The Saudis, the Holy Lands, and double standards

I know we’ve been linking to Irfan and the PoT heads a lot lately, but there’s a good reason for it. Check out Dr Khawaja’s thoughts on the recent death of King Abdullah:

The late Pakistani journalist Tashbih Sayyid, editor of Pakistan Today, put the point to me in this way: “Muslims complain so loudly about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. What about the Saudi occupation of Mecca and Medina?” It sounds like a joke, but it really isn’t one. He might well have added: What about the Saudi occupation of the Arabian peninsula?

Here’s an article on Saudi Arabia’s criticizing Norway’s human rights record. This criticism comes from a country where it’s illegal for women to drive. Of course, to be fair, Saudi Arabia is making progress. It abolished slavery in 1962.

I don’t agree with defenders of Israel who insist that the movement to divest from Israel is “anti-Semitic,” but I do think there is a double standard in the way activists think about and deal with Israel by contrast with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has all the features that members of BDS find objectionable in Israel. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia is guilty of systematic human rights abuses. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia gets massive and systematic U.S. support. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia exerts enormous influence over the U.S. government. The difference is just that Saudi Arabia is a lot worse than Israel on every relevant dimension.

Read the rest, it’s an excellent analysis as usual.

Jacques has a piece on Islam in France up over at Liberty that you might want to check out, too. He doesn’t make any new arguments that he hasn’t made before, and I don’t think he is advancing the conversation at all (see here and here, for example), but it’s still worth the read.

Martin Luther King Jr Day and Civil Rights: A (True?) Libertarian’s Lazy Perspective

History professor and fellow Notewriter Jonathan Bean has an op-ed out in the Daily Caller titled “Civil Rights Are Too Important To Be Left To Special-Interest Advocates.” From the opening paragraph:

“War is too important to be left to the generals,” the saying goes. Similarly, civil rights are too important to be left to professional advocates who champion only their own particular racial, ethnic, or religious causes. Unfortunately, in the “official” civil rights community of today a spirit of inclusiveness may be the exception, not the rule.

Read the rest.

Dr Bean’s post has reminded me of how to best tell the difference between a libertarian and a conservative (overseas readers: here is my reminder to you that, in US parlance, libertarian means liberal): libertarians have a deep, principled commitment to equality that is simply missing in conservative thought.

Libertarians will argue that all individuals are born equal, whereas conservatives will tell you individuals are not. Libertarian notions of equality are thus caught in the middle of two extremes: on the Right you have conservatives who believe that inequality equality is not possible on an individual, regional, national, or international scale and on the Left you have egalitarians who harbor all sorts of utopian pipedreams based on “equality.” These three paradigms are by no means obvious, and sometimes you have to think about the implications of a person’s argument.

The libertarian notion is utopian, as it has never been reached and probably never will be, but it is always within reach and is based upon civil and legal equality rather than some of the asinine notions of the Left. When I say “civil and legal equality” I mean that all human beings are deserving of the same fundamental individual rights. Conservatives don’t believe in this (think about their views on immigrants, for example, or ethnic/religious minorities).

So the libertarian, when faced with a hypothetical that looks at an immigrant who came to the US illegally, will say the immigrant is deserving of the same legal and civil rights as a native. A conservative will not. I know many self-described libertarians will give the second answer, and my response to them would be, “well, I guess you’re a conservative then, and not a libertarian.”

Ouch!

I understand that the complexities of politics in federal democracies make ideological arguments useless, so my only goal with this post is to help readers clarify their own political views. If you don’t support the civil and legal rights of illegal immigrants (for example), you are not a libertarian. I don’t mean to be in such a purge-y mood, but that’s a fairly basic tenet of the creed.

Also, Malcolm X did more for the civil rights of Americans than MLK did. The government chose MLK to represent the civil rights struggle, though, because he never toted a gun in public. Same thing happened in South Asia just before the UK left. Gandhi didn’t have nearly as much influence as the armed insurrections happening all over the subcontinent. Bring it!

Islamic Murders in Paris

Twelve people have been confirmed dead in a shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication. Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the gunmen forced their way into the building by coercing a mother with her child to give the key code. They then went from office to office, asking for staff members by name, before gunning down each in turn. The attackers are reported to have shouted things like “Allahu Akbar!” and claimed to have been members of al-Qaeda. They then fled the scene in a stolen car, dumping it in the vicinity of Pantin, an impoverished African and South Asian neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris – where, incidentally, I spent New Years one year with an ex-girlfriend – and then hijacked another car before fleeing from the city. As of now, they are still at large.

The natural question most people ask in reaction to these sorts of events is “why?” Why did these three people decide to kill all these other people, over a cartoon? Answers always fall into four categories: their fault, our fault, nobody’s fault, and squid ink. As you might expect, the distribution of responses breaks down fairly neatly along ideological lines.

1. Their fault puts the blame on “radical Islam,” Islamists, terrorists, or sometimes just “Islam” plain and simple. This article from National Review Online argues that Islam is against freedom of expression at its core. Another article, also from NRO, seems to intimate that this is the beginning of some sort of clash of civilizations. CNN lists responses from the journalistic profession, all of which express solidarity against the “forces of unreason” that are on the warpath and have “corrupted the heart of Islam”

2. Our fault puts the blame on our collective intolerance of others, or on our governments’ foreign policy. We in general, or the victims in particular, somehow have it coming to us. This article by Slate does not overtly state that the employees of Charlie Hebdo asked to be murdered, but the author asserts that they have a “long history of courting controversy.” This cyclical from AP states similar claims. If we, or at least Charlie Hebdo, should have expected this, what is the implication?

3. Nobody’s fault straddles the line, asserting that such a colossal crime is the result of nothing in particular. Crazy people warped the tenets of their faith to justify their evil actions, and only they can be blamed, not the social environment that produced them, nor their creed, nor the laxity of Western society, nor any other sort of causal explanation. It just “happened.” I have not yet found an example of this in the media, but I am sure it will be offered sometime between when Europe goes to sleep mourning this tragedy, and America wakes up to ponder it.

4. Squid ink is the attempt to divert blame from targets that the speaker or author believes will likely be blamed. This article from Salon attempts to divert blame from an assumed target, Islam, by diverting it onto the onerous figure of Richard Dawkins. This article, also from Salon, has nothing to do with the current controversy, but by framing other articles on the front page of the site, acts as an implicit tu quoque: Christians are murderers too! Islamic murder isn’t that bad!

It’s always popular to say that the truth lies somewhere in between, or beyond, the options the media offers us. And so I too will follow convention. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in a combination. It is undoubtedly true that there is a great deal of resentment in the Islamic world over Western policy over time, and I don’t doubt that this played some role in the minds of the murderers. I also don’t doubt that the reactions of Westerners to increased immigration to their countries has also factored in. Resentment against the encroachments of a foreign group on one’s territory is always resented, leading to friction between the natives and the implants. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, car burnings in immigrant neighborhoods are a frequent occurrence.

Personally, I think that, like all things, this is merely a struggle for power. The governments of the West have allowed large numbers of immigrants from poor countries with inimical social systems to immigrate to their countries, often for legitimate reasons. The Belgian government, for example, entered into an agreement with the Moroccan government to allow vast numbers of Moroccan citizens to immigrate to Belgium for work purposes, as the country lacked the amount of labor it needed. However, when any new population comes to an area that is already populated, there are many ways to deal with that population. Assimilation was the dominant strategy in the United States for some time: “if a Pole is made into an American with American habits and American values, great!” In Europe, however, there was precious little done to assimilate the immigrant populations, so that they instead formed large communities of their own folk that did not interact with the natives. In Germany, for example, many Turks have lived there for decades without being naturalized, and as Germany follows jus sanguinis, none of their children are citizens either, despite having no immediate connection to Turkey except on paper.

As these immigrant populations have grown in size, many of the younger generations have learned the local tongue, assimilated into the social patterns of their host nations, and fanned out into the country as a whole. One of my friends, a Belgian of Moroccan ancestry, speaks little Berber but perfect French, and has much more affinity for the country of his birth than the country of his ancestors. Many have also become more entrenched in their immigrant communities, and have agitated for special rights and privileges for their people; not only the social services they are always alleged to be parasites on, but also special zones for sharia, halal meals in schools and prisons, the right to not view objectionable material such as cartoons they do not like, and so forth. As they grow in size, they also grow in power, and like all people will assert that power to mold their environment in the ways that they choose – ways that are not compatible with Western society. What we are seeing is, I think, the latest installment in the slow bleed of the West, its slow transformation into a multicultural, and finally a non-cultural, entity.

Or, I could be full of it. Such is a consequence of immediate reactions and thinking out loud. Dear reader, please let me know thy thoughts in the comments.

“How to recognize and avoid embedded values biases”

The appearance of certain words that imply pernicious motives (e.g., deny, legitimize, rationalize, justify, defend, trivialize) may be particularly indicative of research tainted by embedded values. Such terms imply, for example, that the view being denied is objectively valid and the view being “justified” is objectively invalid. In some cases, this may be scientifically tenable, as when a researcher is interested in the denial of some objective fact. Rationalization can be empirically demonstrated, but doing so requires more than declaring some beliefs to be rationalizations, as in Napier and Jost (2008), where endorsement of the efficacy of hard work – on one item – was labeled rationalization of inequality.

This is from an article (here is the full pre-print pdf) by a number of social scientists on the lack of intellectual diversity in academia (the excerpt can be found on the bottom of page 13). I would suggest that referring to oneself as a political “centrist” or “pragmatist” is also a giveaway of embedded values bias. Just think about how that affects your perception of other points of view!

Pages 25-27 have great stuff on intelligence (so does NOL!), but the authors missed an opportunity to point out that when liberals use IQ arguments to explain such a heavily Left-wing presence in academia, they are simply invoking the same argument used by conservatives to support all sorts of racist mumbo-jumbo. (Pages 30-34 deal with the hostile climate and outright discrimination that conservatives face in academia, so it might be charitable to view these sections as making my point for me.)

(h/t Bryan Caplan)

Staten Island and Cleveland: Different from Ferguson

Having argued in a recent piece that the problem with Ferguson was collectivism, as manifest in the notion of collective guilt, I feel obliged to speak out on recent incidents in Cleveland and Staten Island. None of us (presumably) were there so we need to be cautious, but what we see from those unfortunate places strongly suggests police misconduct.

I am a native of Cleveland and it comes as no surprise to me that the police force there is a troubled one. For many years there has been a divide between the central city and suburbs and despite a few encouraging exceptions, things have gone steadily downhill in the central city. The problems are similar to Detroit’s but on a smaller scale. The best Cleveland Police officers would surely aspire to leave the Cleveland PD for one of the suburban forces at the first opportunity. It doesn’t surprise me that the Justice Department claims there has been systematic excessive use of force by the Cleveland police.

I have only been to Staten Island once and cannot add anything to what is generally known. That the unfortunate victim was selling untaxed cigarettes, of all things only adds to the outrage.

The non-violent demonstrators in both cities are right this time.

Economists are special, but what about Palestinians and American blacks?

I’ve got the post-Thanksgiving flu. I know which toddlers are guilty of infecting me, and which aunts and uncles are responsible for this egregious assault on my happiness. Revenge will be sweet.

I’d like to get to Warren’s smackdown of my reparations proposal and also to Matthew’s thoughts on justified violence against the state (which were indirectly related to my own post on Ferguson), but first I’ve got to get to two interesting topics that have piqued my interest.

The first is Irfan Khawaja’s recent critique over at Policy of Truth of Jason Brennan’s new book on voting. As usual, Khawaja brings up a number of great points (too many, actually, for a lowly ethnographic enthusiast like me), and they deserve to be read by all (be sure to check out the ‘comments’ thread, too).

Here is an excerpt (Khawaja has flipped the tired script of many American academics by bringing in a fresh perspective):

I can’t work through all the details here, but take a look at Brennan’s argument in light of the preceding. Either my East Jerusalem case is a counter-example to his thesis, or it’s a defeater for it. In the first case, it refutes the thesis as stated. In the second case, it suggests that the thesis is highly misleading as stated. Given that, my argument requires that Brennan qualify his claims about the ethics of voting in ways that take more explicit stock of cases like the East Jerusalem one–something that would substantially change the “flavor” of his theory.

Brennan’s work has, of course, gotten a lot of excellent treatment in libertarian circles because of both his blogging activities (hint, hint, slackers) and because libertarians have a long, storied distrust of democratic politics (though this is largely an anarchistic distrust rather than the conservative-aristocratic one we North Americans think we are familiar with).

Switching gears, I also need to comment on an interesting paper (pdf) about the “Superiority of Economists” I came across over at MR. It was written by two sociologists and an economist, and it has a number of excellent insights (MR‘s link to the paper was broken, but MR also provided a link to comments by economist Paul Krugman, and his link to the paper was unbroken).

Most of the paper is a rehash of arguments about economics relative to the other social sciences (and the humanities) that libertarians have been having for a long time. (In my anecdotal experience, libertarian economists are quickest to defend the profession of economics from detractors, but they are also the quickest to defend the other social sciences from detractors (and, more importantly, incorporate non-economics research into their own). Leftist and conservative economists, by contrast, condescendingly acquiesce to attacks from other disciplines, but are also very, very disdainful of The Others’ contributions to research.) Libertarian economists generally share the same suspicions as The Other disciplines about the ability of economics to imitate the physical sciences using mathematical models (or that these models are even indicative of how humans “work”). See Warren’s piece (pdf) in Econ Journal Watch for more on these suspicions.

The last section before the conclusion (“A life of their own”) is really good and totally worth the click. It’s about economists and their relationship to everybody else in their society (this paper is made better by the fact that it is written by French academics with an intimate understanding of life in both the US and France, just like some other scholar that we all know and loathe love).

On page 18 the paper cites a few studies and lab experiments which have purportedly shown that people who study economics are, on the whole, less likely to cooperate than everybody else. There are a number of implications that the paper goes over (“does economics attract a certain type of personality?”, for example), but I wanted to focus on what is not discussed in the paper: The fact that economists probably have a different (actually, a more coherent and precise) understanding of the meaning of cooperation. Many criticisms of economics are clearly made of straw. One of the things that initially attracted me to libertarianism was the intelligent, well-informed critiques of economics as I then understood it (“homo economicus“) that were given by libertarians.

I also learned, on page 19 and contra Dr Amburgey’s repeated assertions, that economists are politically (and decisively) to the Left of the average American voter.

Another fascinating page 19 insight is that there is more income inequality ($57k gap between the top 10% and the median) in economics relative to other disciplines, but on this point the authors lose a golden opportunity to do some real sociological analysis (the authors focus instead, and predictably, on the economics profession’s recent prosperity as a whole relative to other academic disciplines; that is to say, on the income inequality between economics and The Others within academia). Earlier in the paper (7-14) an organizational comparison between economics and The Others highlighted the fact that the economics community tends to be more hierarchical, more incestuous, and possesses a “unitary disciplinary core,” which means that virtually all graduate schools teach the same concepts. The Others, in contrast, are “more decentralized, less cohesive, and [possess] less stable prestige rankings.” (9)

The most basic insight that stood out to me when I read the data on incomes was that the disparities and organizational structures of the social sciences and humanities represent a microcosm of society as a whole (pick any ole society you’d like): When rigid hierarchies are enforced, conformity and parochialism (incestuous is too strong a word here) arise, income inequality is more prevalent, and the pecking orders are more entrenched.

In contrast, societies that are “more decentralized and less cohesive” have more variety, much less deference to an established authority (such as a pecking order), and less income inequality ($42k gap between the top 10% of sociologists and the median). There are less women in economics relative to the other disciplines, and the median economist almost has the same income as a top 10% sociologist ($103k to $118k, a difference of only $15k).

Well, this post has already gone on for far too long (I hope to use it as a springboard for future musings) but I will end by noting that on page 23 the paper points out that economics is a very moral discipline, which is something non-libertarian economists vehemently deny. Libertarian economists, on the other hand, have been pointing this out for centuries.

Libertarian as Ethnicity

The past few months have been busy, to say the least. The Obama administration announced a series of executive actions regarding immigration and that has taken up most of my time. Meanwhile in my day job as a graduate student I’ve been overwhelmed with midterms and finals; I am sure my fellows in NoL can sympathize with this. The few moments of peace I have enjoyed have gone towards pondering one question: Who is an American? 

The question is not isolated. By asking who an American is, I’m really asking what ethnicity, and other social groups, really are. The best answer to my question was an old Cato blog post appropriately titled, What is an American? In it Edward Hudgins discusses what makes an American. It is not, as some believe, a common language, creed, or ancestry. What makes an American is his love for liberty. It is in his closing remarks that Hudgins hits on something amazing, there is no meaningful thing as ‘American’.

Unfortunately, the American spirit has eroded. Our forebears would look with sadness at the servile and envious character of many of our citizens and policymakers. But the good news is that there are millions of Americans around the world, living in every country. Many of them will never make it here to the United States. But they are Americans, just as my grandpop was an American before he ever left Italy.

There exists those individuals who can prefix themselves as Americans, but at best this only tells us that they are somehow affiliated with the American continent. There exists a group of people who yearn for liberty and are willing to fight for it, but many of them were neither born or live in the United States. Likewise there are those who were born and live in the United States who are no friends of liberty. And so my initial question has lead me to a new one. Why not promote being a libertarian as an ethnicity? Why not introduce ourselves as ‘Libertarios’ instead of Americans, Germans, or Turks?

At first my proposal may sound strange to some. Would it not be silly to define an ethnicity by political views? I don’t think so. Few ethnic groups have a concrete basis in reality and are based more on fiction than anything else. I was born in Mexico, raised in the United States, and am directly descended from Germans, Jews, and Cubans. I feel little fraternity to these latter groups though. Why should I? I didn’t elect to have Jewish or Mexican ancestry, but I did elect to be a libertarian. Anyone who proclaims to be a libertarian automatically has my sympathy and support, even if I know nothing else about them. As this is the case I would prefer to be identified as a Libertario than any other ethnic group.

I am sure that there are those who would prefer not to be identified by any collective label at all. For those of you who fall into this category I would offer a pragmatic case for identify as Libertario.

I hope it can be taken for granted that, as libertarians, we wish there to be more libertarians. In the best scenario more libertarians in the world might lead to better public policy. In the worst scenario we at least have more potential friends. By promoting our existence as an ethnic group we would encourage more people to remain as libertarians. I have often found people who have libertarian political views, but who withdraw from participation if they become discouraged about the hope for change in their lifetimes. If we were an ethnic group though these individuals would continue to promote liberty, if only to signal their membership in the group. An ethnic group therefore not only encourages members to remain active, but produces positive externalities to promote the group’s message.

For comparison consider the Mormon people. Many Mormons spend time advocating on behalf on their religion, with several even going abroad on missionary work. From anecdotal experience I’ve noticed that many of them are ill treated when they perform their advocacy. Why do they bother to do so then? Because, as I’ve noted above, it signals their membership in the Mormon community. The average Mormon may not particularly enjoy being harassed for their beliefs, but they do it anyway to tell other Mormons a simple message, “I’m one of you.”

It goes without saying that there must be a benefit to belonging to a given group for this to work.

Additionally the existence of an ethnic libertario community would make raising children to be libertarians much easier. I side with Bryan Caplan in the belief that a relatively easy way to grow the movement is by simply having more children than the general population. It doesn’t matter if you believe children’s political beliefs, and by extension their ethics and other characteristics, are shaped by genetics or their nurturing, a libertario community would help with producing children. If you believe in the genetic argument, then an ethnic community reduces the cost of finding a spouse who shares your political beliefs. If you believe in the nurture argument, then surely a child raised among libertarians is more likely to end up being one himself.

Thoughts? Am I just crazy? Or do you have a counter proposal to ‘Libertario’ as our ethnic label? Comment below.