Russia in Syria: A Gift to the West (but not to Syrians)

I don’t see why so many Western commentators and analysts are up in arms over Russia’s move into Syria. (Actually, I do: From Ukraine to Iran to Syria, Moscow has been more active in geopolitics than it has been for nearly 25 years.) Moscow’s move into Syria can only be seen as a gift to the West, in terms of strategy and geopolitics. Think of it this way:

Russia has no military experience whatsoever outside of its borders. The Russian military did a ruthlessly good job of stamping out secessionist movements in the Caucasus, and its internal security bureaucracy has done a great job of stifling dissent and shaping the narrative that Moscow wants to be highlighted. Yet Russia’s success outside of its borders has been paltry, at best.

Intervention in Ukraine has brought widespread, global condemnation upon Russia, and economic sanctions to boot.

The Russians in Syria are going to be ruthlessly slaughtered and exploited by the myriad of factions in the region. Not only is Russia backing the wrong horse (Assad), it is backing it up with hardware and personnel that have no experience with the region. Russia has produced an insular intellectual class over the past 15 or 20 years, and this is going to play out badly for its Syrian intervention.

The West, which has an awful lot of experience playing factions off on each other in the Near East, will most likely take advantage of Russian ignorance (to the detriment of Syrian society as whole) and as a result the world will see a Russian military outsmarted, outgunned, and outmanned by an insurgency with no official support from the outside world. The Russians are going to get bloodied in Syria. I don’t see why Western hawks are so keen on making Russia “pay” for its excursion on the global diplomatic stage.

The News: Fair and Unbiased

Reminder: Favorite Democratic presidential candidate Clinton (H.) must be considered innocent until she is found guilty by a court of law. Be patient!

The Obama Air Force bombed a Doctors Without Borders clinic in Afghanistan, killing about twenty people including doctors and underage patients. White House spokesperson: “We are still the best!” (Learning how to write headlines liberal style.)

I looked at a picture of the Oregon mass killer. He looked African-American to me. I am not an expert on race but I am pretty sure he would not have been seated at a Sears lunch counter in Mississippi in 1956. I wonder if he too was a white supremacist.

The police found thirteen of his firearms, all perfectly gun controlled (legal, in other words).

It seems to me that the statistics that matters the most with respect to homicides is type of homicide for 100,000 people. For the period 2000-2014 the US stands high in the ranking of deaths per hundred thousand within the context of a mass killings. It ranks number four, behind Norway, Finland, and….Switzerland. N. S.! (From the Wall Street Journal of 10.3 4 2015 reporting on an academic study.) I think a fourteen year period is significant. It does not look like cherry picking to me but I am open minded.

This all makes me muse about how raw figures are presented to the public. We all know the US homicide rate is high. (I don’t have the numbers at hand but there is no disagreement about the general statement.) I wonder what the US ranking would be if we deducted from the US homicide total count all homicides committed by African-Americans in areas administered by Democrats for a long time, say, more than ten years. I am thinking Chicago and Baltimore, for example. Just imagining.

Asylum Seekers and Western Military Intervention

Recently, Brandon Christensen, the capable Editor here tried to take me behind the woodpile, again! (Note for our overseas readers: To take someone behind the woodpile usually a child – is to spank him to try to improve his attitude.) This is what happened: NOL re-published two of my essays “Hypocrisy” and “Muslim Refugees in Perspective” where I asserted (again) that many Muslim societies are failed societies or otherwise sick. Brandon asserted (again) that any apparent linkage between Islam in general and social pathologies is just that, an appearance. Instead he seems to argue, Muslim societies that are in any kind of trouble owe their trouble mostly (or much?) to Western intervention in general and to American intervention in particular, with a special emphasis (I am guessing) on military intervention.

There is a partial test of these competing beliefs in an examination of refugee applications to Germany during a recent period.

Between January and August 2015, Germany received 147,500 applications for asylum from the top ten countries of origin of the applicants. (I am rounding numbers to the next hundred.)* Of these, 79% came from predominantly Muslim countries.

Almost half of the asylum seekers from Muslim countries – 48% – came from Syria, a mostly Muslim country where the US and the West had notably not intervened (or only superficially) by August 2015, the end of our period of observation. If you will recall, the US president has earlier drawn a red line beyond which the Syrian dictator couldn’t go on waging war on his people. The Syrian dictator ignored the warning and nothing happened. That’s as non-interventionist as it gets!

Of the asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries, 23% came from Iraq and from Afghanistan together, two countries that have in fact experienced American and Western (even international) military intervention in the past twenty years.

Reminder: It’s worth remembering that the intervention in Afghanistan was launched to dislodge a regime installed by force of arms that sheltered terrorists, according to the Al Qaida terrorists themselves, and according to the regime itself. Several years earlier, the same terrorist group sheltered by Afghanistan – Al Qaida – had declared war on the United States, incidentally.

Of the remainder of asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries, 29% came from Kosovo. That’s more than from Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Reminder: In 1998, the national Communist Serbian dictator Milosevic ordered all ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, more than 90% of the population to leave under threat of death. This episode of ethnic cleaning cost about 10,000 lives. NATO, led by the US quickly intervened militarily and forced Milosevic to leave the (overwhelmingly Muslim) Kosovar in peace.

NATO had previously intervened militarily in Bosnia, another part of the dissolving Yugoslav Republic, to save the non-Serb population from Serb ethnic cleansing . Of the total population, a plurality, about 40%, were Muslims. (There are no Bosnian asylum seekers visible in the sample I am discussing here. Bosnia is mentioned only as a reminder of the diversity of Western military interventions.)

Following these Western military interventions, both Bosnia and Kosovo became independent Republics with strong Western backing. They remained Muslim or mostly Muslim.

Would anyone dare argue that Western action to stop the massacres of first Bosnians and then Kosovar are responsible for the fact that now almost entirely Muslim Kosovo is currently producing many asylum seekers? I suppose, this is defensible: Had NATO not intervened militarily, Kosovars would been massacred by Milosevic in larger numbers, and then, they would have fewer people, – mathematically available – to contribute as asylum seekers.


Of the asylum applicants from Muslim countries, 45% came from Albania, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Nigeria together, all countries with no US or other Western intervention of any kind in recent years ( I mean since 1950, the earliest I really remember!)

Albania alone contributed more asylum seekers, 33,900, than Iraq and Afghanistan together, 26,700. There have been no US or Western intervention in Albania.

Of course, distance alone makes it easier for Albanians than for Iraqis and for Afghans to reach Germany. But, by the same reasoning, why are there few asylum seekers from Croatia that is even closer to Germany, or from Romania. that isn’t much farther? (Croatia and Romania all have tiny Muslim populations.) Contrary to this line of reasoning, I must say, there were 21,000 asylum seekers from Serbia, a country with a small Muslim minority. Muslim dominated societies do not have a monopoly on severe social pathologies. I never asserted otherwise.

We know from the cut-off point of the table of the ten countries that were the largest suppliers of asylum applicants that the highest possible number of asylum seekers from non-Muslim Croatia, or from Romania (or from non-Muslim Bulgaria, or from troubled Greece) would be 3,976. That would be about 1/10 of asylum seekers from mostly Muslim Albania.

I see in these figures moderate support for the idea of the sickness of Muslim societies. I find little support, on the other hand, for the competing idea that Western and American intervention are responsible for the difficulties those societies are encountering.

I anticipate several criticisms of this provisional conclusion.

First, quantitative association like these don’t “prove” anything. Of course they don’t. Perhaps, there is a third factor, or series of factors not related to either Islam or Western intervention that explain why Muslim societies are such rich providers of asylum seekers. I am listening.

Second, the short recent period January to August 2015, maybe historically unrepresentative. There is a near- infinity of other possible periods the examination of which might show no disproportionate numbers of refugees from Muslim counties. (Ask me why a “near infinity.”)

Third, Germany is not the whole world. A more inclusive data base showing all asylum applications from all countries to all countries might demonstrate no preponderance of refugees from Muslim countries. In fact, such a data base might indicate that refugees from Muslim countries are actually under-represented among asylum seekers world-wide.

I hope someone performs one or the other study. I would easily change my mind according to the results. I am not wedded to the idea of widespread sickness of Muslim societies. Frankly, I don’t even like it. I surely have no ideological investment in this view. It’s just that there is currently no other view that is even modestly supported by anything but ideological intransigence.

Finally, there are probably those who would argue that large numbers leaving their countries at great personal risk to seek refuge in an alien country the language of which they probably don’t even know, that such an exodus says nothing about the countries of origin. Go ahead, say it; make my day! I can’t wait.

The conclusions of this simple analysis is difficult for many otherwise intelligent people to accept, even provisionally. Three reasons that I see for the rejection.

First it seems politically incorrect. We have become so confused by leftists identity politics that many are unable to distinguish between race, an unchanging attribute of a person, and religion, an individual choice. He used to be black; he still is. I used to be a Catholic. I am not anymore. That simple! (Of course, I did not risk the death penalty as do Muslims in some Muslim countries for committing apostasy.)

Second, professional intellectuals – who may or may not be very intelligent – have a horror of being caught believing the same things as do the great unwashed masses. It’s bad enough that they must assent to the assertion that the sun rises in the east, same as a plumber or a cop! The masses are “Islamophobic;” I must stay away regardless of the evidence!

Third, and much more subtly, my discussion with Brandon is part of an ongoing discreet struggle taking place on the edge of the libertarian movement. Libertarians of all stripes believe that war is a major factor in increasing the power and the scope of the state vis-à-vis civil society. (I share this belief.) Libertarian purists like Brandon end up becoming a kind of qualified pacifist, like this:

Perhaps, if I am completely sure that people who have sworn to disembowel me are actually climbing over the back wall of my property after having set my neighbor’s house on fire with my neighbors inside, perhaps, then, I will think of defending myself.

A handful of libertarians of that ilk keep failing to recruit the millions of moderate conservatives who both want small government and believe the yoke of government will never be alleviated in a society that feels threatened. Let me repeat myself: The task of first halting the growth of government and then, of rolling back its scope and power can only be accomplished in a very well defended society. Much of this rolling back has been achieved in Somalia, by the way yet, Somalia is not a model.

In their desire to reject all kinds of war that are not obviously and dangerously defensive, libertarian purists will find fault with all wars, almost at any cost. If necessary, they will blind themselves to the obvious. The act of blaming on American and or Western intervention the self evident multiple failure of Muslim societies (with major exceptions), is just the latest example of this tendency to gauge out one’s own eyes to avoid the horrors of the truth.

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. – W. Churchill”

* The data on seekers of asylum from Germany are from the German Federal Office for Migrations and Refugees published in the Wall Street Journal of 9/25/15, p. A12

Muslim Refugees in Perspective

In a companion essay, “Hypocrisy!,” I pointed out that there was a good fit of preferences between the current crop of refugees from Syria and from Iraq and the countries one would reasonably expect to be giving them asylum. Muslim countries, with a small number of brave exceptions don’t want them and the refugees – almost all Muslims -don’t want to go there anyway.

As you would expect because many people go through life on automatic, liberals, libertarians and Muslims join tongues to blame the United States for the current exodus. Sure thing, the US intervened in Iraq against the bloodthirsty tyrant Hussein after he violated several hundred times the cease-fire that put an end to the First Gulf War. (Note for those younger people who learned their history in public schools: In the First Gulf War, the US had led a coalition of about 50 countries – not including Israel – to roll back Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. Yes, he started it. It’s the cease-fire to that first war that Hussein violated.) It’s not difficult to make the case that the US under Bush did a piss-poor job of re-organizing the Iraq it conquered after two weeks plus a sandstorm. It’s even easier to wonder why the Obama administration would just quit the country without attempting to leave a defense force behind (as in Korea, for example). Both the invasion and the failure to conclude its aftermath can reasonably be said to have caused major instability in Iraq and thereby, a flow of refugees from that country. (Personally, I still miss Saddam Hussein. He was a sweetie in his own way although much misunderstood.) But most of the current refugees seem to be from Syria. It’s also possible to argue that the US is responsible for the horrors there too. This time, it’s because it did not intervene into its home-grown civil war until recently. Worse, the US General-in-Chief declared a red line and ignored it when it was crossed with the gassing of civilians.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to blame on the West, on America, the flow of emigrants from such countries as Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, even Senegal where there has not been any Western intervention. (Senegal obtained its independence in 1960, seamlessly, without a struggle with France, the colonial power.) Meanwhile Boko Haram (“Books are Forbidden”) in Nigeria is burning villages, kidnapping girls, raping and then, forcing them to become living bombs. What those countries have in common, of course, the peaceful ones that can’t provide for most of their population, and the others that are living hells is this: Coca Cola is sold in all of them, of course. Coca Cola is there everywhere, without exception; the Unites States’ malevolence yet again!

Conservative commentators on radio and on Facebook observe darkly that many or most of the migrants from the Middle East are of “military age,” perhaps portending a repeat of the many Muslim invasions of Europe ending only in the seventeenth century. Several comments are in order though I can’t make them in an orderly fashion.

First, a question lest I be accused of ignoring the issue: Will ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups use the exodus of Syrians and Iraqis to place undercover agents and terrorists in Europe. To ask the question is to answer it: Of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? It’s cheap and it’s easy.

Next: Many of the migrants are young men because, historically, everywhere, the first migrants are always young men. Second, they are of “military age” as some conservative observers pronounce breathlessly. Sure thing; many are fleeing the draft, precisely, a draft for a murderous war on in which they don’t believe. (A war many times more murderous than the Iraq war has been for Americans.) There is a third possibility that does not contradict the others and that casts a different light on the plausibility of these new migrants, these refugees being absorbed into European societies.

Many of the new migrants may be simply seizing the opportunity to flee from life in an Islamic society. (No, I don’t mean “Islamist.”) Here is the key: Islam maintains minimalist metrics about who is or isn’t a Muslim. By and large, if you were born in a Muslim family; if you are a male who was circumcised as a small child; if you don’t adopt another religion (at some risk to your life. See below) then, you are automatically a Muslim. No affirmative action is required, no behavior prescribed although some is proscribed: no alcohol, fasting in the day time and no daytime sex either – would I make this up? – for one month out of the year. With such lax standards, it would be amazing if many nominal Muslims were not lukewarm, or indifferent, or downright free thinkers.

With access to the Internet, the famed serenity of Islam may be indistinguishable from boredom. And the vaunted moral sternness of Islam may begin to seem like unbearable oppression: Ten lashes for a single beer (NOT in most Muslim countries, in some, it’s a simple fine)? Marriage to an indifferent-looking cousin without a chance to smell the flowers first. No rap, or little rap and in mental handcuffs. (I dislike rap myself; not the point.) And then, there is the shame even for individuals who are only reasonably educated: the shame of living in a less civilized part of the world with death as the penalty for conversion (not in all Muslim countries, perhaps rarely applied), the death penalty also for witches (uncommon, true, but happened recently in Saudi Arabia, and nowhere in the West, recently), death by stoning for adulterous women (not often applied but really calms amorous ardors); incidentally: adulterous = any sex outside of marriage, except in the Islamic Republic of Iran where two-week temporary “marriages” are encouraged. Remember also the grotesque sexual mutilation of little girls practiced on a vast scale in the Muslim world (only in some of it, SOME, and also practiced outside of it. And it’s NOT an Islamic practice; it just happens there a lot). And when young Muslim men in Yemen, in Somalia, and yes, in Syria and Iraq as well, hear that the unemployment rate among Muslim youths in France is as high as 30%, they think they are dreaming; they suspect a cheap propaganda trick: only 30%?

Just think about it. There are no doubt millions of Muslim youths who would do well in one of our colleges, who would get good grades, who would fit right in the coffee shop; the girls would even flirt with some of them. Many or most have some access to the wider world through the Internet and through movies. Some are rationalists not very different from your neighbor’s kids; some are much better rationalists than your neighbor’s kids if you live in Santa Cruz, California, for example (as I do). How much the meanness and the superstitions around such youths must lead to self-contempt and even to self-hatred when they realize that their own society is a lot like Europe was six hundred years ago? (To be fair, Europeans burned many more people alive, including thousands of witches, mostly older widows who owned some property, another story. It was then though. We have not done this for a long time.) There are many who would stay put otherwise for whom the sudden practical unlivability of their society pushes them over the rim, I would think.

There is a reason why I construct this frankly hypothetical view. If you dropped me in any French city, within an hour, I would be sitting with people with a Muslim first name and last name who would say this to me, “Why me, live where I – or my parents – are coming from? Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to live under the restrictions, sometimes under the gross oppression of a Muslim society? Don’t be stupid, I am French, I am a European, I am a Westerner.” (Incidentally, there is a remarkable autobiographical book in English describing the travails of a young Algerian’s multiple efforts to leave home for good. It’s called: Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind. It’s by Djaffar Chetouane.)

What about the Germans who have publicly promised to take in 800,000 refugees? (And who will probably seduce and bully other European countries to absorb an equal number between them, I would guess.) There are two ways to look at this, both valid.

First, everyone else has forgotten but the Germans themselves that in 1945 and 1946, there were millions of Germans on the roads of Europe, expelled from various countries, some in which they had lived for centuries, trudging on foot to a homeland they have never seen. Ordinary Germans have not forgotten the misery nor the giant successful efforts a ruined German deployed to give them roof and board, and work. More recently, when the hapless communist Democratic Republic of Germany collapsed from the inside in 1990, tens of thousands of “Osties” made their way to the West where they were generously accommodated too. “Been there,” many Germans think, “We did it under much worse circumstances. We can do it again.” Yes, the Germans have more compassion on refugee issues than other nations of Europe. Also, they know more, from the inside, about brutal dictatorships than do most other Europeans.

Second, as has been observed by many (I was scooped; I thought of it first!), there is Germany’s low fertility rate of 1.39 per woman. A low fertility rate has both proximate and long run consequences. In the long run, it means that you disappear as a people. In the shorter term – if and only if you have sturdy economy – it means that jobs go unfilled. This must be especially galling to Germans who have reasons to think that in every other way, almost alone among Europeans (almost), they have their act together. The Germans need bodies, preferably young bodies, now. And, they need children to pay tomorrow for the fairly generous benefits of the next retirees. Germans have good reasons to think favorably of mostly young men flooding into their country all reared up at no cost to them and ready to work. In addition, I garner from different press commentaries that many of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees are a different breed from the usual economic migrants. They seem more urban and better educated. (Many know English or French, some both.) It’s a cynical thing to say but this impression of middle-classness is re-inforced by the fact that they are able to pay the horrendous ransoms human traffickers extort from them.

Although Angela Merkel may have used the low German fertility rate argument as an afterthought, perhaps as a political way to make ordinary Germans amenable to the promise of accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees, it must have resonated among many Germans who can’t find employees or who are well aware of Germany’s demographic decline. Germany is not much worse off than other European countries in terms of fertility, incidentally. Italy is also at 1.39, Belgium at 1.55. None of the European countries pass the bar of 2.00 in the 2013 Eurostat. It’s generally accepted that the true replacement rate is 2.2 or 2.3 per woman, absent a catastrophe such as war or famine. Europe is disappearing before our eyes. Other European countries are less aware of their demographic decline because their economies are in bad shape and unemployment dominates every other issue in their collective narrative. As usual, Germany is ahead of the curve. (No, I am not stupidly, reflexively pro-German. Read my essay “the Best Meal and the Worst Meal Ever,” on this blog.)

Although immigration is almost always a net economic plus according to serious studies, it often carries a full load of negative social consequences. In this case, as I already mentioned, there is the near-certainty that Islamist terrorists will join the flood of good immigrants. But then, Germany will have hundreds of thousands of competent informants. (I believe the adage that good police work means having plenty of good informants.) I see a bad sign in the fact that many, most of the female refugees shown on TV wear the hijab, the head covering. It’s not required by Islam; it used to be uncommon in the major Muslim countries. The hijab directs you to a certain kind of retrograde Islam. It’s the kind of Islam where women must cover their hair in public lest they excite the lust of men and thus distract them from thinking of God. The hijab directs you to a culture where women in general are closer to the devil, where girls are poorly educated or not educated at all, where religious law is also civil law and it mandates that a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half a man’s testimony. A simple rule of thumb: If half an immigrant population must stay home, and it’s charged with rearing the next generation, it’s difficult for the whole immigrant group to assimilate or even to adapt. (Yes, I know, the parlous conditions for women I describe does not all, ALL, prevail in all Muslim countries.)

Second, it remains to be seen whether Germany will avoid again the curse for the second generation that is well demonstrated in France, next door. There, millions of immigrants mostly from North Africa, most of rural origin arrived with their sleeves turned up, ready to work, appreciative of the possibility of advancing themselves, of offering their children a better life than they could ever have back home. Their children, raised in France, end up sharing the sense of gloom common to most French young people but with a painful twist. They suffer additional disabilities, because of racism and because of Islamophobia to an extent, but also because they cannot but be incompletely socialized by their often illiterate immigrant parents. The young themselves don’t quite measure how much of a handicap reaching adulthood without benefit of a name, of family connections, of good adult examples constitute to succeeding in any society. (I do. You should read my book: I Used to Be French….) They only know they are getting the short end of the stick. Of course, the more stagnant the host society, the worse the handicap. Many of the children of appreciative immigrants accordingly become disaffected with the society where they live without really understanding why. This disaffection takes the form of drug abuse, of banditry, small and big, sometimes, seldom actually, of adherence to extremist creeds, for some, it’s of all three in turn. (The Charlie Hebdo terrorists, for example). The Germans have been there before however. They absorbed millions of Turks without experiencing much of this kind of mass alienation. Notably, in this case, they were stingy with citizenship and generous with employment opportunities, the reverse of the French formula.

We will see. Past the current immediate human suffering of the mass migration I am optimistic that Germany will keep its word and that other countries will be shamed into following the Germans. Our easy sense of doom often comes from a general human inability to contemplate the alternative. A mass of Syrians and some Iraqis of military age flood Europe. They may be viewed as a threat or you may think of them as so many fighters ISIS won’t force into its ranks or murder, of millions of children who will not grow up to be fanatics.

I am not losing track of the possibility that three dozen additional warplanes in the Middle East would do more to solve the present refugee crisis than all the European bumbling to absorb refugees.

Note: I did not say a thing about the US and Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal.

Legalizing assisted suicide

For opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the central creed of the Hippocratic oath – to “do no harm” – looms large. Because physicians are professionally and morally required to only do good for their patients, the argument goes, assisted suicide is categorically disallowed, as death is the greatest harm of all. There is a problem, however: the Hippocratic Oath never contained this phrase. Instead, it has a curious alternative: “I will keep them from harm and injustice,” or in Greek, “ἐπὶ δηλήσει δὲ καὶ ἀδικίῃ εἴρξειν.”

In all its definitions, the Greek word δηλέομαι means to harm through a destructive act, whether to physically hurt a person, to lay waste to a land, or to break a treaty with another. Beyond mere physical harm, however, the physician also has the potential to bring his patient into a state of injustice. He may publicize his patient’s illnesses, embarrassing them. He may fail to treat an illness adequately, even if he has the competence to do so. He may overestimate his level of skill, and undertake a procedure that is beyond his ken. The doctor, as Hippocrates conceived him, was far more than a healer of trauma or a salver of wounds. While he could heal the body, his greatest duty was as a guardian against injustice, and healing was but a part of this.

This points to a broader conception of what the doctor is, or could be. A rigid conception of “do no harm” ignores that perceptions of harm must shift over time in a patient’s life, for example. The adult in his prime would be seriously harmed by a lethal injection, naturally, but the senior in his twilight years, suffering from debilitating diseases and on death’s door as it stands, would perhaps reap a benefit from such an injection: the many days of pain ahead could be cut short, and the absence of pain would thereby outweigh the few days of living that were left to him. To accept this reasoning not only as rational, but as moral and true, is to also accept that life admits of a broader definition than existence or animation. It is also human flourishing, enjoyment, capacity for action, and when these things are taken away the real motive power of a fully realized human life is snatched away also. Allowing people to take their lives, with the assistance of a doctor, is not a position that is anti-life, but one that is against existence for the sake of existence. The doctor who helps his patients take their lives is not acting against life, but is helping these people live – and die – in the way they find most advantageous.

This is not a new position to take, either. For an ancient perspective, witness Seneca’s letter to a friend:

You may consider that the same thing happens to us: life has carried some men with the greatest rapidity to the harbour, the harbour they were bound to reach even if they tarried on the way, while others it has fretted and harassed. To such a life, as you are aware, one should not always cling. For mere living is not a good, but living well. Accordingly, the wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can.[3] 5. He will mark in what place, with whom, and how he is to conduct his existence, and what he is about to do. He always reflects concerning the quality, and not the quantity, of his life. As soon as there are many events in his life that give him trouble and disturb his peace of mind, he sets himself free. And this privilege is his, not only when the crisis is upon him, but as soon as Fortune seems to be playing him false; then he looks about carefully and sees whether he ought, or ought not, to end his life on that account. He holds that it makes no difference to him whether his taking-off be natural or self-inflicted, whether it comes later or earlier. He does not regard it with fear, as if it were a great loss; for no man can lose very much when but a driblet remains. It is not a question of dying earlier or later, but of dying well or ill. And dying well means escape from the danger of living ill.

While some may find the comparison distasteful, this is the sort of mindset most pet owners take when preparing to euthanize the family dog. Fido has lived a good life, loved by his family, played with, adored, yelled at a few times but not excessively, but alas – a cancerous tumor has erupted on Fido’s right lung. Expensive and invasive surgery could give him another month, perhaps, but it would be a month of unremitting agony followed by a painful death. Why put a beloved creature through such needless agony, when a short and painless procedure can end it all immediately?

Many people have a disconnect between their lucid response to the pain of a family pet and their unhinged response to the pain of a human loved one. I would contend that this tension, while often cloaked in an appeal to rational arguments or religious tenets, is largely based on instinctual emotional distaste for death, and the fear of the unknown that it represents. That is not to say that there aren’t clear reasons to oppose it, but that empirically and rationally, there are stronger reasons in favor of it. I’ll go through some of the common arguments below:

  • Assisted suicide will destroy the trust patients have in their doctors. The physician Leon Kass wrote in the 1990s, “the patient’s trust in the doctors’s wholehearted devotion to the patient’s best interests will be hard to sustain once doctors are licensed to kill.” Fellow physician Mark Hall countered in the 2000s “Our study shows that only about 20% of people believe they would trust their physician less if euthanasia were legalized… The empirical support is weak for those who confidently assert that legalizing physician-assisted death would undermine trust in physicians for most people in the United States.”
  • Allowing doctors to legally kill their patients will provide a perverse incentive for insurance companies to encourage these practices. Like the other arguments, there is conflict on this point: one fact sheet states “It is well documented that the legal option to choose aid-in-dying is not related to finances. End of life choices are relevant only AFTER all curative or other treatments have been tried.”
  • Related to this, legalizing assisted and voluntary suicide will inevitably lead to involuntary suicide. According to the head of the Euthanasia and Guidance Organization, “In the Netherlands we have a living laboratory in which the euthanasia experiment in being conducted, and it is claimed that active non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are openly practiced there, exactly as predicted by the slippery slope argument. But the claim of the open and common practice of involuntary euthanasia has been often repeated but has never been substantiated, and indeed has been repeatedly challenged.”
Quote sources:

Beyond the empirical evidence that assisted suicide is not the bugbear it is purported to be, there is also the moral argument in its favor: the human being, by virtue of having a ruling reason, is entitled to dispose of himself in the same way he disposes of his property or his time. While there are clear and logical restrictions that must be placed on this freedom, such as against harming others, or harming oneself in a state of mental unbalance or insanity, this is certainly not the case for most assisted suicides. People at the end of their lives are not mentally unbalanced when they want to end their miserable time on earth, but acting completely rationally.

In full disclosure, I went through several drafts of this post attempting to justify my instinctual reaction against the very idea of suicide, before I realized I could not do so on rational and consistent grounds. It would be in tension with my other beliefs, in personal liberty and freedom of choice, and also – don’t tell anyone – my belief in the ultimate dignity of the human being, in life and in death. Assisted suicide is an intellectual and moral no brainer.

An update from Memphis (Russo-Baltic edition)

Dr Znamenski (bio, posts) sent me an email updating me on his recent shenanigans:

I also appreciate your remark that we need to reach out to other libertarian-leaning people rather than singing to only a libertarian chorus. Even though I am notorious for not contributing to NOL, I devoted this summer to reach out to liberty-minded people in Europe by going to St. Petersburg, Russia, and delivering there a public talk (in Russian) on “Heroics of the New Deal and Its Critics” at a downtown hotel and afterwards I met with the audience for a free-style interactive talk on current challenges to individual liberty. Then I proceeded to Tallinn, Estonia, where I met a group of Estonian libertarians and delivered a talk (in English) on geopolitical imagination of Russian nationalism (used current Alaska-related Russian patriotic rhetoric as an example). Then proceeded back to Russia, where at Samara University again I gave a talk on the mythology of FDR and New Deal Keynesianism and how it was appropriated in 2003-2008 by the Putin regime that was building the “vertical” of its power. My argument was that politico-economic regime whose “validity” was “scientifically” proven by Keynes in 1936 by now became a kind of a fetish that is associated with a good government. Hence, the “Heroics of the New Deal” title. The Estonian visit was especially pleasant and inspiring.

I also met an informal leader of Estonian libertarians […] Very productive and charismatic guy. I need to navigate him to you and to NOL, which will greatly benefit from his contributions (if any). His English is impeccable too. See his picture attached to this letter (they have Mises Institute of Estonia) in addition to a few other images from Estonia (the country where all paper work exists only in electronic form and a flat tax return occupies only one page!). The country [Estonia] was the first in Europe to introduce universal flat tax (1994), which replaced three tax rates on personal income and one on corporate profits. The flat tax rate was on 26%, which later was reduced to 20%. Several countries of Europe followed the suit and benefited from this. Very simple system, which helped this tiny backwater country of 1 million plus something people to dramatically raise its well-being. To their frustration, even Russian nationalists, who remain quite influential in Estonia due to the presence of a large Russian minority, have little economic discontent among Russians to chew on. The latter simply compare their economic situation in their historical homeland where average salary is $500 and Estonia where this salary is $1150.

Dr Znamenski has some excellent ideas brewing (on US-Russian relations in the Arctic, Crimean secession, and Foucault), and hopefully he can find the time to post them in the very near future. Notice, too, that Dr Znamenski refers to Russians as Europeans (or, at least, considers St Petersburg to be European). A small observation, I know, but one that I suspect has big sociological implications. Check out these pictures he sent me:

This is the Estonian libertarian Dr Znamenski mentions above. I hope to someday meet him.
This is a photo from the Museum of the 20th century in Tallinn (the capital city of Estonia).
This is my favorite picture. It’s a view of Tallinn with a curious visitor, and highlights Dr Znamenski’s sense of humor, which I greatly appreciate.


Yes, I am alive, thank you for asking.

I have been away from this blog for two reasons. First, the little boy who hated the end of summer and going back to school is still alive and well inside the old man. I combat the corresponding end of summer melancholy by trying to cram outdoors activities into my life until the days become too short. Second, my hands hurt enough to keep me away from the keyboard most of the time. I am considering switching to one of the voice recognition softwares such as Dragon. I am not too worried about accuracy. Mostly, I don’t want to have to junk my old Samsung because of space requirements or some other software feature I don’t even know exists. I listen to advice from my betters (practically everybody in this case). Ideally – ideally – I would like a program that does more than one language.

I had much trouble writing the essay below because the topic of mass migrations has so many ramifications and because it touches so many different sensitive subjects. In a way, it’s just too rich a topic. And, the more I waited, the more complicated the situation became on the ground. Please, bear with me.

Like most or many people, I have observed with grief in my heart the fast-rolling disaster of the migrants crisis in Europe. I have several reactions, not all compatible with one another.

As I wrote, on about 9/5/15 Hungary was unaccountably preventing thousands of migrants from leaving its territory. This is strange because most of them don’t want to stay in Hungary; they want to go to Germany and to Sweden. Besides, Hungary, which is relatively poor, has a fairly big anti-immigrant political party, lots of voters who want as few immigrants inside as possible. A major Hungarian politician even declared that Hungary does not want any Muslim refugees because of its history of strife with the Ottoman Empire. Something does not add up: If you don’t want them, let them go elsewhere, even give them a lift! Later (09/14/15) Hungary built a fence to keep migrants out. Smart move!

What is confusing is that the current crisis is only in part new. We have heard for years, we have seen pictures of people drowning trying to reach the Italian island Lampedusa for a long time now. Three hundred and fifty drowned there in one 2103 day alone. This first European Union territory is only day-excursion distance from Tunisia. Several years ago, I saw pictures of hundreds of black Africans acting in concert to swamp the wall of Spanish enclaves in North Africa. The two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are also, practically, part of the European Union. I could tell from their appearance that the fence climbers were not Syrian families but sub-Saharan Africans. Some were from Senegal, a poor but peaceful and orderly country. So, there have always been illegal emigrants to Europe motivated by the search for better economic opportunity, people who left their countries not out of desperation but drawn by hope. This first category of migrants resembles closely immigrants from Mexico, for example, who daily come into the US illegally.

So, it seems to me that there are right now two main categories of migrants (would-be immigrants) that are intermixed on the ground and on the sea and that the American press is not doing a good job of separating them, conceptually. I am possibly getting a clearer picture by superimposing on one another American and French language reports. The new migrants, a recent category – are going to Europe because they feel that they literally have no place to live. They are properly refugees; they seek refuge in an absolute sense. This is the case, no doubt, with many Syrians. Their area of origin has been destroyed by the Assad government, much of the rest of their country is aflame or under the brutal tyranny of the so-called Islamic Caliphate. The livable areas are shrinking fast. Many belong to the wrong sect and are suspected of being natural enemies irrespective of their actions or inaction. They are not welcome in the shrinking areas of livability within their country or they are unable to reach them. From interviews in both English and French and from the quality of their clothes, I deduce that a large percentage of these new migrants are solidly middle-class, well educated, with defined skills. I mean “middle-class” by my standards, not middle-class by some other, lower exotic standards. The impression is strong and clear with respects to Syrians, less so for Iraqis.

Many Syrian migrants are young men who are simply trying to escape the draft in a murderous on-going war. (The fact that they are young and male has implications for the receiving countries that I hope to consider in a related essay, following.) But migrations are always complicated. Once the path is opened by the desperate refugees just described, once bridges are built, simple economic migrants of the old style who would not have thought of moving will join the exodus. Things will not sort themselves out soon. It will become increasingly difficult to separate real refugees from traditional, conventional economic migrants. Both target principally Western countries.

The new migrants from Syria, but also from Iraq, calculate, probably correctly, that their neighbors have reached the point where they can’t or won’t take them in. Lebanon and Jordan are groaning under a disproportionate demographic burden. Two out of eight residents of Lebanon today are recent Syrian refugees. The situation is more nebulous in Jordan but the figure there appears to be about one in ten. (Think of 32 million recent refugees in the US.) Many citizens of these countries of asylum think without being able to say it aloud that the fragile political ethnic-religious equilibrium of their countries is compromised forever. Turkey says it has taken in two million Syrians. It’s not that impressive given its population of 77 million. There is a possibility it’s not just the total number of refugees that gives Turkey cold feet but the prospect that those refugees will include many Kurds from Syria whose very presence will cause more unrest among the long rebellious Turkish Kurds.

The other neighbors of Syria and Iraq, its Arab neighbors, specifically, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE, seem to have given away a lot of money but they show no sign of opening their doors. It’s astonishing when you think of the ease and safety with which refugees could reach there as compared to their perilous journey to Western Europe. It’s even more interesting that there seems (seems) to be no great clamor from refugees to be admitted into these prosperous countries anyway. It appears that there is a consensus among Muslim Arabs: Muslim Arab refugees are not welcome in most Muslim Arab countries and they don’t want to go there anyway. Interesting! The new migrants, the real refugees believe, probably correctly too, that refugee camps in the Middle East lead nowhere, that they are still going to be there in twenty years. And, why not? Some Palestinian refugee camps are now reaching age seventy. Iraqis are in the same situation. Afghans who are the right kind of Muslim (Sunni) but who don’t speak Arabic don’t even try to go there. Instead, like everyone else, like Syrians and Iraqis, they head for Germany and Sweden because most of them are fluent in German or in Swedish or both. (Just a bitter joke.)

It’s not clear what the other neighbor, Iran, is doing. I am guessing it’s taking in Afghans in the east, same as it has done for twenty years. A country with a population size similar to that of Turkey – and of Germany, by the way – 78 million, appears to have opened its doors to no (zero) Syrian refugees. There are Iraqis living there but it’s always been so; it’s not a humanitarian response to the current crisis.

No one is asking why India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, with over 600 million Muslims between them, have not offered asylum to 10,000 Middle East refugees, or even to 5,000. No one even dare think the thought that China, Japan, and, of course Russia, have done nothing. The Pope has drawn attention loudly and clearly to the plight of the Middle Eastern refugees. The Vatican is an independent sovereign state with the legal capability to issue visas. I have been there: There are many underused buildings and extensive gardens suitable for a tent city. The Vatican city-state already possesses all the requisite municipal services. Yet, to-date, the Vatican has taken in zero refugees although its head of state, the Pope, has urged Catholic families and parishes everywhere to open their door. Like fish, organizations rot from the head.

Notably, so far, the US has announced that it will take only 10,000 Syrians. (But in the past twenty years, the US absorbed about 70% of all defined as refugees by the UN who did find asylum. We have credibility money in the bank, so to speak.) As I write, no country of Latin America – with its surprisingly large minority of Arab descendants who enjoy much influence – has made any significant offer. Perhaps, the countries of the Western Hemisphere are too far removed from the scene of the main disaster to be prompt. We will find out in the next few days.

It’s now obvious that compassion, simple humanity is disproportionately lodged in the West, that is, in Christian and in formerly Christian societies. Not all such societies are helping but the bulk of those now helping concretely right now, except for Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (see above) are such countries.

The refugees themselves know this, and are stalwartly heading for Western European countries – that have experienced mediocre economic growth for many years – in preference to non-European countries routinely growing at more than 6% for years. So, China and India are not taking them in which is fine because they don’t want to go there anyway. Japan has not even begun to think about it. The refugees have not asked anything from Japan. It might just as well be on another planet. Again: Refugees are trying desperately to find room in Western societies that are not even doing very well themselves, Greece, of course, but also Italy, and Spain, and France, with its rate of economic growth that may well reach 0.6 % this year, the French hope fervently. (Incidentally, it was a pleasure seeing the French Socialist government, that paragon of solidarité shamed into giving a hand by a German conservative politician. It had not lifed a finger until then. Sorry if you missed it.)

What politically correct opinion in the West does not want to say too loud is also obvious: most, almost all of the migrants are Muslims. To admit this obvious fact forces you to ask what happened. The migrant crisis is a dramatic manifestation of the widespread institutional, economic and moral failure of Muslim societies. In fact, voices of conscience in the Arab world have been more forthcoming in their remarks than have Western commentators. (And no, I am not using “Muslim” and “Arab” interchangeably. Don’t insult me, please. There may also be non-Arab Muslim voices denouncing Muslim passivity toward the crisis that I have missed. I welcome responsible additions to this essay.)

Muslim societies with one big exception (Indonesia) and several small ones (Senegal, Mauritania, etc.) have been generous in their provision of war, massacres, ethnic cleansing, and other atrocities. They have mostly failed to provide work for their young. Those that don’t sit on a cushion of hydrocarbons rarely display economic growth surpassing their demographic growth. The resource rich states are well, dependent, on factors which they cannot control, on capricious facts that discourage both collective and individual planning. Only a handful, literally a handful, of Muslim countries has been able to sustain anything resembling a democracy, any form of democracy, even using the term loosely. With the exception of Indonesia again, the most stable, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, but also Algeria, are old fashioned despotic states. When it comes to charity, the care of those more unfortunate, assistance to brethren in distress, the Muslim world is a straightforward disaster although such care and such assistance are explicit moral obligations under Islam. Muslim societies are failures on most counts. Important fractions of their populations are on a perilous march seeking a new life in the Crusaders’ heartland.

The shame, the hypocrisy!

I know, I know, it must all be America’s fault. I will have to write a part two to this essay.