with razor wire. Thousands of National Guard troops prowled the grounds of the Capitol and elsewhere in the District of Columbia to deter any unpleasantness from uppity citizens. Luckily, most of the Washington media continued to vouch that the political class was dutifully serving Americans behind closed doors.


Biden promised “fastidious oversight to make sure there’s no waste or fraud” in the multi-trillion-dollar bonanza. But politicians define “waste” differently than taxpayers define the term. Any handout that produces political gratitude is a fruitful investment according to Washington scoring. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), promised, “We’re going to be watchdogging this every single step of the way.” However, the attendance by senators at congressional oversight hearings is on par with attendance at baseball games during COVID lockdowns. Most members of Congress will pay little attention to the details of the law as long as their constituents get deluged with free money.

The Biden bill includes barrels of new handouts that Congress rushed into law without careful examination. When federal benefits exceed what someone could earn on the job, they can become a penalty fee on work. University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan estimated that the extra unemployment payments and other benefits in the Biden bill could result in employing eight million fewer Americans later this year. But collateral damage doesn’t matter as long as politicians get campaign contributions and applause for programs that wreak economic havoc with perverse incentives.

The Biden administration is bringing the same solution to America that previously failed in Afghanistan. After Barack Obama decided to “surge” U.S. troops into Afghanistan, the Christian Science Monitor noted in 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “created an atmosphere of frantic urgency about the ‘burn rate’—a measure of how quickly money is spent. Emphasis gets put on spending fast to make room for the next batch from Congress.” One Kabul-based analyst employee lamented, “As long as you spend money and you can provide a paper trail, that’s a job well done. It’s a perverse system.” The Washington Post noted in 2019, “Many aid workers blamed Congress for what they saw as a mindless rush to spend.” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), lambasted a system where it seemed that “only those who can shove the money out the door or meet the required ‘burn rate’ are to be promoted and rewarded.” The “burn rate” produced endless absurdities in Afghanistan, including collapsing schools, impassable roads, failed electrification projects, and a nonexistent health clinic.

In his televised address on March 11, Biden promised, “I’m using every power I have as the president of the United States to put us on a war footing.” But who was Biden going to war against?

Alas, Americans’ rights and liberties could be in the cross-hairs of the latest attempt by the U.S. government to buy submission. Shortly after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, pallets stacked high with newly printed $100 bills were flown into Baghdad. U.S. military officers handed bundles of cash to local residents to buy influence and undermine resistance to the U.S. occupation. The “Money as a Weapon System” (MAAWS) program scattered $10 billion with little or no oversight. The handouts were valuable for “demonstrating positive intent or goodwill” and helped “gain access or influence,” according to a 2012 Pentagon analysis. Such payments came in especially handy after U.S. troops inadvertently killed children or sheep. MAAWS subsidized Bush administration boasting about Iraq and, later on, Obama administration boasting about Afghanistan.

Presidents and members of Congress are not formally carrying out a counterinsurgency campaign against the American people. But politicians of both parties have long relied on MAAWS to buy votes or buttress their power. Last year, Donald Trump made sure that the federal COVID checks Americans received had his signature. Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate, thanks to Biden’s promise that voters would receive $2,000 federal checks if Democrats won the January runoff elections in Georgia.

Can politicians convert the big checks they send voters into a blank check for additional power for themselves? Biden recently told congressional Democrats that “Americans are in lockstep on each major element” of his rescue act. Concerned observers are still waiting for Biden to reveal where he will order Americans to march.


As the feds launched the deluge of new handouts, Biden declared, “We have to continue to build confidence in the American people that their government can function for them and deliver.” But neither Biden nor other Democratic politicians nor their media allies will admit that the COVID “relief” payments are a response to the horrendous damage previously inflicted by politicians.

After the COVID-19 pandemic began, politicians tightened tourniquets that were supposed to vanquish the virus by cutting off the economy’s blood supply. Governors in state after state effectively placed hundreds of millions of citizens under house arrest—dictates that former Attorney General Bill Barr aptly compared to “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties” since the end of slavery. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, set the standard when he effectively declared that he was entitled to inflict any burden on his state’s residents to “save just one life.”

But heavy-handed government decrees were more effective at wrecking lives than at vanquishing a virus. More than 10 million jobs were destroyed. Almost 40 percent of households earning less than $40,000 per year have someone who lost his job in recent months, according to the Federal Reserve. Prohibiting people from living normal lives resulted in surging rates of suicide, drug abuse, and depression. The Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline, received almost 900 percent more phone calls compared with the prior year. A California health organization recently estimated that 75,000 Americans could die from “despair” as a result of the pandemic, unemployment, and government restrictions. Maybe the shutdown champions will solve that problem by making antidepressants mandatory for all citizens?

One of the greatest continuing disruptions of the pandemic is the continued shutdown of government schools. During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to deluge schools with enough federal aid that they could reopen safely within 100 days. That 100 days came and went, and many of the nation’s largest school systems remain padlocked despite evidence that they could safely reopen. Teachers’ unions feel that their members are entitled to full pay and zero risk, and the Biden administration is kowtowing to one of its largest political supporters. While many parents who depended on government schools are seeing their kids fall far behind academically, many private schools have reopened with little or no problem. The exodus from government schools is one of the bright spots from the pandemic.

Addicting citizens to government handouts could be the easiest way to breed mass docility and enable politicians to stretch their power. The bigger the government becomes, the more votes it can buy. At some point, soaring government spending and the taxation to finance handouts becomes a Damocles sword over the entire political system. As economist Warren Nutter warned, “The more that government takes, the less likely that democracy will survive.”

Politicians cannot undermine self-reliance without subverting self-government. Thomas Jefferson warned, “Dependence…prepares fit tools for the designs of [political] ambition.” Plutarch observed of the dying days of the Roman Republic: “The people were at that time extremely corrupted by the gifts of those who sought office, and most made a constant trade of selling their voices.” Montesquieu wrote: “It is impossible to make great largesses to the people without great extortion: and to compass this, the state must be subverted. The greater the advantages they seem to derive from their liberty [of voting], the nearer they approach towards the critical moment of losing it.” As economist Friedrich Hayek noted, “The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government.”

Anything that encourages people to view politicians as saviors imperils freedom. The more people there are who depend on Washington, the more difficult it becomes to leash politicians. But the profusion of handouts will enable politicians to yank in the reins on average citizens. The Supreme Court ruled in 1942, “It is hardly lack of due process for the government to regulate that which it subsidizes.” Government controls have followed a short step behind the subsidies; as a result, more and more activities in our society and economy are now dependent on political approval. Subsidies inherently represent a transfer of sovereignty and power from private citizens to politicians and bureaucrats.

Biden may be confident that deluging Americans with government checks can put the federal government back on a pedestal. But as a top U.S. government official lamented regarding Afghanistan, “We had no legitimacy if we weren’t flooding the area with cash.” At some point, the federal government’s ability to carpet bomb citizens with free money will fizzle out. In the meantime, the biggest mistake Americans could make is to permit politicians to absolve themselves by giving away more of other people’s money.

This article was originally featured at the Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished with permission.

The Drone Program Whistleblower Problem

“I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole…We had entire training courses…”

– Former CIA Director and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo


The concept of whistleblowing seems simple on its face: a government employee recognizes that crimes are being committed by the agency they work for and reports them so that the public is made aware that their tax dollars are being misused by those in charge. But what happens when large parts of the operations of an entire agency (such as the CIA), or even the entire executive branch of government, are grounded in immoral behavior? Is it possible to effectively “blow the whistle” on the entire sprawling apparatus? Or is that conceptually impossible, given that the government reserves for itself the prerogative to issue judgments on what it does?

A system of checks and balances in the United States is said by its defenders to be preserved through having three separate and independent branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. If a governor enacts a law which some citizens believe violates the Constitution, then they can sue the governor, and a judge will issue a verdict on the matter. If the citizens do not win the suit, they can still appeal the ruling by taking the case up again in a higher court. Eventually, the most contentious disputes end up at the Supreme Court, where debate comes to an end and a final judgment is made. This system allows some degree of checks and balances on lower court judges whose political biases may impede objective assessment of the matter in question. Of course, Supreme Court justices, too, are human beings who have been appointed by politicians, so bias cannot be altogether eliminated. But because the nine Supreme Court justices are never appointed by the same president, there is some hope that perspectives will be balanced, and at the very least, dissenting justices in the minority are able to articulate the grounds for their dissent, so that if ever the matter reaches the high court again, it can be informed by those concerns.

Legality and morality, however, are two different things, as much as we may wish for the former to reflect the latter. Expressing moral dissent from what is being done by the government becomes far more difficult when the perpetrators are granted by law the ability to commit moral atrocities, as in war. During wartime, the standards of civil society are completely flouted, permitting the premeditated, intentional killing of human beings, even of soldiers who have been coerced to fight, and even of completely innocent civilians, provided only that the perpetrators claim to have good intentions. Antiwar activists continue to question the “just war paradigm” presupposed by modern military practice, but the complete abolition of war remains a lofty ideal, given the less lofty financial dynamics propelling the war machine forward.

As difficult as it is to take issue with war itself, many veterans throughout history have done just that, having once witnessed firsthand the stark disparity between wartime rhetoric and reality. It is even more difficult to criticize government killers when they operate under a cloak of secrecy. If final judgments regarding alleged wrongdoers are exclusive to the very institution or branch being criticized, then the system becomes microcosmic of tyranny, for the head of the institution effectively writes the “laws” for his subordinates. One example of this was the military’s own assessment of events captured in the video footage Collateral Murder, which was shared by Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning through Wikileaks. In that harrowing film, Reuters journalists are killed by U.S. soldiers hovering above them in a helicopter. After assessing the episode in response to public outrage over what transpired in New Baghdad, Iraq, on that day, the Pentagon concluded that the soldiers had in fact acted in accordance with military protocol. Manning did the public a great service by revealing a shocking truth about what the U.S. military regards as acceptable behavior.

Notwithstanding the oft-recited claim that the United States is a pillar of democracy, there are sizable portions of the U.S. government which are beyond the reach of effective criticism for the simple reason that they are shrouded in secrecy on grounds of national defense. Notably, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the part of the Pentagon’s wide-ranging initiatives paid for using the ever-expanding Black Budget operate with effective impunity. The pretext of “national self defense” is used to prosecute and sometimes destroy the lives of those who dare to demur from the sorts of immoral activities undertaken by government entities allegedly for the good of the nation. In many cases, what are really being defended are the agencies themselves and the comportment of their compliant employees.

The reason given for the assiduous pursuit of whistleblowers in such cases is identical to the alleged reason for the secrecy: that to reveal anything about what is underway is to compromise national security. When whistleblowers expose what look to be war crimes, they are said by prosecutors specifically to endanger the lives of those implicated in the allegations—both regular government employees and cultivated sources. Indeed, the mere possibility of endangering the perpetrators—even when there is no evidence of any harm done by the leaks—usually suffices for the prosecutors of whistleblowers to win their cases. The irony, of course, is that the reason why the revelation of unsavory government activities to the public is dangerous to the perpetrators is manifestly that the acts in question are immoral and will be denounced by most any right-minded person who is made aware of them.

Before the twenty-first century, crimes such as the assassination of suspected enemy spies were committed both by the CIA and by the Pentagon. There was very little, if any, congressional oversight over secretive assassination programs throughout the Cold War, and the small number of congresspersons privy to the details evidently agreed with what was going on. Nonetheless, in the 1970s, the Church Committee and the Pike Committee did manage eventually to rein in the CIA and the Pentagon run amok during the Vietnam War, when hatred and fear of communism led government administrators to devise morally dubious programs such as Phoenix, which resulted in widespread civilian carnage. A moratorium was put on assassination by President Ford in 1976 through Executive Order 11905, and it seemed that the self-correcting system had worked to some degree—albeit not in time to save the lives of thousands of human beings.

During the Global War on Terror waged in response to the events of September 11, 2001, the moratorium on assassination came to an end. Far from being regarded as taboo, such killing was normalized and came eventually to be openly acknowledged and even vaunted to the public. In effect, the intentional, premeditated execution of specific individuals—formerly known as assassination and considered illegal under international law—was rebranded as targeted killing and embraced as a new standard operating procedure of what was enthusiastically billed as smart war. By using remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs), or lethal drones, it would no longer be necessary to risk troops’ lives, which was naturally good news to politicians who promoted the drone program without thinking about the consequences for the people on the ground, nor the global effects later on down the line, when other governments began to deploy lethal drones in achieving their aims.

“Taking the battle to the enemy” was deemed necessary for national self-defense, and now, the marketing line went, it could be done without sacrificing any U.S. soldiers’ lives. There might be a bit of so-called collateral damage here and there, but as usual it would come to be ignored or brushed aside as one of the inevitable consequences of “the fog of war.” By portraying targeted killing as a rational way of minimizing combat losses, the whole notion of what counts as permissible warfare was transformed, seemingly irrevocably, given that the United States and Israel set the precedent. Over the course of the war on terror, thousands of people have been killed, and many times more maimed and terrorized, using missiles launched from drones hovering above Yemen, Syria, in Northern Africa, and beyond, in programs administered by the CIA rather than the military. The fact that drone strikes “outside areas of active hostility” (where no U.S. troops were on the ground to protect) were made the province of the CIA to initiate and supervise was diaphanously intended to evade meddling congressional attempts at oversight.

By now, lethal drones have been purchased by governments all over the world, who are free to use these weapons to dispatch anyone whom they designate as the enemy, no matter where they may be. First in line among non-U.S. heads of state to emulate President Obama in intentionally hunting down and assassinating citizens located abroad was U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron used lethal drones in 2015 to execute British citizens located in Syria, despite the fact that capital punishment is forbidden by U.K. law. Had Cameron indicted and tried his victims in Britain, then they would likely still be alive, even if found guilty in a court of law. Rather than prosecute his targets as citizens entitled to due process, Cameron waited until they traveled to Syria before extrajudicially assassinating them.

Where formerly it was considered illegal (under the Geneva Conventions) for a soldier to execute an unarmed enemy soldier point blank, in the Drone Age it is said to be perfectly permissible for an operator located thousands of miles away from a “battlefield” devoid of allied soldiers to push a button and eliminate a suspected enemy combatant, along with anyone who happens to be around him at the time. Still reeling from the shock of what transpired on September 11, 2001, politicians and the populace alike were essentially tricked into believing the manifest absurdity that a soldier located in a trailer in Nevada could be said to kill in self-defense a person who not only was not provided with the right to surrender nor prove that he was not a terrorist, but in fact was not even armed. Understandably, some of the enlisted soldiers lured into working in the U.S. government’s interagency drone program have deeply regretted their participation and abandoned the profession.

A few of the persons privy to the details of the drone program have spoken out, including Daniel Hale, a former signals intelligence analyst who was recently sentenced to nearly four years in prison for violating the Espionage Act. Hale, who worked in the drone assassination program in Afghanistan, stole and shared a trove of top-secret documents, which were published online by Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept as “The Drone Papers,” and in book form as The Assassination Complex. The documents confirmed what other apostate drone operators had already claimed: that the U. S. government, far from achieving “near certainty” about their targets before dispatching them with missiles launched from drones, in fact defined all victims of drone strikes as Enemy Killed in Action or EKIA, provided only that they were military-aged males. Instead of needing to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before executing these suspects, the entire program has been based on the preposterous premise that such persons are guilty until proven innocent. Under this assumption, lengthy hit lists have been drawn up for years by analysts using circumstantial evidence such as SIM card data from cellphones of suspected terrorists. No matter that some of the military-aged males incinerated by drones may have worked as taxi drivers, delivery persons, etc. If their number was derived during a data sweep from the phone of a person already suspected of having terrorist organization connections, then they became “guilty until proven innocent” by transitivity. In “crowd killing,” entire groups of men of unknown identity have been eliminated under the assumption of guilt by association.

The atrociousness of this inversion of justice, which took place during Barack Obama’s presidency and resulted in the deaths of thousands of unnamed persons of color, is difficult to exaggerate. The fact that Hale, in an eleven-page handwritten letter which he sent to the judge presiding over his trial, has explicitly taken issue with President Obama’s public statements on the drone program makes it seem very unlikely that President Biden will pardon the whistleblower—although I certainly hope that I am wrong about this. The problem in this case is that to pardon Daniel Hale would be to acknowledge that either President Obama lied to the public when he said that drone strikes were only carried out when there was “near certainty” that no civilians would be harmed, or else he was incompetent, having no idea what was being done by his drone program czar, John Brennan, and those whom he supervised. A classic Charybdis and Scylla.

Daniel Hale is obviously not a spy, for his avowed intention in disclosing top secret documents was only to reveal to the public what was going on in the drone program under a bogus pretext of national self defense. What he revealed is not that a few rogue operators have killed innocent people with impunity, but that the entire drone program is premised on the assumption that it is perfectly acceptable to execute anyone anywhere on the basis of purely circumstantial evidence. In addition to cellphone SIM card data, drone video footage and the testimony of bribed informants on the ground are also used to add names to hit lists. But in the third world countries where these drone strikes have been carried out, the destitute locals who provide HUMINT, or human intelligence, obviously have compelling financial incentives to locate targets for the people paying them.

To acknowledge that Daniel Hale was right to act on his conscience and reveal to the populace that they were being lied to is simultaneously to assert that the entire drone program is fundamentally misguided, indeed just as wrong as murder—because that is what it is. Hale correctly recognized the financial incentives driving the employees of the “killing machine,” with private military companies (PMCs) rewarded for identifying as many “terrorists” (in reality, suspects), as possible. All of the employees involved in the hunting down and killing of suspects using lethal drones outside areas of active hostilities have been embroiled in a taxpayer funded large-scale program of mass murder. Yet this killing has been rendered banal to most citizens, in large part because the mainstream media outlets decline to discuss the matter at all, deferring as they always do to the Pentagon under, again, a pretext of national self-defense.

Police Refuse Comment After Killing Hero Who Prevented Mass Shooting

In June, a deranged gunman, 59-year-old Ronald Troyke, began what was about to be a deadly mass shooting. His first victim would be Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley, and, according to the reports that evening, his next victim would be liberty activist and friend to many members of the Free Thought Project, including this author, Johnny Hurley. But it didn’t quite unfold like the original reports claimed. Hurley was actually the hero who stopped the gunman and when other officers arrived on scene, they killed the hero.

It has been over a month since Hurley’s death and other than police admitting they were the ones who killed him, no other information has come out. There were surveillance cameras which captured Troyke shoot officer Gordon Beesley and which filmed the interaction between Hurley and Troyke, and the officer or officers who showed up and killed him. However, none of this video has been released.

To those who witnessed the shooting, Hurley was hailed as a hero. He had stopped the deadly threat and saved many lives in the process. But his time as a living hero was only brief. Moments after saving countless lives, Hurley would be killed by police.

Police claim, though offered up no evidence to back it up, that Hurley had picked up Troyke’s AR-15 and an officer or officers opened fire on him, mistaking him for the shooter.

“He did not hesitate; he didn’t stand there and think about it. He totally heard the gunfire, went to the door, saw the shooter and immediately ran in that direction,” witness Bill Troyanos said. “I just want to make sure his family knows how heroic he was.”

“He turned back and looked towards everybody at the restaurant and told us that he (Troyke) is coming, that he is coming back and that we should get inside,” another witness who asked not to be identified said. “I ran to the back of the store, closer to the alley, kind of ‘nooked’ myself in a corner just to feel safe.”

“Mr. Hurley shot him. I think I heard 6 shots from his gun, maybe 5,” Troyanos said.

These are the only details police have acknowledged yet they refuse to release anymore.

After released a heavily redacted version of the video which omits the aforementioned details, the only other information to come from the Arvada Police Department was the following statement, noting that no more transparency will come from them:

“Further video or statements related to the officer involved shooting will not be released at this time. Any further release will be determined by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office at the conclusion of the CIRT investigation.”

Below is the video. It stops after Troyke shoots officer Beesley and returns to his truck to grab his AR-15. It was everything that happens after this point that police are choosing to keep from the public’s eye, including Hurley’s own family.

is name to help pay for expenses and showing just how much people respect and miss him, it has raised over $80,000. You can donate to it here.

Johnny Hurley was an outspoken activist for freedom and peace and he spent the last decade or more of his life seeking those goals for the world. His dedication to the preservation of life was so strong that it actually cost him his own life.

Rest in Peace, Johnny Hurley. We will not stop until we have all the answers.

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

Why Can’t Johnny Kill? 11th Hour Conscientious Objection and Moral Injury

In 1996 Lt. Col. Dave Grossman authored “On Killing,” a seminal study on “the psychological cost of learning to killing in war and society.” In it, Grossman documents the unheralded history of man’s inherent resistance to taking fellow human life. This history is so concealed that some, such as philosopher-psychologist Peter Martin have called it “a massive unconscious cover-up.”1

Indeed, despite the near universal glorification of combat across human society, the threads of this hidden truth are everywhere.

For instance, Grossman recites a well-documented study of Prussian infantry accuracy and firing rates. This study found that, using smoothbore muskets, Prussian infantry scored “25 percent hits at 225 yards, 40 percent hits at 150 yards, and 60 percent hits at 75 yards when firing at a 100-foot by 6-foot target.”

Grossman concludes:

[t]hus, at 75 yards, a 200-man regiment should be able to hit as many as 120 enemy soldiers in the first volley. If four shots were fired each minute, a regiment could potentially kill or wound as many as 480 enemy soldiers in the first minute.2

With these established accuracy numbers, casualty rates in that era should have been near one hundred percent, given that, for instance, the average American Civil War engagement took place at “thirty yards.” Conversely, death rates in that war were as low as “one to two men per minute.” Engagements lasted for hours.3 An examination of accuracy rates across a number of contemporary conflicts corroborates these results.4

Evidence suggests that instead of shooting the enemy, most men busied themselves with other tasks, such as tending the wounded, loading weapons (sometimes repeatedly without firing), shouting orders, wandering around, and even finding a discreet place to lay down. Those “few” who did fire their weapons purposely missed their targets. A very select few shot to kill.5

Sources suggest this “problem” existed during World War I as well:

Colonel Milton Mater served as an infantry company commander in WWII…Mater[] provides us with several instances in which World War I veterans warned him to expect that there would be many nonfirers in combat.

When he first joined the service in 1933, Mater asked his uncle, a veteran of World War I, about his combat experience. “I was amazed to find that the experience foremost in his mind was ‘draftees who wouldn’t shoot.’ He expressed it something like this: ‘They thought if they didn’t shoot at the Germans, the Germans wouldn’t shoot back at them.’”6

Citing a host of other historical examples,7 Grossman concludes:

There is ample indication of the existence of the Resistance to killing and that it appears to have existed At least since the black powder era. This lack of enthusiasm for killing the enemy causes many soldiers to posture, submit, or flee, rather than fight; It presents a powerful psychological force on the battlefield; And it is a force that is discernible throughout the history of man. The application and understanding of this force can lend new insight to military history, the nature of war, and the nature of man.8

In fact, according to Grossman’s theory, a crucial element in the success of dominant military forces throughout history is the degree to which their natural resistance to killing was suppressed, intentionally or unintentionally. Nearly all these factors involve decreasing the amount of empathy individual soldiers feel for the enemy.9

One of the first crew served weapons was the chariot. Usually manned by a crew of two—a driver and an archer—the moral responsibility for killing was divested enough to increase its combat effectiveness over regular infantry and cavalry. Chariots were usually manned by aristocracy—the difference in social strata also helped eased the lethality of its operators. Because of these elements, the chariot was a dominate force on the battlefields of antiquity.10

For Alexander the Great, it was the use of the phalanx that allowed diffusion of moral culpability from individual soldiers to the killing unit. What moral culpability remained was spread amongst the tightly packed blocks of soldiers. Close surveillance by unit leaders and comrades assured against eleventh-hour conscientious objection. Long pikes and spears lengthened the intimate killing distance, thus making the killing act more palatable. These factors combined with the synchronized combat movements of the phalanx to “effectively turn the unit into a crew served weapon.” It was highly effective in its time.11

In a similar effort to increase the range of combat, Roman infantry used the pilum, a type of javelin which was hurled at the enemy before close engagements. The purpose of the pilum was twofold, first to weigh down the shields of enemy infantry and second to shock the enemy during a charge by impaling its soldiers with long wooden spears.12

When early Roman battles were all but lost, Roman Triarii, the most wealthy and veteran infantry, replicated the Greeks by forming a phalanx of spears. Assembled in this formation, they became a de-facto crew served weapon. These hardened soldiers were efficient killers.13


By all accounts, the majority of killing on ancient and modern battlefields occurs when the enemy routs. When the enemy has its back turned, the pursing and victorious soldiers need not look the enemy in the eye while slaughtering them.

In modern warfare, the introduction of artillery and squad machine gunning gave soldiers the same diffusion of responsibility as the chariot and phalanx. Eventually the use of high-altitude bombing runs and long-distance artillery allowed soldiers to kill on an industrial scale. This was achieved by combining the crew served weapon with the extended combat distance.

In 1945, this psychology allowed bombers to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two single acts that slaughtered a combined 129,000-226,000 civilians.

Despite the horrific killing that took place in both World Wars, it wasn’t until after World War Two that the U.S. military consciously recognized the issue the Romans found and treated centuries before: its soldiers were hesitant to kill.14

This, as Grossman recounts, was apparently a serious problem for the Romans. Roman tactician and historian Vegetius “emphasized this point at length in a section entitled ‘Not to Cut, but to Thrust with the Sword:”

They were likewise taught not to cut but to thrust with their swords. For the Romans not only made jest of those who fought with the edge of that weapon, but always found them an easy conquest. A stroke with the edges, though made with ever so much force, seldom kills, as the vital parts of the body are defended by the bones and armor. On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal.15

After World War Two, the U.S. military became acutely aware of man’s inherent resistance to killing. It at once looked to replicate the methods used across military history to overcome this resistance.

General S.L.A. Marshall’s now infamous study published in “Men Against Fire” concluded that “[o]f every hundred men along the line of fire during the period of an encounter, an average of only ‘15 to 20 would take any part with their weapons.’ This was consistently true ‘whether the action was spread over a day, or two days or three.’”16

Some have disputed the results of Marshall’s study, concluding that it did not muster sufficient scientific rigor.

To this, Grossman writes:

Marshall was the U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during World War Two and later became the official U.S. historian of the European theater of operations. He had a team of historians working for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies, in Europe and in the Pacific, immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: only 15 to 20% of the American Rifleman in combat during World War Two would fire at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide in many cases they were willing to risk great danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages, but they simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy even when faced with repeated waves of Banzai charges.17

This resistance to killing is clearly not an issue of courage.

Regardless of whether Marshall’s study withstands strenuous scientific rigor, the U.S. military clearly took it seriously.

To combat these low firing rates, U.S. Military introduced Pavlovian and Skinnerian conditioning.18 The primary methods for achieving this end were reflexive fire training and desensitization exercises.

Instead of benign circular targets, the U.S. Military began using targets shaped like human silhouettes. Grunts are now trained to kill these targets within the first milliseconds they pop up on the range. Once hit, the targets fall to the ground, providing realistic feedback. Sometimes the targets are even filled with red paint to more accurately simulate the kill. Grunts with good firing rates receive positive reinforcement by way of praise, marksmanship badges, three-day passes, and other rewards.

The modern grunt is further desensitized through basic training by being made to yell and sing grotesque slogans such as:

Blood makes the green grass grow

Kill, kill, kill

oh ahh, I wanna slap your momma, ooh ahh, I wanna slap your daddy, beat ‘em with a stick, beat ‘em with a stick, oh ahh19

I wanna Rape, Kill, Pillage n’ Burn, annnnn’ eat dead Baaa-bies, I wanna Rape, Kill, Pillage n’ Burn…20

As absurd and comical as some of these efforts may seem, they are nonetheless effective. Firing rates in the Korean War jumped to fifty-five percent. In the Vietnam War firing rates climbed to ninety-five percent.21 Nonfiring in combat is no longer an observed issue in the U.S. Military.22

The subject of killing in war has largely been unexplored by the libertarian community, at the very least in its relation to the morality of war. Most who have studied the topic in depth are military or working with the military.23 To the writer, their inquiry seems to be threefold: (1) “Why Can’t Johnny Kill,”24 (2) “How can we make Johnny Kill,” and (3) “how do we put Johnny back together again after killing (and get him back to the front)?”

A focus on these objectives leaves major gaps in more important inquiry like:

  • How do we prevent moral injury?
  • What is the relationship between this resistance to killing and moral injury?
  • Where does this resistance come from?
  • What does the presence of this resistance say about the nature of war itself?
  • Does the morality of a particular conflict affect the rate of moral injury amongst those waging it, and, if so, what does an increase of moral injury in a specific conflict say about that conflict?

“In its most simple and profound sense, moral injury is a jagged disconnect from our understanding of who we are and what we and others ought to do and ought not to do.”25 This disconnect occurs when we inflict, witness, or fail to prevent willful violence on another human being or beings. These experiences change our common understanding about the world—that it is generally a good place where good things are supposed to happen to us and to others. Although moral injury is not unique to the occurrence of war, the exceptional horror of war produces moral injury in abundance. By many accounts, the Terror Wars of the 21st Century produces moral injury in exceptional abundance.


It is a persistent myth that the condition of “war” is a unique circumstance where ordinary morality and legality no longer apply—where it is permissible for ninety per cent of drone strikes to kill bystanders, where killing a child can be justified, and where young men are sent to kill and die by far-removed politicians and an indifferent and apathetic public.

The evidence presented in Grossman’s On Killing suggests there is a strong psychological basis for the proposition that killing is fundamentally wrong no matter the circumstances.26

Indeed, the bounds of moral injury are not limited to the study of psychology.27 Its cumulative study encompasses, inter alia, the fields of psychiatry, theology, philosophy, ethics, and art—all of which definitively evidence the fundamental human aversion to taking human life.

In many ways, this conclusion is self-evident—redundant even. Yet, the killing continues and its trauma ripples across the pond of human experience.

For antiwar veterans and activists alike, the study of moral injury and what Dave Grossman dubs Killology will find ample support, not for enabling men to kill, but for insisting that humanity should embrace its own nature.


1 Grossman, Dave, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Back Bay Books, 1996, pp. 35-36.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 16.

4 Ibid., Chs. I & II.

5 Ibid., 20.

6 Ibid., 27-8.

7Ibid., Ch. II

8 Ibid., 28.

9 Ibid., 153.

10 Ibid., 153.

11 Ibid., 153-4.

12 Ibid., 154.

13 Ibid., 154.

14 Ibid., 121.

15 Ibid., 121.

16 Ibid., 3.

17 Ibid., 3-4.

18 Ibid., 35; As Grossman notes, it is entirely possible that no one intentionally sat down to use operant conditioning or behavior modification to develop a reflexive killing action. He notes in his decades of military experience, he did not hear any drill instructor or officer explicitly state reflexive fire training constituted conscious conditioning.

19 Soldiers of Conscience, Luna Productions, 2007.

20 On Killing, 306-7. (this particular cadence is no longer officially allowed in the U.S. Military).

21 Ibid., XV, 35.

22 Soldiers of Conscience, Luna Productions, 2007.

23 For instance, although Grossman professes to be alarmed by the prevalence of violence in society, he leads a consulting firm he calls Killology. The purpose of this firm is to train law enforcement and military how to kill when required.

24 On Killing, 29, Ch. III.

25 Wood, David, What Have We Done, The Moral Injury of America’s Longest Wars, Little Brown and Company, 2016, p. 8.

26 Although the writer would argue that violence and even killing in self-defense is morally and legally justified, physical revulsion has been observed even in justified killings. A larger discussion is warranted regarding the morality of killing in self-defense and killing in self-defense as an unjust participant in an aggressive war; McMahan, Jeff, Killing in War, Oxford University Press, 2011. All soldiers react to killing differently. For many, a pattern may be observed wherein exhilaration and enjoyment are followed by regret and revulsion. For many soldiers, the revulsion concerns their enjoyment of the killing act. Some soldiers do not have a reaction to killing. The psychological reaction patterns to killing are beyond the scope of this piece.

27 Meagher, Robert Emmet, Killing from the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War, 2014, pp. 3-4.

TGIF: How Science Becomes Religion

The popular slogan today is “Believe in science.” It’s often used as a weapon against people who reject not science in principle but rather one or another prominent scientific proposition, whether it be about the COVID-19 vaccine, climate change, nutrition (low-fat versus low-carb eating), to mention a few. My purpose here is not to defend or deny any particular scientific position but to question the model of science that the loudest self-declared believers in science seem to work from. Their model makes science seem almost identical to what they mean by, and attack as, religion. If that’s the case, we ought not to listen to them when they lecture the rest of us about heeding science.

The clearest problem with the admonition to “believe in science” is that it is of no help whatsoever when well-credentialed scientists–that is, bona fide experts–are found on both (or all) sides of a given empirical question. Dominant parts of the intelligentsia may prefer we not know this, but dissenting experts exist on many scientific questions that some blithely pronounce as “settled” by a “consensus,” that is, beyond debate. This is true regarding the precise nature and likely consequences of climate change and aspects of the coronavirus and its vaccine. Without real evidence, credentialed mavericks are often maligned as having been corrupted by industry, with the tacit faith that scientists who voice the established position are pure and incorruptible. It’s as though the quest for government money could not in itself bias scientific research. Moreover, no one, not even scientists, are immune from group-think and confirmation bias.

So the “believe the science” chorus gives the credentialed mavericks no notice unless it’s to defame them. Apparently, under the believers’ model of science, truth comes down from a secular Mount Sinai (Mount Science?) thanks to a set of anointed scientists, and those declarations are not to be questioned. The dissenters can be ignored because they are outside the elect. How did the elect achieve its exalted station? Often, but not always, it was through the political process: for example, appointment to a government agency or the awarding of prestigious grants. It may be that a scientist simply has won the adoration of the progressive intelligentsia because his or her views align easily with a particular policy agenda.

But that’s not science; it’s religion, or at least it’s the stereotype of religion that the “science believers” oppose in the name of enlightenment. What it yields is dogma and, in effect, accusations of heresy.

In real science no elect and no Mount Science exists. Real science is a rough-and-tumble process of hypothesizing, public testing, attempted replication, theory formation, dissent and rebuttal, refutation (perhaps), revision (perhaps), and confirmation (perhaps). It’s an unending process, as it obviously must be. Who knows what’s around the next corner? No empirical question can be declared settled by consensus once and for all, even if with time a theory has withstood enough competent challenges to warrant a high degree of confidence. (In a world of scarce resources, including time, not all questions can be pursued, so choices must be made.) The institutional power to declare matters settled by consensus opens the door to all kinds of mischief that violate the spirit of science and potentially harm the public financially and otherwise.

The weird thing is that “believers in science” sometimes show that they understand science correctly. Some celebrity atheists, for example, use a correct model of science when they insist to religious people that we can never achieve “absolute truth,” by which they mean infallibility is beyond reach. But they soon forget this principle when it comes to their pet scientific propositions. Then suddenly they sound like the people they were attacking in the previous hour.

Another problem with the dogmatic “believers in science” is that they assume that proper government policy, which is a normative matter, flows seamlessly from “the science,” which is a positive matter. If one knows the science, then one knows what everyone ought to do–or so the scientific dogmatists think. It’s as though scientists were uniquely qualified by virtue of their expertise to prescribe the best public-policy response.

But that is utterly false. Public policy is about moral judgment, trade-offs, and the justifiable use of coercion. Natural scientists are neither uniquely knowledgeable about those matters nor uniquely capable of making the right decisions for everyone. When medical scientists advised a lockdown of economic activity because of the pandemic, they were not speaking as scientists but as moralists (in scientists’ clothing). What are their special qualifications for that role? How could those scientists possibly have taken into account all of the serious consequences of a lockdown–psychological, domestic, social, economic, etc.–for the diverse individual human beings who would be subject to the policy? What qualifies natural scientists to decide that people who need screening for cancer or heart disease must wait indefinitely while people with an officially designated disease need not? (Politicians issue the formal prohibitions, but their scientific advisers provide apparent credibility.)

Here’s the relevant distinction: while we ought to favor science, we ought to reject scientism, the mistaken belief that the only questions worth asking are those amenable to the methods of the natural sciences and therefore all questions must either be recast appropriately or dismissed as gibberish. F. A. Hayek, in The Counter-Revolution of Science, defined scientism as the “slavish imitation of the method and language of Science.”

I like how the philosopher Gilbert Ryle put it in The Concept of Mind: “Physicists may one day have found the answers to all physical questions, but not all questions are physical questions. The laws they have found and will find may, in one sense of the metaphorical verb, govern everything that happens, but they do not ordain everything that happens. Indeed they do not ordain anything that happens. Laws of nature are not fiats.”

“How should we live?” is not one of those questions which natural scientists are specially qualified to answer, but it is certainly worth asking. Likewise, “What risks should you or I take or avoid?” There is a world of difference between a medical expert’s saying, “Vaccine X is generally safe and effective” and “Vaccination should be mandatory.” (One of the great critics of scientism was Thomas Szasz, M.D., who devoted his life to battling the medical profession’s, and especially psychiatry’s, crusade to recast moral issues as medical issues and thereby control people in the name of disinterested science.)

Most people are unqualified to judge most scientific conclusions, but they are qualified to live their lives reasonably. I’m highly confident the earth is a sphere and that a water molecule is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. But I do not know how to confirm those propositions. So we all need to rely on scientific and medical authorities–not in the sense of power but in the sense of expertise and reputation. (Even authorities in one area rely on authorities in others.)

But we must also remember that those authorities’ empirical claims are defeasible; that is, they are in principle open to rebuttal and perhaps refutation, that is, the scientific process. Aside from the indispensable and self-validating axioms of logic, all claims are open in this sense. That process is what gets us to the truth. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, even a dissenter who holds a demonstrably wrong view on a question might know something important on that very question that has been overlooked. To our peril do we shut people up or shout them down as heretics. That’s dogma, not science.

TGIF–The Goal Is Freedom–runs on Fridays.

News Roundup

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