American Idiots

The biggest mistake one can make, when on a remote trek, is to not bring a large variety of music. A paucity of music leads to repeating the same albums over and over again, which can have disastrous consequences for one’s mental health. Luckily my choice in music is excellent. I had the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” album to accompany me, with such gems as “When the Whip Comes Down,” “Respectable,” “Far Away Eyes” (my personal favorite), and “You Win Again.” Almost as good is my childhood love, Green Day’s American Idiot.

When the album came out ten (10!) years ago, in 2004, I was in 7th grade. That is, I was a complete political incubus. Like an amoeba, my political instincts were reflexive, I loved the gods the city worshipped, and I hated the gods the city did not worship. I hadn’t listened much to the lyrics then or later, but now that I was repeating the album constantly, as an accompanying refrain on my mountain ascents, I had cause to examine what the singer was actually singing about.

The titular song, “American Idiot,” is a triumphalist left wing punk ballad. The singer does not come right out with his political affiliations, but his statement: “well maybe I’m the faggot America/I’m not part of a redneck agenda” seem to put him on the left side of the aisle, right in the middle of the Kulturkampf. He has reason to celebrate, for although the issue of gay acceptance was up in the air until quite recently, it seems to have been decisively settled: gays are accepted now, get over it, it’s only a matter of time until the law catches up.

Perhaps on this issue he may be pleased, but overall, he should be appalled. Behold the following:

“Don’t want to be an American idiot.
One nation controlled by the media.
Information age of hysteria.
It’s calling out to idiot America.”

He meant this to be an indictment of right wing types, idiots who watch Fox News and vote Republican and wave the flag and all that jazz. Such a criticism may, indeed, apply to them. However, it seems to apply much more to the left wing today, than to the right.

Case in point. A scientist lands a rocket on a comet, millions of miles away. Technically this is a stroke of brilliance, and deserves all the hearty praise we can offer. However, instead of focusing on this grand achievement, the moment was hijacked by the social justice warriors. The team leader’s shirt was deemed sexist, and the incident labelled #shirtgate. Gasp! faint! He then recorded a groveling apology for the jackals. When I see Nepalis plowing their fields with the same tools the Sumerians developed, and then consider what some of us in the West consider problems, I almost weep for our decline. I find cackling to be much more appropriate, however.

This sort of model happens all the time. Someone says something that is offensive to the gods the city worships, social media or the MSM whips up a frenzy, and the offending party either capitulates immediately or is attacked until he (almost always a man, it seems) issues some sort of apology. The jackals are satisfied, or more likely, they simply become angrier. This happens so frequently that it is redundant of me to even describe the cycle. Brandon describes it well in his excellent article on the cannibalization of the left.

Green Day caused a big ruckus when their album came out. But now, ten years on, it is interesting to see that the new* American idiots aren’t Bible-thumping, faggot-hating rednecks from Georgia – they’re young millenials, smug in their moral superiority, tearing people down with the virtual power of social media. What’s funnier, or perhaps sadder, is that these same people are, like me, kids who grew up listening to this album. Happy trails!

*A better word, in light of comments.

Cold meetings at G-20

Hey gang, what’s up? World leaders meeting came to it’s logical end, so we can discuss that event. Seems that everything was as planned. Ukraine, sanctions, near East, China and koalas… And political rudeness. I know that Russian president isn’t in the stream of world love now, but rudeness is awkward – anyway. But we can’t decline that G-20 meeting was under his shadow. Just check your newspapers: Putin, Putin, rudeness, Putin and Obama, Putin and Merkel, Putin left G-20 before the end of the meeting, bla-bla-bla.

I have a couple of questions to all of you:

  1. What do you think about G-20 meeting? What can change in world after that?
  2. Do you think that political rudeness caused by lack of political will against strong Putin’s charisma and his ability to do as he want?

Welcome to the comments!

Matthew is backpacking through South Asia, and he’s a-blogging his thoughts

I’m an awful editor. And an even worse human being (just ask my ex-girlfriends). I had come across Matthew‘s travel blog awhile back, via Facebook, but had forgotten to provide a link here on NOL.

So, without further adieu, I present to you the Rickshaw Diaries.

PS: Seals have been raping penguins in Antarctica. Or something like that.

Nations, States, and Foreign Policy Fantasies

Below is my attempt to make sense of the world, especially that of the Middle East. It’s best viewed in tandem with two earlier posts on the subject, and deals with military intervention (as opposed to outright war).

This post concerns the issue of scholars, journalists, intelligent laymen, and activists continually evoking the nation-state as their point of reference for discussing and analyzing foreign affairs. Here are two general examples:

I don’t think all nation-states are morally equal.

And,

The list of nation-states involved in the Syrian fiasco are few in number.

This is logical as far as it goes, and there is something to be said for using the nation-state as a tool for better understanding the world around us, but in the post-colonial, developing world there are no nations attached to the states there.

Let me see if I can explain. The nation-state is a rare and parochial political unit found only in Europe and in parts of East Asia. Notice the hyphenation of the words “nation” and “state.” These are two very different concepts, and yet they are applied – together – nonchalantly in nearly every study or report to be found on international relations.

The interwar economist and patron saint of the present-day libertarian movement, Ludwig von Mises, studied nations after World War I out of a desire to better understand why large-scale violence occurs and how it can be prevented. I appeal to the authority of Mises on this matter because of the attempt by some libertarians today to simply disparage understandings of collectivist concepts such as “nation” with a brusque “the world is composed of individuals and nothing else, so your argument is invalid as well as incoherent.” It is true that individuals should be at the forefront of any question asked about society, but attempting to do so with tabula rasas won’t get you anywhere.

Here is Mises on nations, in the first chapter of his excellent 1919 book Nation, State, and Economy (pdf; and one of only two books I’ve read by Mises), making my point for me much better than I could ever hope to do:

If we wish to gain insight into the essence of nationality, we must proceed not from the nation but from the individual. We must ask ourselves what the national aspect of the individual person is and what determines his belonging to a particular nation. (34)

When a libertarian points out that the world is composed of individuals he is correct, but when he brushes aside any and all attempts to understand collectivist ideas such as nationalism he puts himself at an intellectual disadvantage. Perhaps this is because many libertarians, especially the post-Ron Paul 2008 ones, don’t want to think things through anymore. Perhaps it’s power they crave, rather than liberty and truth.

At any rate, Mises continues his thoughts on nationality with this sentence: “We then recognize immediately that this national aspect can be neither where he lives nor his attachment to a state. (34)” Nationalism isn’t even a phenomenon that can be tied to a specific geographical location, much less a specific state. (It’s worth noting that this is still the rough understanding of “nation” that sociologists and anthropologists have today. Many other theories about the “nation” have been swept away into the dustbin of history. I point this out because classical liberals tend to produce works that stand the test of time, and this is because of their commitment to the individual.) How can a conception of “nationhood” not be directly tied to territorial or political attachment?

I don’t claim to know, but here is how I break this recognition down. The tie-in to US foreign policy is coming, I promise.

The New World (Canada, the US and Latin America) is home to a small number of large republics that broke away from an imperial center at some point in the past. This is a very different arrangement from the large number of small nation-states in Europe and Japan/Korea mentioned earlier. There is no Brazilian nation to speak of. No American nation or Colombian nation to brag about. Only Brazilian, or American, or Colombian citizens are found in the republics of the New World.

While there are arguments to be made about the seriousness of nationalism in the New World republics, I don’t pay them much heed because the distinction between ‘citizen’ and ‘nation’ explains well Europe’s and Japan’s inability to assimilate immigrants as successfully as the republics of the New World.

The chronic bouts of fascism afflicting Latin America (and FDR’s United States) are largely the result of attempts to create a nation out of citizens.

In the Old World not consisting of Europe and Japan/Korea (i.e. the developing, post-colonial world), there is a small number of Western-educated elites who have been attempting, like the caudillos of Latin America, to create nations where there are none. These nation-builders are, consistent with their conformist Western education, national socialists. They borrow from liberalism its secularism but not its other laissez-faire underpinnings.

The advocates of Western military intervention, including Dr van de Haar and Dr Delacroix here at NOL, firmly believe that replacing the “bad” national socialists, such as Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar al-Assad, with “good” national socialists will bring about viable, meaningful change in the region. Just sprinkle some fairy dust and – poof! – the new batch of national socialists will behave differently.

When pressed on this inevitable scenario, libertarian-ish military interventionists will renege on removing a dictatorship and replacing it with an alternative (which, again, will itself inevitably become a dictatorship). They recognize the futility of such an enterprise. Instead, they change tact and argue that a protracted bombing campaign would be a better option. This option, of course, has the effect of prolonging a conflict, which is blatantly at odds with the supposed humanitarianism of a military intervention in the first place.

The military interventionist simply assumes that a nation actually exists in these post-colonial, developing states, but nationhood is a concept that is limited to a small elite. An elite, I might add, that is just as illiberal as its Islamist (and other conservative) enemies.

Historians have long attributed the rise of the nation-state in Europe to wars and the absence of a hegemonic power. The decentralized nature of Eurasia’s backwater western region created the nations and states of Europe. Wars forced states to harness the potential of their citizens through political, economic and social nation-building. The lack of a hegemon forced these same states to compromise in otherwise uncompromisable situations.

Prolonging the war in Syria through a protracted bombing and arming campaign against ISIS, as military interventionists advocate, will not only keep the blood flowing, it will prevent a clear winner from emerging. “Humanitarian” intervention will prevent dialogue about what it means to be a nation. Indeed, it will prevent dialogue period.

If military interventionists truly want freedom and a lasting peace for the Middle East (and it is not clear that this is what they want) they would do well to stop relying upon the logical inconsistencies that they have fed to themselves over the past century. No amount of fairy dust or unicorn shit will be able to compensate for their fatal conceit.

What is missing from the Middle East is a vibrant sense of nationhood. It is no accident that the peoples in the Middle East with a strong sense of nationhood – the Turks, the Palestinians, the Kurds, and the Israelis – have had to fight for survival over the last 100 years or so to create, to retain, and to promote the cause of their nations.

Preventing dialogue, preventing compromise, and preventing victory in Syria by inadvertently playing different sides off on each other is not a humanitarian option. It’s not even a good “smart power” option. The military power of the West has been overrated for about a hundred years now. Its true power rests in the international institutions – international governmental organizations (IGOs) – it has been creating piecemeal over the past five hundred years. I blogged about wielding this influence most recently here and here. (and here is an older one). Also, open borders is an option that is never entertained by the international relations community (which is probably because it can only be implemented with some sort of political integration).

From the Comments: Race Consciousness and Stubborn Old Dudes

I like to brag about NOL‘s ‘comments’ threads to people who pretend to be interested in hearing about what I have been up to post-graduation, but lately I’ve been overwhelmed by the bad assery that’s showed up here. For instance, Dr Khawaja’s take on left-wing race consciousness:

One of the absurdities of the whole conversation is the reflexive assumption that the woman in the video IS white. She’s walking at a fast clip, often past the people who are walking in the reverse direction. It wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to anyone what her “race” was. She could be Hispanic. Is that “white”? She could be of mixed race. Is that “white”? Hard to know, hard to tell, and in my case, hard to care. Frankly, if I went by the vicissitudes of left-wing race consciousness, I’d be hard-pressed to figure out what “race” I myself am. Some days I’m an off-white beneficiary of white privilege. Some days I’m a brown victim of Islamophobia. They just seem to make up whatever rubbish suits them at a given moment, and it becomes the race-wisdom du jour. One of the great things about left-wing race consciousness is that it demands consciousness of something while questioning the existence of the very thing we’re supposed to be conscious of–and then reprimands us for not being sufficiently conscious of “it.” Wouldn’t it just be easier to stop obsessing over it?

He’s got more, too, on the video’s implications for libertarian and liberal (‘social democrat’ for all you non-North Americans) dogmas. I’d quote it all but there wouldn’t be enough room for the pep talk Dr Amburgey gave me after I flipped out on Dr Delacroix:

I can understand that it torques you. I just think you should be realistic [dare I say pragmatic?]. Jacques is sometimes intellectually dishonest. He is always lazy. He’s also old; he’s older than me and I’m older than dirt. He’s not going to change. When he says something untrue point it out, make fun of him for a bit and then move on.

Spend your energy on more worthwhile topics. Explain why it is that progressives vehemently object to the surveillance apparatus under George W. Bush but don’t have a problem when it’s run by Barack Obama.

Fair enough Dr A. Fair enough. And thanks.

Speaking of ‘comments’ threads, Dr Khawaja’s consortium, Policy of Truth, has some great ones as well. Check out their latest thread and then hang your heads in shame.

Cat-calling, free speech, and the continued cannibalization of the Left

The National Review has an excellent piece out by Charles Cooke on that video about catcalls that recently went viral (if you haven’t seen it yet, or don’t know what it is, here, and get out from under that rock). The article highlights well the continued crisis that Leftist circles have been in since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Aside from continuing to defend the likes of Fidel Castro at the superficial, political level, the intellectual depravity of the Left is on full display thanks to the work of the people who made the video. Here is Cooke, for instance, on one of the more popular versions of the Left’s criticism of the video; the one arguing that most of the men - who were largely black or Latino – catcalling the girl were forced into doing so simply because of the white power structure in place (no seriously):

To contend that the minorities depicted in the video are mere victims of circumstance and that they have been forced by their conditions into badgering innocent women on the street is to contend that those minorities lack agency, intelligence, sensitivity, and the capacity to reason — that they are child-like figures who act on their base instincts and who need excusing and explaining by their betters. Oddly enough, it is also to contend that the victim was either a “white gentrifier” herself, or a proxy for white gentrifiers, and that she therefore deserved the treatment she received. This presumption, it should go without saying, is typically anathema to the arbiters of feminist thought. One cannot help but wonder whether, weighed down by their own contradictions, the champions of “empowerment” have at last become what they despise themselves?

Eastern Europe knows these contradictions well. It’s a damn shame more Westerners don’t. Here is Cooke again, on the attempt by the organization (“Hollaback”) to defend free speech by advocating legislation that would ban catcalling:

The case for a robust — almost impregnable — protection of freedom of speech stands on its own and applies to all people. It is as tyrannical an act to prosecute a rich man for his utterances as it is to target a poor one. Nevertheless, should Hollaback get its way and provoke the passage of an anti-cat-calling law, it would likely be the poor who would bear the brunt of its force. Such rules would be enforced capriciously, and those without power would find themselves hauled into court more than those with connections. As has been demonstrated by the new anti–“rape culture” rules that are sweeping the nation’s college campuses, there is always a price to illiberalism, and that price is often paid by a downtrodden and less powerful group. As kindly as possible, I would recommend that if anybody believes that the problem of unwanted male attention warrants the infringement of the First Amendment, they should re-examine their priorities.

Again, the entire piece is well worth the read. I’ve only highlighted the general issues Cooke takes up with the video controversy, but his work pointing out how the Left is essentially eating itself is quite lucid.

In some ways, the post-socialist Left has remained relevant since the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the growing-in-number anti-”rape culture” rules highlighted above attest, but in the most general, important way, the Left continues to become more and more irrelevant as its ethnic and gender elements contextualize and re-contextualize themselves into irrelevancy. At the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of individuals and nobody should get special treatment because of the color of their skin or the thing between their legs. The fact that humanity has a long history of doing just this – awarding special privileges to some at the expense of the many – is both a) a testament to the radicalism and the simple brilliance of libertarianism, and b) a really, really good reason not to continue to pursue policies that do just that (even if such policies are meant to correct past injustices).*

It’s also nice to see that the Right-wing National Review is becoming more libertarian when it comes to issues of race and gender. I also see the Clintonian Left becoming slightly more libertarian (thanks in large part, I think, to the realization of what Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid have been doing to our purchasing power parity).

* I support some kind of reparations system, here in the US, for stolen land and stolen labor but this has nothing to do with skin color or gender when you think about it.

“In Praise of Midterms”

That’s the title of this short blog post by Professor John McGinnis of Northwestern’s School of Law. An excerpt:

An op-ed in in The New York Times yesterday argued  that it would be a good idea to eliminate the midterms and the amend the Constitution in favor of longer terms for members of Congress.  They analogize the federal offices to state and local offices, like school boards, which have longer tenure. This argument gets things perversely backwards. We put checks on the power of the federal government in part to make it harder for the government to displace the more local ordering of state officials, thus preserving federalism.  The more  potentially powerful their political agents, the more opportunities the people need to check them.

The authors of the op-ed also argued that the President needs sufficient time to pursue his democratic mandate with a sympathetic Congress.  This point ignores the weakness of any Presidential mandate in the first place.   As Ilya Somin emphasizes in an excellent recent book, most voters are rationally ignorant of politics and do not have a strong grasp of the specific program of the candidate for whom they vote. Moreover, the vote takes place at a particular time with a specific mix of issues that may soon change. Often the vote is so close that the difference amounts to no mandate at all. Think Bush-Gore. Sometimes the result would have been different if the election had happened a week later. Think Carter-Ford. It is precisely because any election is only a blurry snapshot of democratic sentiment that it is essential to take more pictures.

[...]

Midterms are often lambasted because they allow more spending on yet more elections. But another perspective is that midterms provide an opportunity for people who do not influence politics for a living to band together and try to persuade their fellow citizens about which candidates and policies are better. It takes money to get out their message. But the alternative is a much more insular politics, shaped to an even greater extent by the symbolic class of the media and academics, a class that leans sharply to one side of the political spectrum. Not surprisingly most of the voices for curbing the midterms come from this crowd of the like-minded.

Besides celebrating the victory of any favorite candidate this evening, take some time to celebrate the Framers’ design. It permits citizens to better control their rulers and protects decentralized social ordering from evanescent passions.

The rest of his post is worth the click. McGinnis makes my point (first update) in a much more coherent fashion than I could ever hope to. See also this piece by Fred. Check out Rick’s and Warren’s thoughts on the voting process itself.