Author Archives: Jackson B. Archer

About Jackson B. Archer

I am a Treasure Valley native interested in political theory, economics, and localism.

A Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for family – the one that gave me a moral education by example, the one I joined through marriage, and the one my wife and I have founded for ourselves.

I’m thankful for ancestors who took a courageous leap of faith bringing their families to a wilderness in search of freedom. I’m thankful they either brought with them the English and Celtic traditions of freedom or chose to assimilate into those traditions. I’m thankful they tried to keep what was good in the Southern, New England, and Midwestern societies they ultimately found wanting.

I’m thankful they chose the Treasure Valley as their new home.

I’m thankful for strangers who stop to help if your car breaks down or slides off the road, without asking for a dime. I counted nearly a dozen in the time it took to get my dad’s car out of the snow two weeks ago. One man gave over an hour of his time helping us after he just finished pulling his wife’s car out, despite the sizable amount of plowing he still had to do on his own property. I’m sure he ended up working long into that cold night.

I’m thankful for neighbors who take it upon themselves to clean up and care for the common areas neglected by government and large property management corporations.

I’m thankful for a church that jumps at every chance to serve its members’ needs, who “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

But I realize the people I live with have less and less to be thankful for each year.

Idahoans are allotted four out of the 535 members of the U.S Congress. Communities have no explicit representation in the governing body that makes the most important decisions we live under. The urban majorities dominate the decision-making process, regulating small family farms out of existence and giving large bribes to the most powerful corporate interests in “flyover country” to ensure the rest of us are kept poor, dependent, and underemployed.

The elites take to the media to inform us that our poor, backward way of life is caused by an insufficient dependency on government welfare – which in turn is caused by our refusal to accept that we ought to pay higher taxes to the government that wages war on our rural livelihoods.

Something tells me the elites have it all wrong. Discontent is growing, and with good reason. But I have yet to see it displace the larger gratitude for the blessings we still have.

Most of all, I’m thankful to live among such thankful people.

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Policing: A Job for the Public or Communities?

Is this how real communities achieve safety?

Two recent events in northern Idaho illustrate very well the downside of empowering police departments to act aggressively in their day-to-day activities. The first is an encounter over whether a young man uttered the words “nickel sack” or “Nickelback.” The second is the police shooting of a dog in a van. A brief scan of the articles’ comment sections yields no surprises; many people recognize that policing as we know it is deeply flawed. But beyond calls for lawsuits – which only punish taxpayers and therefore do nothing to fix the system – and “more training” for officers, there are few suggestions on what ought to be done.

As with any social or political problem – especially a relatively new one – the most crucial step is identifying the true causes. If the causal origin of the problem is misidentified or misunderstood, we are unlikely to find a genuine fix. Excellent work has been done regarding “the militarization of the police” – the names Radley Balko and William N. Grigg come readily to mind – and insofar as informing people is the first step to change, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of this work. But once we have a clear enough picture of the problem, we should strive to address it in the most complete and sensible way possible.

To do this, I want to employ a distinction made by farmer/poet/essayist Wendell Berry between public and community. He writes:

As I understand the term, public means simply all the people, apart from any personal responsibility or belonging…A community, unlike a public, has to do first of all with belonging; it is a group of people who belong to one another and to their place. We would say, “We belong to our community,” but never “We belong to our public.”

Berry goes on to note the following characteristics of a public:

A public government, with public laws and a public system of justice, founded on democratic suffrage, is in principle a good thing. Ideally, it makes possible a just and peaceable settlement of contentions arising between communities. It also makes it possible for a mistreated member of a community to appeal for justice outside the community. But obviously such a government can fall short of its purpose.[i]

There is another important point, which is only implied in Berry’s remarks on a public system of justice; the use of force – i.e., physical coercion – should be within the public domain, where every person is equal in his rights before the law.

What has this to do with policing, which – I assume – almost everyone understands to be the job of the public rather than of communities? As always, we must keep in mind what policing is meant to accomplish. At the very least, its goals include (1) the equal treatment and pursuit of justice, and (2) ensuring safety.

The first leads us to designate policing as a public function, and (in this context) rightly so. We all recognize that communities have the potential to mistreat individuals, so we must insist on pursuing justice (i.e., using force) without partiality. The second has long been treated as a public matter, but since we are talking about responsibility to ensure mutual safety rather than enforcement[ii], it is properly the job of communities. What we have lumped together in contemporary policing, then, is at least two distinct functions that ought to be carried out by two distinct forms of human interaction.

In light of these somewhat abstract considerations, let us examine our current policing situation. As functionaries of the public, police agencies (at every level and jurisdiction) are expected to be impartial, objective, and protective of individuals against community biases. Yet, as Mr. Grigg tirelessly documents (albeit exclusively from an individualist-libertarian perspective), such agencies wield special privileges and powers in a monopolistic capacity. The tax-funded justice system has itself become a perverse sort of “community” in which special treatment of all kinds is routinely afforded to members. This condition is so widespread that equal treatment has become a newsworthy item.

Police agencies do maintain the most important aspects of public character – they are free from “any personal responsibility or belonging” and routinely employ force. “Qualified immunityinsulates officers from personal liability, and the Supreme Court has ruled that police have no legal responsibility or duty to protect anyone.

And yet so much of what police spend their time doing has less to do with objective public good than using force to uphold community standards. Noisy neighbors, loose dogs, and illicit drug use (to name a few) are issues best resolved by tacit neighborhood agreement and (especially in the case of drug use/addiction) moral encouragement or disapprobation. When actual damages against person or property are committed, it becomes a matter to be solved by an impartial judge.

Spontaneous community response to flooding in Nampa last year

Let us return to the pair of recent events. The “Nickelback” encounter is absurd because police attempted to enforce a community standard against using marijuana. Such community standards can be legitimate, but do not rightly sanction the use of force on behalf of the public. We can imagine a concerned neighbor politely confronting the young men about their suspected activities in the community, but we cannot imagine such a neighbor threatening them at gunpoint without coming to stark conclusions about his sanity and exercise of judgment.

The second story offers a similar lesson. No diligent citizen, investigating a suspicious van on behalf of his community, would be justified in approaching with his weapon drawn, instinctively shooting the moment he was startled. In fact, no person with the sense of belonging and responsibility to his community would even consider behaving in such a way.

What is particularly troubling is our toleration of aggressive police enforcement of community-level issues apart from any community (and often legal) responsibility. The rising outcry against this new norm is almost universally framed in terms of “rights violations,” and such violations abound to be sure. But the deeper problem, as I see it, is that something ostensibly public – policing specifically and the justice system generally – has supplanted the job of communities in numerous ways.

A real correction to abounding police abuse will be possible when individual responsibilities to community – in addition to individual rights – are recovered. In some places, it is already occurring. Dale Brown’s success story in Detroit is well worth a listen, and it confirms what advocates of healthy communities have long argued: It isn’t about money or equipment; it’s about self-sacrifice and devotion to a place you care about.

You can’t experience that through the public. But you can in a community.

[i] Berry, Wendell. “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community” in The Art of the Commonplace, ed. Norman Wirzba. Counterpoint Berkeley, 2002, pg. 161-162.

[ii] Safety, after all, is not a law but a general condition, and so cannot be “enforced.”

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Place and Politics: Idaho’s Spirit of Localism

Tim Woodward

Last year, former Idaho Statesman political writer Dan Popkey demonstrated his willingness to shill for a corrupt sheriff in more than one way. But despite aiding and abetting an illegal release of information for political purposes, Popkey continued to write for the Statesman until very recently. Thus, it was with my faith in the newspaper’s integrity and judgment severely damaged that I recently picked up a book by now-retired Statesman writer Tim Woodward. Like Popkey, Woodward has been formally recognized for his writing achievements; fortunately, that’s where the similarities end. Continue reading

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TNP Podcast 7: Militarization of Police

 

Floyd Noel joins us in a talk about militarized police departments, their negative effects, and what more humane, local solutions have to offer.

The Salon article mentioned can be found here.

(If you have trouble with the embedded player, click here to download the file.)

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American Revolution or American Secession?

I have touched on this theme before, but it seems especially important on July 4th to remember that the American War for Independence was not a revolution at all. It did not seek to overthrow the British Crown, nor to refashion society altogether. Life in America was expected to go on as before, but under different, self-chosen leaders.

There is only one proper name for this kind of action – secession. Unpopular and foreign as the idea is to some, our Founding Fathers were first and foremost secessionists. Donald Livingston has even argued that secession is “a specifically American principle.” Obviously, there is nothing specifically American about the principle of revolution, and the most significant revolutions in recent history have turned into blood-soaked nightmares.

With the true meaning and significance of July 4th, 1776 in mind, I hope Idahoans understand that, should rule by Washington, D.C. become as intolerable as rule by the British, a peaceful act of secession would be the quintessentially American thing to do.

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Self-Reliance as the Envy of the Masses

Robert Bergdahl

It would be too simple to write off the reactions to Robert Bergdahl’s Arabic- and Pashto-laden speech – to say nothing of his beard – as merely so much anti-Muslim bigotry in America. Bill O’Reilly, for example, was obviously upset because Robert Bergdahl’s presentation could conceivably – somehow, somewhere, by America’s lowest common denominator – be construed as weakness on the part of the federal government, which is why he said “[Bergdahl’s] appearance was totally inappropriate.” Accusing O’Reilly of bigotry does absolutely nothing to further a real understanding of his influential views, which are dominated by a desire to implement large-scale national solutions to nearly every problem.

Mass media ignorance aside, Robert Bergdahl is obviously the kind of man who doesn’t lie down and accept that something awful is happening – he acts. Studying two languages while establishing numerous contacts on the other side of the planet is the real-world equivalent of Liam Neeson in Taken; it’s also proof of a level of devotion to which every father aspires. His unglamorous willingness to “look Muslim” and say whatever might keep his son alive shows that he loves his family more than the idea of “killing foreigners whom the State has designated the enemy.” As Will Grigg has pointed out, such commitments constitute “an unforgivable heresy.”

Perhaps more offensive to the masses than his failure to worship the unitary American nation-state, however, is Bergdahl’s failure to let government “experts” take the lead in returning his son; Robert was personally involved with “the Qatar connection” that ultimately led to his son’s release. This elevated level of self-reliance – which naturally carries with it some eccentricities – is still quite common in Idaho. But much of America has lost it, and to them Robert Bergdahl is a conspicuous reminder of their dependence upon the unsustainable nanny-state that is increasingly unable to meet their expectations.

As always, those who willingly submit to paternalistic government are above all envious of their more courageous peers. It seems to me that this envy is the real driving force behind the alternately vapid and vicious condemnations of the Bergdahls. How else can one make sense of the simultaneous claims that Bowe and Robert are individualists who “distance [themselves] from institutions” and that they sympathize with cults of religious violence?

Sadly, coherence is of no concern when there’s some imaginary darkness to defeat, and envy has a funny way of making its object appear pitch black.

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Micron, Money, and Morals

Earlier this month, a federal court approved a $311 million dollar settlement against DRAM manufacturers on behalf of consumers. Boise-based Micron Technology, one of the firms involved, will pay an exorbitant $66.7 million to the “victims.” The crime? “[E]ngaging in unlawful anti-competitive practices to inflate prices,” according to The Associated Press. Sounds simple enough; the companies conspired to rip-off the public and will be forced to pay it back. Who could argue with that?

As with most things in an age where so much is beyond the scope of what can be perceived and understood locally, there is more to the story. From the AP report we learn not that a settlement was reached, but that the court ruling means “consumers can start filing claims” – the actual settlement took place in 2007. That means it took the court seven years just to figure out how consumers could get the money Micron (and others) already agreed to pay. The answer? Anyone can simply ask for free money! Really – it took them seven years to come up with that; the settlement site explains:

You don’t need any documentation to file your claim. So don’t let that stop you… You can still get paid even if you don’t have any documentation.

The likelihood of any actual justice being served under these conditions is slimmer than Idaho’s starving wolves.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden

But it gets sillier. The AP story doesn’t mention that the antitrust violations took place between 1998 and 2002, and the minimum “recovery” amount is $10. So the government agents who brought the suit – Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was one of them – have dedicated countless hours and millions of dollars in lawyers fees to returning $10 taken from consumers fifteen years ago. Of course, no one was forced to buy any DRAM and certainly most had no idea they were paying too much at the time. But even granting that illegal activity took place, have Americans really become so petty and childish that fifteen years isn’t long enough to get over losing a few bucks?

Antitrust laws are a lot like invasions of Iraq – a great idea until you examine the results.

The cost to Micron is nearly $67 million, but the actual impact to Idaho will be much greater. How many Treasure Valley jobs could have been saved or created by Micron with all that money? When Micron agreed to the settlement in 2007, Idaho’s unemployment rate was below 3%. (After housing went bust, it nearly tripled.) Perhaps at the time Attorney General Wasden thought little harm could be done.

And perhaps this is another lesson in communities paying the price for a government too expansive to be genuinely representative.

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