Sunday, December 14, 2014

Misremembering Robin Hood

When I was seven years old, and I lived in Seattle, Washington for a year before returning to Israel just in time to start third grade, I had a friend who came from Poland named Anya Engelking. Anya's father was a scientist, and in order to be allowed to visit America for a year, he and his wife had to leave their two youngest daughters as hostages back in Poland, so that their government would know for sure that he would return. This was back during the Cold War, and Poland was a communist country.

Both Anya and I, as non-American school children, knew a lot more about the details of World War II than the other children our age. We used to take turns reenacting battles from the European front of the war. She was about a year older than me, and she was very good at converting currency from dollars to zloty. 

Anya's mother was different from my parents in her child rearing, as there were times when she required Anya to play outside in order to get exercise. She was not allowed back in the house until her mother said so. Then at other times  her mother required her to watch TV, when she believed that what was on television was good for her. This was quite different from the way I was raised, as I got to choose when I played outside and what I watched on TV.

One time,  Robin Hood was on TV, and Anya told me she could not play with me, because she had to dutifully watch it. Her mother insisted. It was about communist dogma. When I told my father about that, he laughed and said that actually Robin Hood was about a struggle between Normans and Saxons in medieval England. And then he recited this poem:

Hear underneath dis laitl stean
Laz Robert earl of Huntingtun
Ne’er arcir ver as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im robin heud

Was there ever a real Robin Hood? And if so, what was his struggle about? Many people, both for and against redistribution of wealth, believe that the legend of Robin Hood is about robbing the rich to feed the poor. Those who are in favor of redistribution say that Robin Hood was good. People who are against redistribution say he was bad. But isn't that the wrong frame of reference to begin with?

Can robbing the rich to feed the poor ever work as a closed system? No, because to the extent that the rich get rich by providing goods and services to those less wealthy than themselves, their very livelihood depends on those who pay them, who are poorer than they are. Redistribution from an ecological standpoint would be like rabbits trying to feed on a fox. Foxes eat rabbits for a living. If rabbits ate foxes, they would actually be living off indirect cannibalism. Cannibalism doesn't work --  not because it's immoral  -- but because it is impractical. It is the impracticality of the thing that makes us feel that it is immoral, because it cannot be self-sustaining. It's the same reason why parents cannot feed on their young and why chickens cannot live off the eggs they lay themselves. It would be a perpetual motion machine.

Illustration by Aya Katz from In Case There's a Fox

On the other hand, in an open system, it is possible to rob your enemy in order to pay for your self-defense or your outward expansion. When there is a struggle between two peoples, such as the Normans versus the Saxons, it is possible to pillage the enemy camp in order to pay for the expense of having to fight them in the first place. That is also how large empires sustain standing armies: by constantly being at war with someone whom they can pillage. But when an empire runs out of easy targets, that's when that sort of growth has to stop. Once you have assimilated the people you have conquered and now treat them like citizens, taxing them becomes cannibalism. You are weakening yourself  by doing it

So what does this have to do with Jean Laffite? He is remembered as a "pirate" -- which is a kind of robber. But he is thought of by some as a kindly robber, and so we get a representation of him such as the one in the movie The Buccaneer, in which he seems to have a heart of gold, but is in fact not a respectable member of society. We are allowed to feel for him as a bad person who did a good deed, but we are not allowed to understand what really happened: that he was robbed by the United States Navy and that it was acting against the direct interests of the United States in its war against Britain when Patterson and Ross raided Barataria, knowing the British were about to attack Fort Bowyer.

Jean Laffite robbed the enemies of the United States, Britain and Spain, in order to sell goods at below market price to the American people. It was the fact that he was robbing outsiders at war with us that made the robbery legal and moral and not a case of cannibalism. Patterson and Ross raided their own allies to line their pockets, against the best interest of the country that was paying them a salary at taxpayer expense.  Their policies were cannibalistic. But nobody will show you that  at the movies today. Have you ever asked yourself why?


  1. Back to the original article that Aya posted: I agree with the analogy - "Eating the Rich" is cannibalism by taxing them to give it to the poor. It's in full display every time you walk out in public - take a look at the lady at the checkout buying groceries with her food stamps (provided through the govt. from the taxes confiscated from Apple), all the while texting on her $749 iPhone - that the woman gave Apple for her phone. That picture boggles the mind. The rich do depend on those below them buying their goods & services. It's analogous to a snake eating it's own tail or killing the golden goose. Even if we confiscated all the wealth from all the wealthy people (which according to Obama are the ones making above $250K), we wouldn't be able to help the poor for 1 whole year. Then what? What happens if we confiscate all the wealth from all the producers in our society? It's not going to make the poor any richer, but it will most certainly make the rest of us much poorer that depend on them for our jobs.
    Most in the govt. know this (even Obama)- that's why they don't go after the rich even more than they currently do, despite the pleas of "fairness" from Michael Moore & his masses. They know the vast majority of their revenue comes from the middle class (those they purport to "help" every election cycle-what a joke). On the surface, they create things like Obamacare under the guise of redistribution, but in reality, because the middle incomers far outnumber the rich, it ends up hitting our wallets and taxing us even more. Go figure.
    Meanwhile, the far left becomes apoplectic because the billions that belong to the 'evil rich' haven't been confiscated yet and turned over to the 'poor'. And 'round and 'round we go.

    1. That's all true, Kathy. We can't eat the rich, nor can we make any headway by looting each other.

      But I can't help but wonder whether the "moderates" in power, of either party, aren't really in cohoots together, looting everybody while pretending to be our defenders, rather like Commodore Daniel Patterson, pointing at Laffite as the villain, while pocketing the loot for himself..

      While most people are taking sides right or left. it's those in power that pick everybody's pocket. And until we find a way to open ordinary people's eyes to the fallacies in the propaganda they are being fed, it's never going to get any better.

  2. I agree that they're all in cohoots together. I know that politicians are a 'necessary evil', ..I guess...but I believe to be a politician, you have to have some type of psychosis - such as narcissism or something. I think anyone that gets into the game believes that only *he* or *she* can save us.
    I'm convinced it's all about power & money for them and since there are only 2 sources of money for them - us and the corporations / lobbyists, then yes, I think they will always be looking for more ways to rob us, but still point fingers at the other guys.
    I believe that's why they so vehemently shunned Ron Paul. Who wants a guy out there telling the truth about politicians? Bob and I have talked about this ad nauseum and usually end the conversation with, "this is how all empires have fallen". It's amazing they haven't learned from history yet.

    1. The very fact that Ron Paul _was_ a politician and ran for office and was elected many times -- although not as president -- shows that not all politicians are corrupt or narcissistic.

      In order to elect more politicians like Ron Paul, we also need an incorruptible electorate. Too many of the current eligible voters are on the gravy train, and they feel they have something to lose if we eliminated it.

      I don't have the answer about how to roll back the clock and go back to a time when more had to gain from free enterprise and free trade than stood to lose from it, but I think we should work toward the goal of finding that answer, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, if not ourselves.

      Too many people are expecting a collapse, but are hoping it will not be during their own lifetime. Not enough people feel they have a stake in what happens beyond their own lives.

  3. Yes, you're right about Ron Paul and not *all* of them are that way. I should have said "a lot" of them. I think Ron Paul is a minority of one, though. Ok, there may be one or two more. ;-) I'm just feeling very pessimistic towards politicians these days.
    Oh, I feel we have a stake in it, but what to do about it? We are overwhelmingly outnumbered. And barring changing the electorate, the only other option is to change the rules for politicians (ie, term limits, they have to live by the laws (Obamacare) that they enact, etc.). But how to do that....I don't know.

    1. I don't have the answer, either. I doubt that it is term limits. That has not worked to make the presidency any better, because the two major parties just take turns filling the office. It really needs to come from the people themselves, and it requires almost a philosophical transformation in the general outlook.