The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
12.1 (Winter 2012)
This section is completely new. We offer it as a kind of “in-box” for various off-beat and promising notions that cross our path in the course of any given quarter of publishing. Items may be technological, political, pedagogical, or of any other nature. The initialing at the end of each is intended to keep the discussion casual and uninhibited. Those who submit may wish to follow up with full-length articles or essays later.
Three-party presidential elections
The two-party system has customarily been praised because it ensures that vast numbers of voters come out more or less satisfied that they have been heard. While the victorious majority’s endorsement may have been lukewarm, especially after a very heated primary election, the victor still represents more Americans’ views (so the logic runs) than the vanquished. Multi-party systems destroy this abiding contentment with the process. A victor with a mere plurality of the votes—sometimes scarcely 30% in some European elections—is bound to leave a majority of voters feeling ignored and unhappy. Extremism may be the ugly stepchild of shaky coalitions and repeated snubbings. Spirited proponents of minority views may conclude that the only way to prevail is to make the loudest noise possible and to intimidate rival parties in a manner characteristic of 1930s fascism.
This is all true enough, as generalities go. Furthermore, the two-party system has lately worked to near-perfection in local and state elections here in the U.S. Promoters of candidates like Marco Rubio were able to wrest control of the Republican Party from the hands of its conventionally corporatist, “centrist” (i.e., forever leftward-drifting) godfathers. The Democratic Party is ripe for a similar realignment if its blue-collar base ever figures out that the ruling intelligentsia hold such traditional values as patriotism and heterosexual marriage in complete contempt.
Yet the presidential election is another matter. Particularly with the power of the executive branch lately growing as if on steroid injections beyond its constitutionally defined parameters, the selection of a president has become almost as important as a quadrennial referendum on a king. Yet the election is too often a sham. Major issues are brushed under the rug when both candidates perceive that they are likely to lose a large bloc of voters with a clearly defined position. A firm commitment to reducing illegal immigration, for instance, is seen (probably correctly) as carrying a large cost in withdrawn support of Hispanic voters. We are therefore given a choice between two candidates whose position on the issue can only be defined as “wishy-washy pro” and “wishy-washy con”. Support for gay marriage is resonant and aggressive in heavily populated West Coast urban areas and in the Northeast: in the heartland it is not only lacking, but a majority subscribing to traditional religious views is willing to call such an arrangement an outright abomination. The South teems with small businesses that can’t afford wheelchair access everywhere and want to set out manger scenes for Christmas; Vermont and New Hampshire seem eager to legislate special accommodations for every debility and offbeat belief known to the human race.
In short, the nation has grown too large even as it has shrunk. We are closer together than ever thanks to modern technology of transportation, but our values have never shared fewer basic principles. The Republican candidate will typically remain mute about more traditional values so as to have a shot a carrying two or three blue states, knowing that traditionalists will hardly swap parties just to punish him. (His worst fear is that they may stay home—but even this is presented to them during the media round-up as cutting off your nose to spite your face.) Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate will shout, “Si, se puede!” into audiences on his Southwestern swing and otherwise try to peel off a red state or two by courting racial and ethnic blocs. For many of us, this is a choice between fast- and slow-working poison. It is a miserable situation to find oneself in: to vote for the nation’s gradual collapse, that is, or for its immediate destruction.
A third party—or even four—would allow Americans all across the country to vote for a candidate whose views they truly and deeply share. Naturally, such a candidate would likely split the tally of one of the two major parties, making election a cakewalk for the candidate whose values were removed from the fray. If this candidate collected 51% or more of the vote, he or she would clearly have won, in any case, and should be considered duly and fairly elected. If a clear majority is not reached, however, then a run-off election between the two top vote-getters should follow (preferably in one week, so as to minimize bribes, pandering, and fraud). Admittedly, this stratagem might be described as a second primary and dismissed, therefore, as an unnecessary and frivolous expense at a time when our nation is falling deeply in debt. It is a primary whose necessity becomes more apparent all the time, in reality—a national primary, allowing all the disparate segments of a population that can’t even agree on when or if to kill fetuses or speak English or celebrate Christian holidays to fight for their society’s fragmented soul.
In a nutshell, not voting for an angel just because not voting for a half-devil will leave the devil himself victor by default is not a predicament in which a free, civilized, and technologically savvy nation should find itself. GD
Contracting security services out to private organizations
In a post on Friday, October 21, 2011 (ATF Ignored Death Threats, Tried to Frame Whistleblower Agent to Cover Corruption), Katie Pavlich discussed how brave ATF agents were set up by their own organization’s corrupt hierarchy: a weird combination of reprisal for not helping to bury official misconduct and dress rehearsal for the murderous abuses of Operation Fast and Furious. Two facts emerge from these tawdry incidents: that some of our cops are selfless and courageous heroes, and that some of them are the scum of the earth. This should really not come as news to anyone, because all human beings of any trade or calling have representatives in both groups. Corruption behind the thin blue line is also not unique to the early twenty-first century—far, far from it. Nevertheless, apparently some of us must be reminded from time to time of the reason for the Second Amendment. The authors of our Constitution were not concerned primarily about having implements that would put wild game on their table: they were worried about an abusive military or police force. Their answer to the age-old question, Quis custodes custodiet, was “we ourselves”—we shall guard our guards. Even with the best of wills, a cop cannot always come screeching to the scene of a home invasion in time to save the lives of the innocent family inside. In parts of some American cities, that best of wills is nowhere to be found; and the ATF, frankly, has begun to grow downright notorious in the past few decades for launching its own kind of Wild West break-ins. Sometimes they are a veritable portrait of the watchman in need of close surveillance.
In a display of self-contradiction spectacular even for them, progressive social engineers who scream bloody murder about the “pigs” trying to keep Wall Street safe from the predations of anarchic protesters also seem to think that a society in which only police could legally own guns would be heaven on earth. In truth, the police were neither brutalizing “Occupiers” in October nor will they ever be capable of securing our safety like cruising robots with lasers. Personal security must always begin and in with personal choices. Likewise, neighborhood security begins and ends with the neighborhood. A few years ago, several high-crime zones in major metropolitan areas were making news because their denizens had taken the duty of patrolling the streets upon themselves. Appropriating the gallant moniker, Guardian Angels, they strayed across the border of vigilantism in the view of some. They also made their communities much safer.
While there are certainly drawbacks to having groups of armed citizens walking the streets every night to check doors and peer down alleys like John Wayne in Rio Bravo, the distinction between these and a trained police force is really only one of degree. Police are not better men, more judicious sleuthhounds, or more accurate shooters just because they wear a uniform. Likewise, just because our guardians might be recruited from among our midst would not necessarily mean that they were seething with local prejudices and homespun grudges. A security force would actually do its job much better to the degree that it was more integrated into the community. We do not want an occupying army cruising our streets (not those of us, at least, who still value our freedoms and respect the Constitution): we want to defend ourselves, and to delegate that defense to those among us better equipped for the job because of youth, training, and character. This adequately describes the ideal police force of any American town, but not the one available to most cities with heavily crime-ridden areas.
Why, then, do we not contract our neighborhood security out to the company that does the best job, just as we employ private security firms to safeguard large plants and office buildings? Government employees well versed in state and local law and strongly motivated by their benefits package would of course continue to sort out traffic accidents and disputes over whether money should be returned for a hamburger without cheese. This proposal essentially involves sentry duty. Neighborhoods within a city should be permitted to contract with a company to keep armed guards reliably circulating through their streets (with a degree of regularity indexed to the degree of violent crime). The failure of all levels of government to keep American citizens safe in communities along the Mexican border, for instance, is becoming increasingly apparent—and to ask traffic cops to provide this kind of security is fair neither to residents nor to cops. To be sure, the neighborhoods most in need of security are those least able to bankroll it; for this reason, something verging on the Guardian Angels solution may not be a bad idea as a stop-gap, temporary measure. Yet a security company would also recognize these areas as most in need of its services and, thus, potentially among its most profitable undertakings. It would perhaps be inclined, initially, to market itself through special discounts or a long-term payment plan. The return of security in such places, after all, would mean a rise in property value and a growth of business. Urban recovery and health begins in the confidence that one is physically safe.
As the twenty-first century proceeds to expose its troubling complexity to fuller view, the need for better basic physical protection will show as plainly as the need for water in a drouth. To enjoy a right to the firepower necessary for one’s self-defense and the defense of one’s family is a guaranteed freedom to Americans. Why, then, should that right not include, or be extended to, employing the skills of an elite group more proficient than oneself for the same end, and to the greater safety of one’s neighbors as well as one’s family? PTS
Up-and-Down Suburban Dwellings
Urban sprawl is one of the great predators upon the contemporary city’s quality of life. In the very near future, it is likely to become not only painful to look at, but impracticable. Too many people are competing for too little space.
The following is by no means a complete solution to the problem: especially when the least educated, least skilled, most volatile populations on earth are deliberately using rapid-fire reproduction as a strategy to overpower democratic Western nations, the issues are much more complex than merely finding more space. Yet on the micro-economic level, it would make sense to build homes in suburbia with less width and more height. A square tower would not be a bad design. Such architecture would have two great advantages: “livability” (if you will pardon the barbarism) and agricultural fertility.
First, its livable attributes: privacy, peace, and security. Basements are the quietest places in the world, even in big cities. In the South, they are also welcome (when one can find them—which is rarely) as the coolest places in the house. A deck of subterranean rooms would be ideal for sleeping quarters during the summer. These quarters could be shifted to the tower’s top over winter—to a third or fourth floor, say, which would not only receive a lot of sun and catch the updraft of any incidental heat (as from the kitchen), but would also be removed from street noises. The transfer of living functions from one of the house’s polarities to the other might appear a terrible nuisance at first flush; but, besides managing the expenses of heating and cooling with maximum efficiency, the strategy would also break up the monotony of existence pleasantly—and the “abandoned” room need not really be abandoned at all. A cold room in wintertime makes an ideal space for exercise workouts; a steamy room in the dead of summer could be stocked with seasonal plants (about which, more later). Its windows could probably be opened at night to produce a setting amenable to casual soirees, for insects seldom pester a premise much above its ground floor.
I have conflated privacy and peace in the last paragraph without intending to—but the marriage is a natural one. To be sure, a space can leave one in devoutly wished solitude without adding silence to the blessing; yet the vertical kinds of peace described above would also produce unusual quiet. The conventional flat suburban domicile allows echoing corridors to send the shock of slamming doors from end to end of the structure. A multi-tiered house would leave occupants in blessed seclusion from anyone who was not drawn to that particular floor by the specific business serviced in its rooms. Architects will say that towers are more costly to build than “ranch houses”. This is only true, however, if the ranch design is assumed from the outside and then further stories are added. A vertical wall is no more expensive than a horizontal one, and load-bearing ceilings no more expensive than insulated, shingled roofs.
In our increasingly dangerous world, security may be the most compelling single reason for the suburban tower. Home invasions are rising at an alarming rate, and our government seems ever more interested in confiscating whatever weapons we have capable of holding off desperados while a squad car answers a 911 call from the other side of town. The Romans had the right idea: they simply constructed no ground-floor windows. The first floor of our tower could be devoid of any aperture large enough for a man to crawl through. Fire codes would no doubt start squealing alarms at such a suggestion; but in our high-tech age, there is no reason to suppose that alternate escapes from higher floors could not be devised. And if the home-invaders are intent upon burning you out… well, if we have really arrived at a situation parallel to that portrayed in Apuleius’s Thracian villages, then houses should probably be equipped both with a crocodile-prowled moat and a 50-caliber machine-gun mounted in the turret.
That failing, the subterranean floor or floors could be made as safe as a bank vault with a little extra thought in the design of the single downward-leading door (or the entrance could be equipped with a pair of doors). No one with even the sketchiest knowledge of the kidnapper mentality, high-powered weapons, and typical police-response times would feel safe talking to a 911 operator in a looked bathroom. Such doors are sometimes kicked in by rough-housing children—and two sheets of cheap plywood are no shield at all from bullets. A thick steel door at the top of a staircase, behind which nothing sits but stairs, would surely hold up for twenty minutes while the cops sorted out the emergency call.
I mentioned agriculture, and readers of this journal have often been invited to imagine the extreme importance of independent food production in the future. The residential tower would approximately double the amount of lot space available for gardening. Its flat roof, giving constant access to sunlight, would also provide the perfect spot for cultivating vegetables year-round. Small ledges or balconies could be added with the same purpose in mind (and might have some role, as well, in whatever fire-escape is designed. The top story of the tower could become a kind of hothouse in locales where the summer months bring grueling heat—for shutting off that floor from artificial cooling would probably make more economic sense than pouring cooled air into it, and the seal-off would be as easy as keeping a door shut on the staircase.
Also intriguing are the possibilities latent in rainwater running off such a lofty structure. As it plunged thirty or forty feet, would a well-channeled stream not be able to turn a waterwheel at the tower’s base hooked up to a generator? In wetter parts of the nation, this would surely be a much more direct and efficient way of giving each householder some free electricity than the installation of solar panels (the metals in whose composition, by the way, create a toxic nightmare in Third World villages where they are mined). Certainly the cataract could also, or alternately, be handled in such a way as to provide a steady supply of water for the garden throughout the year, and perhaps collected run-off could even purified on the property to furnish drinking water for the tower’s occupants. Of course, the more conventional roof of vast wingspan would better suit the direction of great volumes of water into one tank; it would not, however, be able to generate a potent downpour.
The design I suggest could lend itself to dozens of variations. Neighbors might want to link up their towers by under- or over-ground passages. The structures might be joined by high walls—creating, in effect, a castle. The allusion to the Middle Ages may be taken as pessimistic, I grant, since it implies that we are entering a dark age where our municipal services—police protection, water and energy supply, etc.—are breaking down. I would counter, though, that the Middle Ages should not be sold short. They were times, on the whole, when neighbors depended upon each other and, otherwise, upon no one. The time has come to supplant with true independence that strategically stupid and morally anemic “interdependency” championed by progressives in their by-the-world-a-Coke rush of dopamine. As wise men as far back as Confucius and Socrates have told us, happiness rests in needing the bare minimum from one’s material surroundings and one’s fellow beings. The latter, especially, are notoriously fickle. JRH