Around the Web

  1. Why Women Hunt: Risk and Contemporary Foraging in a Western Desert Aboriginal Community (pdf)
  2. Competing to Be Leaderless: Food Sharing and Magnanimity Among Martu Aborigines (pdf)
  3. In Pursuit of Mobile Prey: Martu Hunting Strategies and Archaeofaunal Interpretation (pdf)
  4. Signaling Theory, Strategic Interaction, and Symbolic Capital (pdf)
  5. Rethinking Rights (and Freedom): A Series (be sure to scroll through the ‘comments’)
  6. Deconstructing Colonial Historiography: A Case Study of Afanasy Nikitin

“Rand Paul’s Libertarian Lecture in New Hampshire”

That’s the title of this short piece of reporting by the Weekly Standard‘s Michael Warren (the Weekly Standard is a neoconservative outlet). I recommend the whole thing, but cannot resist sharing an excerpt:

Without mentioning his name, Paul took on fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who may be running for president and who spoke to the conference just a few minutes after Paul. Paul and Graham were on opposing sides during a 2011 Senate debate on indefinite detention of American citizens accused of terrorism. Graham’s argument was that these Americans ought to be classified as unlawful enemy combatants, and that the rules of war apply so long as Congress has authorized military action. Enemy combatants can be detained for as long as hostilities continue or when Congress otherwise says so, goes the thinking. “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You’re an enemy combatant,'” Graham had said during the floor debate.

But Paul didn’t see it that way.

“One of them said, ‘When they ask for a lawyer, you just tell them to shut up.’ Really? That’s the kind of discourse we’re going to have in our country? Tell them to shut up?” Paul said. “You would send an American citizen to Guantanamo Bay without a lawyer, without a trial? He said, ‘Yeah, if they’re dangerous.’”

Paul cracked a smile as he launched into full libertarian lecture mode.

“It sort of begs the question, doesn’t it? Who gets to decide who’s dangerous and who’s not dangerous?” he said, pacing back and forth across the stage in blue jeans and without a jacket. “Has there been a time in our history when we decided who was dangerous based on the color of your skin? Has there been a time in our history when we decided someone was dangerous because of different beliefs, didn’t look like us, or had a different religion? Are we going to give up on our right to trial so easily?”

Say what you will about Paul, but you won’t see anybody else in the primaries discussing the issues he discusses. The rest of the article has a lot more great stuff, and not only about the battle for the soul of the GOP, but bigger issues – thanks in part to Paul’s initiatives in the Senate, but also to the work of libertarian theorists and activists for the good part of four decades – such as asset forfeiture. Also, more subtly, you can find a penetrating insight into democracy itself (and if you find it, brag about it in the ‘comments’ threads, as I’d like to discuss it further). (h/t James Parsons)

New issue of Reason Papers is out

“A Journal of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies.” Check it out (pdf). Yours truly makes an appearance at the end of the journal, if you’re interested (I critique the student libertarian movement using an informal ethnographic method).

Here is the rest of the line-up:

Symposium: Christine Vitrano’s The Nature and Value of Happiness

Human Happiness and Virtue: Are They Related and, If So, How? —John Kleinig

Happiness, Pleasure, and Satisfaction —Christopher Rice

Response to My Critics —Christine Vitrano

Symposium: Emergencies

Consent-Based Permission to Kill People and Break Their Things —Stephen Kershnar

Catastrophic Events versus Infectious Disease Outbreak: Distinct Challenges for Emergency Planning —Thomas May et al.

Discussion Notes

Happiness or Life, or Both: Reply to Ole Martin Moen —David Kelley

Reply to Danny Frederick’s “Review Essay: Mark D. Friedman’s Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense” —Mark D. Friedman

Reply to Mark Friedman —Danny Frederick


Fetuses Are Like Rapists: A Judith-Jarvis-Thomson-Inspired Argument on Abortion —Stephen Kershnar

The Scope of Attorney Confidentiality —Clifton Perry

Portraits of Egoism in Classic Cinema II: Negative Portrayals —Gary James Jason

Don’t Be an Ass: Rational Choice and Its Limits —Marc Champagne

Review Essay

Review Essay: Philip Booth’s . . . and the Pursuit of Happiness: Wellbeing and the Role of Government —Gary James Jason

Book Reviews

Robert Audi’s Moral Perception —Danny Frederick

Paul Blackledge’s Marxism and Ethics —Dan Swain

Gerhard Böwering et al.’s The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought —Adam Walker


The Symbolic Clash of Whiplash —Robert Begley

In Search of Student Radicalism: YAL, SFL, and the GOP —Brandon Christensen

Be sure to check out the easy-to-navigate archives, too. Browsing through these issues is well-worth your time. Here (pdf), for example, is an issue with an excellent symposium on Sari Nusseibeh’s What Is a Palestinian State Worth?

Around the Web

  1. “It is a Strict Law That Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922 (pdf)
  2. Prime Factors
  3. Competitive Displays: Negotiating Genealogical Rights to the Potlatch at the American Museum of Natural History (pdf)
  4. Bad Weather: On Planetary Crisis (pdf)
  5. Do Muslims Belong in the West?

Calls for harsh criticism: my first (of four) graduate school statement of purpose

Note: this is my statement of purpose (SOP) for a graduate program in anthropology at Emory University. I am also going to apply to Stanford, New Mexico, and Chicago. This is only a rough draft. I have given myself plenty of time to make these perfect, so I am posting this here in order to get harsh feedback and also in case anybody ever finds himself in my position (looking online for examples). The application process consists of five parts: grades, GRE score, Letters of Recommendation, SOP, and resume. My big weaknesses are the SOP and Letters of Recommendation. Any help I could get on my SOP would be great! UPDATE (4/14): Dr Khawaja has kindly provided a forum for my other weakness, the Letters of Recommendation, over at Policy of Truth and I have been learning a lot.

I am interested in land contestations, property rights in stateless regimes, and state formation. There are two main reasons for this. First, I spent three months in the Ghanaian village of Wiamoase, a remote outpost in the Ashanti region, with a medical anthropologist who was then doing graduate work on placebo effects and shamanism at Boston University. Ghana was on the threshold of a third consecutive, coup-free presidential and parliamentary election cycle and I was able to observe how these elections were interpreted by rural Ghanaians. Two major factions figured prominently in the electoral calculations of Ghanaians: the aid-lending Global North and rival, ethnic-based domestic factions. These calculations reminded of the work done by the historian Charles Tilly on the slow rise of democracy in France and the role played in this contestation by the landowning aristocracy. I then decided to conduct an informal survey where I asked villagers whether they had more trust in the politicians of Accra or in the land-holding chiefs who leased out farmland. The unanimous response to my unscientific survey was that the trust of the villagers was in the land-holding chiefs.

Second, at Cabrillo College – a community college in central California – I did Honors research on Javanese political strategies and the Dutch colonial practices that those strategies induced. I was particularly intrigued by the narrative of condescension that dominated Western scholarship up until the 1960s, when the Javanese finally began to be depicted by (some) historians as active, willing participants in the new relationships that were formed by the arrival of European settlers. I presented the results of this research at Stanford University in 2011 as part of a Bay Area Honors consortium, where challenging feedback from professors and participants allowed me to show how this research is relevant to understanding today’s examples of both large-scale organized violence and economic development (or lack thereof).

This research was also featured, in modified form, at RealClearHistory in February of 2014. RealClearHistory is part of the RealClear online series that features work from academics, policymakers, and journalists from around the world on issues ranging from science to history to international relations. RCH also featured my articles on the limits of Japanese imperial ambitions during the Shōwa era and on the European Union’s potential for avoiding the nationalisms of the 20th century by providing inclusive outlets for separatist aspirations. The research done for these features, coupled with my electoral experience in Ghana, produced two notions of democracy in my mind: democracy as a colonial project, and democracy as a power-sharing institution; both of these notions feature prominently in Somalia, my main area of interest, today.

Building upon the work of Peter Little, states are generally taken to be a necessity because of the benefits they provide in regards to public goods. In the postcolonial context, however, states are often wielded as a bludgeon and used as an ATM machine by those who attain its levers of power. When a faction – usually ethnic- or geography-based – wins out in a postcolonial state, the other factions lose power (this is in contrast to long-established, more-or-less democratic states, where “losers” still have institutional representation in a number of ways).

Given this situation, I am interested in both the process of state formation in the postcolonial context, and in the idea of taking seriously notions of informal sovereignty – as exemplified by non-state (indigenous) cooperation at the regional and local levels of borderlands – within current internationally-sanctioned boundaries. In the course of writing my article on nationalisms and the EU, for example, I discovered that three distinct cultural cores of the world – South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka), the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti), and the European Union – have similar geographic spaces, ranging in size from 4.31 million km² to 4.482 million km². Yet within these similar geographies, the comparative number of states is stark: both the Horn of Africa and South Asia are comprised of six states each, while the European Union has nearly five times as many (twenty-eight since 2013). The GDP (PPP) per capita – a leading measurement tool used to gauge the economic health of a country – of these regions (based on 2012 IMF estimates) provides another stark insight: the EU’s GDP (PPP) per capita stands at $31,018, whereas South Asia’s stands at $3,805 and the Horn of Africa’s is $1,679. These are simple but profound economic and geographic quantitative rifts that have yet to be fully explained, especially in the context of the contestation over defining democracy. Can these macro-level data, in turn, be complemented by looking at informal, cross-border market cooperation, comparative interethnic & intraethnic trading strategies, and power-sharing political institutions? More theoretically: Do these informal economies form the basis of viable states?

The pastoralists in southern Somalia offer an avenue of exploration into these questions, especially the cross-border trade between pastoralists and cattle traders in Somalia and Kenya. I am unaware of research being done on how property rights are agreed upon by the parties involved in this sector of the economy, but the quasi-corporate organizational structure of the actors in the cattle supply chain identified by Dr. Little have ample potential. While much work has been done on the destination of Somali cattle products, and on the traders who act as intermediaries between herders, sellers, and producers, the perspective of Somali herders on the regional informal economy has not been studied in depth. How does both land – as an economic factor of production – and conceptions of property rights affect pastoralists’ economic decisions and political acumen? Ethnographic accounts of herder perspectives on informal economies in general and on the supply chain of their cattle in particular can also build upon the foundations necessary for understanding larger-scale social phenomena such as state formation and neocolonial institutions.

I spent most of my time at UCLA living in an outdoor track-and-field stadium and hauling around a cardboard box with all of my belongings in it, which taught me to be determined and I only mention this because it’s good evidence that I have the perseverance necessary to pursue a doctoral degree from your program. My experience in homelessness is not limited to my time at UCLA. I was born in the cultural center of the Mormon world and, when I left that world at a relatively young age, was exposed to the sometimes harsh realities of poverty in the United States. I mention this experience because it has taught me who to pay attention to depending on what I need and what I want. The work of Peter Little on the formal and informal economies of pastoralists in the Horn of Africa has, in particular, attracted my attention, and I hope to be able to learn directly from him. David Nugent’s work on comparative state formation methods is also an area of research I would learn much from, as is the work of Michael Peletz on Islamic law and its relationship with state formation in Southeast Asia.

From the Comments: Types of Federalisms, Good and Bad

Adrián‘s response to responses by me and Michelangelo on his initial response to a comment by Michelangelo that I highlighted in a post of mine (whew!) deserves a closer look:

Guys, thanks for your comments, and apologies for the delay in responding!

1. I share your love for idle speculation. I’d say my fundamental difference with you lies elsewhere: you grew up/are very familiar with a country where federalism has worked pretty well (with notable exceptions, such as slavery and the Jim Crow laws), while I came from another where federal institutions are full of perverse incentives. So, whenever somebody proposes a federal arrangement, I immediately perceive the costs, while you’re more open to the potential benefits.

2. That said, I think an useful way for thinking about federal structures is to analyze the incentives faced by subnational governments. (a) Some subnational governments are accountable to domestic audiences, and thus they seek a federal structure where subnational governments retain considerable autonomy, including autonomy over taxation. This is the kind of federation that fosters tax competition and experimentation, with the US and the EU as good examples. (b) In other contexts, subnational governments are not fully accountable to domestic audiences (even with elections) and thus they devise federal institutions as mechanisms for extracting and distributing rents among themselves, and they use these rents to perpetuate themselves in power. Rather than keeping authority over taxation, they purposefully delegate their tax authority in the federal government to collect taxes for themselves. In other words, the federal government acts as a enforcer of a cartel: it establishes the same tax rate everywhere, collects the money, and distributes it between the states according to some highly politicized formula. This is the kind of federalism that predominates in Latin America: Argentina, Mexico, and to a lesser extent Brazil.

In sum, my point is that creating a federation among governments that are not responsive to voters will lead to the second type of federation. I don’t see the Middle East creating a fully functional federal system unless governments in the region become fully responsive to voters, which will require much more than competitive elections.

3. Michelangelo: I agree with 95% of what you say about Turkey and Israel, especially the EU part, and I obviously believe that it is a good thing these countries trade more and develop better relationship with each other. That said, the main reason why I don’t see these countries forming a federation is a more fundamental one: (a) that neither Turkish nor Israeli politicians have anything to win by creating a federal arrangement, and (b) given Turkey’s enormous size with respect to Israel, this problem is especially important from the Israeli point of view.

There is more on federalism at NOL here. Check out Adrián’s posts here, and Michelangelo’s are here.

Around the Web

  1. A Republic of Cuckoo Clocks: Switzerland and the History of Liberty (pdf)
  2. Pastoralism in a Stateless Environment: The Case of the Southern Somalia Borderlands (pdf)
  3. The Profits of Power: Land Rights and Agricultural Investment in Ghana (pdf)
  4. Rethinking Postcolonial Democracy: An Examination of the Politics of Lower-Caste Empowerment in North India (pdf)
  5. Working Across Borders: Methodological and Policy Challenges of Cross-Border Livestock Trade in the Horn of Africa (pdf)