Turkey just shot down a Russian fighter jet

Yes, folks, things just got way more real in the Levant.

Here is NOL‘s first-ever post on Syria (by yours truly). It’s from 2012 (which means NOL is nearly four years old!) and it holds up pretty well if you ask me.

Jacques Delacroix, an ardent hawk who recently quit NOL (again) and who ironically criticizes libertarians for being “dogmatic” and “predictable,” had this to say about Syria in 2012:

Russia would not risk to go to war with us on behalf of Syria because that country is just not important enough to the Russians’ game.

And also this:

The current murderous situation [in 2012 Syria] is not acceptable. Therefore, the risk of some sort of Islamist take-over is worth running.

Jacques and other military interventionists have been getting the Middle East wrong for decades, and yet people still take them seriously. Just to be clear: Jacques and other hawks were perfectly aware that attacking Assad would mean opening up a space for ISIS and other nasty Sunni organizations to grow. Jacques just thought Islamists would be better than Assad because they’d at least have some form of democratic legitimacy. Then, after the recent massacres in Paris, Delacroix and other hawks began arguing that Islamists have to go, too (along with Assad). The Russians, who Jacques (and other hawks) confidently told the public would not dare intervene in Syria, think that Islamists have to go (too many Russian commercial airliners are blowing up in the sky) but not Assad. Not a pretty picture, and Western hawks are largely responsible for the mess.

Here is an old post detailing just how wrong Jacques was on Libya, and instead of acknowledging just how wrong he was (he was really wrong), Jacques changed the subject and repeated oft-debunked litanies.

Anyone can be wrong, of course. I thought Mitt Romney would beat Obama back in 2012 (the economy was in terrible shape…), but I learned from my mistake and people can generally learn something from me (even if it’s only to see things from a slightly different angle) when I write on American politics.

When Jacques and other hawks are wrong they become dishonest about their past mistakes, though. They don’t acknowledge them. They don’t try to learn from them. They instead repeat their sacred litanies over and over again, hoping that they will eventually be proved correct (a broken clock is right twice a day, after all). This moral failing on the hawks’ part is what’s responsible for the violence and carnage in Syria. It might be responsible for World War 3 (Turkey is a NATO member). Their dogmatism and the dishonesty it entails is far more of a threat to individual liberty than Islamist terrorists or even the violent policy prescriptions (and cultural chauvinism) Jacques and his ilk call for (and rely upon in the public sphere) on a daily basis.

Jacques and the interventionists (cool band name, by the way) are responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead people and millions of displaced ones. They initiated this carnage using made-up “facts,” poor logic, and appeals to violence. Where is the outrage? How can we change the climate of opinion so that those who lie constantly and unabashedly lose influence and prestige? Is incompetence that prevalent in our open society, or is dishonesty to blame?

Small Thought On The Terrorist Attack in Paris, France

What the attack in Paris has made clear to me is that there is a deep hatred amongst people against the west. I believe that much of this hatred stems from the same roots from which my discontents with the west had also grown – western interventionist policies with foreign nations. I also sense such discontents among the few people that I know from Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, and Serbia.

My displeasures with the west originate from the personal stories of my parents who, before they became victims of the Khmer Rouge, were also victims of American bombings of Cambodia – a fact that is not widely known. The bombardments that started in 1965 ended in 1973, and had killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Indeed, before the Khmer Rouge took power over Cambodia in 1975 and before they sent all people to the rural areas to grow foodstuffs for ‘Angkar’ (the Organization/the State), there were already widespread famines and scores of displaced people due to the bombings. It had created a chaotic climate in which the anti-western, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist propaganda of the Khmer Rouge found their way into people’s minds – mostly into the minds of those poor rural Cambodian people that were suffering most from the secret bombings. Ben Kiernan writes in ‘Bombs over Cambodia’ (2004):

Years after the war ended, journalist Bruce Palling asked Chhit Do, a former Khmer Rouge officer, if his forces had used the bombing as antiAmerican propaganda. Chhit Do replied:

“Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters, to see how big and deep the craters were, to see how the earth had been gouged out and scorched . . . . The ordinary people sometimes literally shit in their pants when the big bombs and shells came. Their minds just froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them. . . . Sometimes the bombs fell and hit little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge.”

Cambodia, together with Laos, still remains one of the heaviest bombed countries in the history of the world.[1] My parents were just 7-8 years old at the advent of the secret bombings. Imagine that a drone would bomb the school of your child or the hospital in which your loved ones are, would you not feel enraged? Would you not want to take revenge on those that are responsible?

A pre-moral person looks at the consequences of the actions. He sees the attacks, he acknowledges the dead, he becomes emotional and judges firmly. A moral person withholds his judgements and attempts to comprehend the causes of the attackers’ actions. I do not want to justify the killings of the French people, but I would like to emphasize that if we were really to honor the victims, we should reflect on the question why there are people that hate the west so fiercely. Maybe our society itself is part of a larger machine that is the origin of foreign hatred against the west. We must not only realize that religious fundamentalism is a danger to the world, but that there is a more contemptible false idol which is democratic fundamentalism – the uncritical acceptance that democracy is equal to liberty, that it is always superior and that, if necessary, it should be spread with violence.

As long as we, as a society, fail to reflect on ourselves and the political system we participate in, we will never find a fundamentally peaceful solution.

[1] See Ben Kiernan’s ‘Bombs Over Cambodia: New Light On US Air War

Syrian Refugees and Security

The president made another one of his inane, easy-to-ignore speeches a couple of days after the massacre in Paris. This man never misses a chance. He demonstrated again his preference for dogma over reality. He also accused Republicans who oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees of being afraid of “three year olds.” This helped me in coming out of my indecision in connection with this issue. I take it seriously.

The House passed a resolution today making it difficult to bring Syrians or Iraqis to the US. Mark my word, this is not the last we hear of this issue. Many Syrians, some Iraqis, actually need a humane place to live away from barrel bombs and chemical warfare. Also, I believe that we cannot allow terrorism to turn us, as a people, into someone else. We are a compassionate people which, by and large, have given haven to refugees from everywhere. (Notwithstanding a shameful loss of nerve in the 1930s with respect to Jewish refugees from Germany.) We can’t let a small bunch of flea-ridden savages in the Middle East change this. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, I listen carefully when the highest security officials in the land tell us that they cannot (NOT) vet every refugee. Do I think that some ISIS terrorists might mingle with refugees with massacre on their minds. No, I don’t think they might; I am sure they will. Why wouldn’t they?

However, the president reminded us that all refugees do not present equal potential danger. It’s true that three-year olds are never terrorists on their own. So, I would take in three-year old refugees and their mothers, of course. And based on the same probabilistic principle, I would let in children up to seven or even eight years of age and their mothers. After that age, all bets are off, I think, because of numerous videos about child soldiers, some of whom are not even nine. But I would take in an unlimited numbers of small children and their mothers. They would constitute an economic burden but I believe we can live with it. I would also let in all Christians and all Yazidis (pagans) of both sexes and of all ages because their collective suffering at the hands of ISIS make them a zero % risk for terrorism in the US. It’s not religious discrimination, it’s risk preference. Everyone does it all the time. That’s what I do when I ride in my pickup truck but never on a motorcycle, fly on commercial airliners but not on light planes piloted by a doctor.

Yes, you read me right. I would admit zero, no men of military age. Two reasons, one not mentioned by any media, to my knowledge. The first, obvious reason, is that terrorists mingling with Syrian refugees would almost certainly be youngish men. Although old men are a possibility, it has not happened yet, I believe. (Correct me if I am wrong.) Women can easily be terrorists too, of course, but it has not happened much with that particular breed of terrorists before it happened in Paris recently. I suspect the Islamist terrorists contempt for women is such that they don’t want them to deserve Paradise by committing jihadist crimes. Of course, the fact that nearly all the Syrian refugee women I see on television wear the hijab (head veil) does not help erase my suspicions. I am trying like hell to be compassionate against my common sense. I am trying to remember that nearly all of those refugees are unfortunates. I am keeping in mind that nearly all of them would have liked to emigrate to the US even before any civil war in Syria. (I will probably talk about the meaning of the hijab in another installment.)

The second good reason to exclude from American territory male Syrian passport carriers of military age is that they are of military age, precisely. At a time when there is more and more talk of French and, even of American boots on the ground, I would like to hear the sound of more Syrian boots on the ground. They should be fighting to reconquer their country from both ISIS savages and the butcher Assad. Incoming Syrian males under fifty-five should be given the choice of enrolling in a Western-backed Syrian Freedom Legion, or to stay in whatever slummy refugee camps where they are indefinitely with no option of settling in America. I would gladly pay for the costs involved forever in preference to risking the lives of American children in America.

Maybe it’s just me but I would be very receptive to requests for military training, for military aid, and for arms coming from such a Legion. The past reluctance of the Obama administration in this respect would be criminal if it were not primarily stupid. I would easily volunteer $1,000 to this good cause. I estimate that it would all amount to 750 000 000 000 for the country at large (750 billion dollars). It should be enough to equip and army of 500,000, it seems to me. We have spent much more in the past with much less of a a justification.

My Muslim friends – a dwindling number these days because many can’t face the harsh truth – and my friends with Muslim names who may or may not be real Muslims urge me to remember that Europeans and Americans, or Christians (think Nigeria) are not the only ones to die at the hand of violent jihadists. I am glad to repeat what I say often: Violent jihadists everywhere have slaughtered many more Muslims that they have killed of any other category of  people. And, as I have said on FB recently, there is nothing special about the massacres in Paris. (More Russian tourists died only a week or so before.) I am glad though that the atrocities taking place in much beloved Paris broke the complacency of many in the West (but not of President Obama). And, as I have pointed out before ISIS revealed itself superbly in this case by attacking specifically places where people were having fun and where many of those people were bound to have Muslim names (“apostates”).

Theory versus Common Sense? The case of the Dutch

Since the fifteenth century, [the Netherlands] has had several features which later liberal thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, enviously referred to. Compared to other countries, economic freedom was an important issue, just as the larger degree of religious freedom. Trade, tolerance, and cultural developments turned the Dutch into an early manifestation of liberalism. However, with the possible exception of Erasmus, Spinoza, and perhaps the Rotterdam-born but London-based Bernard Mandeville, the Dutch lacked great thinkers who could provide this liberal practice with a theoretical base.

This is from the introduction (page 2) to Dr van de Haar‘s excellent new book, Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology, and I think it makes a good argument in favor of the “common sense” approach to the political. This common sense approach, for those of you wondering, is often contrasted in American libertarian circles with the theoretical approach espoused by academics. Common sense libertarians tend to be more socially conservative and more parochial than theoretical libertarians who, in turn, are less socially conservative and more cosmopolitan in outlook. This difference in outlook between the two factions leads to the former camp appealing to “the people” in arguments, whereas the latter often appeal to the authority of a scholar or school of thought. Dudes like Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell are in the former camp; dudes like Steve Horwitz and Eugene Volokh are in the latter. This is not a tension limited to American libertarians, of course. You can find it just about anywhere, but libertarians have made it interesting, mostly because – once they have acquired facts like the one Edwin reports on above – they ask questions like this:

How is it possible for a society like the Netherlands to exist when it had no great thinkers to claim as its own?

The common sense faction will reply with something like this: “That’s easy: because the Dutch people were left alone they were able to prosper. With no busybody do-gooder class of intellectuals around to make rules for the peons, folks were able to thrive thanks largely to personal freedoms and self-interest.” This line of reasoning has a lot of merit to it. In fact I buy it, even though it’s not complete.

I think the Dutch had plenty of good theorists whose work contributed to the peculiar nature of the 15th century Dutch republic, but it is also true that the high theory of guys like Smith and Hume is largely absent from Dutch political thought (I don’t remember reading any Dutch philosophers in my introductory philosophy courses in college, for example). I can clarify this in my own mind by drawing parallels with American political theorists up until the end of World War 2, when the US suddenly became a superpower and has received a great influx of the Really Smart People from around the world. Like the good Dutch political thinkers, nobody outside of the US knows who James Madison or Alexander Hamilton are (specialists excepted, of course). A few quirky weirdos out there might know who Ben Franklin is, but they won’t know him for his political theory.

Maybe this also had to do with the fact that the Dutch (and American) theorists were more concerned with keeping Spain (or other scheming Great Powers) at bay, and this could only be accomplished with a heavy does of pragmatism to supplement ideals; pragmatism is, of course, something that high theory avoids.

The great thinkers, who we all know (even if we have not all read), in contrast, don’t seem to have a lot of experience in policy and diplomacy. Furthermore, these guys all seemed to be in well-integrated outposts of cosmopolitan empires that were largely populated by minorities. Scotland, for example, was part of the British Empire, or Kant’s Prussia, which was technically independent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but still very much a cultural and economic junior partner to Vienna at the time.

Here is my big question, though: If the Dutch had no Great Thinkers, how were they able to create the richest, most extensive overseas empire the world had ever seen?

Common sense libertarians, 1

Theoretical libertarians, 0

By the way, my answer to that last question goes something like this: the Dutch, as former subjects of the Spanish Empire, had intimate access to Madrid’s trading networks (cultural access as well as economic and political) and this, coupled with the federal republic that Dutch statesmen were able to cobble together, gave lowlanders just enough breathing room to raise the bar of humanity. Again, you can find Dr van de Haar’s new book here.

What About Terrorism?

Thoughts on terrorism from “The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom” by Michael Shermer (Holt, 2015).

I may be doing more quoting here than is allowed under “fair use” but here goes.  I will paraphrase his seven myths about terrorism.

  1. Terrorists are pure evil. This was what Bush said after 9/11, but studies show they are typically motivated by outrage at U.S. foreign policy.
  2. Terrorists are organized. There is no top-down, central organization directing terrorism.
  3. Terrorists are diabolical geniuses. The shoe bomber and others following 9/11 were incompetent.
  4. Terrorists are poor and uneducated. They are typically higher-income, better-educated individuals.
  5. Terrorism is a deadly problem. Compare 13,700 homicides per year with 3,000 from 9/11 and an average of 70 terrorist deaths per year, or 7.8 per year excluding 9/11.
  6. Terrorists will acquire and use a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. A real danger, but nuclear weapons require a lot of scarce material and sophisticated engineering.
  7. Terrorism works. Terrorists usually wait until after their deed is done and then proclaim that whatever outcome happened was in fact their goal.

Please read the book yourself.  The section I have paraphrased (pp. 80-86) is a response to objections to his thesis that the over-arching trend of recent decades is toward a safer, more peaceful world.

I’ll add some thoughts of my own:

  1. Groups based on violence and hatred will eventually self-destruct as they splinter into factions and devour one another.  But “eventually” leaves time for a lot of damage.
  2. This seems like a great opportunity for Western governments to cooperate with Russia and perhaps China because Islamic terrorism is a threat to all those parties.

Leaders of all the Western nations have expressed outrage, as has Putin.  Radio silence thusfar from leaders of Islamic nations which, one presumes, have a lot to gain by distancing themselves from terrorism.

Philosophical Research on Seasteading

The Seasteading Institute has recently published my philosophical dissertation on ‘Seasteading’. You can find it in the key research section of their Law and Policy page: http://www.seasteading.org/law-and-policy/.

Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman[1] founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008 in order to promote the seasteading movement, which has intellectually attracted mostly libertarian-minded individuals. The institute has also attracted funding from Paypal cofounder and early facebook investor Peter Thiel.[2]

A seastead is a permanent habitable dwelling on the ocean that preferably lies outside governmental waters. The Seasteading Institute believes that the creation of permanent societies on the seas can provide an experimentation space for innovative forms of socio-political organizations. The ultimate aim of seasteading is that newly emerging societies will inspire social changes around the world and contribute to human flourishing. First seasteads will be small-scale projects and they may even be constructed within existing governmental territories. However, seasteads could expand organically as technologies improve and innovative ideas of the functions of seasteads would emerge. One of the core ideas of seasteading is that an open experimentation space for social organizations will lead to progress in social rules and legislations, just as an experimentation space for new technologies leads to technological progress.

It is undeniable that social rules and legislations heavily influence all aspects of life, including technological progress and social well-being. One could for example compare North and South Korea, two countries that separated from each other in 1945. Both countries have had more or less the same culture and similar natural resources. However, what differs is their form of social organization; the North came under communist rule, whereas the South embraced western-style capitalism and democracy. Almost 70 years later, the differences in wealth, technological advancement, and social well-being are striking. South-Korea’s GDP per capita is for example 18 times larger, its internet penetration is more than 815 times greater, its life expectancy rate is 10 years longer, and the heights of South Korean pre-school boys are on average 4 centimeters longer. (Taylor, 2013, April 8).

The Seasteading Institute believes that, given that social progress and well-being heavily depend on how society is structured, mankind could make a huge step forward by letting social entrepreneurs start up seasteads to compete with governments in the industry of law-making and by letting millions engage in the experimentation with new forms of social organization.

In the paper, I provide a philosophical investigation of the concept of seasteading from a libertarian anarchist perspective. My investigation revolves around the following research question: “given that governments are resistant to structural changes of governance, how can mankind discover better forms of social organization?”

I argue that seasteading can fulfill that important role of moving mankind forward by experimenting with and finding new forms of social organizations that are best for human flourishing.

In the first chapter, I maintain that one core focus of political philosophy is to deal with the realities of value pluralism and political disagreements. I also contend that the most common form of social organization, representative democracy, does not satisfactorily deal with these realities. Hence, we should look for political possibilities beyond representative democracies. In order to discover these possibilities, we should experiment with new forms of social organization.

Chapter two discusses why there is currently little experimentation with social orders. I approach the issue from a meta-system level perspective and contend that all land on earth is more or less already claimed by states, which leaves little opportunity for people to start new societies on land. By applying the theory of monopoly economics, I maintain that the state’s monopoly on jurisdiction and coercion does not encourage them to provide good rules of law. It rather makes states extremely resistant to large-scale social changes. The obvious solution for finding better forms of governance then would be the introduction of competition into the industry of governments.

Chapter three deals with the epistemological attitude required for the experimentation space. I maintain that this attitude consists of having a sociological imagination, being epistemologically modest, realizing that social order can emerge spontaneously, and that the utopian dream of a single perfect society is impossible.

Chapter four discusses seasteading as the means by which the experimentation space could be realized. By homesteading the seas, a community can build and test new forms of social organization outside the scope of current governments’ control. It could generate new knowledge on social orders, thereby contributing to political philosophy and the social sciences. It could moreover also ease political tensions between citizens with different comprehensive doctrines.

Finally, I raise two objections to seasteading and address them accordingly.

If you would like to see an awesome seastead design, you should watch this video here:

[1] It may be interesting to know that Patri Friedman is the grandson of Milton Friedman and the son of libertarian anarchist David Friedman.

[2] Peter Thiel, previously a student of Political Philosophy at Stanford University, is also founder of the libertarian-minded newspaper The Stanford Review. He is a venture capitalist who is very much influenced by the Austrian School of Economics. With this in mind, it may not be surprising that the early mission of PayPal was to give its users more control over their money by enabling them to switch currencies. The goal of PayPal was to make it, in Thiel’s words (1999), “nearly impossible for corrupt governments to steal wealth from their people through their old means [inflation and wholesale currency devaluations] because if they try the people will switch to dollars or Pounds or Yen, in effect dumping the worthless local currency for something more secure” (Jackson, 2004).

Jackson, E.M. (2004). The PayPal Wars: battles with eBay, the media, the mafia, and the rest of planet earth. Los Angeles: World Ahead Publishing, Inc.
Taylor, A. (2013, April 8). A Crazy Comparison of Life in North Korea and South Korea. Retrieved from http://businessinsider.com
Thiel, P. (2009). The Education of a Libertarian. Retrieved from http://cato-unbound.org

BC’s weekend reads

  1. France has less and less influence in the EU, and fears to use what it still has (peep B-Stock here at NOL from awhile back, too)
  2. U of Missouri Student VP: “I think that it’s important for us to create that distinction and create a space where we can all learn from one another and start to create a place of healing rather than a place where we are experiencing a lot of hate like we have in the past.” Mmhm. And what better way to learn from one another than by restricting what can and cannot be said?
  3. Along the Divide: Israel’s Allies (long book review)
  4. Standing Up for Migrant Workers in the Arab Gulf (don’t forget Amit’s piece on migrant workers from Bangladesh here at NOL)
  5. Economic rationality versus full rationality
  6. Rand Paul strikes back
  7. The Case for Brexit (contra B-Stock here at NOL)