Afternoon Tea: “Highland Chiefs and Regional Networks in Mainland Southeast Asia: Mien Perspectives”
This article is centered on the life story of a Mien upland leader in Laos and later in the kingdom of Nan that subsequently was made a province of Thailand. The story was recorded in 1972 but primarily describes events during 1870–1930. The aim of this article is to call attention to long-standing networks of highland-lowland relations where social life was unstable but always and persistently inclusive and multiethnic. The centrality of interethnic hill-valley networks in this Mien case has numerous parallels in studies of Rmeet, Phunoy, Karen, Khmu, Ta’ang, and others in mainland Southeast Asia and adjacent southern China. The implications of the Mien case support an analytical shift from ethnography to ethnology—from the study of singular ethnic groups that are viewed as somehow separate from one another and from lowland polities, and toward a study of patterns and variations in social networks that transcend ethnic labels and are of considerable historical and analytical importance. The shift toward ethnology brings questions regarding the state/non-state binary that was largely taken for granted in studies of tribal peoples as inherently stateless.
This is from Hjorleifur Jonsson, an anthropologist at Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Here is a link.
Naipaul (RIP) and the Left
The most interesting reflection on V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel Prize winner who died earlier this week, comes from Slate, a low-brow leftist publication that I sometimes peruse for book reviews. Naipaul, a Trinidadian, became loathed on the left for daring to say “what the whites want to say but dare not.”
The fact that Slate‘s author tries his hardest to piss on Naipaul’s grave is not what’s interesting about the piece, though. What’s interesting is what Naipaul’s wife, a Pakistani national and former journalist, has to say about Pakistan:
[…] she smiled and asked if I knew what Pakistan needed. I informed her that I did not. “A dictator,” she replied. At this her husband laughed.
“I think they have tried that,” I said, doing my best to stay stoic.
“No, no, a very brutal dictator,” she answered. I told her they had tried that, too. “No, no,” she answered again. Only when a real dictator came in and killed the religious people in the country, and enough of them that the streets would “run with blood,” could Pakistan be reborn. It was as if she was parodying a gross caricature of Naipaul’s worst views—and also misunderstanding his pessimism about the ability of colonial societies to reinvent themselves, even through violence—but he smiled with delight as she spoke.
“That’s so American of you,” she then blurted out, before I had said anything. My face, while she had been talking, must have taken on a look of shock or disgust. “You tell a nice young American boy like yourself that a country needs a brutal dictator and they get a moralistic or concerned look on their face, as if every country is ready for a democracy. They aren’t.”
Damn. This testy exchange highlights well what the developing world is facing, intellectually. Religious conservatives heavily populate developing countries. Liberals, on the left and on the right, in developing countries are miniscule in number, and most of them prefer, or were forced, to live in exile. Liberty is their highest priority, but the highest priority of Western elites, whose support developing world liberals’ desperately need, is democracy, which empowers a populace that cares not for freedom.
So what you get in the developing world is two kinds of autocracies: geopolitically important autocracies (like Pakistan), and geopolitically unimportant autocracies (think of sub-Saharan Africa).
That Naipaul and his wife had the balls to say this, for years, is a testament to the magnificence of human freedom; that Leftists have loathed Naipaul for years because he had pointed this out is a bitter reminder of why I left the Left in the first place.
By the way, here is Naipaul writing about the GOP for the New Yorker in 1984. And here is my actual favorite piece about Naipaul.
The first ever international Steemit conference was held on November 11, 12 and 13. I loved the positive vibe that radiated from the community and I enjoyed meeting people I have had known only from the Steemit online platform.
Steemit is a social network that looks quite similar to Reddit and that rewards people with the cryptocurrency Steem for blogging and curating content. SteemFest, consisting of 206 attendees, had a remarkable mix of people from different nationalities. They joined the event from 32 different countries including Russia, China, India, Japan, Panama, Lithuania, Cambodia, Mexico, and the US. There were also many female attendees, something that you don’t see often in other cryptocommunities. 35% were female and 25% were developers. The event attracted famous writers like for example Neil Strauss, bitcoin artists like Tatiana Moroz, and Ned Scott who is the co-founder of Steemit. I loved listening to people’s stories and how they got involved with Steemit. I met someone who lived together with Vitalik Buterin (founder of Ethereum) in Barcelona, a homeless person who tries to get by by living on the cryptocurrency Steem, and so many other interesting people.
I was one of the 35 speakers at the event, and was also interviewed on some of my libertarian philosophical views. You can see the interview above.
If you’d like to know more about Steemit, then visit Steemit.com to see what it’s all about.
“Landscapes of Nationalism” interview
Here is an interview a colleague of mine did with me last month regarding my summer trips, which somewhat are connected by a same thematic thread – on how I stumbled upon incidents of big and small nationalisms. It appeared in our obscure university newsletter with an open access. An excerpt:
When I left Estonia and arrived in St. Petersburg, which is in northern Russia, the first thing I saw, when coming out of the airport, was a large posh car that was passing me. Its windshield was decorated with an orange and black “St. George ribbon”; this ribbon (a symbol of the patron saint of the Russian military) is currently a badge of patriotism for millions of my former compatriots. The back of the car sported big letters in blue: “Onward to Berlin! I honor WWII vets.” The irony of the situation was that the car driven by that well-to-do patriot was a German Mercedes! By the way, the topic of World War II is a “sacred cow” in Russia. From the Soviet times to the present, the government and conservative elements have been constantly bombarding people with two pieces of propaganda. First, they have being arguing that the Soviet Union/Russia had singlehandedly saved the world from fascism. For this reason, the whole world owes them everything. Second, since the country lost in that war more people than any other country, Russians suffered more than anybody else and, again, for this reason, the world owes them. Many people internalized this mythology.
BC’s weekend reads
- Our own Edwin van de Haar being interviewed about Degrees of Freedom (audio interview)
- Does Gun Control Work? Ben Carson Says Yes. ADL Says No but Yes
- The Vanishing Europe of Jürgen Habermas
- Leviathan (movie review)
- Thinking Anew | What, precisely, changed in the 18th century? (book review)
- This Is What Russia REALLY Fears in Syria
Silent Majorities: Mass Incarceration Edition
What vexed [political scientist Michael] Fortner was that The New Jim Crow seemed to be two different books. One did a powerful job showing how mass incarceration undermines black communities and perpetuates racial inequality. The other — and this was the vexing part — advanced a political theory about how we got here. That history stressed the resilience of white supremacy. First came slavery; when slavery ended, a white backlash brought Jim Crow segregation; when Jim Crow crumbled, a backlash to the civil-rights movement spawned yet another caste system, mass incarceration. Each time, writes Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, proponents of racial hierarchy achieved their goals “largely by appealing to the racism and vulnerability of lower-class whites.”
“I remember feeling like, where are the black folks in this story?” Fortner says. “Where are their voices? They’re constantly victimized. They’re not powerful. And then I thought about, well, who the hell brought down the original Jim Crow? It was black power. It was black folk organizing, mobilizing successfully against racial structures in the South, in the North. And what happened to all that power? What happened to all that agency? It sort of disappeared.”
Except it didn’t. By examining historical records, Fortner found that black people had retained their power when it came to crime policy. At one place, in one moment, their voices were critical: Harlem in the years leading up to the Rockefeller drug laws. It was there that residents were besieged by heroin addiction and social disorder — what a late-1960s NAACP report called a “reign of criminal terror.” And it was there that a “black silent majority” of working- and middle-class residents rallied to reclaim their streets. New York’s ambitious governor seized on their discontent to push for harsh narcotics policies that would enhance his standing within the Republican Party. The result: some of the strictest drug statutes in the country, mandating long minimum sentences for a variety of drug crimes.
More here. By Marc Perry writing in the Chronicle Review.
The blatant fascism of Bernie Sanders
Ezra Klein, a Bruin and also a journalist, recently interviewed Bernie Sanders, an American Senator currently challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democrat Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders is an old, extremely rich white man who describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” Check this out:
Ezra Klein: You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing …
Bernie Sanders: Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.
Ezra Klein: Really?
Bernie Sanders: Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. …
Ezra Klein: But it would make …
Bernie Sanders: Excuse me …
Ezra Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?
Bernie Sanders: It would make everybody in America poorer —you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.
You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?
I think from a moral responsibility we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.
There is much, much more stupidity here. The choice between Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders – who is supposedly the representative of a new Left – illustrates well why the American Right is currently the faction of Ideas. This is so stupid that I’m flabbergasted. I am literally flabbergasted.
There is no way this guy represents the future of the American Left. No. Way.
What would I ask the president in an interview?
My favorite podcast really hit the Big Time this week. Marc Maron interviewed President Obama last week and released the episode today. Marc Maron does a great job interviewing his guests but this episode is (naturally) pretty different. Obama mostly gives a lot of fluff, but he did make some interesting points on the role of political institutions in polarizing politics, as well as the role of [implicit] property rights in shaping political outcomes.
While I was waiting for this episode to be released I wondered what I would have done in Maron’s position. It’s tempting to say “just scream non-stop for an hour until the president agrees to be better.” But of course, that wouldn’t do anyone any good (although I think it would sell advertising on cable news). The question is then “how do I avoid throwing softballs, maintain a good conversation, and still nudge in the direction of change I’d like to see?”
One thing I think would be important were I in that position is to restrict the number of issues I bring up. The limits of human attention mean that we simply can’t handle more than a handful of things at once. Piling on all the issues and complexities of the world would only serve to reduce anyone’s ability to do anything positive. Another thing I think would be important is focusing on areas where we already mostly agree. Nobody over the age of 25 is likely to change their opinion on just about anything, so why waste your energy. That’s sunk ideology. And besides, even if you’re talking to a real piece of work, you have some obligation to do a good job of being a conversationalist, and focusing on differences is less likely to lead to a good conversation.
So what would I ask Obama in an interview?
- What do you see as the path forward to immigration liberalization?
- Will you please push for a bill that allows any law-abiding person to work in the United States without giving them access to the Welfare state? (I would word that differently if I were actually interviewing the president, but you get my drift…)
- Would you please let Nassim Taleb explain his risk-management argument for climate change interventions? And can he please also be required to comment on his argument’s relationship to the Law of Unintended Consequences?
- What is your favorite episode of South Park?
That third point should be at least a little bit controversial. I’m agnostic on whether there’s anything to be done about climate change (although I’m all for using it as an excuse to liberalize immigration for the world’s poor). I’m seriously skeptical of governments’ ability to do any good in that arena. I’d really rather not add fuel to the fire, but I think it’s important to raise the standards of debate, and I think Taleb’s argument* is the most sensible one. Not only that, it has wide applications that should push (benevolent/benign) politicians to support simpler rules and fewer interventions.
Oh yeah, and I’d ask him if he’s a secret gay muslim. (“Does your mom know you’re a secret gay muslim?” Anyone else remember playing that game?)
* Taleb’s argument goes roughly as follows: We face uncertainty, but there is a non-zero probability of a catastrophically bad outcome. Maximizing expected utility is not the appropriate risk-management strategy in this case. Our most urgent need (our highest marginal benefit course of action) is to eliminate the possibility of the catastrophic outcomes–and perhaps after that start thinking about maximizing expected utility. Essentially the argument is “don’t play Russian Roulette!” But an essential underpinning is that a probability distribution describing outcomes in complex systems often exhibits “wild randomness”. In contrast to the “mild randomness” of the normal distribution, in wildly random situations it’s difficult or impossible to even have an expected utility. The conclusion I would hope they would draw is that intervening in complex systems (and particularly creating new complexity through increased regulation and more tax loopholes) is best avoided, and particularly at the national level.
Kareem, UCLA and Time Travel
I can’t believe I’ll be done with school in another five weeks. Time really flies by. I recently came across an interview of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Esquire and thought I’d pass it along to readers here. It’s kind of a wimpy interview, actually (as an alumni, I have access to much higher quality interviews with famous Bruins). Abdul-Jabbar lists twenty things he would’ve done differently if he could step into a time machine and become a young man again.
Two of them were interesting, and one of them not so much. First, the two interesting choices:
11. Cook more. After I got divorced I missed home cooked meals and the only person I had to rely on was the guy in the mirror. Plus, I found it impressed women if you could cook a good meal. Once, very shortly after I started cooking for myself, I had a first date with a woman I really wanted to make a good impression on.
16. Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s human nature to instantly judge others. It goes back to our ancient life-or-death need to decide whether to fight or flee. But in their haste to size others up, people are often wrong—especially a thirty-year-old sports star with hordes of folks coming at him every day. We miss out on knowing some exceptional people by doing that, as I’m sure I did. I think the biggest irony of this advice is that it’s coming from someone who’s black, stratospherically tall, and an athlete: the trifecta of being pre-judged.
These are both things I’ll be working on as I figure out how to live a proper middle class life post-graduation. One thing I can’t help but to disagree with Him (pay attention to capitalization, and bow down) on:
10. Being right is not always the right thing to be. Kareem, my man, learn to step away. You think being honest immunizes you from the consequences of what you say. Remember Paul Simon’s lyrics, “There’s no tenderness beneath your honesty.” So maybe it’s not that important to win an argument, even if you “know” you’re right. Sometimes it’s more important to try a little tenderness.
Nonsense! Every libertarian knows that it’s far more important to be right than to be popular!