On Texas

Texas is my adopted state, I’m originally from the Midwest. Like many transplants, I find the place to be freaky. On the one hand, there is a certain frontier mentality that is refreshing. On the other, there is a certain retrograde mindset that is terrifying. Let’s start with attitudes towards the government. Our gubnor is in a constant pissing match with the Feds over, well, not much except his own political future. But this message resonates with Texans, who like to envisage themselves as embattled and downtrodden by the heavy-heeled boot of authority.

Well, yeah. Any modern technological society has a large component of top-down control. The great thing about the US is that we get to participate in that top-down control to a large extent. As someone in the military once put it to me, we get to have a revolution every four years.

What I find disconcerting is the logical disconnect over the presumed Utopia that would arise if only we could get government off our backs. We’d, what, put up our own stop signs? Maybe a toll booth in my driveway? Have some ‘well-regulated militias’ rounding up the illegal immigrant backbone of the Texas economy? I think it’s this latter concept that I find most amusing, the notion that I have individual responsibilities to personal safety and freedom that supercede an elected government. Yes, that’s right, the centrality of the Second Amendment as a means of ’spilling the blood of tyrants.’

Now, I’m actually a big fan of the Second, and in general do not like abrogating it. However, my mind can be changed by circumstance. I’ve had lots of arguments with my graduate student friend John Woods over whether there should be concealed carry on campus. I generally said “Who cares, sure,” right up until yet another disgruntled Texan decided to carry an AK47 into the University library. I wasn’t here for that fiasco, but what impressed me was the ruthless efficiency of the jack-booted thugs, er, I mean the police. Whoa. These folks were totally on top of things. And so I can only imagine what would have been the case had some undergraduate yahoos decided to brandish their own weaponry. It would have been an unregulated bloodbath, with the undergraduates getting the worst of it.

And this, then, is the point: the ability of the average American to defend themselves against the government, or even against fairly well-organized criminal gangs, evaporated around, I dunno, 1920 or so. Exactly what is it that I’m supposed to do against a blood-filled tyrant who has an armored personnel carrier?

The Second Amendment priesthood usually does not make the appropriate logical leap: I should be able to have my own TOW, gordamit. But you hardly ever see that argument for public consumption. However, the real savants in this realm, such as the not-very-well-regulated militia known as the Republic of Texas recognized that asymmetric warfare is the only way to go. These stalwarts attempted to develop their own biological and chemical weapons base. Like any insurgent group, they recognized that the government was not going to be confronted with pea shooters. Similarly, in 1998 the North American Militia in Michigan decided to develop home brews for the production of ricin. Now, leaving aside the heady problems of dispersal, this is actually not that hard a thing to do. Heck, we’ve produced ricin in quantity over the years for studies ranging from crystallography to antidote development, and the protocols are probably still kicking around in the background somewhere.

But having the means does not equate to the insanity required for use. Beyond the massive regulatory apparatus that I must pay obeisance to, the usual factors (mortgage, family, age, and sloth) make any pretense of being a revolutionary only a fleeting thought. Not to mention that I actually think we have the greatest political system ever invented.

But perhaps it’s only the threat that counts. After all, in standoffs between those with guns and those with badges it’s usually the media component that is asymmetric, not the firearms. And so perhaps I serve the purpose of keeping the blood-filled tyrant at bay by merely having access to the asymmetric weapon of an extensive knowledge of chemistry and biology. In this regard, and as a paean to my adopted state, perhaps I should say “When biological weapons are criminalized, only criminals will have biological weapons.” Wait, that sounds far too rational.

I know: “You will pry my DNA synthesizer from my cold, dead hands.”


- originally posted on Monday, October 25th, 2010