The Libertarian Standard http://libertarianstandard.com Property - Prosperity - Peace Sat, 05 Apr 2014 18:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace libertarianism, anarchism, capitalism, free markets, liberty, private property, rights, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, antiwar, freedom The Libertarian Standard http://libertarianstandard.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://libertarianstandard.com TV-G Against the Libertarian Cold War http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/26/against-the-libertarian-cold-war/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/26/against-the-libertarian-cold-war/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:54:17 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13428 A controversy has arisen in the libertarian movement over the proper approach to the events concerning Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea. Like many such controversies, it has quickly polarized almost everyone, and has served as a proxy for long-standing factionalism within the movement. People quickly accuse each other of supporting Putin’s aggression or backing violent U.S. intervention. I myself have been accused of both kissing up to the Russian regime and dishing out State Department propaganda. This doesn’t itself show I have the right balance in my position, only that this feud has galvanized libertarians and hardened their rhetorical loyalties.

We might learn something from looking back at the 20th century. During the Cold War, most western critics of state power erred too far in one direction or the other. There were some whose opposition to U.S. wars led them to soften their assessment of communist aggression. Free-market and leftist lovers of peace both made this mistake. At the same time, many who favored economic and political liberty often let their anti-communism translate into support for American militarism and the security state. This confusion pervaded Americans across the spectrum.

We can all see this now: Yes, some antiwar Americans were obscenely soft on the communists. Well-meaning but foolish westerners said nice things about Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—and many of a more moderate tinge had no perspective of just how much worse international communism was than the U.S. system, at least as it concerned domestic affairs. Meanwhile, many libertarians and almost all conservatives ditched their supposed attachment to skepticism of government power and signed onto the U.S. Cold War effort. This American project included dozens of coups and interventions, the instruction of foreign secret police in unspeakable torture techniques, murderous carpet bombings that killed hundreds of thousands of peasants, and wars that indirectly brought about the Khmer Rouge and the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, both of which also became directly funded in the name of anti-communism.

It is easy to look back and see how westerners were wrong on both the Cold War and communist states—each of which killed millions of people and nearly brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

The stakes were so much higher then than in anything going on with Russia now. Imprecision in one’s moral assessment—either in defense of Nixon or Tito—was far more condemnable than criticizing Putin or Obama too harshly. The errors of almost all the great 20th century libertarians, free marketers, and peaceniks far exceeded any errors some might have today in their appraisal of NATO or Russia and Ukraine. And yet we forgive many people on both sides of that Cold War division. No one today actually thinks Hayek was a neocon or Rothbard a pinko.

Today’s polarization is all the more frustrating given that the bulk of American libertarians seem to agree on two major points: (1) the U.S. should not intervene in Eastern Europe and (2) Putin’s various power grabs are indefensible. Thus, most libertarians are not truly as divided as well-meaning Americans were in the Cold War.

Now, one’s emphasis is important. Not all acts of aggression are equal. But before addressing that, it’s useful to try to actually understand the splits in the movement right now.

I easily identify four factions, not two: (A) There are people who outright defend Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Crimea, and who otherwise downplay his autocratic tendencies; (B) There are those who agree that Putin is worth condemning, but who think it’s more important to emphasize the evils of U.S. interventionism; (C) There are those who agree that U.S. intervention is unwise and maybe even unethical, but who think it’s most important right now to emphasize Putin’s despotism; (D) There are those who outright favor U.S. and western intervention to stop Putin.

The polarization of discussion has led to A and B teaming up against C and D. It has also led to people in the B camp pretending like “no one” on their side is actually defending Putin, while people in the C camp are pretending “no one” on their side is actually calling for war or major U.S. interventions.

A principled opponent of state power is tempted to say that in fact B and C are on one side, despite differences in emphasis, and A and D are two extremes flirting with nationalist statism. This is my position, although I will say that I have friends—good friends—who flirt with being in camp A as well as in camp D. It happens. And to make the point again, during the Cold War, any libertarian activist would have probably had some friends who advocated nuclear strikes against the USSR, and others who supported Soviet control of the Eastern Bloc. Both of these positions would have been completely immoral and disgusting—far worse than anything said by anyone in Camp A or Camp D today. Yet today’s Cold War replay is leading people to defriend each other in the name of Manichean struggle. The tendency of people to break ties with others over this will only increase the polarization and erode mutual understanding.

On the other hand, camps A and D are at least being outright in their positions, while B and C are letting themselves get dragged into a flame war against each other when they both agree on both Putin’s and America’s actions. Both B and C are being disingenuous about some of their allies in the attempt to seem reasonable and principled and to say the other side is the only one that’s unbalanced.

In both cases, the problem appears to be nationalism—a desire to defend Putin’s actions as consistent with Russian, rather than individualist, concerns; or a desire to see American intervention as being more defensible than Russian aggression because, well, at least it’s American, and we have better, more liberal values at home. Both tendencies are in fact very illiberal, as are the attempts to collectively attack people on the “other side” of this debate when for all you know some of them agree with you on all the fundamentals more than some of the people “on your side” do.

The arguments over Russia have brought the Cold War back to the movement. They have fractured those primarily committed to anti-interventionism and those primarily concerned with liberty for all worldwide, when in fact these values are two sides of the same coin. The primary libertarian reason to oppose U.S. wars, of course, is that they kill foreigners, that they divide people into tribes based on nationality, that they are acts of nationalist aggression.

Discursively, refighting the Cold War within libertarianism will only harden people’s hearts, polarize their loyalties, and ultimately compromise their principles and clarity of thought. I plead young libertarians to refuse to be a proxy belligerent in this Cold War when for the most part it’s probably not really about Russia or Crimea at all; it’s about major factions within the movement with more fundamental disagreements using this as an opportunity to fight. If you actually seek to understand everyone’s positions, you’ll be surprised how heterogeneous attitudes are, despite the attempt to turn this current affairs disagreement into a grander sectarian dispute.

So what should we think? We should probably take a middle ground between B and C. Putin isn’t just an aggressor; he’s one of the worst on the planet. He killed tens of thousands of Chechens. He oversees one of the most vast prison populations on earth. He is essentially a late-communist holdover of the party variety in everything but name, and his violations of civil liberties, free speech, and the dignity of homosexuals and others are not minor matters for any libertarian who cares about the rights of all people on earth. His invasion of Ukraine was unjustified. His annexation of Crimea cannot be defended and although some critics have exaggerated the evils of this territorial power grabs by comparing them to Stalin’s or Hitler’s expansionism, it is true that Putin’s defenders’ arguments based on ethnic nationalism could indeed be used to justify the most infamous European land grabs that occurred that same decade.

As for the United States, its foreign policy is a lot worse than Putin’s biggest detractors wish to acknowledge. While Putin has killed more people than Obama, he does not appear to have killed more people as Bush—and yes, it is a moral failure and deviation from libertarianism to downplay the Iraq war as anything less than one of the very worst international atrocities of our new century, and one that dramatically taints the moral character of U.S. diplomacy. What the last few U.S. administrations have done will haunt much of the world for decades. And the aggression has hardly ceased. Obama’s drone killings are one of the most infamous human rights violations on the planet, the drug war imposed on Mexico has taken tens of thousands of lives, and America’s own civil liberties record is far worse than some on Team America wish to confront. There are tens of millions of people much worse off throughout the world because of recent U.S. diplomacy and wars, and only a cold utilitarian would even attempt to justify this record.

I understand why some libertarians are inclined to emphasize one point or the other. Those Americans focusing on U.S. criminality are right that we have more influence, albeit marginally so, on the government that lords over us, that if we don’t stand up to the U.S. war machine and its covert ops, no one will, and that criticism of foreign aggression often fuels war propaganda at home. But others are frustrated that just because the U.S. government condemns Russian aggression, they’re supposed to keep quiet. “My country is the world,” as Tom Paine said, and libertarians around the world should condemn aggression anywhere it happens. Pretending the U.S. government is the world’s only major problem is naïve at best. The first group is often right that liberal states are more belligerent in foreign affairs, and the second group is often right that it’s easy for people here to forget about victims of foreign oppression. Such dynamics played themselves out in the Cold War, too, and both sides had a point. It would have been demoralizing to be berated for attacking either U.S. or Soviet aggression in those times.

It is hard to maintain the right level of nuance and principle. I think John Glaser and the Jesse Walker blog entry he links to are good models of principled libertarian commentary. And I agree with plenty of points being made on multiple sides of the various controversies. Those who wish to purge either Ron Paul’s followers or the Student for Liberty internationalists over this are ignoring the points of agreement as well as the odious errors on their own side, and maybe even their own errors, and are blowing things out of proportion.

Did I myself get the balance perfectly right? Perhaps not. The right balance would have been even harder during the Cold War, and yet it would have mattered much more then. So please, everyone, take a step back. It’s fun as hell to get in faction fights. Sectarian squabbles are the force that gives us meaning. But you’ll find yourself drained and with fewer friends in the end. Don’t pretend your fellow libertarians are themselves worse than Russian nationalists or the Pentagon. It’s not true in either case. Our unifying enemy should be the same: aggression, whether it is ordered from Moscow or Washington DC.

Whenever anyone strays from this balance, it’s good to bring up what they’re missing. Then you’ll see who your true allies are, who the trolls are, and who is simply using this as a battle to refight old clashes in the movement. You’ll also find out what people’s actual position is, and that might help inform your own.

 

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The Anarchism of Milk and Cereal http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/24/the-anarchism-of-milk-and-cereal/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/24/the-anarchism-of-milk-and-cereal/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 16:14:35 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13407 capncrunch-12p.blocks_desktop_large

Julie Eva Borowski has done it again with a solid video on the issue of libertarian in-flighting. The caricature has me saying something wonderful about the decision to pour milk in my cereal. “Beautiful anarchy!”

Well, it’s not entirely absurd. The decision to pour milk or not to pour milk is an illustration of human volition that is embodied in all our decisions. There is no police present at the moment of choice. There is no plan in place that makes us pour or not to pour. Even if there were a plan, it is likely to be ignored. It would be destined to fail.

Actually, as I think about it, there is something of a plan. According to the government, cereal is only part of a “nutritious breakfast.” You know, the pictures on the ads. There is a big glass of orange juice, a piece of toast with butter, probably another glass of milk, and probably a half slice of grapefruit. It’s absurd. I’ve never seen anyone eat all that on a regular basis with cereal. On the contrary, we shake the box in the bowl and eat. We are defying the plan, even that urged on us by manufacturers.

So yes, there is a core of anarchism in the decision to pour and eat.

And it doesn’t just stop with the pouring and eating. The anarchist dimension of production is illustrated in the very existence of milk and cereal.

Humankind lived 6,000 without a reliable source for milk. Milk spoils. It must be transported before that happens. Before trains and refrigeration, you were pretty much out of luck, unless you owned a goat or cow, or someone close by did. We underestimate what a seminal moment it was in the history of civilization for milk to be delivered to your doorstep back in the 1930s and 1940s. It was wonderful practice and culturally significant commercial institution, displaced only with the mass spread of electric refrigeration in the 1950s. If you think about it, we are only a few generations into a period in which people could reliably keep things cold in all months of the year. Milk was and is a luxury good.

There was no plan. There was no government push. It happened because of private enterprise operating in the spirit of freedom: “people need stuff so let’s get it to them.”

Now to the source of milk itself. It comes from cows. Modern socialists hate cows because they seem implausibly inefficient. They eat vast amounts of grain and grass, take up huge swaths of land that could be used for farming, and otherwise consume an enormous amount of resources. To keep one alive just to milk is a big expense, one requiring the accumulation of capital and long-term planning.

Think of this: no central planner, a person who assumes that he or she knows better than the market, would ever approve of a cow. On the face of it, there would be no way to know for sure, in absence of market prices and a profit-and-loss system, that a cow should be allowed to live.

Now to the cereal question. The variety and brands have delighted generations. No one person can make a box of cereal. It takes thousands, with ingredients that can come from all over the world. But there is an additional point here worth considering. Many brands have been around for decades and generations. They persist and persist. It is point of unity between us: we’ve all had Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Sugar/Honey Smacks, Cap’n Crunch.

I was in the car the other day with some people I had not met and we were all fishing around for topics. Finally I brought up cereal, and the whole scene came to life. We talked and talked about the changes in Crunchberries, the shifts over the years in Lucky Charms, the yuckiness of puffed wheat, and much more. It was pure delight.

So within the cereal industry, we have authentic tradition at work. That’s an interesting observation about a market institution. Markets are said to be in constant upheaval and thereby always in a war against tradition. This is not actually the case. Cereal is a persistent tradition, even down to the original brand names. It has been done without any plans from government, any preservation boards and bureaus, or even hectoring traditionalists warning us against abandoning the permanent things.

We can therefore see how anarchism isn’t really about unrelenting unpredictability. Within cereal markets, we can see that anarchist-like production can preserve valuable traditions insofar as consumers — the real power behind the market — want it to be this way.

What the milk and cereal market needs is more anarchism, not less. Raw milk should be completely legal here as most everywhere else in the world. People should be allowed more choice. It is the same with the regulations and taxes that make entry into the cereal market more expensive than it ought to be. Let there be more brands, more producers, ever more choice.

And yet, let’s return to Julie’s original example of the decision to pour milk. In the end, it is ours and ours alone. There is no force of the state that can successfully enforce a single choice in this area. States aren’t that powerful and they never will be.

So, yes, let us eat cereal, pour milk, and consider the great lessons of this event. It really does illustrate a beautiful anarchy.

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privcheck http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/24/privcheck/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/24/privcheck/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 11:17:22 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13399 Check Your Privilege

In a recent Freeman article, “Check Your Context,” columnist Sarah Skwire brought my attention to a popular meme on the political left, both online and off: “Check your privilege.”

At its gentlest, this is advice to raise our awareness of those aspects of our personal histories that may lead to complacent assumptions about how the world works, assumptions that may limit the scope of our moral imaginations.

When it is less gentle (which is often), it is a dismissal of the opinions of anyone who is insufficiently poor, or, more likely, insufficiently left-wing. [Read the rest of the article.]

freemancheckyourhistory

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What Explains the Brutalism Uproar? http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/18/what-explains-the-brutalism-uproar/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/03/18/what-explains-the-brutalism-uproar/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:35:47 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13386 Trellick Tower iconic sixties new brutalist architecture

“Best article I’ve read in decades.”

That’s the message I received from so many people when my article “Against Libertarian Brutalism” first appeared.

A day later, I started to receive a different message.

“This article is evil and you are evil for having written it.”

Actually, the critics didn’t quite say that in those words. Mostly the language of the article’s detractors is unprintable. If I had any doubts that my piece was necessary, the reactions, some of them give new meaning to the phrase “violent prose,” removed them all. In fact, many people said that they had no idea that brutalism was a big problem until they saw the egregious responses to my piece. Thus did the persistent and non-relevant question regarding against whom this article was written answer itself.

There was another reaction that I found amusing. It came down to: heck yeah brutalism! This reaction mostly stems from the coolness factor of the word. I can only assume that the people who said this didn’t really read the piece and hadn’t entirely understood just how precise, authentic, distorted, and fundamentally awful the brutalist worldview really is.

In general, I find the debate and frenzy to be great. A writer aspires to write a piece that achieves that.

Still, I’m still not entirely sure why the article excited such controversy. What worried me at first is that I had actually underestimated the influence of the brutalist perspective. But as I think about it, and look carefully at the opposition, it really does come down to about half a dozen people. They felt accused, from which I can only conclude that my description of the brutalist mind was more evocative than I knew.

This article began as a private study, a memo to myself, a reminder of why we are in the liberty business. We’ve all felt that need to tell the hard truth. Assert the raw and unadorned core repeatedly and dogmatically. React with righteous anger and fury, even without elaboration, to the point of being downright offensive. There is a role for this. Injustice in our midst — and there is so much of it — cries out for it.

I wouldn’t call this brutalist. I would call this righteous passion, and it is what we should feel when we look at ugly and immoral things like war, the prison state, mass surveillance, routine violations of people’s rights. The question is whether this style of argument defines us or whether we can go beyond it, not only to lash out in reaction — to dwell only in raw oppositional emotion — but also to see a broad and positive alternative.

What is the right balance? How can we cling to and rally around fundamental rights, even when the conclusions are discomforting, and, at the same time, maintain a broadness of mind to see the larger goal and dream of liberty itself?

I came to be intrigued at the analogy between a deeply distorted, but still interesting, school of architecture and certain trends and intellectual tendencies you see in the libertarian world.

It fascinates me because there are often parallels between the world of art and the world of political ideology. This was better understood in 19th century European politics, when political parties tended to rally around certain composers: in Germany, for example, whether you preferred Brahms to Wagner told you something about a person’s view of German territorial disputes.

In the case of brutalist architecture, a school of thought that lived for 20 years after 1950, we had an edgy ideology at work, one based on a truth gone mad. That truth is that a building serves a function. It exists mainly to serve that function. The brutalists believed that everything beyond that function is a distraction, an invasion, a corruption. A building should not be art. It is not marketing, it is not for human delight. It must only tell one truth and never elaborate on that one truth. Of course this view represents not only an attack on modernity but all of history. It is affected in the extreme. Even the caves had art.

That brutalist tendency can exist within politics too. You see it in every election season. Forget all subtlety, all reservation, all mental questioning: just vote for X because that will cause all wrongs to be righted. In this way politics is brutalist.

But as I read about brutalism, I couldn’t help but wonder if this tendency is alive in the libertarian world I know so well. This is why Ludwig von Mises addressed this problem at length in his 1927 book Liberalism. He was emphatic that the foundation of liberalism is private property. But he doesn’t stop there. With that comes peace, tolerance, prosperity, and the flourishing of the common good. These are foundational ideals. He says that liberalism is the only ideology that can consistently and correctly state that it is not a party, a faction, a special interest, a narrow concern, or a private bias. It genuinely believes in the whole: liberalism speaks to the destiny of humankind..

This is the spirit I sought to evoke in this piece. I recall when I first read this book, how it inspired me. Yes, it sought to defend the rights of people to do nonviolent but still ghastly things. That’s important. More than that, however, this book conjured up for me a vision of global order ruled by no one but participated in by everyone. The book has haunted me in so many ways. It was the last statement of the old liberal worldview, a glimpse of a vision that once was but could be again. It’s big, high minded, beautiful.

What if the theme of liberty becomes the slogan of sectors of life that are fundamentally anti-social? That is part of the price of liberty itself. Liberty can deal with it. But what if we take it one step further and the intellectuals who defend liberty become exclusively celebratory of such elements? What if the racists, sexists, and anti-semites become heroes in their minds because, for whatever is wrong with their view of the world, they are defying what they see as the prevailing regime? What if libertarianism becomes the great gloss to cover up the hidden desire to achieve personal power, malevolent longings, antisocial urges, and authoritarian ends? I view this as a distortion and a problem, one against which we need to steel ourselves.

The most persistent response to my piece was the demand to know about whom in particular the article was written. Of course my piece did not name names because no one fully embodies brutalism. The real point was to draw attention to a tendency or archetype that keeps rearing its head. It has done so in my own writings variously through the years — as if I had woken up on the wrong side of the bed. None of us is immune. This is the whole point of demons and ideals: not to describe perfect exemplars but to urge everyone to avoid the pitfalls and long for the best that is in our hearts.

We all need reminders of why we are in the business of studying and promoting the ideas of liberty. It is not really about hating the state, even if that is something we must do. It is not really about celebrating the rights of malevolent forces in our midst, even though they deserve a defense. Hate is not the theme. (When Murray Rothbard used to say that “hate is my muse,” he was being facetious; that man loved liberty like life itself.)

The reason to believe in liberty is actually benevolent, humble, and rooted in love: we believe in the possibilities of humanity. No state — forever freezing the world in place, presuming to know the unknowable, brutally suppressing dissent, regimenting behavior and ideas, robbing and murdering to realize its goals at the expense of society — can unleash the creative and service-oriented possibilities of the human mind. On the contrary, states, like all expression of power in society, cut off and destroy what society tries to create and self-correct.

The brutalist mind samples that of the state. It believes in its infallibility, separates the world into those who comply and those who do not, admits no error, sees no coloration, opposes all elaboration and emendation, rules through intimidation, tolerates no diversity, recoils from intellectual struggle, stamps out all uncertainty, opposes innovation, never admits error. You see this in the buildings that brutalist styling produced, and you see this in the ideological world too. You feel it when you wince at what they produce.

We need liberty for civilization to emerge, to be sustained, to improve. There is absolutely nothing brutalist about that goal. On the contrary, the longing for liberty is rooted in our most wonderful dreams for ourselves and everyone.

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Yes, We Have No Bananas http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/02/24/yes-we-have-no-bananas/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/02/24/yes-we-have-no-bananas/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 12:28:29 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13372 YesWeHaveNoBananasIn a recent post on my personal blog (“Is mediocrity intelligent?”), I talked about the importance of a diversity of strategies — even apparently “wrong” ones — to the long-term survival of a species. The corollary of course is that overinvestment in any single strategy can be catastrophic.

We see this issue at play in modern agribusiness.

As Popular Science informs us,

The 1923 musical hit “Yes! We Have No Bananas” is said to have been written after songwriters Frank Silver and Irving Cohn were denied in an attempt to purchase their favorite fruit by a syntactically colorful, out-of-stock neighborhood grocer.

It seems that an early infestation of Panama disease was already causing shortages in 1923. But the out-of-stock bananas in question were not the Cavendish variety we all eat today; they were Gros Michel (“Big Mike”) bananas, and they were all that American banana lovers ate until the 1950s, when the disease finally finished them off.

I would love to know what a Gros Michel banana tastes like. I’m a big fan of bananas and eat them every day. (Actually, I drink them, blended into smoothies.) But the reason I only know the taste of Cavendish — and the reason you do too, unless you’re old enough to have had some Gros Michel mixed into your pablum — is that Cavendish bananas are resistant to the strain of disease that wiped out our original bananas. We have to assume that the Plan B bananas we now enjoy are only second best as far as flavor goes. They may not even be first best at survival, because the banana industry is searching for a Plan C banana to take the place of the Cavendish once the inevitable crop disease sends it the way of the Gros Michel — something that they predict will happen in the next decade or two. (See Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel.)

Why are bananas so vulnerable to these blights? Why aren’t agricultural scientists worried about our other favorite fruits — apples, for example?

Because there are many different types of apples. I’m dizzied by the variety at our local produce warehouse.

But not only is there just the one type of banana at the green grocers and in supermarkets; each banana you’ve probably every eaten is a clone of every other banana you’ve eaten. One genetic pattern manifested billions of times over, across millions of households in the past half century. And each Gros Michel was a clone of every other one, too. That’s because bananas reproduce asexually (as do potatoes, another food that’s especially vulnerable to disease — remember the Irish potato famine?).

Cavendish DNA is different enough from Gros Michel DNA that the disease that targeted the one species was no threat to the other. But any infection that can kill one Cavendish plant can wipe out the worldwide supply.

There are many reasons food activists attack Big Agribusiness — some good, some bad, and some wacky. One criticism that seems eminently reasonable to me is a concern that Big Agra puts all its billions of eggs in one giant basket.

Once upon a time, genetic diversity in farm products was built into how farming took place. Farmers farmed local land with local genetic strains of plants and animals. Chickens may have come from Asia, and Europe never saw a tomato until the Spanish brought some back from the New World, but even as trade began to go global several centuries ago, the limits of transportation and technology meant that gene pools could be local and diverse in a way that is much harder in our era of global overnight shipping and transnational corporate bureaucracies.

If an infestation wipes out the Golden Delicious, I can eat Fugi apples instead. But if the Cavendish disappears tomorrow, there isn’t yet a different banana to take its place.

CalvinPlanB

In “Is mediocrity intelligent?” I wrote about the time my professor presented to the “artificial life” department at Bell Labs. In the context of a communications-research lab, artificial life was about using the lessons of biology, ecology, and evolution to make telephone networks more robust.

You may think that agriculture is more “natural” than phone switches and fiberoptics, but farming often short-circuits nature’s mechanisms to suit our short-term goals. One of the main such strategies of nature is diversity. And as I tried to illustrate, in that post, with the concept of the genetic deme (an isolated and seemingly inferior gene pool within a species), diversity means that what looks like an inferior strategy today could turn out to be the salvation of the species tomorrow.

As Larry Reed wrote recently in the Freeman,

Statists those who prefer force-based political action over spontaneous, peaceful, and voluntary initiatives — excel at distilling their views into slogans. (“A Slogan Worth Your Bumper?”)

But what I find revealing is the contradictions at play in the juxtaposition of different bumper stickers on the same car. (And when you see a whole bunch of bumper stickers on the same car, odds are you’re driving behind a left-wing statist.)

CelebrateDiversity

Last weekend, at a red light, I was behind a minivan that brandished three bumper stickers:

One said, “Women for Obama.”

If that wasn’t enough to declare the driver’s politics, the next bumper sticker made the claim that strong public schools create strong communities.

The last bumper stick advised us in rainbow colors to “Celebrate Diversity!”

(Pop quiz: Are bumper stickers #2 and #3 in accord or at odds?)

Now, it’s a standard complaint against leftists that they talk diversity while pushing ideological conformity. Political correctness, and all that.

But to me the greater irony is that the Left consistently pushes centralization. Eat local, buy local, but decide everything in Washington DC.

I know that there are left-wing decentralists, and perhaps they genuinely do see the important parallels between genetic diversity and political federalism, between local communities and local authority. But I keep thinking of a story Tom Woods tells of his attending a decentralist conference back in the 1990s, where he happily discovered like-minded activists from both Left and Right. But to the apparent delight of the left-wing so-called decentralists, the highlight of the event was the keynote speaker: Vice President Al Gore.

BananaBookNo, in my experience, the vast majority of people with Buy Local bumper stickers, as with the Celebrate Diversity crowd, are also often, e.g., Women for Obama — that is to say, champions of ever-more-centralized authority. I’m confident that the driver in front of me at the intersection saw no irony in celebrating diversity while advocating strong public schools — and an even stronger central government.

But in the biosphere, where diversity rules, order is spontaneous. That spontaneous order is both the cause of and the result from overwhelming diversity. There are no central strategies in evolution, only in the human world, and only in recent human history. Evolution gave the natural world hundreds of varieties of banana. The United Fruit Company (hardly a free-market firm, by the way) gave us only one.

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FreeSpeechMe: The Anti-Censorship Anti-Hijacking Free Software Dot-Bit Plug-in http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/02/18/freespeechme-the-anti-censorship-anti-hijacking-free-software-dot-bit-plug-in/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/02/18/freespeechme-the-anti-censorship-anti-hijacking-free-software-dot-bit-plug-in/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 18:20:00 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=13333 Lots of interesting developments in the liberty space of late, such as Bitcoin, and other projects like General GovernanceBlueseed, the Honduran Free Cities project, and Jeff Tucker’s imminent Liberty.me (I’m involved in GG and the latter).

An exciting new project I learned about recently is FreeSpeechMe (mirror), a project by libertarian Michael Dean and others.

This is a project to spread and improve Dot-Bit (.bit), “a new top-level domain that, unlike Dot-Com, Dot-Net, Dot-UK, etc., is NOT controlled by any government or corporation.” It only costs about 7 cents to register, using Namecoin (a derivative of BitCoin). To access a .bit domain, a browser plug-in can be used. This was discussed in detail in an discussion by Dean on the Ed and Ethan show the other day

Check out their IndieGoGo campaign; video is below. I just donated half a bitcoin to it.

More information including press release, video, program, and source code: http://www.freespeechme.org/ (mirror).

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Libertarian Fiction Authors Association and Short Story Contest http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/02/07/libertarian-fiction-authors-association-and-short-story-contest/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/02/07/libertarian-fiction-authors-association-and-short-story-contest/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 17:55:11 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12879 Libertarian Fiction Authors Association

It’s been a long time since I blogged on The Libertarian Standard. I’ve been busy with other projects, one of which is the subject of this post. I recently launched, in November 2013, the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association.

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading fiction but have a difficult time finding stories that truly reflect your values and interests. This discovery problem affects everyone, but is particularly acute for niche markets like ours. There are individuals and organizations (including Amazon) attempting to solve the problem for authors and readers in general, but no one was really catering to libertarians specifically.

How many libertarians out there have published fiction? How many more are aspiring authors, who are either writing their first novel or are thinking about it but need some encouragement and guidance? I had no idea, but I was sure there were far more than I knew about personally.

As an activist, I also think that dramatizing our values through fiction is an important way to spread the message of liberty.

As an aspiring fiction author myself, I wanted to form a group made up of fellow libertarian writers who could learn from, encourage, and push each other to accomplish their goals and continually reach for new heights — and, eventually, to get my stories into the hands of new readers.

So I started first an email list, then a full-blown association complete with a professional website, in order to provide

  1. a writing group and mastermind that will both nurture new talent and hone the skills of more seasoned pros,
  2. a platform for libertarian fiction authors to promote their work, and
  3. a central location for readers to find fiction written by libertarian authors.

And already, thanks to the association, in a mere few months, I have discovered many more libertarian authors than I had heard of before.

Basic membership in the association is and always will be free. At a minimum, members get a public member directory listing; their books listed and displayed on the site; a link and image-rich profile page; free promotion; and access to a private email list and social network groups.

As our first major promotional endeavor, the association has teamed up with Students for Liberty to hold a libertarian short story contest. The contest is open to everyone, except the judges and SFL staff, and the deadline to submit a story is March 4, 2014. Entrants stand to win up to $300, supporting membership in the association free for a year, and publication. Check out our announcement and the official contest page for more information.

If you’re an avid reader, check out our work and follow us to be updated about new releases and special promotions. If you’re a writer too, join us and enter the short story contest.

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Batman vs James Bond http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/28/batman-vs-james-bond/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/28/batman-vs-james-bond/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 12:20:42 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12867 BatmanVsJamesBondIn recent months, my wife and I have been catching up on the Daniel Craig trilogy of 007 movies, and I’ve been watching Batman cartoons with my seven-year-old son. So my thoughts have been full of action heroes — particularly the Dark Knight and Her Majesty’s secret servant.

I remember my father complaining about both characters and contrasting them to the lone-hero tradition of hardboiled detectives and their fictional forebears, the cowboys.

G.I. vs Private Eye

In fact, my father’s point to my preteen self was a continuation of a point he made to me when I was about my son’s age. I’d just gotten a set of “Undercover Agent” accessories for my GI Joe doll (we didn’t call them action figures back then). Gone were the camouflage fatigues and assault rifle; now Joe sported a dark trench coat and a walkie-talkie.

GIJoeUndercoverAgentI said, “Look dad: It’s GI Private Eye!”

My father explained to me that my rhyming name for my new hero was self-contradictory. A GI was an American soldier, an official agent of the US government, whereas a “private eye” was a private individual, a lone hero in the fictional tradition. If dad had been more of a libertarian, he would have said that the military agent is paid by coercively extracted taxes and operates by state privilege, whereas the private detective is an agent of the market, authorized only by private contracts, and liable to the same restrictions as any individual citizen. My father doesn’t talk that way, even now, but he would acknowledge that description as making the same point.

So after GI Private Eye, I grew up with an awareness of the distinction between heroes like James Bond, who was funded and sanctioned by the government, and heroes like Philip Marlowe, who was funded by private clients and sanctioned only by his personal code of conduct.

Astin-Martin vs the Batmobile

Now, a few years later, my father was making a different but related point about James Bond, this time inspired by my love of another toy: my Corgi Astin-Martin DB5, James Bond’s super spy car from the movie Goldfinger. “Look dad, isn’t this car cool?”

1964_Corgi_Aston_Martin_DB5Ever philosophical, my father saw the car as symbolic, not only of that state-agent/private-individual divide he’d addressed a few years earlier with my GI Joe, but also of a divide in heroic literature. James Bond worked for the queen, he explained, in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was a knight for the monarch, and this tricked out vehicle from MI6′s Q Branch was the 1960s adventure-fantasy equivalent of the nobleman’s armor and mount.

I believe he felt the same about the Batmobile, but there are several important distinctions, some that put the historical emphasis on the “knight” in the Dark Knight, and some that put the “World’s Greatest Detective” more in league with the private eyes of American detective fiction.

For one thing, the medieval knight was a soldier for the king because he could afford to pay for armor, weapons, and a battle horse. He could afford to head off into battle instead of plowing the fields — and he could afford the time required for training between wars. The king didn’t pay him to be a knight. He paid the king for that honor. As far as we can tell, James Bond isn’t paying out of pocket for all those vodka martinis, and he certainly didn’t commission Q Branch for any of his gadgets. 007′s license to kill makes him a hired gun, even if he does restrict his paid murders to those sanctioned by his government.

Batman, on the other hand, pays his own way.

The Dark Knight of Liberty

Like most of the medieval knights, his wealth originally came from privilege more than trade. The Waynes are old money. Even “stately Wayne Manor” suggests aristocracy, and where Superman’s Metropolis is shiningly new and forward looking, gothic Gotham is old, with deep roots in Europe. Frames of Batman on the rooftops harken back to Quasimodo atop Notre Dame.

But while WayneCorp may well have risen on government contracts, Batman is not on the payroll. Bruce Wayne is spending his own money to fund his war on crime. This may put him in the ranks of the feudal warriors, but it sets him apart from agent 007.

Finally, who are the bad guys?

For Bond, they are the enemies of the state — meaning that they are whoever Her Majesty says they are. In both the books and films, they are invariably evil, so James Bond will look like the good guy when he finally defeats them, but ultimately the double-O agents are weapons: the government aims them at its enemies and pulls the trigger. We know full well from history who ends up in the crosshairs.

Even my favorite fictional private eyes, however independent and heroic they may prove to be, don’t go looking for trouble until a client hires them to do so.

But for Batman, the enemy is crime — not mere violators of legislation and statute law, not people who manufacture without regulation, trade without license, or copy digital patterns in violation of copyright. A true comic-book fanboy could probably dig through back issues and show us the exception, but I can’t recall Batman ever even picking on drug users.

For Batman, as for libertarians, a crime isn’t a crime without a victim. And it is the victims Batman is fighting for; they are proxies for the parents he was too young and scared to rescue from the back-alley gunman. In the versions of the backstory that I prefer, Batman can never avenge his parents’ deaths, so even the target of his vengeance is a proxy: not a human criminal but crime itself. And by “crime,” I mean rights violations, violence against person and property.

The Dark Knight may be on a perpetual quest, but it is not for a king; it is for the people.

[postscript]

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On Libertarian Factionalism, Our Critics, Conservative Associations and State Power http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/27/on-libertarian-factionalism-our-critics-conservative-associations-and-state-power/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/27/on-libertarian-factionalism-our-critics-conservative-associations-and-state-power/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:59:21 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12858 The generation of libertarians seen in such outfits as SFL excites and encourages me. I especially approve its efforts to cleanse the movement of the type of bigotry that emerged after years of the libertarian movement’s circumstantial alliance with conservatives to battle against New Deal liberalism. Finally, young libertarians seem poised to differentiate themselves entirely from rightwing mythology and error.

I worry, however, that many of the young libertarians, particularly centered around the DC institutions, might lose sight of the importance of radical anti-statism. This all relates to something I can best explain by way of a little autobiography.

I was always a cosmopolitan libertarian. Although I had my origins on the right, I have favored gay marriage and open borders since I was in junior high in the mid-1990s. I have always disliked the notion that white upper middle class men were somehow the most persecuted minority. I have always seen law enforcement’s treatment of people of color as one of the greatest problems in American culture. I have, with varying degrees of intensity, long been sympathetic to such leftish concerns as feminism and the need for the poorest to be liberated from the state infrastructure that keeps them down.

There are many like me who in the 1990s tended to see our values most represented in institutions like CATO and Reason, and who were suspicious of the seemingly conservative tendencies of other libertarians, such as those associated with Ron Paul.

The main reason so many of us were repelled by these cosmo groups and attracted to the paleos in the following decade was simple: 9/11 and the following response by the government seemed to illustrate that we were wrong to assume that CATO-style libertarians were more “liberal” than the paleos. Cato took years to seriously confront the issue of torture. Whereas many libertarians in the beltway began equivocating on border issues just when they got even more important, the paleos, in contrast, began rethinking their earlier skepticism of immigration in the age of Bush. On the police state, the paleos became abolitionists and radicals just as other libertarians became defenders of the FBI and CIA. In the last decade, it was the Rothbardians that radicalized the movement on police abolition, IP abolition, and military abolition.

The most dangerous form of bigotry in American culture from 2001 on, at least at first, seemed to be Islamophobia, and the Randians and mainstream libertarians went soft just as the state was rounding up innocent people and throwing them in dungeons such as at Guantánamo. Starting in the Bush administration, a CATO scholar started defending the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping and John Stossel publicly defended it on the Colbert Report. Efforts to reach out to liberals during the second Bush term often came from the very cosmo libertarians who were for the Iraq war, and who, for what it’s worth, tended to equivocate on abortion rights and immigration as well.

On what I consider the number one issue of the last decade and a half—war and militarism—the cosmo libertarians dropped the ball, time and again: on torture, on bombing Afghanistan, on the timetable in Iraq, on detention policy, on surveillance, on military recruiters on college campuses, on the warfare state as such.

Everyone realizes finally that the war on terror has become the biggest single threat to our liberty, the method by which the state has finally virtually destroyed privacy altogether, the main engine of government growth, the main fuel of the lawless presidency, the reason we have cops with tanks and battle rifles even in small towns. And directly and indirectly, the most bigoted policies in the last generation have been advanced in the name of a cause that too many libertarians have been at best ambivalent on. The war in Afghanistan today seems obviously horrible to almost everyone, but when it most mattered—when we had a chance to stop the bloodshed and the inevitable cascade of unending conflict and death that bombing and invasion would inaugurate—the whole mainstream libertarian movement was busy rubbing shoulders with the most corrupt Republicans since the Nixon administration.

The Rothbardians, even the socially conservative Rothbardians, were always right about these, some of the very biggest issues of our day. They also opened the door to other forms of radicalism, and, indirectly at least, Ron Paul activism has appeared to vastly radicalized the movement and brought in far more women and minorities. The radical anti-state, war-hating, peace-loving, establishment-condemning message of Rothbardian-Paulianism has, in its own way, made the movement far more cosmopolitan. Indeed, I think the welcome change in libertarian demographics to better represent the general population has many roots in Ron Paul activism.

At the same time, fringe cultural conservatives, in all their reactionary quirkiness, can be found in the “respectable” libertarian factions as well. There are famous race realists who hang out with the think tankers. I’ve seen Christian Reconstructionists tabling at a regional SFL event. The Birchers and Patriot types have as much a grip on libertarian activism in the west as in the South. And of course, the Republican impulses of many factions of the movement—even those enlightened enough to support gay marriage—have long tainted the movement with corporate apologia and, by proxy, rightwing culture warring. Before the NYT attacked libertarians for ties to neoconfederates, the New Yorker attacked us for ties to the Koch Brothers, and you had better believe that progressives will remember that exposé long after they forget about the NYT one.

The New Yorker attack was unfair, and brought on a wave of progressive conspiracy theorizing about how libertarians were allying with Republicans to abolish the state according to the philosophical platform of pacifist Robert LeFevre. My point is, we will always be attacked, our unsavory associations will always be cited but they are rarely necessary, most of our enemies hate libertarianism in its pure form more than they have conservatism, and practically every faction of our movement is vulnerable.

I have become far more ecumenical over the last couple years. I have taken a lesson from my model of a libertarian scholar, Robert Higgs. This ecumenicism might lose me some friends, but I don’t want to have any more enemies among libertarians. I see great value in much of what many of these organizations do, and I think there are very important issues on which my biggest allies over the last decade or so aren’t the most correct.

But I do want the younger libertarians to understand something: the mainstream libertarian organs, as great as they are—and they are great—have also made bad associations and have failed to uphold our values as times. Some of them won’t admit it, but many of them were wrong about what became the most pressing issues of our day.

The truth is not to be found in sectarianism. Please consider that.

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Walter Block Says Legalize Blackmail http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/22/walter-block-says-legalize-blackmail/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2014/01/22/walter-block-says-legalize-blackmail/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 03:34:38 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12842 blackmailI was fortunate enough to get a PDF preview of Walter Block’s new book, Legalize Blackmail, before it was published, and today I was delighted to receive my hardcover copy in the mail.

The book is a collection of  Block’s essays on the subject of blackmail — specifically, why he believes it should be legal as a matter of libertarian principle — including rebuttals of many other scholars’ opinions. It’s the most thorough libertarian treatment of this subject that has ever been published or, I am  confident, ever will be. And because it’s from Block, it’s a great read besides.

As I say in a blurb on the book’s back cover: “If you want to understand the libertarian position on blackmail, read this book. If you’ve taken it for granted that we need laws against blackmail, Walter Block will challenge your assumptions with provocative arguments you’ll find difficult to refute.”

Order it here.

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