On re-watching The Matrix, twenty years later.

On re-watching The Matrix, twenty years later.

The Matrix is an incredible film.  The cinematography is gorgeous. The major themes – mind control, the nature of free will, and what it means to reject the system – are no less relevant today than when the Wachowski sisters first made their masterpiece.

The Matrix also features many, many guns.

Graffiti in a tunnel in London. Photograph by Duncan C. on Flickr.

I recently read many of Grant Morrison’s comics.  After The Invisibles, which was rumored to have a major impact on the visual style of The Matrix, I felt inspired to re-watch the film. 

For the most part, I still loved it.  But the action scenes were, for me, a person whose spouse is a school teacher, viscerally unpleasant.

On my spouse’s second day of student teaching in northern California, a child arrived at her school with an assortment of lethal weapons that included a chain saw and several pipe bombs.  The child was tackled; the bombs did not explode; nobody died.  Media coverage was minimal, even in the local news.

On multiple occasions, classes at her schools have been canceled due to credible threats of violence.  A few years ago, a student lingered after the bell, wanting to talk.  “I have a friend who I’m a little worried about …”  Later, after this kid had unspooled more details to a guidance counselor, police officers came.  The troubled student was sent away for treatment.  Once again, nobody died.  Media coverage was, to the best of my knowledge, nonexistent, even in the local paper.

Crisis averted, right?  No need to alarm everyone with a write-up, a terrifying enumeration of the arsenal retrieved from a student’s locker.  Although, in a town this small (population: one hundred thousand), plenty of people heard rumors through the whisper network.

Students today are growing up with far more stress than I experienced.  Among top students, more emphasis is placed on applying for college, and the process of getting accepted to the “best” schools is more arduous.  There are more AP classes, more clubs to join, more service projects to undertake, plus the pressure of having some uniquely-honed skill that marks the possessor as somehow deserving of a spot at schools like Harvard, Stanford, or Yale.

That’s rough. 

Only a subset of students are subject to those particular torments, though.

But also, simply existing has grown more stressful for kids.  For every single student inside the building.

Growing up in a house where the parents are seething with rage, slowly and arduously divorcing, is pretty hard on children.  That is now a burden that all students have to bear.  The political atmosphere of the United States is like a nation-wide divorce, with the two dominant political parties unwilling to agree on common norms, or even facts. 

When individual people argue, they often cloister their perceptions inside bubbles of internally-consistent narration.  It’s quite common for each parent to sincerely believe that the other is doing less than a fair share of the housework.  There obviously is an objective truth, and you could probably figure out what it is – by installing security cameras throughout their home, a couple could calculate exactly how many chores were being done by each person.  But in the moment, they just shout.  “Well, I unloaded the dishwasher five times this week, and I was cooking dinner!”

I have a pretty extreme political bias – I’m against regulating behaviors that don’t seem to hurt anyone else (which adult(s) a person marries, what drugs a person consumes), and I’m in favor of regulating behaviors that endanger a person’s neighbors (dumping pollutants, possessing weaponry).  But I also talk to a lot of different folks, and I live in the Midwest.  It’s pretty easy to see why a person with different religious beliefs than mine would find my political stance immoral, if not downright nonsensical.

The Republican Party – which by and large espouses political beliefs that I disagree with vehemently – is correct that the United States was originally founded as a Christian nation.  The underlying philosophy of our constitution draws upon the Bible.  And the Bible does not promote gendered or racial equality.  In the Old Testament, the Bible tells the story of a people who were chosen by God for greatness.  In the New Testament, the story is revised such that all people, by accepting Jesus as lord and savior, can join the elect; still, the New Testament draws a stark contrast between us and them.

From a Biblical point of view, it’s reasonable to subject outsiders to harm in order to improve the circumstances of your own people.  Indeed, it would be immoral to do otherwise. 

It’s like Alan Greenspan’s devotion to the concept of Pareto Optimality, in a way (“Pareto Optimality” is the idea that a distribution of goods and resources, no matter how unequal, is “optimal” if there is no way to improve anyone’s circumstances without making at least one other person worse off.  Even a situation in which one person owns the world and no one else has anything is Pareto Optimal, because you can’t help the masses without taking something from that singular world owner). 

Using an expensive jar of oil to anoint Jesus’s feet is fine: she was helping the elect.  It was be worse to sell that oil and use the money to aid non-Christians, because then your actions only reduce the well-being of God’s people.  (Within a New Testament worldview, the possibility for future conversion complicates things somewhat, but if you knew that someone would never embrace the Lord, then you’d be wrong to help that person at the expense of your fellow Christians.)

And so it’s perfectly reasonable that people who vote for the Republican Party support policies that I abhor.  I wouldn’t want to be married to those people … but, by virtue of the social contract that we were born into, we are constitutionally bound together.  And we’re bickering.  Endlessly, maliciously, in ways that are damaging our children.

Worse, kids at school are subject to the constant fear that they’ll be murdered at their desks.  Horrific stories are routinely broadcast on the national news … and, as I’ve realized from my spouse’s teaching career, the stories we’ve all heard about are only a fraction of the terrifying incidents that students live in dread of.

Student protest at the White House to protest gun laws. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

It’s not the fault of The Matrix.  But this film sculpted the initial style for school shootings.  The Matrix was released on March 31st, 1999.  Twenty days later, on the day celebrated both by potheads (based on the police code for marijuana) and white nationalists (because it’s Hitler’s birthday), a pair of students murdered many classmates at Colombine High School.

In The Matrix, a character named Morpheus explains:

The Matrix is a system, Neo.  That system is our enemy.  But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see?  Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save.  But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemies.

The murderers saw their classmates as enemies.

You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

Within the world of the film, this mutability is made explicit: any character who has not joined the heavily-armed heroes could blur and become an Agent.  The beautiful woman in red, an unhoused alcoholic man bundled in blankets – either might suddenly mutate into a threat. 

And so Neo kills.  He and Trinity acquire military-grade weaponry; they stroll into a government building and murder everyone inside.

Anyone willing to complacently work there is, after all, the enemy.

I teach poetry classes inside a jail.  Through Pages to Prisoners, I send free books to people throughout the country.  I think that the criminal justice system in the United States is pretty abhorrent.

But that doesn’t mean the people who work within that system as corrections officers are bad. They have families to feed.  And many are surely aware that if too few people worked as corrections officers, leading the facilities to be understaffed, the people incarcerated inside would be much less safe.

Experience lets me appreciate nuance.  I am an ethical vegan; good people choose to become butchers.  I don’t like our criminal justice system; good people work inside.

When I was a teenager, though, I felt moral certitude.  I didn’t like school.  And so, if you were the sort of drone who could sit contentedly at your desk, I didn’t like you.  And, yes, I too had notebooks where I’d written the sort of vitriolic short stories about leveling the place with a Golden-Eye-(the N64 game, not the movie)-style grenade launcher, an onscreen point counter tracking deaths.  Yes, my friends and I made short films with BB gun props full of senseless killings.

One of my old notebooks that I must have deemed sufficiently innocuous to save.

I remember one of the films we made as being pretty good.  But after Colombine, we destroyed the video tapes.  I threw my notebooks away.

And I was pissed to be called so often to the principal’s office.  I understand now why they were worried.  Moral certainty is dangerous; it lets you consider people who disagree as the enemy.

Twenty years later, my body stiffened and my heart sank when I watched The Matrix.  I loved that movie; I’m not sure I’ll ever see it again.

And, glory be, I am now blessed to live in a nation led by a president who feels nothing if not moral certainty.

On radical religious terrorists targeting the United States.

On radical religious terrorists targeting the United States.

I was named after the doctor who delivered me, a friend of my father’s from medical school.

51EoHkd8RcL._SX434_BO1,204,203,200_Dr. Curtis is a gynecologist who has written several popular books about pregnancy.  When a woman asked for a tubal ligation after her tenth delivery (two of her children had died in infancy, but by then she was raising eight, ranging in age from a high school sophomore to her newborn), he performed the surgery.

This woman’s husband had given his grudging permission before she came in, but he later decided that irreversible sterilization must be against the will of God.  He began to harass Dr. Curtis.  He convinced his wife that she had done an evil thing.  The couple became so distraught that the hospital forgave their medical bills, hoping to stave off litigation.

This angry man never did bring a lawsuit against Dr. Curtis or the hospital.  Instead, he convinced his wife to give him back his guns – she’d hidden them as his rants became increasingly vitriolic.  But she caved.

Fully armed, he drove to the hospital, planted enough dynamite to level half a block, and stormed inside to find the doctor.  Dr. Curtis noticed him, called the police, and left.  The angry man took hostages – nurses, mothers with infants, pregnant women – whom he threatened at gunpoint as he searched the hospital.

One of these hostages – a recently-hired nurse – saw an opportunity to wrest his gun away.  She pulled the shotgun from his hands and ran.  He pulled out another gun and shot her in the back, killing her.

Three hours into the crisis, one woman delivered her baby – the newborn began life as a hostage.  Fifteen hours into the crisis, the police had found the dynamite and began to negotiate.  The angry man wanted the police to escort his wife and Dr. Curtis into the hospital, so that he could murder Dr. Curtis in front of her.

The police declined this offer.

alta view.PNG
Movie poster from a film made about the incident.

Eighteen hours into the crisis, the angry man surrendered.  He was taken to jail and charged with murder – the nurse he’d shot in the back – amidst other crimes.  He took a plea for thirty-five years because the prosecutors said they’d seek the death penalty.

In jail, he extolled the other inmates with his virtues.  He was better than them, he said.  His plan was righteous.

The other inmates beat the shit out of him.  Repeatedly.  It seems they had a difference of opinion as to who was better than whom.

The angry man tried repeatedly to escape.  He was transferred from state to state – he’d be transferred after altercations with fellow inmates, botched escapes, and suicide attempts.  During one of the botched escapes, he fell from a fence and broke both his legs.

His lawyers recommended an appeal – he was not in his right mind when he pled guilty, they said.  That much I agree with, I suppose.  I’m not sure he was ever in his right mind.  But I think it’s likely he would have attempted murder again if he was released.

Shortly before his appeal hearing, he succeeded in breaking his own neck with a sheet tied to the wall with shoelaces.  (Inmates at Bloomington’s jail wear lace-less orange crocks.  Less risk of suicide that way … although there have still been several in the past few years.  Jail is a miserable place to be.)

It’s not clear to me how a tubal ligation could be against God’s will but suicide was fine.  Maybe the angry man knew that his logic was faulty.  His defense attorney said that “One of his biggest regrets is that they didn’t kill him at Alta View Hospital.”  Just like the members of ISIS, Christian terrorists would rather lose their lives in action.

This country has a long history of Christian terrorism.  Numerous seemingly respectable people support the murder of doctors who enable women’s right to choose when to have children.  In Danny Davis’s The Phinehas Priesthood: violent vanguard of the Christian Identity movement, he writes that:

61NK-8V3GdLMany Christians will be surprised to discover that similar beliefs and moral values are present in the Identity worldview.  In some denominations, the only initial difference will appear when the idea of a biological Israelite heritage to present day European Anglo-Saxons is seen.

These terrorists believe that human life begins when a sperm cell fuses with an egg to form a zygote with a full compliment of chromosomes.  Given this belief, they think that abortion is murder – especially later in a pregnancy, when the developing fetus begins to look like a miniature human.  Because a gynecologist might perform several abortions each day, they believe that God would want them to murder the doctor.

(Human life does not begin at conception.  A large number of zygotes – probably between fifteen and twenty percent, but possibly higher since women do not always realize that they ever were pregnant – will self-abort due to chromosomal abnormalities.  Also, although most miscarriages are caused by blameless genetic problems, the rate of miscarriage is higher in women who are overweight.  Why do Christian terrorists not target McDonald’s?  Their food probably terminates more pregnancies than any gynecologist.)

mcds
Obesity & ill health terminate pregnancies, but I’ve never seen pro-lifers protesting at McDonald’s.

Davis also writes that:

In his book, Mix My Blood with the Blood of the Unborn, Paul Hill details his public defense of anti-abortion shooters Michael Griffin and Shelley Shannon.  Shortly after Griffin’s attack Hill penned a very articulate letter “describing such murders as ‘justifiable homicide.’ ”  In the same letter he gave his Biblical reasons against abortion and explained the need for “Phineas actions” to protect the unborn.

Christian theology has a long tradition of defending awful behavior that supposedly fulfills the will of God.  In Fear and Trembling, nineteenth century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard writes (translated by Walter Lowrie):

KierkegaardIt is now my intention to draw out from the story of Abraham the dialectical consequences inherent in it, expressing them in the form of problemata, in order to see what a tremendous paradox faith is, a paradox which is capable of transforming a murder into a holy act well-pleasing to God, a paradox which gives Isaac back to Abraham, which no thought can master, because faith begins precisely there where thinking leaves off.

Fear and Trembling has the beginnings of a lovely work of philosophy.  I have always enjoyed Kierkegaard’s description of the sort of person he considers second best in the world, the knight of infinite resignation.  This sort of person, according to Kierkegaard, accepts that our efforts are guaranteed to be fruitless – Camus would later argue that this is true of all of us, since we are all guaranteed to die, and eventually humans will go extinct, the universe will become a frozen void, and all trace of our existence will have dissolved into an entropic nothing – but doesn’t stop striving even when though failure is inevitable.

[The knight of infinite resignation] does not give up his [doomed] love, not for all the glory of the world.  He is no fool.  First he makes sure that this really is the content of his life, and his soul is too healthy and too proud to squander the least thing upon an inebriation.  He is not cowardly, he is not afraid of letting love creep into his most secret, his most hidden thoughts, to let it twine in innumerable coils about every ligament of his consciousness – if the love becomes an unhappy love, he will never be able to tear himself loose from it.

That’s great, Kierkegaard!  But then why would you also write that “The paradox of faith is this, that the individual is higher than the universal”?  Abraham does not need your defense.  Whatever he believed God to have said, stabbing your son is wrong.

According to the King James translation of the Bible,

Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Because Abraham believed it was God’s will, he was ready to murder.  And so set Kierkegaard off on his convoluted reasonings, arguing that when the faithful believe themselves to be fulfilling the will of God, their vile actions should be seen as righteous.

Oops.

At least the story of Abraham ends with the man refraining from murder.  Not so the story of Phinehas, patron saint of violent white supremacists.  In this story, God was angry because the Israelites were marrying foreigners, which might lead them to eventually abandon their religious traditions.  Rather than let them drift away, God figured he should smite his chosen people.  But Phinehas patched things up with God by murdering.

Again from the King James translation:

holy-670718_1280And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;

And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly.  So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.

Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:

And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.

In the United States, Christian terrorists have referenced the story of Phinehas to justify murder.  In Matthias Gardell’s Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, he writes that:

31m-sWuKYQL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpgIn 1990, hardcore Identity ideologue Richard Kelly Hoskins suggested that individual zealots could atone for Israel’s transgressions by assassinating homosexuals, interracial couples, and prostitutes.  Hoskins believed such zealots belonged to an underground tradition of racial purists, the Phineas Priesthood, and traced its history into antiquity.

After all, most of the Bible does depict Yahweh as a bloodthirsty god.  Yahweh himself murders a lot of people.  He was initially worshiped with animal sacrifice.  And he has a chilling disregard for the lives of women and children – in the story of Job, for instance, his wife and children are killed, but all is made right again when Job receives a new, better wife and new, better children.  These people are simply possessions, and only Job’s suffering has moral weight.

And this book is supposed to be the wellspring of American values?

On punishment as criminal deterrent.

On punishment as criminal deterrent.

crimeLike a lot of people interested in prison reform, I am skeptical of the idea that draconian punishments are good crime deterrents.

The basic logic behind the belief in crime deterrence is totally sensible.  If people are rational, they’re probably weighing the costs and benefits of their actions before making any decision.  If you’re considering whether to go to college, you’d consider the tuition bills and your lost wages while you’re sitting in classrooms instead of working and the effort it’d take to pass all your classes, then you’d balance that against increased earning potential and personal satisfaction and whatever else you might hope to gain (incredible beer pong prowess?). 

If you’re considering whether to stab somebody and steal his wallet, you’d consider the risk of being caught, the likely punishment you’ll face, the moral qualms you’ll feel later, and balance that against how much cash you think the dude is carrying.

For that latter calculation, increasing the length of prison terms, and making prisons more miserable places to be in, should make potential criminals less likely to stab & rob people.

All very sensible.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be true.  There’s some empirical evidence suggesting that it’s false, like similar crime rates in adjacent states with differing severity of punishment, and similar crime rates before and after bills affecting the severity of punishment were passed.  The data suggest that actual criminals simply are not making that sort of risk/benefit calculation.

(For someone else’s take on this, check out p. 11 of this reference from the Federal Judicial Center… from 1994.  And yet only now, over a decade after we realized that mandatory minimums weren’t helping, is there tentative talk from politicians about fixing them.)

paddleAnd there are reasons why we might’ve anticipated that the relationship (the “more punishment = less crime” idea) would not hold.  For one thing, behavioral economists have documented countless ways in which humans are not very rational creatures.  We pay too much for gym memberships.  We eat poorly, even though we know we don’t really want to eat that whole bag of jellybeans tonight (I too spend many evenings roiling in bed, clutching my belly, moaning whhhyyyyy ).  Males routinely underestimate risks and overestimate rewards, especially if there’s money involved, and especially if there’s sex involved.

That’s for the populace as a whole.  None of us are very rational.  It’s probably reasonable to assume that the sort of person whose circumstances are so dire as to make petty crime seem like the only option is even less likely to make accurate, level-headed assessments of risks and rewards.

Furthermore, a lot of criminals act upon the passions of the moment.  Not everyone –hardly anyone, I’d say — who commits murder is like Raskolnikov, plotting out the perfect crime in advance.  If you feel mad, pick up a gun, and shoot someone, there’s hardly time to think about how many years you might spend in prison, or whether or not you’ll receive the death penalty, or even how much remorse you’ll feel ten minutes later.

I attended a class at Bloomington Woodworks recently, and the instructor gave an interesting answer to the question, “If the joiner can do all that in a minute, why were we leveling all those boards by hand?”

He told us, “The machines make your work go faster.  But, if you make a mistake?  They make your mistakes go faster too.  While you’re working by hand, you can stop and check your progress and if something looks wrong, you can fix it.  If you made that mistake on a machine, it’d already be too late.”

firearm-409000_640Violent, impassioned people often kill people with guns.  Yes, they could kill people with knives or hammers or their bare hands, too.  But guns kill people faster.  That’s why the risk of successful suicide skyrockets in homes with guns — the time from a bad thought to being dead is so short.  Similarly, if you get angry and pick up a gun, there’s little time to think.  If you grab somebody by the neck, there’s at least a few extra seconds for the little voice in your head to ask, “Um, dude, what are you doing??”

So I’m skeptical that the absurdly long mandatory minimums in the U.S. actually accomplish anything.  Huge numbers of people in prison should not be there still.  I don’t think anyone whose behavior caused no harm to others should’ve ever been incarcerated.  But, beyond that, a lot of harmful people shouldn’t be in prison still.  Their sentences are often too long, too.

A big problem is our country’s dismal efforts toward rehabilitation.  We put convicted criminals into stressful, violent prisons, let them languish for many years, spend little or nothing on their education or job training… and then don’t want to let them out because they’re still “scary.”

Instead, criminals should be locked away for shorter periods of time, treated better while they’re in prison, and given the training they’ll need to successfully re-enter the outside world.  But few politicians would vote for that.  The problem is, people would argue that curtailing punishment makes crime more attractive.  They’d base their reasoning on that same inaccurate theory that criminals are making cold calculations of the risks and benefits of each illegal act in advance.

As I mentioned, for most crime, that theory doesn’t seem to be true.

And that’s why I was so pleased that Gretchen Morgenson’s recent “Fair Game” column brought my attention to a study documenting a type of crime for which that theory does hold.  Apparently there are some criminals out there who appear to be making nuanced risk / benefit calculations before their misdeeds.

Kedia et al., in their study “Evidence on Contagion in Earnings Management” (which I haven’t had a chance to read, sadly.  It’s still in press, so even though I can read all the fancy academic journals through the local university library, I can’t access it yet), showed a significant inverse correlation between regulatory action and earnings manipulations by others within an industry.  In other words, more punishment = less crime.  Exactly what politicians had been claiming was true for poor people selling drugs or stealing socks or vandalizing alleyways.

handcuffs-257995_640The relationship does not hold in general, but Kedia et al. provided evidence that high-level financial crime can be held in check by the threat of punishment.

In a way, it makes a lot of sense that this would be the case.  Humans aren’t very rational, but I think it’s safe to say that accountants are more rational than the rest of us.  Financial crimes also take a long time and only slowly build enough momentum as to seem irreversible.

If you get mad, pull out a gun, and shoot your spouse, it doesn’t matter how you feel that evening.  Your spouse is dead.  You screwed up.  The end.  But, if you’ve cooked the books?  You could go back the next day and correct the spreadsheet.  You could fix it next week.  You could probably fix it next year.

Many financial crimes require constant renewed commitment to criminal behavior.  Another good example is the — thankfully illegal, unfortunately still common — tendency for lenders to deny mortgages to black borrowers, or charge them much higher interest rates than they charge whites.  If you’re a banker and you turn away a qualified black borrower, well, maybe you can’t call that person up later that day to say, “I’m sorry, I was a racist jerk, I’ve reconsidered.”  But you could very easily approve the loan of the next qualified black borrower.

Criminal lending practices afforded the perpetrators hundreds, sometimes thousands of opportunities to stop breaking the law and instead do the right thing.

So, yes, it seems sensible that for these types of crime, the threat of punishment really would alter how much crime occurs.

Is it time for the sad coda to this essay now? 

For types of crimes that are not deterred by heavy punishment, the U.S. ruthlessly pursues draconian sentences.  But for the sort of financial crime that would be deterred by the threat of serious punishment?  In the U.S., perpetrators are typically let off scott-free.  They’re treated more gently than kindergarteners: they’re often not required to admit they did anything wrong or offer an apology.

(“Associated Bank denies any allegation that it engaged in discriminatory lending on a prohibited basis…”)

On death (by gun violence) and taxes (progressive ones).

Click to go to the article.
Click to go to the article.

Devone Boggan’s opinion piece in the New York Times, which discusses a gun violence reduction program where counselors work with & pay at-risk young people to help them stay out of trouble, is lovely.  Well worth reading, especially to get a sense of the numbers: these young men are being given such small amounts of money, little was spent to coach and mentor them, and the city of Richmond, CA (where the initiative is based) has accrued huge savings.  Huge monetary savings — there’s also that trifling side benefit of people feeling more safe and dudes not being dead.

What was interesting for me, though, was seeing Boggan’s piece (really, go read it!) juxtaposed with Alan Feuer’s article on billionaires decrying wealth inequality, also in this week’s Sunday Review section.  Because in conjunction the two pieces convey what I feel is the most compelling philosophical rationale for progressive taxation.  Which I believe we sorely need more of in this country.

Here’s the super-brief version of the argument: people should pay for governance in proportion to what they would lose if there were no governance.

(Maybe this sounds silly when stated so bluntly.  In some ways reminiscent of the definition of electrostatic potential, which is the work done to drag an imaginary test charge to any location from infinitely far away, or John Rawls’s idea that our political system should seem acceptable to a gathering of brilliant, bodiless, ignorant individuals.  But, just hold on!  I promise this won’t be so abstract)

If we consider impoverished, disenfranchised young people: their lives might well improve if we all woke up to anarchy tomorrow.  If our current system has proffered no employment, no wealth, crowded housing, toxic environs, crumbling infrastructure, brutal dehumanizing interactions with the police and other authority figures, they might be better off in a Leviathan-esque world.  Their odds would be no worse than anybody else’s.  As opposed to now; many brilliant individuals, unlucky enough to be born where and when they were, hardly have a chance.  So I think it would be perfectly reasonable for their tax rate to be negative.  It would be fair for them to be compensated for the fact that our current system makes their lives crummy.

And for people who amass fortunes by virtue of our government’s structure and opportunities, and who rely on the state to protect that fortune… they would lose dearly if we woke up to chaos instead of our current system.  They should pay a high percentage of the value of the income & capital that our government makes possible for them to keep.

Which is darkly alluded to in Feuer’s article.  To quote:

In March, for instance, Paul Tudor Jones II, the private equity investor, gave a TED talk in which he proclaimed that the divide between the top 1 percent in the United States and the remainder of the country “cannot and will not persist.”  Mr. Jones, who is thought to be worth nearly $5 billion, added that such divides have historically been resolved in one of three ways: taxes, wars, or revolution.