Some quick thoughts from Athens

I spent the last week and a half in Greece (mainly Athens and other historical sites in the Peloponnese) thanks to the Reason, Individualism and Freedom Institute, and explored ancient political philosophy in a modernly turbulent state. I’m writing this in Naples. Here are a few thoughts I had from the first couple days in Athens.

There is a strong antifa presence (at least judging from graffiti, small talk with some locals and the bios of Grecian Tinder girls). I can’t help but imagine the American antifa pales in comparison. Our black bloc — thrust into the spotlight in mostly superficial college campus debates — tends to be enthusiastic, whereas the antifa in Hellas, culturally sensitive to millennia of dictatorships, entrenched aristocracies, Ottoman annexation, great power puppeteering and a century of neighbouring fascist regimes, must be somber and steadfast. Our antifa crowd has so little targets to find Ben Shapiro a worthy protest, whereas Golden Dawn, the ultranationalist, Third Reich-aesthetics Metaxist party gets 7% in the Hellenic Parliament. Nothing here is spectacle. (Moreover, the extreme-right in Greece, according to our tour guide, has been known to worship and deify mainstream Christian figures as well as the ancient gods spawned of Uranus and Gaia. Umberto Eco’s immortal essay Ur-Fascism explained phenomena like this as the ‘syncretic’ element of fascist traditionalism.)

Moving past the fascists and antifa, in general Greece is left. The Communist Party of Greece, KKE, gets about 5% of the votes and displays a sickle and hammer. More telling still, plenty of the leftist graffiti is actually representing the KKE. Political parties tend to de-radicalize, or are supposed to in theory, and the fringe ideologues disavow the party for centrism or weakness (it’s funny to think of American socialists spray-painting the initials of the CPUSA). The graffiti stretches all the way to Lesvos, of Aristotle’s biology and Sappho’s poetry, and to Corinth of the cult of Aphrodite, but is most prominent in downtown Athens.

Athens has an anarcho-friendly district with a rich history called Εξάρχεια, Exarcheia. Antifascist tagging is complimented by antipolice, antistate, antiborders and LGBT designs, the Macedonian question is totally absent, and posters about political prisoners stack on each other like hotels on ruins. Our friends at KEFiM warned us about Exarcheia — it has a history of political/national xenophobia, and one member had been violently assaulted — but I had already visited on the first day. Aside from a recently blown-up car, it wasn’t too different from Berkeley — nice apartments and restaurants juxtaposed with street art and a punk crowd, drug dealing, metal bars on windows. Granted, this was in daylight and I saw only what was discoverable with Google maps. Still, I had the fading remains of a black eye and my usual clothing is streetwear, so maybe I wasn’t too out of place — even as an American and thus most hated representative of that target of so much antifascist graffiti, NATO.

Much of the larger politics of Greece were not easy to discover from our various tour guides. Just like the ancient myths of the country, they constantly contradict each other.

The Athens underground metro was incredibly clean and modern — infinitely more than in Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. — while their roads are constipated and chaotic. Duh, the city itself is one of our most ancient settled, and so roads have proceeded in a particularly unorganized fashion. But it did cause me to consider the beauty that on a planet where our civilizations literally build on each other generation after generation — and, in an uncommon historical epoch where conquering is out of fashion — sometimes the only place to go is down. Humans have expanded our surface area in dimensions completely unfathomable to the diasporic colonizers from ancient Crete.

The syncretic chaos of the streets, though nauseating to the newcomer, lends itself to almost divine levels of flânerie, such that one can walk hours without reaching any particular destination and feel accomplished. Nothing much looks the same when Times Square melts into an ancient agora melts into a Byzantine church melts into the beach. Attica is wildly heterogeneous and beautiful; modernist adherents to classical Greek conceptions of precision-as-beauty should be humbled.

I should add also that my first impressions of Athens (and Catania) was how much it looked like something out of a videogame. The condition of 21st century man is that, upon visiting foreign cities for the first time, he will invariably compare them to Call of Duty maps.

On a few occasions, enough for me to notice but not enough for me to declare it a custom, my server (who sits me, takes my order and waits on me) gave me extra food on the side. This only happened at small restaurants that aren’t overly European and might be an orange juice, fruit bowl or something small and similar. Every time, of course, I left a larger tip. These actions put us in a sort of gamble. For the waiter to bring me something periphery, he might expect a grander gratuity. Then, when I notice the extra item, I have to assume that it’s not just a mistake — that he didn’t think I ordered something extra which will appear on my tab. He and I are both sort of gambling our luck. Of course, it’s not a real gamble — in every instance we were at least partially sociable prior and lose nothing substantial if it doesn’t work out. What is interesting is that we’ve removed ourselves just a little from the law — I am only legally obligated to pay for what I ordered; he is only legally obliged to bring me what I paid for. Still, without the legal backdrop, everyone leaves happy. Left-libertarians would like it.

(As everyone knows, the Greeks are very hospitable and friendly, and this is a testament to that. A counter-example: I went to a gay club for the first time in the rainbow district of Athens. I can’t speak enough of the tongue to talk to women anyway, and there is at least a chance that some guy will buy us drinks. Nobody buys us drinks. The only conclusions are that we’re not handsome enough or the Greeks are not as friendly. It has to be the latter.)

I should quickly add something about coffee. Where it not for the drought of drip coffee, I could easily stay in the Mediterranean forever. Alas, to literally order an “iced coffee” — kafe frappe — you are ordering a foamy concoction with Nescafé. To order a Greek coffee (known as a “Turkish coffee” before tensions in the 1960’s) means an espresso-type shot with grounds/mud at the bottom. But, the coffee culture is fantastic — the shops are all populated with middle-aged dudes playing cards, smoking rollies, and shooting the shit. I don’t think I need to describe the abominable state of American coffee culture. Entrenched in their mud, the Greeks resisted American caffeine imperialism. Starbucks tried and failed to conquer the coffee market: there were already too many formulas, and the Greeks insisted on smoking inside.

Pornography, virtual reality and censorship [I]: presidents and feminism

Oculus Rift, recently purchased by Facebook and partnered with Samsung, and HTC Vive, manufactured by HTC with Valve technology, have lead the 2010 wave in developing virtual reality headsets. These technologies, innovative by today’s standards but primitive by science fiction’s, mark the beginning of a differently structured society. They also mark a starting point for a new debate about privacy, the social affects of videogames, and especially censorship in media.

Virtual reality (in its not-too-distant actuality) offers an opportunity to behave outside of social norms in an environment that is phenomenologically the real world. The only comparable experience for humankind thus far is lucid dreaming, for which the rewards are less intense and the journey less traversible than the quick promises of virtual reality machines. One inevitable development for these machines is violent, sexually explicit experiences, available for cheap and accessible 24/7. To see how VR might be received, the closest industries to analyze are the videogame and pornography industries.

Interestingly, pornography has a very liberal history, in comparison to other “societal ills,” like drugs. Erotica dates back to ancient cultures — notably, the Kama Sutra, hardcore by today’s standards, is still a staple of contemporary sexual experimentation — and today’s perversions were common themes: bestiality, pedophilia, etc., although pornography with an emphasis on violence might be a more modern trend. This isn’t to ignore, however, the roles typically played by women in ancient Western folklore and mythology, which are degrading by today’s feminist standards.

The case could be made that today’s censorial views on pornography come from a far more malevolent or oppressive stance toward women than two millennia ago. The free expression that pornographic media once enjoyed was severely deflated over the 20th century. Only two years ago, a plethora of activities were banned from pornography in the United Kingdom. Reacting to the legislation, commentators were quick to criticize what was seen as policy that was specifically anti-female pleasure. Female ejaculation, fisting, face-sitting, and many forms of spanking or role-play were among the restrictions. There are puritanical, “moral outrage” elements to the restriction, but many noticed the absurdity of banning face-sitting: said one producer, “Why ban face-sitting? What’s so dangerous about it? … Its power is symbolic: woman on top, unattainable.” (There has been well-intended censorship as well. Los Angeles county passed Measure B in 2012 to require condom use during any pornographic scene with anal or vaginal contact, to combat the spread of venereal disease.)

Nowadays, there are plenty of porn directors that have learned to focus on both male and female pleasure, and reintroduced artistic merit to their directions. With the equalizing force gaining momentum in porn, it’s curious what the vehement, persistent condemnation springs from, when not focused exclusively on abusive sex scenes. In addition, the negative effects of pornography’s presence in society are still being debated. Just the other day, a study which led to headlines like “Porn doubles the risk of divorce” and “porn signifies a death knell for marriage” was criticized by Reason magazine for failing to address important underlying factors that more plausibly contribute to both pornography consumption and an unhappy marriage leading to divorce. There seems to be an obsession on behalf of the great majority of the public in assigning pornography to some sort of social harm.

Research on photographic pornography’s effect on society began early and aggressively. The Meese Report (1986), commissioned by Reagan and still frequently cited by anti-pornography advocates, determined pornography to be detrimental to society and family relations, and especially for women and children. Arguments built on similar reports attempt to connect sexually explicit material with rapes and domestic violence, alleging that the desensitization to rough sex carries over from the depictional world into the real one. Henry E. Hudson, the Chairman of the Meese Commission, alleged that pornography “appears to impact adversely on the family concept and its value to society.” The Meese Report, however, has been challenged extensively for bias, and is not taken seriously as a body of research any longer. One criticism by writer Pat Califia, concluding a traditionalist narrative embedded in the research, states that the report “holds out the hope that by using draconian measures against pornography we can turn America into a rerun of Leave It to Beaver.

The United States’ Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, preceding the Meese Report and commissioned by Lyndon B. Johnson and Nixon, was unable to find evidence of any direct harm caused by pornography. (Although Nixon, despite the evidence under his administration, believed porn corrupted civilization.) It is curious that a new federal study was requested only sixteen years after the first extensive one, but maybe not too unusual given the growth of porn with technology (from adult stores and newsstands to unlimited free online access; the internet just celebrated its quarter-centennial birthday); also not too unusual given the absurd and expensive studies already undertaken by the federal government. It is also worth pointing out that pornography, though often connected to feminism, is a divisive issue within 20th century and contemporary feminism: some thinkers, like Andrea Dworkin, condemned it as intrinsically anti-women; others feminists like Ellen Willis argued for pornography as liberating and its suppression as moral authoritarianism. The debate along lines of sexuality, online or otherwise, culminated in the feminist “sex wars,” with groups like Feminists Against Censorship and Women Against Pornography popping up. Thus, the debate is open across every ideological camp, and support of pornography is neither necessarily liberal nor necessarily feminist.

[In the next post, I discuss violent pornography’s cross-media transformation into videogames, more sociological research and the general point, and insecurity, of prohibitory measures.]

How to value international law as a classical liberal

I live in the ‘City of International Peace and Justice’ according to the city marketing of the municipality of The Hague. There is some truth in it, as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and temporary courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia are all located within the city limits. Yet the supposed relation between peace and justice is of course non-sensical. These international legal institutions may sometimes foster individual and sometimes even county-level justice, yet they have nothing to do with peace. History shows that punishing one war criminal does not prevent others to commit crimes against humanity, and settling a border dispute between two countries does not external effects elsewhere.

This is no surprise to classical liberals, as it confirms to their view on human nature, where emotions ultimately master rationality. This ensures international conflict and war are and will always be a feature in world politics. The most relevant question in international relations is not ‘how can we get rid of international violence and create a peaceful world’, but ‘how can we deal with the inevitable conflict that will be present?’. Perpetual peace is not attainable, perpetual war the norm, although luckily not of all people against all, all of the time. The value of international law is that it is one of the instruments that may channel or once in a while even prevent international conflict.

From a classical liberal perspective, international law is an expression of the common norms in the society of states, although without ultimate arbiter. Like law in domestic politics, international law must be restricted to the protection of the individual natural rights. And as in domestic politics, this has not been the case. International law has also exploded, while in many instances international law takes precedence in domestic legal order, which makes it even more important to limit its expansion.

For example, already Mises and Hayek objected to the explosion of positive international law, including the related establishment of international governmental organizations that occurred from the late nineteenth century onward. For classical liberals most international organizations, often created by governments of non-liberal persuasion, are attempts at constructivism at the international level. Mises and Hayek were also among the first to warn against the extended number of tasks of the League of Nations and both rejected the way the United Nations was set up. Hayek in particular warned against the inclusion of social and economic rights in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and was very critical of the International Labor Organization.

Consequently, classical liberals should favor the abolition of international governmental organizations with tasks that extend beyond the principles of the limited state, spontaneous order, and the protection of individual natural rights. This is not a call for isolationism as there is also common sense in some international state cooperation and sometimes even a need for an international bureaucracy. I propose as a rule of thumb: if there is no need for state interference domestically, there is no need for international state action either. The exceptions are some tasks that follow specifically from international circumstances. Without going into details, this principle may, for example, lead to classical liberal support for aforementioned International Criminal Court and the special UN war tribunals, as the best way to punish people who infringed natural rights. But it may also call for the abolition of organizations that interfere with free markets and capitalism, such as the World Bank, the ILO, and the International Monetary Fund.

In short: some international law is beneficial, but most constitutes unwanted international constructivism.

Hume and Humboldt

Divergent dichotomies are not unusual to be found in Hayek’s writings. Besides the essay “Two Types of Mind”, we have his 1945 lecture “Individualism: True and False” on the difference between the British Enlightenment and the Continental Rationalism. Grounded in Edmund Burke’s Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Hayek traces the origin of true individualism to Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke himself. The XIX Century adds Lord Acton and Alexis de Tocqueville to the list. On the other hand, Hayek states that Jean Jacques Rousseau exemplifies the Rationalist individualism, which postulates isolated and self-contained individuals –whereas, for the former, the individual is determined by his existence in society. The “true variant” of individualism is the notion of “subject” of Hume’s philosophy: the outcome of repetitions, expectancies and habits. Finally, Hayek concludes his lecture with the censure to the German type of individualism, rooted in Wolfgang v. Goethe and Wilhelm v. Humboldt: the individualism expressed in the original development of the personality and defended in J. S. Mill’s On Liberty.

Notwithstanding in this 1945 lecture Hayek claims that this German individualism of self-development has nothing to do with what he regards as true individualism and it is “an obstacle to the smooth working of an individualistic system,” much later, in Law, Legislation, and Liberty, he will restate his opinion on Wilhelm v. Humboldt’s legacy.

This reconsideration of the value of liberty as the development of the unique and particular character of an individual will be acknowledge not only regarding legal theory but as well in his 1976 proposal of denationalization of currency. In his late writings, Hayek will endorse the development of the originality of character as an important trait for the competition to work as a discovery process.

The key to understand his shift onto this new type of individualism is closely related to Hayek’s involvement into the ideas of cultural evolution. The “true individualism” was important to state how a society can achieve certain order. The “Humboldt’s individualism” is needed to explain the dynamic of the evolution of that order. Hume’s notion of subject is related to the ideas of integration and convergence, to how an order may emerge. Humboldt’s ideal of self-development of the unique and original character of each individual implies differentiation and divergence. These two traits are the key to the adaptation to the changes in the environment that defines the notion of blind evolution. A social and political system that assures the development of differences has keen aptitudes to survive to the changes in its environment. At the level of the “true individualism”, individuals are made of institutions, repetitions and expectancies. But at the level “Humboldt´s individualism”, successful institutions are made of differences, divergent series of facts and adaptation.

(Originally published in http://www.fgmsosavalle.blogspot.com)

A Warm Welcome Please

Ladies and germs, allow me to introduce Federico G.M. Sosa Valle:

Sosa Valle (follow him on Twitter) is an attorney and lecturer in law at the University of Buenos Aires. He has a Master in Economics and Political Science from ESEADE, and has published research in the areas of law, political economy and the history of ideas.

Sosa Valle is a practicing lawyer in the public sector and in the field of commercial law. In 2008 and 2009 he joined with the office of the Board Secretary of the Friedrich A. von Hayek Foundation, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently, he is the Co-Founder and President of the “David Hume Institute Foundation” in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I came across his work totally randomly. I was searching online for some work on Argentine economic development during the 20th century and came across Federico’s work on Hayek. His blog on Hayekian thought started out with “Notes On…” so I knew right away I was dealing with a genius.

His first two posts can be found here and here.

Thanks Federico, for your willingness to join this internationalist-oriented challenge.

The Tyranny of Darth Obama

Commentary by LA Repucci

 November 14th, Washington DC

President Obama spoke from the White House this morning regarding a proposed ‘fix’ to his failed health care policy in an effort to edify his fellow democrats through the next election cycle.

After publicly promising the American people that they could keep their insurance plans 30 times, the president has received flack due to the fact that millions are losing their insurance policies due to the Affordable Healthcare Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.

In his address this morning, the president announced a ‘delay’ of the portions of the law to enable insurers to re-instate individual policies purchased on the “old individual market” to avoid losing their coverage…presumably, for another year.  Obama offered no details or legal explanation as to how this radical change in the law of the land would be implemented.

Okay — let’s suspend the fact that our Constitution very clearly states the government is prohibited from compelling the people to purchase a product or service.  Let’s pretend that the government, having betrayed this constitutional provision time and again (Social Security comes to mind), may simply call a compulsion to purchase a ‘tax’ as chief justice Roberts ruled regarding the health insurance mandate, circumvent one of the clearest directives of the US Constitution, and may compel the people to purchase a product or service. Even with this egregious transgression of the sovereignty of the people as a given, the State seems unable to obey its own new laws these days.  The federal government has been exposed time and again in the last few months (and decades) as the primary and frequent transgressor of our laws – the confirmed reports of illegal mass warrant-less surveillance are only the latest example of complete disregard for and perversion of the law to come from this administration.

There is a single mechanism by which our federal government transgresses the will of the people; one over-arching distortion of sanity by which the administration, law-makers and courts continue to exploit (at accelerating pace) and abridge the will of the people.  President Obama is merely the culmination of this singular corruption of constitutionality that transforms our nation from the rule of law toward the rule of tyrants.  As a student of constitutional law, Mr. Obama must know precisely what he is doing. Even if he didn’t, ignorance would not save his neck from the block that is the US constitution.

The truth is this:  all three branches of the federal government disregard the rule of law.  They are all traitors to the republic, and as such, should be tried, convicted, and sentenced for high treason.

How can a president (and constitutional scholar) mandate the people’s purchase of a product in clear violation of our supreme law, then claim the power to arbitrarily change his own law simply by decree?  The answer is two-fold.  First, a legitimate president cannot – a tyrant can and will do anything they please.  Second; as a tyrant by definition does not respect law in any case, once abridged, law may be changed without the legislative process or will of the governed, by decree.

Obamacare is unconstitutional – the state-appointed high-priests of the Supreme Court aren’t required to understand that simple point.  As an unconstitutional law issued by the fiat of a tyrant, supported by a false legislative process of ‘democracy’, it should be taken as given that law will now be dictated from the executive office out of hand, as the now impotent legislative and judicial bodies meekly question ‘can the president make law by decree? Law, by definition, is the littoral antipode of decree.

Dictation is the province of dictators – those who would destroy the rule of law and institute the rule of decree.  Ayn Rand prophesied this exact eventuality for American politics in her opus Atlas Shrugged, within the pages of characters decry ‘pragmatic, relative flexibility’ to be superior to principle.  When the state abandons duty to the law of the people, then it is the duty of the people to abandon the state.  A state that represents not the interest of the people, is anathema to the rule of law. According to Rand’s prophecy, this perversion of the very concept of law will accelerate dramatically as more ad-hoc tyrannical declarations are needed to patch the tower of babel created by the abomination that is the rule of man.  If Rand is right, this will all get much more absurd and destructive before it gets any better.

Obama’s decree this morning illustrates the now obvious point that the Affordable Health Care Act is HIS law, and not the law of the people.  The people change laws through the legislative process and the ballot — a tyrant changes his laws by decree.

Gravity is a law.  It needs no paper legislation, no judicial review, no vote of democratic tyranny to ‘be’ a law. It is a natural force acting upon reality whether people consent to it or not.  Markets are the same – they are a natural law.  They exist whether or not they are acknowledged by the state — and will continue to exist so long as there is a society within which to emerge and operate.  ‘Regulating’ an economy or market is akin to regulating gravity.  Paper law — Obama’s law, is not law at all. In fact, it is now specifically the opposite of law – it is the whim and decree of a despotic megalomaniac — it is Canute ordering the tides back.  Let’s all hope this tyrant drowns quickly so that our nation may once again be ruled by the laws of the natural universe, and the US government may return to performing its sole legitimate function – safeguarding the liberty of the people against tyrants like Obama.

Image

Our President minored in bong rips, honoring his predecessors’ commitment to cocaine and drunk driving.

I am considering sending Mr. Obama a copy of Bastiat’s “The Law” – apparently, this foundational primer, along with Locke and Jefferson aren’t required reading in the Columbia University constitutional law curriculum.  Is it intellectually honest to assume that the nations’ chief executive is ignorant of the school of thought that is the genesis of our nations’ supreme law?  Likely not – either Mr. Obama is ignorant of the very nature and definition of law itself, or he is openly perverting its’ mechanisms in an effort to destroy the liberty of the people and supremacy of the Constitution.  Darth Sidious, evidently, trained another apprentice after the death of Vader.

Oh Jedi, where art thou?

 

Disgusted and Furious,

LA Repucci