Feel the Irony
As everyone on Earth now knows, our Prince President was recently recorded saying: See, the irony is, what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.
But everybodys been focusing on the wrong word. Whats objectionable in this sentence is not the word shit but the word irony. What exactly is supposed to be ironic about the situation?
Well, maybe its kind of like a black fly in your Chardonnay.
Posted July 29th, 2006
Victory Through Victim-Swapping
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
By most reports, Israeli bombings of Lebanon are strengthening Hezbollahs support among Lebanese civilians, while Hezbollah bombings of Israel are strengthening the Israeli governments support among Israeli civilians.
So here we have (what are by libertarian standards) two criminal gangs, both blasting away at innocent civilians, and the result is to increase these gangs popularity among the civilians being victimised! A very successful outcome for both sides.
The trick, of course, is that each gang is blasting away at civilians in the other gangs territory. If each gang were to attack its own civilians directly, those civilians would quickly turn against the gangs in their midst. But since in fact each sides continuation of bombings is what allows the other side to excuse, and get away with, its bombings, the situation isnt really all that different; each side is causing its own civilians to be bombed. Its just that by following the stratagem of attacking each others civilians, the two gangs manage to avoid (and indeed promote the exact opposite of) the loss of domestic power that would follow if they were to bring about the same results more directly. Think of it as the geopolitical version of Strangers on a Train.
No, Im not suggesting that Hezbollah and the Israeli government are in cahoots. They dont need to be. This is how the logic of statism works, this is how its incentives play out, regardless of what its agents specifically intend. The externalisation of costs is what states do best. (True, Hezbollah isnt a state, but it aspires to be one, and its actions are played out within a framework sustained by statism.)
What would happen if the civilian populations of Israel and Lebanon were to come to see this conflict, not as Israel versus Hezbollah, or even Israeli-government-plus-Israeli-civilians versus Hezbollah-plus-Lebanese-civilians, but rather as Israeli-government-plus-Hezbollah versus ordinary-people-living-on-the-eastern-Mediterranean? Both Hezbollah and the Israeli government would quickly lose their popular support, and their ability to wage war against each other would go with it.
But by encouraging the identification of civilians with the states that rule them, statism makes it harder for civilians to find their way to such a perspective. (Of course racism and religious intolerance are part of the story too yet another way in which such cultural values help to prop up the state apparatus.) As long as the people of the eastern Mediterranean continue to view this conflict through statist spectacles, Hezbollah and/or the Israeli government will continue to be the victors, while the civilian populace in both Israel and Lebanon will remain the vanquished and victimised.
Posted July 21st, 2006
Stop Me Before I Link Again!
What? Another post of nothing but links?
Yeah. You got a problem with that?
There is something about encountering homosexuality in its militant and pugnacious form that touches a deep, almost reflexive anger, even among most heterosexual liberals ....In the immortal words of Zaphod Beeblebrox, Put your analyst on danger money, baby.
Male and even female opposition to persons with these traits is slowly taking a nasty turn, moving from violence of language to violence of fists. And yet, given the emerging legal climate, one discovers within oneself a disquieting empathy with the inchoate rage behind such acts. ... [T]he brazen, open display of homosexuality as if to taunt, to tease, to maliciously sow confusion into sexual identities is something most heterosexuals do not handle gracefully. ...
Nobody in a rational state of mind would seek to emulate the exploits of skinheads .... Yet let readers here imagine themselves in that Madison restaurant or Seattle airport, being witness to mass displays of homosexual kissing, and feeling utterly helpless to evince the slightest disapproval. Would not such a scenario provoke an impulse, however fleeting and irrational, to do bodily harm?
Posted July 18th, 2006
Who Is My Neighbour?
Is this an Israeli boy wounded by Hezbollah missiles in Haifa?
Or is it a Lebanese boy wounded by Israeli missiles in Beirut?
Morality knows nothing of geographical boundaries, or distinctions of race. You may put men on opposite sides of a river or a chain of mountains; may else part them by a tract of salt water; may give them, if you like, distinct languages; and may even colour their skins differently; but you cannot change their fundamental relationships. Originating as these do in the facts of mans constitution, they are unalterable by the accidents of external condition. The moral law is cosmopolite is no respecter of nationalities: and between men who are the antipodes of each other, either in locality or anything else, there must still exist the same balance of rights as though they were next-door neighbours in all things.This insight instantly disposes of the sophistries of those who claim that a persons rights to travel freely, to contact a lawyer, or not to be tortured, depend on his or her possession of American citizenship.
Posted July 17th, 2006
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
The Alabama Philosophical Society (for which Im the webmaster, archivist, and secretary-treasurer) will be holding its Annual Meeting on October 20-21, 2006, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Derk Pereboom will be our Keynote Speaker.
Check out the website for paper submissions, student essay contest, hotel info, and other details.
If the title of this blog post puzzles you, click here.
Posted July 16th, 2006
Bastille Day Bulletin, Part Deux
A couple of follow-ups to yesterdays post:
For many people it is to advance a scandalous and paradoxical proposition, filled with difficulty and disaster, to say that the Revolution of 89, having established nothing, has freed us not at all, but only changed our sad lot .... Nevertheless, such is the evidence of facts ....
In 1789 the task of the Revolution was to destroy and rebuild at the same time. It had the old rule to abolish but only by producing a new organization, of which the plan and character should be exactly the opposite of the former .... Of these the Revolution, with great difficulty, accomplished only the first; the other was entirely forgotten. ...
The feudal order having been abolished ... and the principles of liberty and civil equality proclaimed, the consequence was that in future society must be organized, not for politics and war, but for work. What in fact was the feudal organization? It was one entirely military. What is work? The negation of fighting. To abolish feudalism, then, meant to commit ourselves to a perpetual peace, not only foreign but domestic. ... It was evident that the problem of the Revolution lay in erecting everywhere the reign of equality and industry, in place of the feudal order which had been abolished ....
This so manifest, so inevitable conclusion ... was not understood by those who made themselves its interpreters .... All their ideas were of politics only. ... [T]he nation was again delivered into the hands of the warriors and lawyers. One might say that nobility, clergy and monarchy had disappeared, only to make way for another governing set of Anglomaniac constitutionaries, classic republicans, militaristic democrats, all infatuated with the Romans and Spartans, and above all, very much so with themselves ....
To put my thought in one word ... the revolutionaries failed in their mission after the fall of the Bastille, as they have failed since the abdication of Louis Philippe, and for the same reasons: the total lack of economic ideas, their prejudice in favor of government, and the distrust of the lower classes which they harbored. ... The principle of centralization ... passed into a dogma with the Jacobins, who transmitted it to the Empire, and to the governments that followed it .... politics taking the place of industry in the minds of everybody ....
To sum up: the society which the Revolution of 89 should have created, does not yet exist. That which for sixty years we have had, is but a superficial, factitious order .... In place of liberty and industrial equality, the Revolution has left us a legacy of authority and political subordination. The State, growing more powerful every day, and endowed with prerogatives and privileges without end, has undertaken to do for our happiness what might we might have expected from a very different source. ...
When the Revolution proclaimed liberty of the people, equality before the law, the sovereignty of the people, the subordination of power to the country, it set up two incompatible things, society and government; and it is this incompatibility which has been the cause or the pretext of this overwhelming, liberty-destroying concentration, called CENTRALIZATION, which the parliamentary democracy admires and praises, because it is its nature to tend toward despotism. ...
The Republic had Society to establish: it thought only of establishing Government. Centralization continually fortifying itself, while Society had no institution to oppose to it ... matters reached a point where Society and Government could not live together, the condition of existence of the latter being to subordinate and subjugate the former. ... Liberty, equality, progress, with all their oratorical consequences, are written in the text of the constitutions and the laws; there is no vestige of them in the institutions. ... It was in this way that the democratic party itself, the heir of the first Revolution, came to attempting to reform Society by establishing the initiative of the State, to create institutions by the prolific virtue of Power ....
As this state of affairs, of which the principle, the means and the end is WAR, is unable to answer the needs of an entirely industrial civilization, [a new] revolution is the necessary result. ... [W]e must understand that outside the sphere of parliamentarism, as sterile as it is absorbing, there is another field incomparably vaster, in which our destiny is worked out; that beyond these political phantoms, whose forms capture our imagination, there are the phenomena of social economy, which, by their harmony or discord, produce all the good and ill of society. ...
Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.
Posted July 15th, 2006
Bastille Day Bulletin
More miscellaneous musings:
We might compare the alliance between government and big business to the alliance between church and state in the Middle Ages. Of course its in the interest of both parties to maintain the alliance but all the same, each side would like to be the dominant partner, so its no surprise that the history of such alliances will often look like a history of conflict and antipathy, as each side struggles to get the upper hand. But this struggle must be read against a common background framework of cooperation to maintain the system of control.Now the main difference, insofar as there is one, between the Establishment Left and the Establishment Right in this country is that while both are the running-dog lackeys of the neofascist government-business alliance, the Establishment Left somewhat favours a shift in power toward government, while the Establishment Right somewhat favours a shift in power toward business. Playing up the threat of global warming thus serves the interests of the statocratic faction, while playing down that threat serves the interests of the plutocratic faction and so youd expect to see the two sides taking the sides theyre taking, regardless of what the truth actually is. But its just a squabble within the ruling class.
For those of us bred on Ayn Rands insight that politics is only a consequence of a larger philosophical and cultural cause that culture, in effect, trumps politics the idea that it is possible to construct a political solution in a culture that does not value procedural democracy, free institutions, or the notion of individual responsibility is a delusion.But it is also possible to make the opposite mistake, i.e., to conclude that a societys level of freedom and success is simply determined by psychological and cultural factors in such a way that political institutions make little or no difference at all. Herbert Spencer seems to me to make that mistake in the following passage from Social Statics:
The power of an apparatus primarily depends, not on the ingenuity of its design, but on the strength of its materials. Be his plan never so well devised his arrangement of struts, and ties, and bolts, never so good his balance of forces never so perfect yet if our engineer has not considered whether the respective parts of his structure will bear the strain to be put upon them, we must call him a bungler. Similarly with the institution-maker. If the people with whom he has to deal are not of the requisite quality, no cleverness in his contrivance will avail anything. ...As I said, this strikes me as going too far the other way. A constitution cannot operate in blissful transcendence of the people it constrains, since, as Ive argued here and here, its very existence and continuation consists in the behaviour of those people. Hence no constitutional order is likely to work very well for a Kantian nation of demons. But on the other hand, the very same people will often act differently when confronted with different incentives, and what incentives people are confronted with is heavily influenced by the institutional arrangements they find themselves in. True, no arrangement of feathers, no matter how cleverly contrived, will make a good military fortress; but bricks and mortar may make a good or a bad military fortress, depending on how they are combined. Thus Kant was on the right track when he described the object of constitutional design this way: Given a multitude of rational beings requiring universal laws for their preservation, but each of whom is secretly inclined to exempt himself from them, to establish a constitution in such a way that, although their private intentions conflict, they check each other, with the result that their public conduct is the same as if they had no such intentions. Exaggerating Kants insight, of course, leads to impracticable utopianism; but underrating it leads to defeatism as, for example, it led Spencer to suppose that the implementation of anarchism must be postponed until the human race attains moral perfection. The relationship between culture and politics is not unidirectional in either direction. Both the Kantian error and the Spencerian error are the results of an excessively one-sided, an insufficiently dialectical approach to social theory.
That justice can be well administered only in proportion as men become just, is a fact too generally overlooked. If they had but trial by jury! says some one, moralizing on the Russians. But they cant have it. It could not exist amongst them. Even if established it would not work. They lack that substratum of honesty and truthfulness on which alone it can stand. To be of use, this, like any other institution, must be born of the popular character. It is not trial by jury that produces justice, but it is the sentiment of justice that produces trial by jury, as the organ through which it is to act; and the organ will be inert unless the sentiment is there. ...
It is very certain that government can not alter the total amount of injustice committed. The absurdity is in supposing that it can in supposing that by some ingenious artifice we may avoid the consequences of our own natures. ... It is impossible for man to create force. He can only alter the mode of its manifestation, its direction, its distribution. The power that propels his steamboats and locomotives is not of his making; it was all lying latent in the coal. ... In no case can he do anything but avail himself of dormant forces. This is as true in ethics as in physics. Moral feeling is a force a force by which mens actions are restrained within certain prescribed bounds; and no legislative mechanism can increase its results one iota. By how much this force is deficient, by so much must its work remain undone. In whatever degree we lack the qualities needful for our state, in the same degree must we suffer. Nature will not be cheated. Whoso should think to escape the influence of gravitation by throwing his limbs into some peculiar attitude, would not be more deceived than are those who hope to avoid the weight of their depravity by arranging themselves into this or that form of political organization. Every jot of the evil must in one way or other be borne .... No philosophers stone of a constitution can produce golden conduct from leaden instincts.
Posted July 14th, 2006
Soccer Logic, Time Thieves, and Anarchy
Some miscellaneous musings:
1. Materazzi says p.Who knew that the difference between victory and defeat would turn on a players not having taken Logic 101?
2. I regret hitting Materazzi.
3. Therefore p.
Skull of cave-man, eons old,(Im vain enough to note that it won a prize in a statewide poetry competition but honest enough to add that this was in Idaho, not exactly a poetry-intensive state.)
holding legends never told
the tusk-boars squeal, the mammoths tread,
all locked within that hoary head.
Fire-hardened spears of bone,
sharp flint axes, knives of stone
once held in hand of earthen crust,
now forever mingled with the dust.
What cruel, ironic fate here liesAh, pretentious adolescent poesy!
which mutes your tongue and dulls your eyes?
What passions burned within your breast?
What questing dreams disturbed your rest?
What might you know that we know not
who saw young stars and mountains hot?
What bridge across the ages lay
from warrior proud to hand-held clay?
What memories were locked in that frozen brain? What sights had those frozen eyes beheld in the days when the world was young? What loves, what hates had stirred that mighty breast?Clearly the similarity between my poem and this passage from Burroughs story is too close to be a coincidence. But although I read a lot of Burroughs in my youth, Im certain that I never read that story before this year. Indeed, this page gives a list of all the places where Elmer was ever published, both in its original form and under its revised title The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw, and I have never come across any of them. My only source of Burroughs works back then was the old series of Ace paperbacks with their wonderful Frazetta covers, and Elmer never appeared in any of those.
He had lived in the days of the mammoth and the saber-tooth, and he had survived with only a stone spear and a stone knife until the cold of the great glacier had overtaken him.
Posted July 13th, 2006
Subversive Summer Reading
Still too busy to do much more than toss some more links your way:
Posted July 12th, 2006
Two From Space
Just now came across this great parable Space Aliens from Luxembourg by Stefan Molyneux, on the Iraq invasion.
NASAs ongoing inability to solve the space shuttles foam problems brings to mind another great space parable, the anonymously authored How the West Wasnt Won.
Posted July 11th, 2006
Betrayal in Portland
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Meeting in Portland over (ironically enough) Independence Day weekend, the Libertarian Party convention ended up gutting the LP Platform, removing nearly all of the more radical planks (including the antiwar one). The new watered-down platform hasnt been made available online yet, but preliminary details, and some reactions, are available here, here, here, and here.
The outfit behind this move calls itself the Libertarian Reform Caucus. Their theory is a simple one: most voters are not libertarians, so if the Libertarian Party wants to win elections, it must stop being libertarian.
Thats not quite how the Caucus words it, of course. Instead they accuse the Platform of sacrificing practicality and political appeal in favor of philosophical consistency; and they call instead for a Platform that sets out a realistic vision for the next few years, as opposed to an idealistic vision of a libertarian future.
To this sort of thing I can make no better reply than Hayeks in his 1949 essay The Intellectuals and Socialism:
We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems neither a mere defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism ... which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote. ... Free trade and freedom of opportunity are ideals which still may arouse the imaginations of large numbers, but a mere reasonable freedom of trade or a mere relaxation of controls is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire any enthusiasm. The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote. Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.Or in Garrisons words: Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice. (See also Rothbard here and Anthony Gregory here.)
Posted July 7th, 2006
A Thought for the Fourth
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
(Im going to be away from my computer on the Fourth, so Im posting my Independence Day observations a day early.)
How should we think about the American Revolution? I suggest we should think of it as an uncompleted project. The Revolution, after all, wasnt just about separation from Britain; it was about the right of the people to alter or abolish any political arrangements destructive of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or not resting on the consent of the governed.
Those were the principles on which the Revolution was based. But the political system the founders established never fully embodied those principles in practice; and its present-day successor no longer respects them even in theory. (Slogans, need I add? are not theory.)
Over the years since 1776, the fortunes of American liberty, and indeed of liberty worldwide, have risen and fallen; most often some aspects have risen while others have fallen. But every increase in liberty has involved the logical carrying-out of the principles of 76, while every decrease has involved their de facto repudiation. (And if the average American is on balance more free than his or her 18th-century counterpart, this is small reason for complacency when one views the matter counterfactually. To paraphrase my comments in an L&P discussion last year: For me the point of comparison is not USA 2006 vs. USA 1776, but USA 2006 vs. the USA 2006 we would have had if the USA had stuck consistently to those principles.)
From an establishment perspective, the Fourth of July is a day to celebrate the existing American system. But that approach to the Fourth is, I suggest, profoundly counter-revolutionary. Far better to regard Independence Day as a day to rededicate ourselves to forwarding the ongoing Revolution whose true completion, as Voltairine de Cleyre and Rose Wilder Lane argued here and here, will be libertarian anarchy.
Posted July 3rd, 2006
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Ring Owner: Thomas Knapp Site: Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left