The Very Long Wait For Londo Mollari
The fifth and “final” season of Babylon 5 is now available for pre-order.
It’s good to see that customer response has been strong enough to keep the releases coming. Admittedly this season is a bit weaker than the previous ones (for several reasons, including the lower budgets and rushed schedule entailed by the switch to TNT), but it still kicks asteroid.
I call it the “final” season, in scare-quotes, because there are still two more DVD sets to be released after this: one of Crusade, the short-lived spin-off series, and one of all the Babylon 5 tv-movies (except Legend of the Rangers, the even shorter-lived spin-off, which hopefully will be released as a separate DVD).
There’s also supposed to be a new Babylon 5 project of some sort in the works, but no info on that has been released as far as I know.
Posted January 29th, 2004
Eyes Wide Shut
[Cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Today’s Opelika-Auburn News contains a piece from the Mississippi Press of Pascagoula discussing the Jose Padilla and Guantanamo Bay cases. The piece affirms that “the right to counsel is sacred and should be granted to every American citizen,” but notes that “not all the detainees are American citizens,” and concludes: “In no way are they entitled – nor should they be – to legal representation.”
This is a very different theory from that on which the United States was founded. The Founders embraced the Ciceronian and Lockean theory that the rights enshrined in the Constitution are natural rights, inherent in human nature per se, and so are universally applicable to all human beings; they are not the products of parochial legislation or the privilege of a select few.
In The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine wrote:
Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. ... His natural rights are the foundation of all his civil rights. ... Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right pre-existing in the individual.Alexander Hamilton, in The Farmer Refuted (a debate with authoritarian conservative Samuel Seabury), likewise wrote:
The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms and false reasonings is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. [Emphasis mine – RTL] You would be convinced, that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty, is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice; but is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society. ...(Yes, Hamilton had his libertarian side!)
The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.Too many eyes are closed again these days. Magnesium, anybody?
Posted January 28th, 2004
I’m not sure which is more depressing: listening to the vile pontifications of our rulers, or listening to the abysmal ignorance of the “average voter.” I just heard an “average voter” calling in to C-Span and opining that Howard Dean isn’t qualified to be President because being Governor isn’t sufficient preparation for a job requiring national experience. When asked “But haven’t a lot of Governors become Presidents?” the caller replied, in the tone of an unanswerable challenge, “Name one.”
Well, let’s see. There’s Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Admittedly, only a handful of these Presidents were even halfway decent. Still, they aren’t exactly low-profile examples.
Posted January 27th, 2004
Bastiat in Space
A popular justification of the State-funded space program, and of state aid to science generally, points to the many technological spinoffs such spending has generated. Without the State’s massive investment in space technology, the argument goes, we would have been deprived of this or that electronic gizmo.
It’s certainly true that many useful technological advances have resulted from the space program. But to focus only on these benefits is to make the mistake that Frédéric Bastiat analyses in his celebrated essay What is Seen and What is Not Seen. If billions of tax dollars are coercively transferred from group A to group B, it’s not surprising that group B will produce some worthwhile things with it. That is what is seen. What is not seen is all the things that group A would have done with that money if they had been allowed to keep it; those things are not seen because they have been prevented from coming into existence. Would any of those benefits have included technological advances. We cannot know for certain – the coercive transfer has prevented us from ever knowing – but it seems likely. What we do know is that the money would have been spent more efficiently in A’s hands than in B’s, since in A’s hands its use would have been directed by consumer preferences via the price system.
On the subject of the space program see also David Mackey’s column Earth’s ruin complete, Mars next.
Posted January 22nd, 2004
Brothers in Arms
Most creationists profess to hold socialism in disdain; most socialists profess to hold creationism in disdain. Neither side seems sufficiently disturbed by the strong similarity between the two viewpoints.
Both creationists and socialists distrust invisible-hand processes and cannot conceive of order emerging except through some sort of centralised top-down control. (And neither side has much fondness for Herbert Spencer!)
From now on I’m calling creationism “cosmic socialism,” and socialism “political creationism.”
Posted January 22nd, 2004
Today Baghdad, Tomorrow Barsoom?
[Cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
On January 10th, the London Telegraph, in a story titled “George W. Bush boldly goes to Mars,” hailed Bush’s plans for a manned Mars mission as an expression of “mankind’s loftiest ambitions.”
Now I’m as big a fan of space exploration as anyone. I long to see Mars and other planets visited, colonised, even terraformed. I’ve watched the progress of the latest Mars rover with fascination. Indeed, the need to renounce NASA was probably the biggest hurdle for me in becoming a libertarian originally. But I cannot endorse a space exploration program led by an institution both inept and criminal, and funded by extortion.
The Telegraph lectures us: “To begin such an endeavour at a time when the US government is already running a large budget deficit is, in its way, heroic. ... It would be nice if those who habitually dismiss the President as selfish and insular would for once acknowledge his largesse.”
The terms “heroic” and “largesse” would apply if Bush were putting up his own money. When instead he proposes to fleece the taxpayers – taxpayers already cringing in the shadow of Bush’s looming deficits, which dwarf his laughable “tax cuts” – the appellations seem grossly misplaced.
A nonviolent approach to space exploration is perfectly possible: get the State off the economy’s back, thereby freeing up the resources and efficiency of the market sector to fund a cheaper and less militarised private space program. (See the marvelous satire How the West Wasn’t Won.) But this would be disaster for the bureaucratic/corporate plutocracy that plans to milk the U.S. taxpayers for billions of dollars.
The Telegraph acknowledges that in “strictly practical terms,” Bush’s Mars project makes “little sense,” but gushes: “Americans, thank Heaven, do not always think in strictly practical terms.” The Mars mission, we’re told, will “ennoble every member of the human race.”
The original meaning of the word “ennoble” is “confer an unearned income on special interests by government fiat at the expense of exploited serfs.” Someone’s going to get ennobled, alright.
Gimme That Old-Time Religion
Imagine you’re an Iraqi citizen. Are you better off under Saddam Hussein’s rule, or under the new U.S.-imposed regime?
If you’re a woman, the answer is depressing; check out this story.
[Cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
There’s been some discussion recently on L&P (see here, here, and here) as to whether ex-felons should have their Second and Fifteenth Amendment rights restored. Let me add a couple of points in favour of this.
a) The most fundamental justification of the right to bear arms is self-defense. To the extent that the right to vote can be justified, it is likewise primarily on self-defense grounds. To say that ex-felons should be denied these rights is to say that they should be forever denied the right of self-defense. Anyone who cannot be trusted with that right cannot be allowed safely on the streets in any case. If someone can’t be trusted with a gun or a ballot, how can they be trusted with knives, baseball bats, chainsaws, or any of the other tools to which they will have access once they get out of prison? (Indeed, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the right to vote should be extended to currently incarcerated prisoners as well, to “prevent ... those in power from automatically disenfranchising their opponents simply by incarcerating them.” For obvious reasons this doesn’t apply to the right to bear arms, however.)
b) In the particular case of the Second Amendment, there is no effective way of enforcing a ban on gun ownership by ex-felons without interfering with the rights of non-felons. How, for example, would one prevent an ex-felon from obtaining a gun except by requiring every gun owner to be licensed, registered, etc.? Such prior restraint is incompatible with both natural justice and the Constitution.
The conduct of ex-felons can be specially regulated in a society that is itself generally regulated, but not in a free society, for in a free society there is no effective way to police their conduct or enforce the required restrictions. Anyone who is not a candidate for exile or perpetual imprisonment must be granted full liberty of action.
When Computers Go Bad
I just took an AOL online quiz to find out which of the various doofuses (doofi?) running for President best represents my political preferences.
I guess their computer program was thrown into confusion by my libertarian answers to the quiz. It turns out that the two candidates who best match my views are: George W. Bush and Al Sharpton.
Good thing it wasn’t a dating service ....
Those Who Will the End Must Will the Means, Part 2
David Holcberg of the Ayn Rand Institute has been sending out the following merry missive:
Letter to the Editor from the Ayn Rand InstituteRegarding this, Charles Johnson sends me the following note:
The U.S. government should not have offered to help the victims of Iran’s recent earthquake. For all we know, such help could benefit many Iranians who despise the United States and support their murderous regime. The United States should instead use its limited funds in its own self-interest, to help the victims of Iran’s theocracy overthrow their terrorist regime and thus advance our own war on terror.
Ayn Rand Institute
This letter is copyrighted by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), and cannot be reprinted without permission except for non-commercial, self-study or educational purposes. We encourage you to forward this letter to friends, family, associates or interested parties who would want to receive it for these purposes only. Any reproduction of this letter must contain the above copyright notice. Those interested in reprinting or redistributing this letter for any other purposes should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. This letter may not be forwarded to media for publication.
I thought that the Ayn Rand Institute’s efforts to win hearts and minds for Objectivism couldn’t get any more insane after the “Thank Pinochet” letter to the editor.
Just goes to show how much I underestimate the resources of the ARI.
Med Lov Skal Man Land Bygge
I just got back from Copenhagen, where I was giving a paper on Aristotle’s Politics at the final symposium of Mogens Herman Hansen’s Copenhagen Polis Centre, which over the past decade has revolutionised our understanding of the ancient city-state and is now (sadly but voluntarily) closing down.
The conference was held at Æresboligen, formerly the Carlsberg Academy’s residence for eminent scholars (Niels Bohr was once the chief resident); appropriately for the occasion, it was lavishly decorated with neo-classical/pseudo-classical murals and statues by the 19th-century sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.
The Centre’s hospitality was likewise lavish. We also received a private tour of the Danish Parliament (unfortunately I was too jet-lagged to think to bring my camera for the tour! – but I took lots of pictures elsewhere, including Amalienborg Palace, which is particularly stunning if one stumbles upon it unexpectedly). It was a delightful weekend of stimulating discussion, delicious food, and beautiful surroundings.
Libertarians like to slam Denmark for its collectivism, but in fact I’m convinced that, come the (r)evolution, the Danish people will make excellent Market Anarchists; given the social norms of order, friendliness, and efficiency, a Molinari-style régime should work especially well there.
My time in Copenhagen was frustratingly short, and I saw only a tiny fraction of what I wanted to see in this charming city (and no, I didn’t get to Christiana!) – but I’ll be back.
This was my first visit to Denmark. Here are some fab facts I discovered:
Those Who Will the End Must Will the Means
For some time the Ayn Rand Institute has been trying to market Objectivism to professional philosophers. But they don’t seem to know how to do it; or more precisely, they are unwilling to take the steps that would be needed to do it.
When I was in graduate school I recall that the ARI crowd were offering philosophers free copies of the second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Yet on the other hand Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand starts off with the insulting remark that “this book is written not for academics, but for human beings (including any academics who qualify).” This is an unpromising marketing strategy.
Last week at the American Philosophical Association meetings in DC, ARI had a table and was giving away free copies of something called The Ayn Rand Sampler, an oddly-chosen collection of short pieces with a picture of Rand surrounded by glowing light rays on the cover. Anyone inclined to view Objectivism as a cult and Rand as a cult leader will only have their prejudice confirmed by this cover; as one of my colleagues remarked, it looks like a Hare Krishna book.
If the Peikoffians really wanted professional philosophers to take Rand seriously, they would have been handing out copies of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, or David Kelley’s Evidence of the Senses, or Chris Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, or Neera Badhwar’s Is Virtue Only a Means to Happiness?.
But all those works are on the index librorum prohibitorum.
Was Adam Smith Too Optimistic?
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Robert Theron Brockman II thinks the passage I quoted from Adam Smith earlier this week (see here and here) is “overly optimistic.” Pointing to Smith’s line “All men, even the most stupid and unthinking, abhor fraud, perfidy, and injustice, and delight to see them punished,” Brockman writes:
This is demonstrably untrue. If said fraud, perfidy, or injustice is perpetrated by themselves, their clan, their tribe, their race, or their nation, men’s tolerance (and often enthusiasm) for such things is greatly increased. This is most easily observed at the national level. Most people (including and especially Americans) consider the people of other nations largely expendable, and are willing to justify exceptional amounts of betrayal and “collateral damage” to the extent it furthers “national greatness.” Any loss of life on one’s “own soil” (hundreds of miles away owned by strangers), justifies massive (poorly targeted) retaliation and collective punishment.I agree with everything that Brockman says here (see, e.g., my article Thinking Our Anger) – except his evaluation of Smith.
The values of Secular Humanism (or even Christianity) are very, very rare. Most of the planet operates under either tribalism or that scaled-up form of tribalism we call nationalism. I think it’s despicable but there you are.
It is so disagreeable to think ill of ourselves, that we often purposely turn away our view from those circumstances which might render that judgment unfavourable. He is a bold surgeon, they say, whose hand does not tremble when he performs an operation upon his own person; and he is often equally bold who does not hesitate to pull off the mysterious veil of self-delusion, which covers from his view the deformities of his own conduct. ... So partial are the views of mankind with regard to the propriety of their own conduct, both at the time of action and after it; and so difficult is it for them to view it in the light in which any indifferent spectator would consider it. ... This self-deceit, this fatal weakness of mankind, is the source of half the disorders of human life. If we saw ourselves in the light in which others see us, or in which they would see us if they knew all, a reformation would generally be unavoidable. We could not otherwise endure the sight.Smith – along with his contemporary David Hume – consciously modeled his account of moral and aesthetic properties on the dispositionalist account of colour that had been popularised by John Locke and others. According to colour-dispositionalism, to say that a fire engine is red is to say that it has a tendency to look red to – i.e., to cause sensations of redness in – physiologically normal humans in standard lighting conditions. The fact that the fire engine doesn’t look red under weird lighting conditions, or in the dark, or to a person who is colour-blind or just plain blind, is thus no objection to calling it red. Analogously, according to Smith and Hume, to call an action or character trait morally good is to say that it has a tendency to cause a feeling of moral approval in psychologically normal humans under conditions of impartiality (i.e., when they are evaluating conduct with which they have no personal connection). Bias is thus seen as a factor that distorts moral perception in the same way that nonstandard lighting distorts colour perception. (There are various differences between Smith’s and Hume’s accounts but they need not concern us here.)
Molinari Society Approved
The Molinari Society, a “daughter organisation” of the Molinari Institute, has just been approved for affiliation with the American Philosophical Association. This means the Molinari Society will be able to sponsor symposia at the APA’s Eastern Division meetings. The Molinari Society seeks to promote “critical discussion and innovative research in radical libertarian theory,” in the tradition of Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912). While the Molinari Institute and the Molinari Society are distinct organisations, it is probable that they will work closely together.
Check out the Molinari Society’s webpage.
Update Plus Utilitarian-Bashing
Happy New Year! I got back from DC on the 30th but haven’t had time to blog. I can recommend two excellent (but expensive!) restaurants in DC – Makoto and Gerard’s.
The next two weeks will involve preparing for classes, finishing up some writing that was actually due last month, and going to a conference in Copenhagen – so I expect to do very little blogging.
Let me leave you with what I think an extremely sound and insightful observation concerning utilitarian arguments in ethics, from Adam Smith’s still-underrated Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith writes (II. ii. 22-23):
Sometimes too we have occasion to defend the propriety of observing the general rules of justice by the consideration of their necessity to the support of society. We frequently hear the young and the licentious ridiculing the most sacred rules of morality, and professing, sometimes from the corruption, but more frequently from the vanity of their hearts, the most abominable maxims of conduct. Our indignation rouses, and we are eager to refute and expose such detestable principles. But though it is their intrinsic hatefulness and detestableness, which originally inflames us against them, we are unwilling to assign this as the sole reason why we condemn them, or to pretend that it is merely because we ourselves hate and detest them. The reason, we think, would not appear to be conclusive. Yet why should it not; if we hate and detest them because they are the natural and proper objects of hatred and detestation? But when we are asked why we should not act in such or such a manner, the very question seems to suppose that, to those who ask it, this manner of acting does not appear to be for its own sake the natural and proper object of those sentiments. We must show them, therefore, that it ought to be so for the sake of something else. Upon this account we generally cast about for other arguments, and the consideration which first occurs to us, is the disorder and confusion of society which would result from the universal prevalence of such practices. We seldom fail, therefore, to insist upon this topic.
But though it commonly requires no great discernment to see the destructive tendency of all licentious practices to the welfare of society, it is seldom this consideration which first animates us against them. All men, even the most stupid and unthinking, abhor fraud, perfidy, and injustice, and delight to see them punished. But few men have reflected upon the necessity of justice to the existence of society, how obvious soever that necessity may appear to be.