Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'll show yous unsustainable!

That would be upstanding Russian businessman Viktor Bout, currently "awaiting trial in the United States on terrorism and arms trading charges." Ever see Lord of War (AKA The Last Time You'll Be Able To Take Nicolas Cage Seriously For A While)? His character, "Yuri Orlov", was apparently based in large part on poor Viktor Anatolyevitch.
Bout in 2010, looking more like Ron Swanson than Nic Cage
Bout has been in custody since 2008, although he wasn't extradited to the United States (from Thailand, where he was arrested) until 2010. Having been in the land of the free for nearly six months now, he's decided it's time to speak out against the grave injustices being visited upon him: the prison where he is being held "does not cater to vegetarians".

I bring this up not to encourage needless cruelty to any man, (alleged) criminal or otherwise, nor to offer my take on the legality of the extradition, nor to gush about how dreamy Mr Cage was in the aforementioned film (although oh, honey, he was!) but to ask: why did he think he could make this complaint at all? Whom did he expect to listen?

Americans, of course. Because we're radical individualists-- which is to say, we're terrified of hearing the word “no”-- even if it's an echo ringing down an empty hallway.

It's not a bad instinct, given that the only voice most of us listen to nowdays is that of the State. Even if I have been reading a lot of Peter Lawler lately I'm still too much of a libertarian to be comfortable with US Courts examining the “sincerity of prisoners' religious beliefs” to determine whether they qualify for kosher meals.
“The courts have ruled that a person should have the right to choose his or her religion and be allowed to practice it in prison as they would in the community. The courts also said that a person’s religious belief is that which he or she feels in their heart. In response, the Department allowed offenders to switch their religion easily and fairly regularly. It didn’t take long, however, for offenders placed in disciplinary segregation to claim to be Jewish in order to receive sealed, pre-packaged Kosher food because they did not want to be given food delivered by other offenders who might put something in their food, even though correction officers were watching. Before we knew it, the number of Kosher meals being served went from very few to many, at an unacceptable and unnecessary cost. In the end, we had to revise the policy regarding how often one could change his or her religion. The need to balance the rights of offenders with the ability to manage a prison was the real issue here.”
- Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the NY State Dep't of Correctional Facilities
The worst part is that I bet that sounds reasonable to some of you.

I began this post in something of a sleep deprived delirium (according to some 4am scribblings I was supposed to tie this into an episode of Father Ted where Father Dougal is trapped in a milk truck that will explode if it goes slower than 4 mph; when Father Ted tells the other priests they have to “do something practical, something that will really help Dougal,” they set up a moving altar hitched to a tractor and say a Mass alongside the milk truck-- if you can figure out what the hell that has to do with the sanctity of vegetarianism do let me know), but I've found a new track now, and it's gloomy, but seems to be going in the right direction: pluralism is doomed—meaningful pluralism—you know, the kind composed of norms, rites, and rituals that can't, won't, be sloughed off to better manage a prison.

Sorry, meant "meaningful pluralism in a statist society". None but the Great Lidless Eye of the State would be so driven to categorize, legalize, equalize, homogenize, and so nowhere but in its realm would the people write essays like "IS ETHICAL VEGANISM A RELIGION?" so that their animal rights activist buddies can finally exercise their right to vegan footwear in the pen.

Perhaps this is what Don Colacho meant when he wrote that "a bureaucracy ultimately always ends up costing the people more than an upper class." Does an upper class have the ability to completely redefine our most cherished cultural institutions? Does it do so for the sake of paperwork? Does it force square pegs into round holes to better achieve equality? Does it create and perpetuate false categories and equivalences in the name of fairness and order

I'll just let him finish this up for me:

"Modern man believes he lives amidst a pluralism of opinions, when what prevails today is a stifling unanimity. ... The sinister uniformity that threatens us will not be imposed by a doctrine, but by a uniform economic and social conditioning. ... The necessary and sufficient condition of despotism is the disappearance of every kind of social authority not conferred by the State."

Behold, the fruits of our freedom.

It is good to reject the "no" of the State, but in rejecting all denial we lose all that we would affirm.

1 comment:

  1. Getting the Great Lidless Eye out of (or marginally less deep into) the business of evaluating individuals' religious claims is one of the reasons why -- in radical contrast to the self-labeled "religious liberty community" -- I'm a huge fan of Scalia's opinion for the Court in Employment Division v. Smith.

    Before Smith, when the Court pretended to apply a rigorous test to all govt action that so much as "burdened" free exercise of religion (the FE Clause only says "prohibits"), it openly said, meh, prisons are different. O'Lone v. Shabazz.