Right Mindedness & Free Speech

Takuan Soho, the Zen monk and mentor to the famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, wrote extensively on the importance of “right mindedness” in the realm of military strategy and tactics. His deep wisdom and wise counsel led him to become an advisor to many of the political and military leaders of his time, including Yagyu Munenori, the fencing teacher to the Tokugawa Shogun and progenitor of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu martial arts lineage.

Recognizing that the emotions are a powerful force, able to be manipulated within one’s self and within an opponent to create desired affects, for Takuan, the mind remained the focal point of a warrior’s training. Takuan recognized, as did the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, that a warrior-leader that acts impulsively within the fog of rage, guilt or vendetta fails to grasp the totality of circumstances. The annals of history demonstrate numerous case studies of ruined nations, armies and warriors that have fallen from the haste of misguided action.

To this end, Takuan advised to keep special guard upon one’s own mind and emotions. Of primary importance was the holding steady to what he called “right mindedness” in the face of insult:

“Before a person has even been insulted, he has already departed from right-mindedness. And for this reason, he suffers insult. If one’s right-mindedness is correct when he is associating with others, he will not be insulted by them. Being insulted by others, one should realize that he had lost his own right-mindedness prior to the offense.”


Taking Takuan’s wisdom to our own age, the principle remains. It takes little effort to look at the world and find people, things and situations that could be perceived as insulting. Every individual has their own scale of preferences, pet peeves and irritations.

Conversely, each individual has their own perception of constraints that dictate forbearance when confronted with irritations and in dealing with things that could be considered insulting. There are some topics that merit taking action, such as noise pollution, where for instance, someone playing music at a certain volume clearly invades another’s right to be left alone (free and peaceful assembly includes the right to choose not to assemble). The principle dictates that an individual can listen to their music as loud as they want, but they have no right to force anyone else to listen. In this case, taking action to reduce the offensive behavior or enlisting a rights enforcement agency, in most cases a police force, is obviously justified.

Yet, taking violent action against offensive behavior that has no impact on one’s right to be left alone, i.e. to be secure in one’s person and affects, lacks justification. The recent case of “The Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube demonstrates how losing one’s right-mindedness obscures issues, perverts the preservation of individual rights and compels government to compromise its raison d’être.

To begin, those that damage property, cause harm, injury or death based upon a video that they can freely watch or ignore have lost their right-mindedness. The insult is theirs to take or leave based upon their choices and their actions. If they are led to violent, damaging or injurious behavior through the incitement of other religious leaders it is still actions based upon their choices and the choice of their influences. They could choose to follow or not. They can choose to submit to cultural pressures or not. They can choose to simply turn away from the conditions that have no effect on them just as well as they can refrain from pressing the play button.

Having said this, the delay in response to the “Innocence” video, coupled with the geographical coordination of multiple embassy attacks and the obvious planning involved in the assaults show that the offensive video was simply a pretext for a larger terror operation. Terrorism, being nothing more than a subset of tactics used in warfare that, as Clausewitz stated, is an extension of politics by other means and should be considered within the context of a larger political objective.

If we can take at face value (as former CIA analyst, Michael Scheuer does) the statements made by Osama bin Laden’s 1998 declarations as the core Al Qaeda objectives, the various operations and tactics seen throughout the Middle East and North Africa are conducted with the intent of establishing a strict Islamist Caliphate that incorporates all the lands of Islam.

Bin Laden also stated, following in the tradition of successful insurgent strategy, that the disproportional reactions of the United States and its allies would provoke the Umma (Islamic society) to unite against secularism, Western culture and American intervention in the region. It may be too early to tell whether unification of the Umma will take place and is, at best, unlikely. The history of Islam holds no record of unity and factionalism started almost immediately upon the death of its founder. However, taking stock of the Western reaction to Al Qaeda’s provocations shows the following:

Afghanistan: nearly eleven years of fighting has uprooted Al Qaeda’s base and scattered it key leaders. Indeed, Al Qaeda has lost its status as “the base” of a movement as the seeds of the terror group have spread to establish franchise operations in other territories. The central government in Kabul holds a tenuous position whose influence extends little past its capital. Coalition troops are essentially in retreat, being attacked along the way by a host of insurgents and sleeper agents within the ranks of local security forces in an increasing number of blue on green attacks.
Iraq: The secular Ba’ath party regime under Saddam Hussein was successfully toppled, leaving a vacuum of power that the Iranian influenced Shia majority has seized upon, creating ethnic tensions between the three major populations. The majority now terrorizes the two minority groups. Opposition politicians are threatened with legal sanction and autonomy agreements are eroding as power is increasingly centralized. The Coalition withdrawal has left an air of uncertainty that the arbitrary borders of Iraq bequeathed by the British administration in the aftermath of World War I will remain viable.
Special Note: the large troop increases and lowering of military accession standards needed to fulfill occupation requirements granted access to classified information by the likes of Army Private Bradley Manning. The subsequent transfer of classified documents to WikiLeaks would later give rise to the significant “Arab Spring” movements in Tunisia, Morocco, Bahrain and, most notably, would see the toppling of secular regimes in Libya and Egypt. The Assad regime in Syria is also likely to fall.
Yemen: Continued drone strikes knock out Al Qaeda associated terror cells, yet the central government in Sanaa does little to address the grievances of the populace that drive them toward terrorism.
Somalia: Targeted strikes against Al Qaeda affiliated Al Shabaab continue and ground incursions from Ethiopia and Kenya have eroded their base of operations. The Transitional Federal Government holds little influence outside the capital and its stability is uncertain. The inability of a government to protect territorial waters leads to overfishing by outsiders and the majority of Somali fishermen turn to piracy for subsistence.
Libya: Western nations have toppled the Qaddafi secular/Marxist regime and cleared the path for Al Qaeda affiliated terror groups to exploit the ethnic and tribal divisions inherent to the three distinct geographic orientations in the country. Additionally, the Tuareg militias formerly employed as security forces within Qaddafi’s Libya have dispersed to their tribal homelands along with the extensive weapons stockpiles once held within government armories. Weapons proliferation and instability is now the dominant concern in North Africa.
Syria: The Assad regime’s span of control continues to shrink. Many high ranking members of the military have either fled or defected to the Free Syrian Army. Current reporting shows that Al Qaeda affiliated fighters are operating against the regime. Extensive analysis posits that Western nations, with the backing of Saudi Arabia, are supporting the rebel fighters with weapons, intelligence and war material. Damascus will eventually fall or at a minimum, will be dramatically transformed. The type of government, if any, that will fill the void remains unclear.
Mali: The inability of the central government to adequately supply and reinforce Army elements sent to stem the tide of Tuareg fighters returning from Libya sparks a military coup, allowing for the bifurcation of the country and the establishment of a new base for Al Qaeda affiliated groups, who have largely taken control of the territory from the native Tuareg populations.

In light of these developments, it remains unclear if Bin Laden’s intentions of a unified Islamic Caliphate will emerge from the will of the Umma. However, the unintended consequences of intervention by Western powers, led by the United States, have created more opportunities for Islamicists to establish bases of operation and enforce Wahhabism/Salafism on the local populations. This is often done against their will and in direct contravention to the more tolerant Sufist oriented Islam native to the region.

While the disproportionate reactions to terrorism as predicted by Bin Laden have made an Islamic Caliphate more accessible than any other time in recent history, the affects of the American counter terror response are most noticeable within the United States.

Rather than recognizing the policies that failed to predict and failed to protect against terrorist attacks, government run security and intelligence forces are rewarded with larger budgets, expanded bureaucracies and increased manpower. The initial responses to the 11 September 2001 attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq have largely been unsuccessful (that is in assuming the purpose of invasion was to deny terror safe havens and establish healthy, pro-Western, representative democracies). In fact, the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have spread to see stable, secular governments in Egypt, Libya, Mali, and most likely Syria, fall into the hands of factional, provisional governments either in collusion with or granting free range to Al Qaeda and Islamicist groups.

Instead, the American public is placed under greater scrutiny, exposed to wider government surveillance and transfers of financial resources are subject to greater monitoring. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security and especially the Transportation Security Administration epitomizes how government’s failure to protect yields rewards of more Senior Executive positions and increased authorities. Due to the invasive USA PATRIOT ACT and associated “know your customer laws” regulations, the movement of money is more widely scrutinized and customer privacy in banking has been eroded, both domestically and internationally. While initially heralded as the tools necessary for government to adequately protect its citizens, the powers enabled through this legislation have been turned toward catching “tax evaders” regardless of terrorist connections. In sum, the government grows from its failure to protect while the people see their freedom and finances eroded.

What does all this have to do with free speech?

What does this have to do with right-mindedness?

Everything. The purpose of government is to preserve the natural rights of mankind within its jurisdiction. Ostensibly, government is granted final decision making and arbitration authority over a defined geographic area by the inhabitants of that territory and granted the ultimate use of force to carry out this authority. It is also granted the power to tax (i.e. expropriate private property) in order to gather the resources necessary to protect the property and personnel of its citizenship.

The obvious contradictory nature of a property expropriating rights protection agency is a topic for another time, but at present, it can be said that government is granted resources in order to protect the rights of its citizens, including the right of free speech. Further, government gets to unilaterally decide the amount of resources it can seize in order to fulfill its purpose and it gets to choose what amount of resources it should dedicate in what location and in what manner those resources are employed. These are the luxuries of holding an ultimate monopoly on the provision of security and arbitration services.

In writing the US Constitution, James Madison’s clear statement that the law making body of the federal government, the Congress, shall make “no law” abridging the right of free speech, implies that the arbitration and use of force authority granted to the federal government will not be used to curtail the right of personal self-expression. This right, like all others, is meaningless without the clear preservation of private ownership in the means of producing goods and services. In sum: private property.

What good is the right of free speech if you have no physical place from which you can share your ideas?

What good is the right to free speech if the means of communication, as in access to the printing press, radio, television or internet are curtailed or conditioned by the “influence” of government?

The “occupy” students in Berkley found out at the end of a pepper spray can that their right of free speech and peaceful assembly were meaningless if they lacked the right to speak on the grounds of a government owned campus.

When the American chief executive’s office contacts Google, the parent company of YouTube, to ask if the “Innocence” video can be removed for violating some or any company policy, it is clear that the government, as the agency responsible for securing individual liberties has lost its right-mindedness.

The responsibility for government’s failure to adequately secure its diplomats and diplomatic facilities falls squarely within the realm of government’s locus of control. Remember, government has the power to tax and disburse resources in the manner of it’s own choosing. That Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists were able to exploit American vulnerabilities only demonstrates a failure of the government run security services to employ adequate defenses. This is what Sun Tzu meant in Chapter 4 of The Art of War:

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

Directing efforts toward controlling free speech under the pretext that it might provoke an enemy attack is misguided. The White House’s call to Google and the application of economic and legal leverage against the company (with their many government contracts hanging in the balance) is a demonstration of misdirected blame. It is also a failure of its obligation to defend the individual right of free speech. This includes freedom of contract between individuals and the providers of the means to produce free speech, in this case, a web provider.

There is no free speech without the means to produce it. A tree can fall in the woods, but if no one was there to hear it, did it make a sound? Does it matter? All the speech an individual can generate is impotent without an effective means to convey it and a secure place to convey it from. It is the unassailable right to private private property in the means of production that secures all other rights.

Another disturbing development is the call made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, to the Reverend Terry Jones. Jones apparently had some involvement in the propagation of the “Innocence” video and it is unclear what, if anything, Jones could do at the chairman’s request. Tone down his rhetoric perhaps?

Yet here we have the pinnacle of national power and a representative of the ultimate use of force, applying his influence to curtail an American citizen’s right of free speech. Following the death of a US ambassador, the exigencies of violence across the Middle East and North Africa could be used to justify extreme measures so as to mitigate the threat to American interests abroad.

However, a justification for compromising principles can always be found. Such justifications also make it easier for the government to continue to collect the same, if not more, revenues from the tax paying public, but abrogate the need to actually deliver the services required of it. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the US Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted with the consent of the governed to secure certain inalienable rights. If one example of exigent circumstances allows government to be paid without actually fulfilling its duties, the model is set for a future of easy money. The price of government services will continually rise and the quality of services delivered will continually decrease.

Noting how government never lets a crisis go to waste, exigent circumstances can always be manufactured to justify further consolidation of authority, compromising of principle and abrogating duties. The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, along with the USA Patriot Act were created directly as a result of the 9/11 crisis. It should also be remembered that the Reichstag fire was the manufactured crisis that transformed Adolf Hitler from an elected chancellor to the supreme dictator of Germany within the span of a few months.

Following the guidance of the monk Takuan, both Musashi and Yagyu authored treatises on the their martial art systems rooted in uncompromising principle. Rather than seeking external factors as an excuse to compromise these principles, these sword masters understood, with Sun Tzu, that security lies “in our own hands”.

Those that are insulted and incited to violence from what they see or hear on YouTube have lost their “right-mindedness”. Failing to secure diplomats and embassy facilities demonstrates a lack of adequately estimating the threat environment. This is also from a lack of right-mindedness. The failure is squarely at the feet of those who are paid to protect American interests. The bureaucratic nature of government provided security services are prone to such inefficiencies and inverted priorities. If it was a security service on an open market, they would lose the contract. If the trend holds, because it is a government entity, the reward will be an increase in money and manpower.

The lack of right mindedness on the part of both angry mobs and diplomatic security is in no way justification for compromising the principle of individual rights. It is unjustified to leverage the executive and military power of the United States government against the individual right of free speech enshrined in the Bill of Rights. In addition to a refund, it is time for an admission by those who have failed to protect American interests abroad and failed to fulfill their duty of securing individual rights. It is a time to restore principle.

It is time for leadership grounded in right-mindedness.

About The Jade(d) Warrior

Decades of walking the path of the warrior in service to noble ideals leaves one, well...jaded.
This entry was posted in Budo, Geopolitics, Intelligence, Leadership, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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