Wednesday, April 22, 2015

22 Links to the Earth in General and “Inside ISIS”

1. As chilly Antarctic ice reaches a thirty-five-year maximum (h/t Abe Greenwald), here are some links not just for Earth Day but for those interested in global political affairs.

3. Rather than wanting a green or leftist in charge, I hope Rand Paul becomes the next president, even as I share the hope of many that he comes to sound more radically libertarian.

It’s disturbing to see the ease with which my some of my fellow libertarians dismiss the unique opportunity Paul offers, perhaps overestimating other candidates’ libertarian tendencies. I’m sure many Paul fans are hoping the media jumped the gun with dismaying (but ambiguous) reports the Kochs might back Scott Walker, who is not a libertarian, rather than Rand Paul.

Gary Johnson may be the favorite of some libertarian purists, but he’s not a pure libertarian himself, talking of “winning the War on Drugs” by “taxing marijuana” (at least prior to becoming head of a legal pot company), instituting a national sales tax, and humanitarian military missions. None of that renders him non-awesome, but, like Paul, he’s less than a perfect anarcho-capitalist.

4. Despite the tireless efforts of hawks to push the simplistic idea that any event anywhere in the world is a refutation of military non-interventionism, I think messes like that in Yemen right now ought to make us more cautious about blundering into such regions, and I think Rand Paul would be more cautious.

5. That doesn’t mean he has some rosy, optimistic view of the world -- nor do I. On the contrary, the discovery of oil in the ground frequently means barbarians acquiring unearned resources, or at least regimes that now have less incentive to cultivate commerce and peaceful conflict resolution.

I saw a talk at Half King bar by journalist Tom Burgis, author of The Looting Machine, and his book recounts how the discovery of natural resource wealth in Africa so often causes conflict, corruption, and other political problems -- including resource-monopolizing regimes suddenly becoming so rich they don’t even care whether their citizens are wealthy enough to pay taxes. Some reformers think the world would be better off if the resources were just left in the ground. I hope it doesn’t have to come to that.

6. Yet, as the left often notes to its credit, the political and military consequences of using oil have to be placed on the “cost” side of the ledger just like the environmental risks. Oil now helps fund the terrorists of ISIS, and if Bush were still president, I suspect the Mexican authorities warning of an ISIS camp just across the Texas border in Mexico would be seen as a particularly negative and newsworthy side effect.

7. Even as such dangers lurk, though, everyone including radical Muslims wants to play the victim nowadays, as this elderly, gay, British historian still has the perspective to recognize (h/t J’Lien Sorbo). Even rich mass-murderers want to be seen as the underdog, and modern liberals all too often play along.

8. Benjamin Hall (disclosure: who has the same agent I do) is not blind to ISIS’s evil. He traveled in the regions where their fighters are taking over and brutalizing, raping, and decapitating prisoners. His useful book Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army explains where ISIS came from and the stomach-turning things they do.

As is usually the case when you look at the details of such a movement, the simple right-wing and left-wing U.S. explanations of their motivations do little to capture the rather alien and theological internal logic that guides them. Trying to shoehorn them into some Western theory such as anti-colonialism -- or a conspiracy theory about them being mere Western pawns -- won’t help you understand how they rationalize the mass-rapes and the destruction of museums, but it’s not too mysterious if you see the brand of Islam they’re pushing.

But agreeing that they’re especially terrible -- as Rand Paul, for one, does -- does not necessarily entail agreeing with hawks’ preferred solutions to the problem. (Paul’s transformation on the road to Damascus, so to speak, has not caused him to forget our bad track record of intervention over there.) Are we really to think that if we’d just backed the Free Syrian Army things would be peaceful and free there now? The FSA, that would be the guys who kidnapped an NBC reporter and then tried to make him think they were allied with both Assad and Shiite militias, presumably to get the U.S. to fight both those rivals?

I believe Hall is pained by the horror he witnessed over there and wants to help, but that’s no proof that the McCains of this world will know who to back and where to send weapons if we get more deeply involved. As Hall himself chronicles in the book, the U.S.’s situation in the Muslim world is now so multilayered and complex that, for instance, we are currently supporting those fighting with Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq (to prevent its government falling to ISIS) and supporting those fighting against Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Syria (despite simultaneously wanting its government, run by Assad, to be toppled, even though he’s the most active anti-ISIS force in the region).

I do not question the empathy of someone who says the region’s murderers must be stopped, but I question the sanity of anyone who looks at that tangled mess and says without much hesitation, “Let’s get in there, and then things’ll get sorted out!”

9. In one small reminder that the (painfully) long-term victory will probably be cultural rather than military, ISIS is now reduced to imprisoning men for wearing skinny jeans, smoking, and using cell phones.

10. Hipness is a real threat to totalitarians. Here’s NPR’s half-hour interview with a punk in Cuba whose life was changed when he heard Led Zeppelin but had to watch in frustration as even the Wall coming down in Europe did not lead to greater openness and freedom in Cuba (h/t Dave Whitney).

11. Iraq certainly used to be hip -- the very cradle of civilization -- a few thousand years ago. Their music may have sounded like this haunting number (h/t Richard Cooper). And don’t be afraid that if you click it’ll just be the B-52’s “Mesopotamia.” It isn’t. Not this time.

12. Another reminder that horrible doesn’t, alas, automatically mean fixable is this famous Donald Rumsfeld memo from 2003.

13. It should be clear by now that my wariness about the hawks does not mean that I’m sympathetic to Islamic totalitarians or the left-liberals who coddle them back here in North America. I can’t even stand the kind of wussiness that leads to student activists -- a coalition of ostensibly-pluralistic leftists and Muslims, as happens with growing frequency -- saying they can’t cope with the movie American Sniper being shown.

(They ended up showing it after all but in a de facto double feature with Paddington, which only makes the whole scuffle more ridiculous -- but hey, if that left the kids sympathetic both to efforts against Islamic totalitarianism and to the right of bears and others to immigrate, I guess there are worse outcomes.)

14. Will the mainstream press be any more eager to foster debate as it lurches leftward with decisions like the picking of the new Face the Nation host?

15. An un-p.c. eagerness to let the truth just hang out, so to speak, is a healthy but lately unpopular thing. I would hate to see the U.S. end up so swaddled in p.c. taboos that discourse here becomes like, say, discourse in Turkey (just across the border from Syria), where you won’t hear many people daring to refer to the Armenian Genocide when that horror is remembered in two days.

(Here’s hoping two of my favorite Armenian-Americans do well at the back doctor and this coming Saturday’s Electoral Dysfunction panel at the PIT, by the way, not that these events are otherwise related.)

16. Things are getting so p.c. in the U.S. that in Kentucky -- Kentucky! -- a judge let a home invader (who held a three year-old and others at gunpoint) off with a month’s probation because the three year-old is now frightened of black men. Apparently, one’s victims being racist is grounds for a lenient sentence now.

Let’s just say it’s not clear after an incident like that that more tearing down of “white privilege” and greater respect for marginalized populations is sufficient to create justice.

17. Nor should that be taken to mean that whites are awesome. Neither eastern nor western Ukraine looks very admirable right now, despite elites pressuring you to take sides in that conflict. The neutral, individualistic administration of property-based law should be what matters, not tribal or nationalistic grasping for collective power.

18. Of course, imaginary war on other planets is still fun, as we all know from watching the Force Awakens trailer (and as some know from watching the brief teaser trailer for next year’s spin-off Star Wars movie Rogue One before that trailer got taken off YouTube).

19. The consensus seems to be that the Star Wars ones inspire greater confidence than the gloomy Batman v Superman trailer, though the sci-fi fan in me doesn’t mind the whole “fear of Krypton” angle in these films.

20. Less remarked upon is the fact that the Fantastic Four trailer looks bland. Let us keep our (stretchy, invisible, rocky, fiery) fingers crossed this trip into an alternate dimension leads to some excitement.

21. The Hateful 8 trailer from Tarantino being released and then yanked at about the same time the four mentioned above debuted mainly strikes me as further evidence that Tarantino (who threatened to sue over a leaked script not long ago) and the Weinsteins may be in denial about how little control auteurs have over the Internet these days. That trailer was leaked once before about, what, a year ago, man?

Maybe third time will be the charm.

22. But now I’m straying away from topics like war and heresy to more familiar econ subject matter. I’ll make May a “Month of Economics” on this blog, kicking off on May Day with a look at philosopher John Tomasi and his critics.

Maybe I should dedicate next month’s blog entries to Madonna, who had the courage to praise Thatcher on Instagram -- until the lefty mob demanded she take it down and she complied. So much for being an unapologetic rebel and all that. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

50 Links to These United States and Ames' "Medieval Heresies"

It’s a land of heretics! Let’s look at some old ideas and new ideas of radically varying age and worth.

1. Nowadays, instead of excommunicating people, the mob just blocks them on Facebook or insults them on Twitter, which is a great improvement, though you know these people vote and would behave in the same censorious way using government if they had the chance.

2. For an ambitious overview of how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all dealt with their heretics from mid-First Millennium through early Second Millennium, check out Christine Caldwell Ames’s book Medieval Heresies.

Two important lessons are that these faiths were in contact -- and learning from -- each other even back then but were always very worried that contamination by the wrong ideas whether from within or without could imperil everyone’s souls. Yet all three faiths allowed for some degree of internal debate and diversity. When did that diversity tip over into unforgiveable heresy – and when did these faiths decide it was all right to call in the state as enforcer, often executioner? Important stuff.

3. Caldwell Ames might also question whether it is permissible variation or inexcusable heresy to remake Rocky Horror Picture Show, as they’re once more threatening to do.

4. There is a season, Turn, specifically the second season of Turn, starting tonight on AMC and based on a book about George Washington’s spies by yet another historian I know, Alex Rose (he not only had his giant visage on a digital billboard in Times Square because of it but saw the show’s cast members get to ring the NASDAQ closing bell).

5. But both the real historians noted above may be hard-pressed to compete with faux-medieval adventure Game of Thrones, which debuted its fifth season (roughly speaking based on the fourth book) this week, giving me new hope that the series will pull ahead of the books in another couple seasons, so I can at least watch without any fear of spoilers from people who plan to read the seventh book.

6. Speaking of Game of Thrones, the leftist cadre trying to take over the sci-fi Hugo Awards lately sound a bit like this.

7. Modern-day white knight Joss Whedon’s version of reality’s just about as skewed, as Sonny Bunch’s great EverythingsAProblem tumblr mockingly notes here.

8. Despite earlier hopes, it appears I will not be in a documentary about fans of Sharknado, but we still have Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! to look forward to this summer.

9. Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space, by contrast, I should be in, since yesterday in front of Goldman Sachs we shot the gruesome scene in which I play a Wall Streeter and Rev. Jen Miller and her pal Scooter Pie played werewolves. (This is all perfectly in keeping with what conspiracy theorist Alex Jones says becomes of the elites throughout history.)

10. Rev. Jen’ll probably be condemned by someone as unfeminist for having scantily clad hot chicks in her films, but then, feminists are hard to keep happy, as this piece from Spiked about breasts reminds us.

11. Feminists tend to think that if they aren’t winning, well, the game must be ended.

12. But worse -- arguably even abusive toward kids given some of their latest ideas -- are some activists in the “trans” movement, which sometimes defends people who need defending but is at times (h/t Timandra Harkness) perhaps the most retrograde and barbaric element of our current political culture.

13. Maybe normal women have issues, though (h/t Jeremy Kareken).

15. Some women avoid acting solo but feel comfortable acting in concert with their friends/allies, whether doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Just look at these thirteen women conspiring to put an innocent man in prison for a year.

16. There is the occasional encouraging sign even in territory beloved by gender-bendy liberal types, though (h/t Zac Gochenour): A cutie mark has been drawn in the sand with this bold rebuke to lefty egalitarianism by, yes, My Little Pony (#brony #otherkin #libertarian).

17. Then again, I’m not saying corporate culture is always pleasant, either. It sounds like working at Apple sucks in various ways.

18. Weep for HoJo. I'm getting old enough that even my childhood seems like medieval history sometimes. Did you know there are only two (once omnipresent) Howard Johnson’s restaurants left, one in New York State, the other in Bangor, Maine?

19. Meanwhile, somewhere in East Asia.

20. This beatnik-mocking 1957 song by the recently deceased Stan Freberg probably got heard at some point by Firesign, Cheech/Chong, and Harry Shearer/Bill Murray, I bet.

22. Don’t “get medieval” when it comes to punishment: New Mexico is leading the way in abolishing civil asset forfeiture in drug cases.

23. By contrast, May 22 brings Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), and the idea behind the film, a prison that fuses people into one organism against their will, reminds me of government. Socialists may basically be sociopaths not so unlike the mad scientists in these films. (Would that socialism’s wisest critics weren’t themselves so often mildly autistic, though; someone’s gotta do empathy.)

24. Real-world violence looks more like this much of the time, though, despite there being few arrests for that sort of dumb melee. (There is violence among cops and non-cops, and it’s OK to deplore both, by the way.)

25. There is certainly violence among other species. Here a large kitty beats a shark.

27. But on a happier note, here a normal-size kitty helps make music.

28. Climate heresy is still harshly dealt with today.

29. The same mag (welcome to NYC, new tinier TNR!) wonders whether the Holocaust diminishes charges of “privilege” directed at white Jews today (h/t Old Whig, Matt Welch, and Sam Schulman). #Holocaustprivilege? At this rate, everyone will be eager to show their catalogue of woes soon, just to fend off the social justice activists.

30. And you can’t expect most people to have a handle on the real history of WWII these days, as J. Arthur Bloom reminds us here, looking at Socialists and the war with more nuance than you’ll get from the privilege-checkers and woe-toters.

31. To compensate for all this old-fashioned talk, here’s a glimpse of the fashion of the future, at least as imagined back in the Art Deco era (h/t JulieAnn Hull). Speaking of which, I think they should have set the final season of Mad Men in the mid-twenty-first century and given everyone 60s-style jetpacks and flying cars a la The Jetsons -- that’d throw viewers for a loop. (It would also help assuage the pain some feel from DC Comics destroying Earth-2, the original, old-timey DC Comics Earth.)

32. In other arts news, a Ukrainian pianist got fired in Canada for purported hate speech simply for saying she feared the western-Ukrainian government was committing atrocities against people in the Russian-allied eastern part of the country. This strikes me as a disturbing combo of Canadian weakness on free speech, U.S./Western stubbornness on the slightly ambiguous Ukraine issue, and, perhaps most creepily, quiet elite fanaticism on the issue of who controls Ukraine.

33. I for one got an out-of-the-blue e-mail from a Yale professor insisting Russia must be beaten -- and maybe it is important, but it’s striking how important it seems to be to the kinds of people who, say, influence firing decisions at symphony orchestras (people sort of like Soros or the Ukrainian-gas-company-affiliated sons of John Kerry and Joe Biden).

This time, the elite failed to really get the rest of us hyped up about their war scheme, right or wrong, so when they freak out about someone like a pianist taking an opposing view on the issue, it’s a bit odd. It’s like being denounced for saying you don’t think the energy minister of Portugal is the new Hitler or something, leaving you chastened but thinking: Who? What? Is that beyond the pale now? Huh?

34. So much fighting in the world is really about gas pipelines and energy, of course -- but that doesn’t make every crackpot alternative energy scheme worth it, as Johan Norberg discusses in this new documentary coming to a PBS station near and paid for by you (h/t David Boaz). Might as well get your money’s worth.

35. The fusion of Islamic and left-liberal activism on campus continues apace, a reminder that talk of campus liberalism being “pluralist” is all too often just camouflage for totalitarian tactics, no matter what the issue.

36. Meanwhile, here’s a non-fatal police incident that is still fraught with strange racial politics.

37. Even the cartoons of the 80s have become sad victim groups, at least in this amusing short.

38. I will have to miss it, but there’s jazz tonight at Cielo Underground, 242 W. 49th, if you’re tempted to check it out from 7:30-11pm.

39. Trebuchets, of course, are a more dangerous form of entertainment (h/t Will Linden).

40. With time, even “yes” can die (h/t Eric Schmidt). Not the band, I mean, but, well, actually, maybe the band as well.

41. Words change, I mean. I thought “Monopoly” meant “boredom” when I was a kid because the board game was such monotony. Amazing I wasn’t also confused about why they called it a “bored game,” actually.

42. But remember: no matter what they tell you about the barbarism of the Middle Ages, the present looks like this (then again, I still don’t see any arrests happening, so I guess there’s technically no crime in this neighborhood at all).

43. I should be careful even about criticizing criminals, as the left stands ready to find racism even in a phrase like “take our country back” -- at least as used by Rand Paul, that guy being praised elsewhere for his outreach to blacks and efforts to promote civil liberties. Jill Sobule, though, responds to him by swearing and deploying a string of racial epithets like “wetback” in a political song on the HuffPo Show.

This is the sick fantasy those purportedly “pluralism and tolerance”-promoting liberals live out in their sick, hateful minds every time they get near even the most innocuous of conservatives or libertarians. They must conjure demons because we aren’t demonic enough in real life.

Has Jill Sobule worked with David Byrne at all? Because it strikes me this is roughly how his sort of liberalism works: attribute the nastiest imaginable motives to your foe, then congratulate yourself for defeating the straw man conjured by your own hate. This is not what generous listening or civility or dialogue look like. Modern liberals have become -- what’s the word? -- ah, yes: bigots.

44. And, yeah, Katy Perry’s version of “I Kissed a Girl” is in fact a better song. Deal with it, hipsters and folk-cretins.

45. Ann Hathaway lip synching to Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” is vastly more entertaining, though.

46. HRC being mocked as part of a monarchical dynasty by SNL is also pretty entertaining and perhaps a healthy sign.

47. I’ll attempt to be funny myself when I’m onstage on the Electoral Dysfunction panel this Saturday, the 18th, 6pm (not 7!!) at the PIT, 123 E. 24th, if you care to come cheer me on amdist politically-mixed company onstage and off.

48. And here on the blog, I’ll discuss the important book Inside ISIS next time.

49. There’s even chimp/drone warfare going on these days, as Arthur C. Clarke might have predicted.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

45 Thoughts Inspired by Jacob Levy and Rand Paul (Prez #45)

1. Like the rest of you, I’ve spent the past several years making mocking comments about enemies and rivals on the Internet. But there was a deeper meaning to my activity even when making brief, dismissive remarks about longwinded professors or filibustering politicians. (I don’t just want argument or the rustling of jimmies.)

Truth be told, I’m a rule utilitarian -- that is, someone who (really) wants everyone to be as happy as possible and thinks we need a few relatively simple moral and legal rules to make that happen. As a very left-wing friend of mine once wisely put it, John Rawls’ Theory of Justice can’t be the actual set of moral rules we’re supposed to follow because it’s 500 pages long. That’s a joke, but it’s sort of true.

A lot of complex political theorizing must be dispensed with quickly (perhaps even snidely) if we’re to keep people focused on the few easily-promulgated ideas that work, chiefly property rights, which are a radically-decentralized and easily understood way of settling nearly all political and economic disputes with clarity. Veer away from strict adherence to that legal rule, and you quickly get into messy territory in which everyone sounds full of competing metaphysical and social theories out of Hegel. No good person wants that.

To their credit, though, people do tend to want some sort of peaceful political compromise most of the time. If people aren’t going to sign on to strong property rights as that simple conflict-resolution formula, I must at least partially respect those whose looser political formulas (A) approximate that ideal and (B) seem similarly rooted in a (broadly) libertarian desire to enable everyone to get along with each other (as opposed to silencing some in favor of others’ master plan).

Take, as conflict-resolution-formula examples, the federalist/constitutionalist conservatism of Rand Paul and the pluralist liberalism of Jacob Levy.

2. I’m delighted to see Rand Paul formally announce his candidacy for president at noon today in Kentucky (though that linked video from yesterday has a bit more fat, sunburn, and cultish chanting than I might have used if I had edited it). His efforts to blend libertarian and conservative thinking with outreach to the left confuses some but seems to me quite in keeping with his father’s use of constitutional, states’-rights thinking as a means of settling deeply divisive arguments in America in a civil, freedom-respecting fashion.

I don’t think young libertarians (delighted as I am by their growing numbers) really appreciate how unprecedented it is to have someone as libertarian as Rand Paul as close to presidential electoral success as he now appears to be, whether he ultimately prevails or not. This is not an opportunity to be lightly dismissed.

I can understand people avoiding all entanglement with the evil realm of electoral politics, but I’m baffled, really, by how anyone can intensely dislike Rand Paul while loving Ron Paul. No one ever seems to give me a good answer, merely pointing out some tiny flaw of Rand’s (usually falling in any area that many minarchist libertarians would consider a moral grey area anyway) that often as not was even more true of Ron. They tolerated Ron holding office, supporting Israel’s strike against emerging nuclear facilities in a nearby country back in 1980, voting to authorize the Afghanistan war in 2001, working with more moderate political allies in Congress, occasionally voting for the best available (least-statist) of several competing bills, and so on. Why are all these things monstrous when Rand does them?

And Rand does them without wandering off into conspiracy theories or dizzying run-on sentences about banking.

I mean, he’s far from perfect -- he’s a politician, for one thing -- but in the current context, I think he’s clearly our best bet (as does Cato’s David Boaz). Sit out the whole process if you like, but I question whether anyone backing any other major-party candidate is serious about radically shrinking government and expanding freedom. (And as a strategic sidenote, I’ll repeat something I said about the elder Paul’s 2012 run: If and only if the Republicans nominate Paul, then Gary Johnson, who keep in mind is no anarcho-capitalist himself, should suspend his Libertarian Party campaign.)

3. And if you think Rand Paul is some sort of warmonger because, say, he sounds unimpressed by the “deal” with Iran, consider this, please, recent historical reason to be unimpressed by such deals (h/t Jeremy Kareken).

4. I’m amused by the unusual length of what is apparently Rand Paul’s official campaign slogan:

Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream.

It’s got a certain poetry. Bit more badass than “Hope, Growth, and Opportunity.”

And, hey, he’s got J.C. Watts in his corner, which may help with his ongoing black-outreach thing.

5. I wish ethnic calculations didn’t matter at all, but clearly they do when crunching vote totals. The Hispanic ties of Jeb Bush, Rubio, and Cruz -- even Romney -- have clearly been an implicit part of their resumes, which is not unreasonable. After all, we now live in a country where a friend of mine just this weekend overheard a woman describe her daughter being bullied for not speaking Spanish and being told by teachers that until she learns Spanish she should expect to be bullied.

6. We must come to grips with multiculturalism and pluralism. That’s where the two books of Jacob Levy come in, respectively. The second, just out, is Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom, and it’s great.

There are many different ways of carving up the political realm (I hesitate to say “spectrum,” since that’s most definitely one specific model and perhaps a tired one). I’ve long known, roughly since we were undergrads twenty-six years ago, that Jacob’s not fighting the usual right vs. left battle, but neither is he fighting the usual individualism vs. state battle that occupies libertarians and socialists alike.

His liberalism is a middle way, not only within the usual American spectrum but within the history of liberalism itself (in the broad sense that includes both individualist classical liberalism and modern statist liberalism), conceptually if not necessarily in terms of any specific policy recommendations. Like Vartan Gregorian, the man who was president of Brown when Jacob and I were there -- and like no small number of Burkeans and even paleoconservatives, though Jacob might not want to be associated with them -- he admires de Tocqueville and emphasizes civil society’s intermediary institutions (from churches to universities to bird-watching societies, those entities that are neither individualist nor statist).

He describes both the methodological individualists (like most libertarians including me) and the statists as rationalists but thinks (like many academic left-liberals) there’s a neglected strain of liberal pluralists in intellectual history who have more to teach us about how multiple sets of lawlike customs can coexist. (There’s some similarity here to anarchist David Friedman’s online book-in-progress Law Codes Very Different from Our Own, which surveys gypsy, Amish, and other rule sets.)

Jacob is describing the European experience, he says, not that of the U.S. or other parts of the world, but there is an unmistakable resemblance to the letter he wrote to Liberty magazine over twenty years ago reminding me not to be too dismissive about the Amish, and indeed I’ve come to see them as a model of practical anarchism regardless of their conscious philosophy. The Constitution, and American liberty in general, can be thought of more as a truce, he told me, than as a perfected rational philosophy. Aiming for the latter may be asking too much.

If boosting the left or right is a doomed proposition because of their co-dependent relationship in which each move by one causes a countermove from the other side, perhaps (depressingly) the same is true of the classical liberal/modern liberal tension (individual vs. state). A way out of the bind may be needed: pluralist liberalism as a path between the individualist-rationalists and the statist-rationalists. As a practical strategic matter, it might well be so, even if that’s still a messy, not tidily-resolvable path by the abstract standards of philosophy.

I still think real individualist philosophy -- methodological individualism and Austrian economics -- has barely been tried (despite all the hate already directed at it by the left). In my experience, it catches on rather well when explained to people without compromises and mushy add-ons, and it achieves wonders on the even rarer occasions it’s implemented. We should at least give that a more serious try, I think. But Jacob offers a far less-statist route than the currently dominant crop of liberals.

Liberalism has a real history, though, not just abstract theories, and even traditionalists may be surprised how much they enjoy seeing Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom weave important lessons from that centuries-long conversation and the real social conflicts that produced it and shape it even today.

7. As an aside of particular personal interest, I must say Jacob’s main argument against pure anarcho-capitalism (or Nozickian pure liberalism, as he frames it) is a pragmatic yet hypothetical one: What if you’re stuck in a world where all land is claimed by groups with strict customs to which you must adhere, and the best you can hope for is to choose among those groups? How is that individual freedom?

Fair enough, but as a rule utilitarian, I must ask: what if popularizing theories other than anarcho-capitalism is the fastest way to create a world in which people are routinely stuck in restrictive rule-making groups that claim all surrounding land and don’t like to sell it or allow for individual diversity? That seems far more likely to me. (Even in an unlikely world of vast, inescapable, repressive anarcho-capitalist compounds, though, we could presumably pursue some small Georgist fix such as limiting the ownership of land in emergencies rather than go the more intrusive route of telling people on a given parcel of land how to live or what forms of autonomy and personhood they must foster.)

The impure capitalist theories may thereby be more self-refuting in practice than is the pure theory, which is so rarely even spoken aloud. The pure theory may confront difficult hypotheticals in extreme cases, but the impure theories are already causing disaster in reality.

8. By my atheist-anarchist lights, the worst-case scenario philosophically, though, is the theist-socialist. Having recently come out as super-Christian hasn’t made the ludicrous Ana Marie Cox averse to using force against her fellow Christians for left-liberal ends, for instance.

9. There are, I will admit though, extreme cases in which private action borders on state-like coercion, as a recent documentary and this old article argue is the case with Scientology. But does either the anarcho-capitalist or the Levyan pluralist really have reason to single out Scientology for criticism among all the other restrictive religions and cults? Short of assault and fraud, we largely have to let people do what they want.

10. The first person Jacob footnotes is Larry Siedentop, who I blogged about last time -- and who earnestly pushes that (rationalist) individual-and-state model in his book despite, ironically, dealing almost exclusively with intermediary church institutions in his analysis. But Jacob has learned from an array of influences without necessarily endorsing everything they say and also thanks people like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. He’s a peacemaker and bridge-builder.

11. By contrast, the once-useful Southern Poverty Law Center has become an antagonistic, alarmist joke and instead of defending blacks against oppression is now reduced to calling black doctor and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Ben Carson an extremist threat. I think we’ll survive him, SPLC.

12. The Indianapolis Star front pages seen nearby, from forty years apart, are a reminder (h/t Mollie Hemingway) how far we’ve fallen from protecting basic liberty to imposing a left-liberal cultural agenda.

13. For good or ill, Jacob might more or less agree with both headlines, though. Witness the nuance in his take on the whole Indiana gay legal fracas. He’ll irk many hardcore libertarians, in this case managing to endorse anti-discrimination laws and the morass of common law on the meaning of “public accommodation” even as he condemns the Indiana law as ugly, redundant, and purely symbolic all at the same time. Yet that’s consistent with the cautious view in his new book that principles are derived from the thicket of history instead of standing wholly outside that thicket.

I would often prefer philosophers to stand outside history shouting “Wrong!” Admittedly, political science professors have a different function and way of approaching problems than (often simplistic) pure philosophers -- but my basic objection to the political scientists’ usual approach is that no one but professors and lawyers has time for all those details. Saying so isn’t anti-intellectualism. It’s a (mildly but realistically populist) recognition that the experts will take over and centralize decision-making if no one else can follow the conversation.

14. Time and again, I worry about the pretense of neutrality, objectivity, and expertise. It goes awry easily. Heck, these days reporters at places like Richmond, VA’s CBS News Channel 6, namely Alix Bryan, apparently think it’s just part of their job to report the pro-Memories Pizza fundraiser for fraud, despite zero evidence of fraud, for instance. (Alinsky politics in action, as one Twitter user put it -- welcome to the left’s twenty-first-century America.)

15. And the current perpetually-outraged left, unlike, say, right-wing pizza-sellers, are not just acting like opinionated customers in the market. They are urging state action and knowing they’re likely to get it (they already have, meaning that this whole “Indiana Law” venture, started by religious conservatives, is basically going to end up making it harder to discriminate legally in Indiana than it was before all this began).

If, as Jacob himself has argued, Jim Crow was pernicious in part because it so thoroughly entwined public and private authoritarianism, the same is true of the mounting collaboration between the government and the cultural left in our own day. It is the left, not the right, that is pushing things farther and farther toward open violent confrontation in the streets instead of voluntary pluralism.

16. The left always has to maintain its pretense of being the underdog, but here’s a nice, long Ace of Spades rant about a leftist who can only argue against strawman Christian theocrats, not libertarians.

17. Liberalism changes over time. The Economist changes, too, alas, with former Party of European Socialists intern and Marxist literature major Jeremy Cliffe, who narrated a TV show saying we should take Russell Brand seriously, becoming the new Bagehot columnist (h/t J’Lien Sorbo and Guy Fawkes’ Blog).

I am reminded of sitting at the Economist table at a Reason event and realizing only one member of the Economist group was a laissez-faire advocate and the others thought he was a funny relic (and catch me in politically-mixed company again onstage April 18 at 6pm (not 7!!) at the PIT in one of their Electoral Dysfunction panels, 123 E. 24th!).

18. I fear this new Bagehot columnist will not do, say, interviews that embarrass the Green Party prime minister candidate the way this one does (h/t J'Lien Sorbo). If you can bear to hear 3min 42sec of the most painfully awkward political interview in history, that’s a typically snide UK interviewer effortlessly destroying a completely flustered Green Party candidate for prime minister who admits she hasn’t done the math(s) on public housing costs, despite it being central to her platform. Brutal.

19. Back in the U.S., though, I wonder sometimes amid overblown battles about race and abortion, on Twitter and occasionally even in reality: do modern liberals today consider it more urgent in the days ahead to fight the battles they won decisively fifty years ago or the battles they won decisively forty years ago? If you see what I mean.

20. Speaking of Twitter, I predict Trevor Noah will in fact cave under criticism and mute his offensive comedy. He joked in a recent stand-up routine (h/t J’Lien Sorbo) about how Charlie Hebdo basically had it coming, so while he’s stupid and offensive, he’s not the champion of free speech that Patton Oswalt is. He’ll do what the left wants. Alas, Voltaire, etc., etc.

21. Society has become so leftist-hypersensitive so quickly that there is now a controversy raging within the comedian community because one of their own made a joke about another comedian (who herself does a lot of low humor) being a fat woman with one arm. Think about that: COMEDIANS ARE HANDWRINGING (those that have two hands) over COMEDIANS joking about OTHER COMEDIANS and about THE “COMEDIAN COMMUNITY” NOT STEPPING IN FAST ENOUGH TO CRITICIZE IT. That’s how fucking sensitive the idiot-crybabies composing this society have become.

22. Would that everyone had the patience and thick skin of this sleepy French bulldog. If Michael Malice, Austin Petersen, Alex Jones, and (my fictional hero from youth) Jonny Quest all love that breed, it must be the dog of liberty and high adventure.

23. Anyone who claims not to see how government regulation, p.c., terrorism, and the police state all encourage each other now, slowly melding in an overall presumption against liberty and thought, is either very naive, very ideological, or insane. I have rarely been more pessimistic about the culture in my adult lifetime.

24. Thirty years ago this month, though, we thought the future would look more like this wiseass, Max Headroom, and we weren’t all that far wrong.

26. Similarly: many people have joked that this ad for the new music-streaming service Tidal looks like a meeting of the Legion of Doom.

27. Meanwhile: despite what you’ve likely heard, Zoe Quinn (the online harasser who plays the victim to uncritical media acclaim) and other anti-GamerGate forces of this world are mostly lying political-zealot jerks, but it looks like their efforts to seize control of sci-fi’s Hugo Awards have failed, thank goodness.

28. I don’t know if the dwarf-tossing jokes in the Lord of the Rings movies were appropriate, but my complaints would be more comedy-driven than offense-driven. If they were going to do awkward references to current-day culture, though (something Tolkien himself was not entirely above -- note his golf jokes in The Hobbit), one I would like to have heard is Gandalf saying, “The Ents speak in low tones, always a powerful bass. You should hear an Ent whistle.”

29. That crossed my mind while watching the cool documentary Lampert and Stamp about the Who’s managers, which ends up being a very intimate look at the early band as well. It also made me realize Townshend’s reason for saying elsewhere that he dislikes Zeppelin: They nearly stole Moon and Entwistle! Small world. (And Stamp is the brother of Gen. Zod, I now know.)

30. Far from ours being a hopelessly patriarchal world that silences female voices, I could probably turn anything with tits and a political opinion into a successful pundit. You have no idea how desperate and eager TV is for women. But believe what you like.

31. Meanwhile, it sounds like Mindy Kaling’s brother ought to make a fact-based mildly conservative comedy film called Oversoul Man.

32. As one very wise friend of mine put it, if X-Men were real life, much as everyone loves its liberal metaphor for oppression, we wouldn’t see Sentinels hunting down mutants, we’d see people saying it’s time for Supreme Court Justice Ororo Monroe.

33. But what does nerddom's most beloved Canadian (besides Jacob and Geddy Lee) say about such culture wars? The context here is hopelessly, hopelessly complicated (h/t Charles C. Johnson), but perhaps William Shatner, like the rest of the world, is beginning to worry that liberalism is turning into primitive tribal score-settling.

34. This look at the campus left is not a bad summary of the current situation (and colleges, alas, tend to be a model for the future).

35. But I have not forgotten that more moderate figures like Michael Bloomberg can do even more damage (don't help him, Boris!!). They more easily rally a consensus and perform bipartisan mischief. Everyone is terrible, really.

36. In return, England gives us “10 Medieval Rabbits That Hate Easter and Want to Kill You” (h/t Timandra Harkness).

37. In the modern world, by contrast, do liberals actually believe this nightmare scene will occur with any frequency? (And what church does the gentle-sounding yet resolutely racist old man belong to anyway?)

38. I mean, sure, it’s something that could happen once in a while, sort of like these five minutes of clips from Night of the Lepus (h/t Franklin Harris).

39. But cats will always be more badass, even faced with bears (h/t Margaret Scobey Austgen).

40. I read Grant Morrison’s Ultra Comics #1, in which a central character pleads with the reader to stop turning the pages because the story itself is evil and must not be completed, and I’m pleased to see multiple people online voicing my suspicion -- that Morrison at some point read the terrifying Grover-from-Sesame-Street book The Monster at the End of This Book.

Jacob similarly joked about Hegel being the monster at the end of his book.

41. Immigration is crucial to Jacob’s thinking, I now understand, in part because it’s vital to avoiding that trapped-in-enclaves effect that would make anarcho-capitalism become creepy. I see NYC, for its part, might give a million non-citizens the right to vote. Frightening! We could end up with a communist mayor who honeymooned in Cuba. Oh…right. Never mind. Same dif.

42. Wariness of abstract model societies makes Jacob admirably averse to most formulations of “social justice,” and from the ButtHurt Libertarians page comes a scary reminder of what Atlas Shrugged might sound like if Ayn Rand had believed in so-called social justice:

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders -- what would you tell him?”

“I...don‘t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

“Check your privilege.”

43. OK, that’s a joke, but here’s some real Communist propaganda (h/t Tim Cavanaugh), a cartoon short in which a decadent American bulldog inherits vast wealth -- and becomes totally awesome and wins at life!

44. And in a simple reminder of the clash between modern fragmentation and the echoes of the old paterfamilias that Siedentop describes: an emotional farewell, one of the most memorable scenes in TV history, from All in the Family (h/t Mark Judge).

45. All of the tensions described above, much as we may fight about them, are trivial, of course, compared to some of the life-or-hellfire battles of the Middle Ages -- and we’ll look at those next time in the form of the new book Medieval Heresies by Christine Caldwell Ames.

Friday, April 3, 2015

16 Links for “Inventing the Individual,” Contemplating Religion, and Surviving Modernity

Sixteen brief notes on religion, tribalism, and science for this weekend of Good Friday, Passover, and Easter.

1. First, since we atheists get accused of lumping all religious people together, let me assure you I don’t think the people celebrating those holidays this weekend are the moral equivalent of the mass-murdering al-Shabaab movement attacking Kenya this week. I mean, you’re still wrong, but you’re not al-Shabaab wrong.

2. And unlike some of my pro-science, skeptical, libertarian-or-progressive colleagues, I realize modernity and its scientific comforts are sometimes oversold. I mean, look how dangerous my local Dunkin Donuts is -- “imminently perilous to life,” if we believe the sign in my nearby photo.

3. Driving is also insanely dangerous and may be looked back upon as a mistake by robot-chauffeured future generations, albeit at times a hilarious and spectacular one.

4. And, though you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t when arguing with religionists who accuse you of being dogmatic, I even concede the logical possibility that supernatural or paranormal phenomena could turn out to exist. Strong Bad, at least, has come again after six long years without an e-mail short.

5. But should I accept the thesis of Larry Siedentop’s 2014 book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, which is that Western individualism (which I like, of course) is fundamentally rooted in and a historical outgrowth of Christianity?

In a way, it is the very earliest part of the book, describing the ancient, pagan, pre-Christian world, that may be the most persuasive part, though this was not really the crux of Siedentop’s argumentative plan. Like a good sci-fi fan/philosophy buff, I think it’s healthy to be reminded how utterly alien the world could be if things had gone a bit differently, and the world before the rise of the Roman Empire, as Siedentop sketches it, is one in which each household, contrary to the communitarian picture sometimes painted by nostalgists from Karl Marx to the Republican Party, is nearly its own moral universe.

You think we have a patriarchy now? Be grateful we no longer live in a world in which Dad is the paterfamilias who wields the power of life and death over family members and household servants, is the high priest of the household religion and ambassador to the household gods/ancestral ghosts, and is himself a sort of god-in-waiting whose soul will literally join others beneath the hearth fire when he dies. That’s some serious manly responsibility.

A glimpse of that strange world will leave liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike breathing a sigh of relief when Greek philosophy, Christianity, and modern notions of rights successively arise -- though there are some on the very far right, mainly in Continental Europe, well aware of Christianity’s role in fostering liberalism and thus opposed to Christianity, believe it or not.

To most modern readers, even the world of feudalism, strange and ornate as its rules are, looks more familiar than the world of ancient household gods. For instance, I may not believe in Marxist class analysis or feudalism, but even our rough ability to map one onto the other and thereby talk about broad swaths of rich and poor medieval citizens is a step closer to home and away from the world of ancient slaves.

Christianity is liberalizing in Siedentop’s story, though, for reasons that very much lump together individualist classical liberalism and statist modern liberalism: As appeals to a single moral law centered on God or the Pope or the monarch became more common, emphasis on hierarchical and hereditary local traditions often gave way to the belief that the law applied to “all souls.” Centralization, individualism, and egalitarianism may all fight furiously against each other in our modern minds, but they were all bundled-together novelties back in the days when many people assumed entirely different sets of laws and moral rules applied to, say, serfs, Gallic monks, German warriors, immigrant slaves, and so on.

Ironically, though churches very clearly fall into the middle realm of “intermediary institutions” (between the individual and the central state) in today’s society, Christianity’s biggest effect in Siedentop’s medieval narrative was arguably the weakening of (older) intermediary institutions. The very idea of a universal natural law was a radical condensing of Greek, Christian, and modern notions that greatly influences us still. If your neighbor insisted that his ancestors conferred upon him the right to take your sheep, you might increasingly refer him to the widely-known laws of God and the king instead of just consulting the locals, long story short. Property was increasingly seen not just as a product of history but as an expression of individual will.

Along with this change, argues Siedentop, came a subtle shift from the centrality of fatalism to hope -- and admiration for the egalitarian model provided by monasticism. And, as I’ve often noted, feminism may bash the conventions of courtly love now, but they were a nice formula for creating civility toward females compared to some of the alternatives -- and still popular in many quarters. As the harsher and more patriarchal rules of Islam are increasingly imported to Europe today, Siedentop thinks we’d do well to stop bashing religion-in-general and, paradoxical as it sounds, see secularism as an outgrowth of Christianity, an outgrowth on more stable and lasting grounds if we acknowledge its pre-secular roots.

In what might be called a “progressive conservative” way (if not for the danger that that label would lead to me be mistaken for a Canadian), I’m more inclined to think that religion was, as Christopher Hitchens once put it, “a decent first draft” and that we can do even better in the future -- but unlike some leftists, I don’t want our pre-scientific roots ignored, denied, or treated as a mere enemy. Christianity helped.

6. And I’m certainly not one of those people (like more than a few young leftist-atheist types) who think humanity was mostly-irrational in the past and is mostly-rational today. We still have our taboos, as Patton Oswalt was reminding people on Twitter a few days ago.

7. But today’s taboos, despite what the feminists tell you, are far from enforcing the old paterfamilias. Today, YouTube takes down things like masculinist user RedPillPhilosophy’s video of feminists physically attacking men, apparently calling it “hate speech” not because the men are being harmed but because the women end up looking bad.

8. Undermining the old paterfamilias formula hasn’t made the world hunky-dory, after all. Beloved sensitive liberal guy Tom Hanks is the dad who raised this thug, for example, so something went wrong with that approach.

9. Relations between the sexes are now sufficiently confusing that Gavin McInnes is reduced to interviewing a woman about what women are like.

11. But even if you applaud most recent changes in culture, you should reject recent growth in government. Nowadays religion isn’t the big threat to scientific advancement, regulation is, Peter Thiel argues.

12. And if many on the left still think of themselves as promoters of progress even while trying to squelch novel business ideas like Uber, I wonder if they’ll at least feel a moment of sympathy for Uber while watching this out-of-control cop badmouth an Uber driver.

13. I can reject governmental controls (right and left) and admire science and technological progress, as did my very funny and nerdy high school biology teacher, who has passed away. Robert Ochs was, as I recall, a libertarian, an occasional mocker of the ignorant, and an early adopter of all-in-one remote controls for the modern home -- when not taking vacation/astronomy field trips to Jamaica. He is missed.

14. Science is sometimes seen as arrogant in its pretense of objectivity by admirers of religion (and vice versa), but sometimes science unsettles you by making you realize how bad your brain is at registering reality objectively (h/t Austin Petersen).

15. This video (h/t Justin Stoddard), a bit like a cartoony seven-minute fusion of Jonathan Haidt’s warnings about “the righteous mind” and Richard Dawkins’ descriptions of ideas-as-memes, reminds us partisanship and passion carry dangers even online.

16. For useful models of navigating pluralism and heresy, come back to this blog in the next couple weeks for looks at books by Jacob Levy and Christine Caldwell Ames -- and catch me onstage at the PIT 6pm (not 7!!) April 18 surrounded by liberal comedians. I may mock your religion and your government.