The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 13.6

October 2, 2010

"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders
stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society
and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were
thought unfit to live. I also recall the regimeís attitude to Christian
pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis
and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the
sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century,
let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue
from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and
of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his
destiny' (Caritas in Veritate, 29)."

- Pope Benedict XVI, 2010

"For eight months we have been waging a heroic battle against the
Communist threat to our Volk, the decomposition of our culture, the
subversion of our art, and the poisoning of our public morality. We
have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion."

"We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith.
We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement,
and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have
stamped it out."

- Adolf Hitler, 1933

It is not surprising to find misinformation, ignorance, and bigotry about atheism in internet forums and chat rooms where true believers will repeat the lies that they have heard or make up false arguments out of whole cloth in order to blame non-belief for some of the greatest atrocities of the twentieth century. But it is surprising to find the pope doing precisely the same thing as he is supposed to be an authority on matters of religion. His poorly chosen words above are especially galling considering his own boyhood involvement with the Nazi party as well as the shameful involvement of the church he represents. How closely aligned were the Nazis and the Catholic Church? Well, the pope is correct that the Catholic Church was persecuted in Nazi Germany, to a degree, but it was also very much complicit in his rise to power. The following gallery shows us how Catholicism and Nazism were quite compatible and how the "infallible pope" has erred in linking godlessness and Nazism.

I especially like the pictures with priests giving the "Heil Hitler" salute.

And of the Nazisí persecution of the Jews one would be remiss not to recall the persecution of the Jewish people by the Catholic Church for centuries with the Spanish Inquisition bring perhaps the most obvious example of what happens when religion is allowed to run amok. Hitlerís persecution of the Jews wasnít due to any atheistic leanings but rather his embrace of Jesus, whom he recast as an Aryan fighting against the Jews for the soul of the church. The Christian tale of Jesusí persecution at the hands of the Jews has been the font of anti-Semitism for centuries which both formed the basis for Hitlerís hatred towards the Jewish people and allowed the holocaust to take place. Hitler even came to believe that the Jews were responsible for corrupting the Catholic Church, which was one reason why Hitler eventually broke with the church and persecuted priests. Furthermore, Hitler even advocated "Positive Christianity", an ideological mutation of the religion in which he removed the things he found repulsive and added a racist, pro-Aryan and anti-Jewish slant. Hitler was no atheist, but instead he appeared to be forging his own version of Christianity, purging it, and the world, of the Jews.

So we have a pope who has shown his intellectual prowess to be little better than the average internet crank when it comes to attacking atheism. That alone is disappointing enough, but if he wishes to lecture us all about virtue heíd be well advised to remove the log from his own eye and clean his own filthy house first lest he appear to be just another hypocritical religious authority of the kind that we have seen far too much of these days. Still, his argument isnít without merit, but it appears that an atheist will have to make his case for him since he is not up to the task.

If one wants to argue with an atheist about which "belief system" is responsible for the most deaths the place to start is not with Nazism but with Communism, specifically the reign of the Soviet Unionís most notorious atheist, Joseph Stalin. Although exact figures are difficult to come by, the estimates are that somewhere between ten to twenty million Soviets were either executed, sent to gulags, or died due to other forms of repression or famine during Stalinís rule. During the 1930s Stalin persecuted Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, leveling their churches, arresting or killing thousands of priests, monks, and nuns, and making public worship extremely rare in the Soviet Union. And although Stalin did make concessions to Christians during the end of World War Two it seems that his purpose was to boost support for the war effort rather than an indication that he was sympathetic to a divine cause. Thus, atheism holds the record for most mass murders, right?

Atheists counter this argument by stating that Stalinís purges were about consolidating his hold on power and destroying his enemies rather than being some sort of atheistic attempt at spiritual purification. Stalin did not just target religion, he targeted any organization that could rally support against him and threaten his rule. When one looks at the vast array of ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and political beliefs amongst those who were persecuted the real reason for the purges becomes very clear. Stalin was jealously protecting his control over the Soviet Union against anything that could serve as a source of unity and opposition. Religion was merely one such source which he felt had to be destroyed.

Furthermore, blaming atheism for Stalinís mass murders is not analogous to blaming religion for the purging of non-believers and heretics throughout history. The reason for this is that religions have doctrines which either specifically command their believers to purge the faithless and spread their ideology across the world, or at least give the more fanatical believers the impression that their god or gods condone such actions. There is no equivalent doctrine in atheism proclaiming that non-believers should purge the world of believers or try to deconvert them all. In fact, there is no atheist doctrine at all. Atheism comes down to a simple definition: an atheist does not believe that any god exists. Atheism is nothing more and nothing less.

An atheist does not have to believe in Evolution, in Abiogenesis, in the Big Bang theory, in Communism, in Marxism, in Materialism, in Secular Humanism, in Social Darwinism, or that everything from ghosts to UFOs to witchcraft is all a bunch of nonsense. There is no set of atheistic beliefs to accept, no atheist doctrine to follow, no atheist church or prayer group to attend, and no atheist rituals to perform. From this perspective it is clear that one cannot blame atheism for anyoneís behavior. Atheism does not make any demands of atheists.

And exactly how an atheist arrives at his or her conclusion about the existence of a god or gods is entirely dependent on the atheist. Some have been convinced by purely emotional reasons while some have made careful study of the intellectual arguments involved in the debate and reached their position through sheer logic. There is no standard argument which atheists must accept but there are a number of common arguments supporting the atheist position which many do. Of course, atheists are under no obligation to accept any one of them. These simple facts put the lie to any claims that atheism is a belief system, a religion, or an ideology. There is no system, no doctrine, and no rules, just the absence of belief in one particularly extraordinary claim: an extraordinary claim which is not backed up by extraordinary evidence.

In fact, there is no objective evidence at all to support the contention of a divine order to the universe. Oddly enough this is something that many atheists and theists, at least those theists who are well versed in their own religion, agree upon. Although believers see "evidence" of a godís design in the universe everywhere they look, they understand that the evidence is subjective, not objective, and that this ďevidenceĒ rests purely upon their faith in the divine. Without their faith there is no proof, there are only facts which could support a number of different theories and beliefs. So many atheists and theists agree that there is a lack of evidence for any god, but where they disagree is on whether or not faith is an acceptable substitute for proof when it comes to discovering the nature of the universe. Many theists would say that their faith adds meaning and purpose to their lives and that without it there is no reason to be while many atheists would say that if they lowered their standard of proof to the point where they would believe in a god that they could not deny a great many unsupported notions, such as that Bigfoot exists, that Elvis is still alive, and that aliens have visited the earth in Roswell, New Mexico. Simply put, a theist has faith in the divine while an atheist does not. From this perspective a number of things are clear: that atheism is not a belief system but rather a lack of one, that atheism does not require faith but a lack of faith in the divine, and that believers trade their skepticism about a god for the psychological benefits that their ideology provides.

Furthermore, being an atheist does not imply that one is without morality and thus is more prone to committing mass murder than a theist would be. First of all, believing in a god does not necessarily stop people from committing murder, and history is replete with examples of people killing in the name of their god or killing because their god told them to do so. Also, statistically speaking, atheists are less likely to commit crimes than theists are, but that could be due to secondary factors such as the fact that atheists are generally more educated and affluent than theists. And thirdly, atheists can indeed be very moral people, even more so than theists, and hold firmly to ethics and principles while living lives of honor and dignity. Of course, an atheistís morals do not stem from his or her atheism but rather from the same sources where everyone else acquires their morals: from their parents and family members, from books theyíve read, and by emulating the people whom they admire the most. There is nothing within atheism that tells one to treat people well or treat them poorly. Those decisions are up to the individual. And thus, if any ideology is to blame for Stalinís mass murders it is Communism rather than any notion of "atheist extremism". The infallible pope is simply wrong.

Speaking of the Soviet Union, Stalin, and World War Two, another thing that should be pointed out is that the tired quote about there being "no atheists in foxholes" should have been permanently interred alongside the many communist atheists who fought valiantly and died defending their nation against the Nazis. Stalingrad was the site of what could very well be one of the greatest military victories in history if not the bloodiest and hardest fought. For months Soviet soldiers endured some of the worst conditions that humans have ever had to fight in, worse even than the horrors of trench warfare in World War One, and though starving, crawling through sewers, and living in a bombed out hellhole of a city they not only survived but killed thousands of Germans and denied them control over a vitally important city. The Soviet victory at Stalingrad is said to be the turning point of World War Two and Hitler himself declared after the loss that the god of war had gone over to the other side. Stalingrad was one big foxhole, filled with Soviet atheists, who won.

America has also had numerous atheists serve in its armed forces with distinction, the admirably patriotic Pat Tillman being perhaps the most famous of them. There is even a monument for atheist soldiers in AlabamaÖ

And I know from personal, first hand experience that one does not need to believe in a god to face and accept death.

People risk and often sacrifice their lives for a variety of causes: family, country, revenge, and ideology - god based and not; and to hold to the belief that the only reason why someone would be brave in the face of death is that they have faith in a divine entity is not only dead wrong but gravely insulting to those who have sacrificed on your behalf for other, more compelling reasons. So please, believers of the world, do not try to paint the world with a broad religious brush and assume that gods and religion are the prime motivators for all noble human endeavors. And please do not be like the pope in casting a lack of belief as being the crucible of tyranny and atrocity that leads to a truncated version of man. That line of thinking leads only to bigotry and a dangerous form of ignorance which too often leads to division, persecution, and self-destruction.

Speaking of self-destruction, my health has been doing anything but, continuing its surprising and pleasant upturn over the last few months. When oneís body has been brought low by billions of angry parasites there is simply no quick fix that can cure oneís ills, and the tenacious nature of these organisms makes getting rid of them no easy task. Over the years Iíve taken several courses of antibiotics, antifungals, and anivirals, all giving me some relief for a time but none able to bring me back to anything near full health. The causes of my illness are still not well understood and relapses happen over and over again, but my current treatment regime is working well and I am making solid, objectively measured progress. I need to go slow though, but slow is working, and I am just as frustrated as you are that I cannot just take a pill and feel better overnight. Unfortunately, Iím fully aware that I may never get back to full strength and I may eventually end up having to abandon the musical projects that have given me so much joy. Chronic illnesses seem to run in my family and I may be the latest victim in mine, but as long as I am alive I will fight. Please be patient. And, as always, the battle continues.

A big ĎHelloí to anyone receiving the Burning Blade for the first time. This is the Fireaxe newsletter.

Awash in a Sea of Failed Ideologies

Once again an election year looms in the United States, one that may likely be viewed as a referendum on the Obama presidency. The outlook doesnít look good for the president as polls are showing his approval rating sinking by the month and are also predicting that candidates from the rival party are likely to do well enough to take control over both houses of congress. It appears clear that Obamaís plan for reviving America has failed, at least in the opinion of a majority of voters, and that the country is again wanting change.

It certainly hasnít helped Obamaís case that the rival party has marched in near lock step against him, cobbling together enough senators to filibuster a rather large amount legislation that his party has tried to pass through congress. For those who arenít aware, a filibuster allows a mere forty-one percent of the Senate to block any legislation from passing regardless of how the House of Representatives or the president feels about it. Senate Republicans have used the filibuster tactic roughly twice as often as any party has done in the past and it has made quite a mockery out of our democracy. Majority rule no longer applies when a minority has virtual veto power and compromising with the few opposition members who are willing to "cross the aisle" has come at serious costs.

The filibuster threat has forced the majority party to water down its legislation and make sweet deals to moderate senators and special interest groups in order to get any kind of legislation passed, the mess that is health care reform being the most egregious example of this backroom process. Those in parliamentary democracies understand this problem well since it is often the case that the ruling party requires the solidarity of one or more smaller parties, who may represent less than five percent of the voters, in order to pass any laws. This gives those smaller parties a disproportionately large amount power to demand that any legislation be changed to meet their demands. As a result, anything that does get passed can often end up somewhere between fatally compromised and incoherent. How is this democracy thing supposed to work again?

And so, Obamaís grand liberal ideas have ended up looking quite moderate and mundane after being compromised to the point where they could be passed by sixty percent of the Senate. His stimulus package that was supposed to put Americans to work building up our crumbling infrastructure and funding ground-breaking technology ended up being mostly tax cuts, aid to states, and relief for the unemployed and out of work. His universal health care initiative turned into mandated insurance coverage without sufficient regulation to hold down costs or prevent the insurance companies from gouging their customers for all that we are worth. And his financial reform package was watered down so much that it is questionable if it can even prevent the same problems from occurring that caused the recent devastation let alone guard against the coming crisis due to runaway derivatives creation. Given his record of achievement Obama is a centrist, one who can package liberal ideas with conservative compromises and do so in a way that appeases corporate interests, yet the rival party has somehow managed to paint him as a socialist and block much of his agenda. Oddly enough it appears that their obstructionist strategy is going to work.

This is quite a comeback for the rival Republican Party which looked dead in the water after President Bushís dreadful second term in office. Like many failed ideologies, the Republican Party underwent ideological mutation, with part of it splitting off into the ďtea partyĒ movement which attracted many libertarians and a few liberals into its angry ranks. In recent elections the tea party movement has risen up to challenge and defeat several mainstream Republican candidates and is making their voices heard. The tea party movement is not a third party though. In the United States, candidates from so-called "third parties" (those who arenít Democrats or Republicans) have essentially no hope of getting elected since they must win a majority of the votes in their district. Third parties are usually much too small to challenge the big two and thus candidates with unusual views are compelled to run as either Democrats or Republicans and attempt to beat that partyís mainstream candidate in the partyís primary election. If they do that then they are assured of winning the votes of the hard core members of their party, which would put them far ahead of any third party candidates as well as give them a chance at being elected. Yes, our political system in the United States is highly inflexible and is dominated by two behemoth parties which greatly reduce our choices. This fact helps explain why too many Americans tend to look at every issue as being left versus right despite there being many perspectives from which to view and debate politics.

The "tea party" movement is not an entirely coherent organization and thus is difficult to succinctly describe, but it appears to be mostly Republican in nature with a very intense hatred of government. Their agenda centers around removing government intervention from everyoneís lives, most notably in the form of lowering taxes, cutting spending, and reducing regulation, except in the area of national security, where they want more military spending, tighter law enforcement, and a crackdown on illegal immigration. It is strongly nationalistic in nature, appealing to notions of patriotism, military strength, and sometimes xenophobia where "others" such as Hispanics, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, and gays are quietly or openly attacked as being forces which are destroying the country. Early tea party protests featured notable extremist positions such as people accusing Obama of being a secret Muslim and that his Hawaiian birth certificate has been falsified. This made them look quite crazy and made them easy targets for critics to disparage and ignore. However there was, and still is, a very large amount of anger in the country, mostly concerning the generally bi-partisan bailouts of banks, insurance companies, and automakers as well as the poor performance of the economy despite of all of the stimulus, and this anger has galvanized and focused the tea party movement to support harsh austerity measures to reign in government spending and taxation. The widespread anger has drawn large numbers of supporters into their ranks. In the process the "lunatic fringe" of the tea party movement has mostly been marginalized since their views detract from the movement as a whole.

The tea party movement is a perfect example of how ideologies are born and then transform as they gain popularity and seek to grow. The tea party movement began during the Bush presidency after the TARP law was passed which loaned roughly seven hundred billion dollars to banks to keep them solvent. The U.S. has already lost over sixty billion dollars on this "investment" and could lose nearly two-hundred billion when all is said and done. For many who despised what the government had been doing for years, it was the last straw. Protests against this unpopular measure began in earnest. The tea party movement grew behind the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul who is very libertarian and believes that the Federal Reserve should be abolished along with many government programs which he feels are unnecessary. The tea party movement likely got its name when thousands of coordinated supporters sent a message to Washington by donating to Ron Paulís presidential election fund on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. At that point the tea party movement was mainly a reaction against government intrusion and control in the form of bailouts and police state measures as well as anger at government inaction against illegal immigration. It was common to find both liberal and conservative speakers at tea party movement events with both sides angry about the overreach of the Bush administration. However, once Obama was elected the movement became virulently anti-Obama, with racist, anti-gay, and right-wing extremist views coming to the fore. In this way it gathered in a lot of Republican voters who were angry about the Democratsí victory but it alienated many liberals who instead decided to put their faith in Obama to undo Bushís more egregious policies, which he hasnít. Also, many conservatives were put off by the extremism of the tea party movement as well, becoming rather disturbed by what they were seeing in the protests, and some of them have disowned the movement as being misguided and fanatical.

Nonetheless the movement picked up steam, especially during the national debate about health care reform, helped in no small way by disinformation and outright lies being spread about the legislation through television, radio, and internet media outlets. It was also greatly assisted by Obamaís bailout of GM and Chrysler as well as his programs to assist people who were behind on their mortgage payments and to extend unemployment benefits. The idea that hard working, struggling Americans were being asked to pay for their neighborsí mortgages, their unemployment, their health care, and for auto union workerís pensions stirred up a lot of populist anger. In the view of many tea partiers, and of conservatives in general, Obamaís socialistic proposals drag down hard working people and support the lazy and irresponsible. It all seemed like just another bailout. And while Obamaís stimulus bill did boost the economy out of the recession, at least on paper, continued economic weakness fanned the fires of the common American, many of whom joined the tea party movement to protest Obamaís failures.

Economic concerns have united the tea party movement and other issues have been mostly pushed aside. The fringe and fanatical elements are still associated with the movement but the tea party agenda is almost purely about government spending, taxation, and regulation. A good deal of hay can be made about some of their candidatesí more extremist positions, but when one looks at the "Contract from America", which summarizes what the tea party movement stands for, one sees little that wouldnít enjoy broad Republican support as well as attract many Independent voters. Gone are lunatic fringe references to birth certificates, death panels, and the idea that Obama is coming to take away our guns. This development shows how this "splinter ideology" is maturing as a movement, widening its appeal to the mainstream and downplaying the wacky elements in order to attract more support.

Because of the way politics works in the United States, several of the tea party candidates who won Republican primaries are going to lose to Democrats due to the fact that many of them have some rather extremist views. The tea party has ended up somewhat to the right of mainstream Republicans and thus Independent voters may lean towards the Democratic candidates even if they favor change. However, the movement appears to be strong enough to decide a number of close contests even if their candidate did not win the Republican ticket, thus allowing Republicans to sweep to victory in November. Their voices will be heard.

As an ideology, the tea party movement may end up being absorbed by the Republican Party as it seems close to being currently. The Republican Party would end up changed as a result, having to become more militant in order to accommodate the tea party supporters, and thus complete the ideological mutation process. This remains to be seen however as documents such as the "Contract from America" and the recently released "A Pledge to America" by the Republican Party break virtually no new ground when it comes to traditional Republican party ideals. Tax cuts and deregulation have been staples of the Republican platform for decades, and also ones that they have delivered upon more often than not. Two more tea party demands, cutting spending and downsizing the government, have been promises broken by the Republican Party for decades, and if the Republicans take over congress and do not succeed in reducing spending, the tea party movement may vent their anger in the voting booths in future elections and replace more moderate Republicans with tea party movement candidates. It is even possible that they may break away completely and form a new political party if Republicans are seen as being too willing to compromise with the Democrats over the issues that the tea party movement is passionate about.

Curiously, the ideological mutation occurring in the Republican Party isnít that it is mutating into something new but simply turning back the clock and embracing ideals which worked in the past, but which will not work in the future. Under the Bush administration, Republican ideology was very much Objectivist in nature, an ideology of deregulation and laissez-faire economics which is failing spectacularly in the ongoing financial crisis as well as causing serious damage in other areas where appropriate oversight is lacking or absent. The Republicans are seeking to break with the unpopular Bush over his bailouts and expansion of government, but still they continue to embrace Objectivism, claiming that it hasnít failed and seeking to pin most of the blame for the current financial crisis on what little government regulation still exists. Instead of a deregulated and fraudulent Wall Street being responsible for the housing bubble and crash they say that it was mostly due to the governmentís intervention in the housing market through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These free-market apologists are quite misguided, but true believers often are.

What the Republicans seem to want is to go back to the Reagan era which features tax cuts and more spending on the military, only with a balanced budget this time around, which is a problem because Reagan had to borrow trillions of dollars to pay for his tax cuts and military spending. Thus, the proposed Republican platform of reducing spending will take tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars out of the pockets of the poor and middle class and their pledge to cut taxes will give that money mainly to the upper class and the rich. This will only further skew the maldistribution of wealth in the country and make the current economic situation worse. The small businesses that Republicans pander to endlessly are only going to hire more people when the demand for their products and services increases, and demand can only increase if their potential customers have money to spend. The Republicanís plan will take money away from those who will spend it and support small businesses, thus guaranteeing lackluster economic growth. Over the last few decades the upper class and the rich have secured a historically large share of the nationís wealth and income, mostly due to outsourcing jobs overseas, "insourcing" jobs (hiring foreign workers on visas and paying them less than the domestic workers whom they replaced), an endless supply of cheap labor from illegal immigration, and the wealth extraction by financial firms which now account for 36% of all corporate profits compared to their historical average of around 10%. The money accumulated by the wealthy somehow needs to find its way into the hands of the poor and middle class, as salary not as more loans, in order to get demand going once again but Republicans seem to believe that when the wealthy are given money that they create new jobs. Reality has shown otherwise. Over the decades weíve seen that even profitable businesses are prone to lay people off just to increase their bottom line, which in turn increases executivesí salaries as well as boosts the dividends given to shareholders. And unless demand escalates so much as to make new hiring necessary, new positions will simply not be opened up. This is why the recovery has stalled, the supply side is healthy and strong but the demand side is not. Thus, the data is quite clear, supply side economics has been a bonanza for the wealthy, but a disaster for the rest of us. Reaganomics has failed.

Which brings us to another failed ideology: the Keynesian theory of economics; which Democrats claim pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. Keynesian economics is based around the idea that the government should intervene in the economy to smooth out the business cycle which tends to run from boom to bust and back again. Both booms and busts cause problems for an economic system, such as widespread unemployment during recessions and misallocations of capital during booms. Keynesians believe that when the economy is growing too fast the government should act as a brake: raising taxes, spending less, and running a surplus which it sets aside for a rainy day. Likewise, when the economy is in a recession, the government should act as a throttle: reducing taxes, spending more, running a deficit, and spending the money saved during the boom times. In theory this sounds wonderful, adding stability to the economy so that recessions are mild or avoided altogether. But in practice governments have behaved as if they are always in a recession, constantly spending more or taxing less in order to appease their constituents, constantly running a deficit and building up an unmanageable amount of debt, and never saving money even in the most prosperous of boom times. Keynesianism might actually work but it hasnít actually been tried yet, at least the half of the theory where it serves as a brake on a growing economy. Thatís too unpopular.

The oft mentioned liberal solution to unemployment and recessions is to tax the rich and invest in infrastructure, which worked to a reasonable degree during the Great Depression by putting people to work and preparing the nation for the postwar boom. One downside of such programs is that government taxation and spending crowds out growth and investment in the private sector and limits the efficiency of the free market. Another downside is that the extra taxation imposed during the crisis is likely to become permanent and the government will be prone to spend even more, continuing to run a deficit despite the increase in revenue. Putting people to work and making the wealthy pay for it is one way of redistributing income, which will improve the economy somewhat as it did during the Great Depression, but managed economies are not efficient economies and what is needed is a way to redistribute wealth and income to those who can generate demand while allowing free market forces to optimize the allocation of capital. Unfortunately there is no political will to redistribute wealth in any manner in the United States and our system of capital allocation through the stock and bond markets has mutated into a wealth extracting monster whose costs outweigh its benefits. All of this needs to be changed if the market economy is to thrive once again.

The Obama administration is falling far short of this goal as well as falling short of the ideals of its failed ideology. Though Keynesianism demands that the government increase spending during a crisis, no nation can survive going so deep into debt that it can no longer pay back its lenders. Decades of debt based simulation of the economy have run their course and the days of the United States borrowing money to spend its way out of every crisis may be coming to a close. Keynesianism, or rather the bastardized version of limitless government stimulus through spending, has failed.

Ideological failure has infected the nation in many other ways. The notions of Objectivism which Alan Greenspan applied to economics for over two decades were also spreading throughout the culture at large. Ayn Randís individualist philosophy posited that people following their "self interest rightly understood" would naturally organize themselves into optimally efficient systems, provided that external forces, such as government and religion, were prevented from regulating peopleís behavior. Rand believed that attempts by religion and the government to control peopleís lives was not only inefficient when it did work, but that it frequently failed, leading to corruption, hypocrisy, and iron fisted rule by overreaching dictators and thick-headed bureaucrats. In this Ayn was quite right, as people in power have great difficulty inhibiting their desires and remaining true to their morals, but she did not foresee that Objectivists would suffer the same lapses when it became their turn to rule. While Objectivists remained true to the tenet of self interest, the "rightly understood" part of the ideology often got lost in the rush of power and wealth. This led to the growth of systems which were not only suboptimal but which were highly unstable and prone to collapse. The current economic crisis is but one such example where the pursuit of profit outweighed the obligation to maintain a stable financial system.

Objectivist ideology took many forms, bonding with the desire for freedom that arose during the sixties and influencing thought on all sides of the political spectrum. For the left it became a rallying cry against conformity, tradition, and any notion of social mores being dictated by the government, by religion, or by any social group. One by one all social conventions were broken down from racial segregation to gender roles to family structure to dress codes to sexual behavior to standards of decency and in seemingly every facet of life. Those forging the new culture of freedom may not have been consciously implementing Objectivism or even aware of it, but they were following its precepts, that the individual must be freed from external regulation and allowed to find their own way in the world. Only in this way could a person discover their purpose in life, or achieve spiritual enlightenment, or find true happiness, or simply build a life around them that suited them the best.

Every step of the way this culture of freedom was, and still is, being fought by conservatives who want to keep things the way they have always been. Their resistance has been mostly authoritarian in nature, using religion or notions of tradition as unassailable reasons why social values should remain the same. Their protests have mostly fallen on deaf ears, especially among the young who are not set in their ways and have little to lose and much to gain through change. Objectivism provides the basic argument for why social conservatives are wrong to unquestioningly oppose cultural changes as Objectivism values efficiency over inflexible rules. For example, if gay men are accepted into society and allowed to have public relationships as well as get married, they will generally be much happier and thus become better citizens, be more active in the community, and be more productive at work. Similarly, if any talented but eccentric people are not discriminated against or shunned due to their unusual behaviors they can contribute greatly to society instead of living lives of isolation and self loathing. By embracing diversity and allowing flexibility we can create a society where everyone is better off. And when we allow everyone the freedom to be whom and what they want to be, they repay us by being more than what they could have been had we demanded they meet some arbitrary social standard or shunned them because they didnít.

However, the self interested pursuit of freedom must be concurrent with the rightly understood notion of social obligation, and it is in this area where the culture of freedom is breaking down. As elucidated in recent editions of the Burning Blade (12.6, 13.1, 13.3, and 13.5) individualism has degenerated into narcissism with people caring far more about themselves than they do about others. When people demand more freedom and then shirk their responsibility to contribute to the well being of the societal whole the cohesion of the system is undermined and it becomes much less efficient. Simply put, the system suffers when people start taking more than they give back: in relationships, at work, at play, and everywhere else. People are encourage to dream of individual success and in so doing a strong sense of entitlement can arise within them where they think that they deserve more than what they are getting. In response they take more and give less, feeling justly compensated, but they end up leaving less for others. This can become contagious as many others will end up feeling deprived by the shortage, so they will react by trying to take more and by giving less as well. In time, honesty, courtesy, and respect give way to deceit, self-righteousness, and insincerity, and getting that which we need can become an exercise in forcing our will upon others while resisting the attempts of others to take what we have. Collaboration degrades into competition and everybody ends up losing. The failure of the ideology of cultural freedom has left us all wanting.

The embrace of freedom and Objectivism has not been limited to the left. The political right also champions the ideals of freedom but in different ways. Most notably the right has embraced Objectivism as applied to economics, where regulations on businesses, banking, investment, and entrepreneurship have been greatly relaxed allowing for an impressive expansion of global markets in recent decades. How Objectivism has failed the financial world has been well discussed in edition 12.6 of the Burning Blade and wonít be addressed here. In contrast to how the left desires freedom from cultural constraints, the right tends to desire freedom from government intervention and champions the right of the individual to do as he or she will. Conservatives want the right to bear arms and to hunt and build and do whatever they want on their land without interference from the government or environmentalists. They donít want the government to tell them how to run their businesses, or to tax them excessively and give it to those who donít work or who made irresponsible decisions, or to burden them with unnecessary regulations and red tape. They want to be able to succeed or fail on their own, unencumbered and unaided, and demand that the same rules be applied to everyone. Their notion of freedom is that everyone has the right to do what they want with what they have earned, and they chafe at the idea of giving others advantages that they did not get or refused to take. Even those conservatives who have not enjoyed much success in life will defend the right of their neighbor to be well off because they believe that their neighbor deserves to have what heís earned. This is why conservatives sometimes seem to vote against their economic interests, such as supporting tax cuts for the wealthy and for big business.

Liberals have a long history of burdening the successful with excessive taxation, trust busting, regulation, collective bargaining, and just plain guilt, often using the power of the government and the ideal of equality to do so. In the aftermath of the Stock Market crash of 1929, American liberals (and progressives) were quite successful in raising taxes, redistributing wealth, imposing regulations, instituting vast social programs, and constraining the growth of industry, but ever since the "Reagan revolution" conservatives have been winning many battles against those impositions, deregulating businesses, freeing individuals to become whatever they can be, and leveling the playing field by removing advantages given to one group over the others. Objectivism provides the basis for why liberals are wrong to impose so many constraints and regulations on the more successful members of society as it values self interest as a motivational tool. When one works hard one should be rewarded because the reward provides the motivation to keep them working hard. If everyone is working hard then society as a whole will undoubtedly benefit, but if certain people are singled out and forcibly have their rewards reduced for their hard work then this will reduce their motivation to work harder. For example, the top tax bracket in the United States used to be over 90% with the lowest tax bracket at that time being 20%. Letís hypothetically look at two salesmen during that time period, each working on commission, with one doing very well and ending up in the top tax bracket and the other doing poorly and barely getting by. For each new sale that both salesmen make the better salesman only takes home 10% of his commission compared to the worse salesman who takes home 80% of his. This means that the better salesman has to make eight times the number of sales to get the same benefit as the worse salesman. This greatly reduces the motivation for the better salesman to work any harder than he already is and ends up hurting his companyís overall sales. Furthermore, society as a whole loses out when the most talented people are so constrained by regulation and taxation that they see little to gain in making additional contributions.

However, the self interested pursuit of wealth must be concurrent with the rightly understood notion of personal responsibility, and it is in this area that individualism is breaking down. This is most notable in the business arena where deregulated industries have been caught cooking the books, outright lying, endangering their workers and the public, covering up mistakes, breaking the law, and brazenly ignoring any responsibilities that they might have in their pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. In the religious and political arenas, personally responsibility has been similarly set aside as numerous moral leaders and politicians have been revealed to be hypocrites, practicing the very things that they preach or legislate against, and shamelessly denying it all when they are caught. Individualism is degenerating into narcissism and conservatives are not immune to the disorder, making them more selfish and pushing them toward supporting a kind of social Darwinism where those who fail are left behind to suffer and rot. Their individualist ideology is based on the idea that the United States is a meritocracy when in fact equal opportunity is still a distant dream and hard work is far from being fairly and evenly rewarded. In our lightly regulated capitalist system the rich and powerful are able to bend the rules in their favor, allowing them to become wealthier and more powerful and thus even more able to tip the scales in their favor. In time the system becomes dominated by the very few who impose barriers to entry into markets which can often be more suffocating to small businesses than any government could legislate. When the few are allowed to become so powerful, the opportunities available to everyone else are greatly reduced and their hard work goes for naught, thus defeating the ideology of personal freedom.

Both on the left and the right Objectivism has failed and in its wake it has gutted the precepts upon which much of both modern liberalism and conservatism rest. By opening the door wide open to freedom, both in cultural terms and in personal achievement, we collectively have gained much, but since personal responsibility and social obligation have lagged behind those advancements or have disappeared altogether, we have lost much as well, perhaps as much as we have gained. Each side, left and right, attacks the other for its excesses and irresponsibility and tries to impose constraints on the other to make up for that sideís moral and ethical failures, but neither side seems able to make much headway, finding a way to blame the other for any problems that arise instead admitting failure. Meanwhile, both sides have been able to make strong progress expanding their respective concepts of freedom, with the left campaigning endlessly for more cultural freedom and the right fighting to remove government imposed constraints on businesses and individuals. These are the very freedoms that are destroying our country and should be curtailed rather than expanded, but neither side seems at all willing to back down.

Somewhere along the way the whole point of expanding freedom, that too much regulation and control results in inefficiency, got lost in the rush of individual empowerment. We ended up going too far but when our social and economic systems began to break down we figured that we needed even more freedom, not less, since freedom had always worked in the past. As a result we keep fighting yesterdayís battles in a world that is very much different today. Ours is a world where people are very good at achieving individual success but who have great difficulty in working together with others. We readily compete with everyone and everything with competition seeming to be liberating, natural, and right while the idea of collaboration seems socialistic, codependent, and wrong. The self must come first, for how many of us have been burned because we trusted others? Whether through self interest or self defense we slowly but surely embrace and guard our freedom, reveling in our independence but forfeiting the social connections that we thrive upon.

We continue to devolve from being social animals. Independence has become an excuse to become desensitized to the needs and plight of others. Helping people will only encourage them to become dependent on you and so you must help them achieve the independence ideal by giving them nothing, save perhaps for a little advice. Freedom and individuality is what itís all about. So accommodate no one, blast the offended for being thin skinned, shove your individuality into everyoneís faces, use people as you will and if they trusted you then that is their problem to deal with, never forgive and never forget those who attacked you for payback will taste so sweet, to hell with politeness and respect since those are just someoneís attempts to impose their values upon you, shake your head or laugh at the suckers who made bad choices and came crashing down to earth, mock those who disagree with you and turn their arguments into straw men to tear apart and destroy, and sit contentedly in all smugness at how wonderful you are and how disillusioned and stupid everyone else is because you, helped by nobody else at all, have become a SUCCESS!

Yes, you are indeed a success, but a success in the failed ideology known as freedom. Perhaps itís time for true change.

The trouble is that you canít come out and say that you are against freedom or you will be labeled a fascist, a socialist, or worse. Freedom is the unassailable value of both sides of the ideological divide; it is our call to arms and our most sacred and cherished value regardless of the fact that it isnít working very well anymore. Structure, responsibility, and obligation to others are needed badly, but those are also the things that we have been conditioned to rebel against with every fiber of our being. So it would seem that we are headed for greater and greater freedom in the future, and we will all suffer greatly because of it.

The Fireaxe theory - Outline

I. Basics - well established theories

  • 1. Emergent systems - that complex systems can arise from the interactions of simple things
  • 2. Natural selection - that organisms mutate, proliferate, and compete, with the "losers" becoming extinct
  • 3. Behavioral science - that neurological systems, at their core, function according to the rules of conditioning
  • 4. Entropy - that within a closed system, entropy always increases, which limits the amount of transformation that can occur

II. Extensions

  • 1. That consciousness is an emergent system: a complex system arising in the human mind from the interaction of simple neurons.
  • 2. That civilizations are emergent systems arising from the physical interactions of humans whether conscious or not.
  • 3. That ideologies are emergent systems arising from the psychological interactions of conscious humans
  • 4. That emergent systems follow the laws of natural selection in much the same way that organisms do
  • 5. That the universe is, by definition, a closed system

III. Contentions regarding consciousness

  • 1. That consciousness is a survival advantage
  • 2. That being a member of an ideology is a survival advantage
  • 3. That making its members conscious is a necessary part of an ideology's survival
  • 4. That consciousness is created by instilling within a person a permanent sense of inadequacy - in essence a state of constant fear
  • 5. That the deeper the sense of inadequacy, the stronger the person is motivated - generally to serve their ideology

IV. Contentions regarding ideological struggle

  • 1. That ideologies fight for survival using many methods including, but not limited to, war and enslavement
  • 2. That aggression is a survival advantage
  • 3. That survival in the short term outweighs survival in the long term prompting ideologies to pursue shortsighted and sometimes suicidal strategies
  • 4. That aggressive ideologies make members of rival ideologies feel afraid and inadequate which in response become more aggressive, thus creating a vicious circle
  • 5. That aggressive ideologies must continue to grow or face internal strife as their aggressive members will feed on each other to satisfy their needs
  • 6. That internal struggle results in ideological mutation

V. Contentions regarding the future

  • 1. That internal strife is inevitable since the laws of entropy imply that continuous growth is not sustainable
  • 2. That the abstract bases for ideologies transcend mortality and thus suicidal aggression is not restrained by fear of death
  • 3. That technological progress has made the destruction of the world through ideological warfare possible and will continue to make it easier to effect
  • 4. That ideological mutation will eventually result in the creation of a suicidal ideology which will destroy the human race in the attempt to save it

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Or if you want to do PayPal, just send me the answers to 1 and 2 above in an e-mail and I'll tell you where to send the money.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess: $6 / $9
Food for the Gods: $12 / $15 (SOLD OUT)
Victory or Death: $5 / $8 (free with any purchase)
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $8 (SOLD OUT)
A Dream of Death: $3 / $6 (SOLD OUT)

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

The Future

Unfortunately 2009 was a total bust for Fireaxe as far as recording is concerned. Health issues sidelined projects scheduled for completion during the year and other than the guitarist taking the opportunity to get a whole lot better with his axe, nothing was accomplished. With any luck 2009 will be the only year that went for naught.

In 2010, Fireaxe will once again focus on remaking the past. First of all, "Food for the Gods" has sold out and will be re-mastered before a second printing run is made. Also, it will be re-mixed with the vocal rerecorded for much better sound quality. When all is said and done it should sound as good as "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess. Secondly, the first Fireaxe CD, "A Dream of Death" will be getting a complete overhaul before it is re-released. Everything will be rerecorded using much more modern equipment and with everything that I've learned over the last ten years going into it to make it better than ever. Also, since it was recorded at a time when CDs had a 74 minute limit instead of the current 80, I will add six more minutes of music to the work in which I will explore a number of musical themes as well as add a killer new song written by Octavio Ramos. So it looks like a year of sequels for Fireaxe. I'll probably leave the names of the CDs the same but I've been kicking around a ideas for alternate titles, such as "Food for the Gods - Regurgitated", "Desert for the Gods", and "A Dream of Undeath", "The Morning After Death", or "I'm Dreaming of a White Strait-Jacket - a Fireaxe Christmas in Hell".

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the single CDs for $5 or $6, $12 for "Food for the Gods" since it is three CDs, which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge an extra $2 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. Do not fall in love with the Dark Goddess. I mean, seriously. She's the goddess of death after all. It's not a good idea. Furthermore, do not have sexual fantasies involving the Dark Goddess. She does not have a womb and thus lacks the entrance to that particular organ. Also, attempting to use other entrances will likely result in castration. Again, it's not a good idea.
  • 6. You are vehemently discouraged from doing anything depicted in the CD "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" such as: torturing someone, lying for corporate profit, rationalizing greed, beating, raping, and murdering your girlfriend, destroying the lives of those who've wronged you and their families, corrupting the government, trying to kill yourself with pleasure, kidnapping and ransoming people, committing atrocities, cutting someone's face to pieces, destroying half the world as revenge, and especially stating that any of these things are okay because "God is on your side." Please, think before you act.
  • 7. You are food for the gods.
  • 8. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 9. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 10. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 11. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

Back to the Burning Blade Index