I'm going to link this article by Jonah Goldberg, because it's interesting, and then I'm going to proceed to talk about something almost entirely different, but also interesting.
One of my biggest pet peeves is that people learn great ideas of American political philosophy in the abstract and then fail to see how they relate to real life. They even fail to see what the opposite of that idea is, or possible alternatives and why America uses the one it does.
For instance, almost anyone (especially an elementary school student) could tell you that for a large chunk of the colonial period, the policy of Britain toward the colonies was Salutary Neglect. They'd probably even be able to tell you that Salutary Neglect means Britain left the colonies pretty much alone, and because of the lack of interference, the colonies prospered. Then ask that same person why the American federal government doesn't currently follow a policy of salutary neglect toward the economy. In my experience, there are only two possible reactions to this question: a blank stare, or the sudden "how come I never thought of that before?" of a budding libertarian.
Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. But what about those who know history, but fail to notice that it's connected to current events?
Virginia Postrel points out with regard to the Enron mess that only future favors count. Enron had helped Bush a lot in the past with campaign contributions, but it couldn't help him much in the future. A bankrupt company can't donate much, and Bush already has the support of a huge majority of Texans. But just watch Bush pour out the political favors on states he thinks can help him get reelected!
Reader Ed Bush points out that, contrary to my post on January 21, I should now be overwhelmed by people linking in from InstaPundit, who quite unexpectedly quoted me yesterday. And so I am. Distressingly, this is all happening at a time when I'm quite busy and unable to post as much as I'd like.
Even more curiously, this site was highlighted by a surprisingly popular purveyor of pornography two days ago. I'm certainly not as ... ahem ... plastic as the women he usually highlights, nor have I tried to lure viewers here Natalija Radic style (no, I haven't seen the picture). Even Dawson has ignored me since he first called me "wonderful," sight unseen.
But what I said before still holds. Popularity is secondary to having fun. I don't want this site to provide an ego boost through the number of people reading it. I want it to provide me with a place to say what I think and to practice political writing. It's doing that quite well, whether it's read by 10 people or 200.
In any case, thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy your stay.
More calls for gun laws in the wake of a local multiple-murder. This time, they're talking about mental health and gun ownership:
"We're not talking about precluding someone from owning firearms because at some point in their past they suffered a bout of depression," [State Rep. T.J. Rooney] said. "I just think that something that might be beyond the norm should be taken into account."
What is "beyond the norm" here? Now, I agree that it's probably a bad idea to have paranoid and delusional people running around with guns. But the crime they're trying to prevent was committed by a man who had no problems more severe than depression.
Next thing you know, it will be illegal to own a gun if you took Ritalin in your childhood.
I'm not a lawyer, so I may be misunderstanding something here, but this reasoning seems circular to be. Can it be that it's logically impossible for a citizen to commit treason, because the act of committing treason makes you a non-citizen? It sounds to me like this is a presumption of guilt. The government should have to prove that you committed treason before stripping your citizenship from you. Otherwise the government could just pick any random person, accuse them of treason, remove their citizenship, and they would have no rights left against anything else the government wanted to do to them.
A New Record! And concrete evidence that people take the things I say seriously! Yesterday Quare hit a new record low: only 10 page views all day! That's the least traffic I've had since December 29, which was before anyone had noticed my site.
This proves that if I tell people not to read my site, they won't. I wonder if my influence works in the other direction as well.
First of all, the Bowling Alone idea isn't particularly new. Alexis de Tocqueville talked about the same thing in Democracy in America two hundred years ago. America's prosperity and smooth political functioning, he said, would make it safe for citizens to retreat into small groups of family and friends. They would avoid national and even local politics, pay less attention to their communities, and focus only on the little world around themselves. He coined a new word to describe this phenomenon: individualism.
This is all true. Americans like to be left alone. We don't want the government, or our neighbors, interfering in our private affairs, and we're pretty willing to leave other people alone in return. But most people fail to notice that lying hidden under that desire for privacy is an impulse to help others when they truly need it.
September 11 proved this surprising fact. New York City, known for its callous rudeness, suddenly became the most charitable, caring, friendly place in America. The rest of the country, too, immediately put aside its shell of isolation as people reached out to one another in the face of tragedy.
I think this is the strength of America. We know when to come together and when to stay apart. An excess of civic feeling leads to a loss of personal freedom, as governments try to "make things better" for everyone. The American attitude is "I'll leave you alone until you need me," and we know exactly when that is.
If you're going to claim to be using pure logic, you'd better make sure you consider all the options. Derbyshire asserts that there are only four possible states of gun ownership in a society:
1. Everybody has a gun.
2. Nobody has a gun.
3. Criminals have guns but law-abiding people don't.
4. Law-abiding people have guns but criminals don't.
He then claims to support option 1, which would amount to mandatory gun ownership for all citizens, including convicted felons, the mentally retarded, pacifists, and children. He doesn't seem to notice this.
He probably intends to promote option 5, not listed, which is: Many adults have guns, and everyone without a major criminal record is allowed to own one if they wish. But he neglected to consider that option, along with these other possible states of gun ownership in a society:
6. Only blondes may own guns.
7. All people who own cats must also own guns.
8. People who were born in an odd-numbered year may own guns.
9. Gun owners will be randomly selected from the local population on the first Tuesday of each month.
Novak outlines an important difference between the liberal and conservative views toward charity and compassion. But he fails to note that conservative compassion, which focuses on making people self-sufficient, is more difficult to see and understand. To practice it well, you need a good understanding of economics, psychology and the way various institutions function in society. It's much easier to simply throw money at people than it is to figure out how to make them self-sufficient. And on first glance, liberal charity looks a lot nicer than conservative methods. There's not just a difference of attitude, there's also a difference of understanding.
Varadarajan has a good point here. Statues are symbolic. The photograph of the three firemen raising an American flag amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center became iconic for its symbolic value, not for its factual representation alone. Since the important thing in a monument is to express meaning through symbols, why not alter the statue slightly to express that sentiment better?
Since the suggested alterations to the statue have to do with race, we should think about the racial significance of the terrorist attacks on September 11. What were people thinking with regard to race on the day of the attacks and directly afterwards?
There's a revolutionary answer here: people were not thinking about race at all. There was not a single firefighter who turned away from a black victim in order to help a white victim first. There was not a single firefighter who consciously rationed his time to all races equally. There was not a single black kid anywhere in America who looked up to the firefighters, who were mostly white, and didn't think he could be a hero himself someday. America was, for a short period of time, colorblind. After hundreds of years of fighting with slavery, segregation, and hidden prejudice, suddenly all races were seen as equal because race was not seen as important.
Now several months have passed since the attacks and we have more leisure to notice unimportant details like the color of a person's skin. Now we have to specifically make a point of the fact that race doesn't matter, rather than simply treating race as unimportant. And the fact of making a point of it is what makes it matter. The Fire Department of New York is trying to commemorate a moment in American history when race really did not matter. It was a moment when it wasn't important that three American heroes were all white, just as it wouldn't have mattered if the group was multiracial. Every American could look at those men and see heroes, without thinking about their race.
But in immortalizing this moment, the Fire Department is making race an issue again. By giving each race its own hero to look up to, the symbolism of the statue drives us apart instead of tying us together. By bringing race back into our consciousness when we think of September 11, the statue is already destroying our memories of that time of togetherness. You cannot honor a feeling by portraying its opposite.
I discovered this excellent column about Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens in the New York Observer through Arts and Letters Daily. Ron Rosenbaum discusses the ways in which these two have shaped our thought about September 11 and the Afghan War, challenging the frameworks of both right and left. There's far too much here for me to summarize. Go read it.
The bodyists strike again. A court in Massachusetts has ruled that children conceived and born after their genetic father's death have a right to inherit his money. Widows, it seems, can now have additional babies after their husband's death in order to piss of their in-laws.
But it gets even worse. Not only are the children entitled to their father's money, they are also entitled to taxpayer money in the form of Social Security benefits. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I thought Social Security was intended to keep widows and children from falling into poverty after the death of their breadwinner. It's not meant to support children from birth through the rest of their lives. And yet now it can be used as an incentive to bring the children of dead people into the world. This is just sick.
This is a mixed bag, and I'm sure I can't address everything in it, but I'm going to try anyway. The main point of the article is that since the federal government is no longer being proactive and is actually deregulating in some areas, state governments are jumping in to fill the void.
First off, as a libertarian, I'd prefer they just left the void there. We don't need the extensive environmental regulations, product safety regulations, business practice regulations and other things the federal government is no longer enacting. Having individual states set up those regulations instead of the federal government is either almost as bad (because the regulations are still there but no longer universal) or a bit worse (because businesses now have to contend with different regulations in each state instead of one blanket standard).
Then again, having different laws and regulations in each state sets up a kind of pseudo-competition. States that have different regulations can look at each other and see who is doing better. The effects of regulations can be seen better because there are other places that don't have those regulations. Theoretically, citizens in Massachusetts would eventually complain that they want to be free to do XYZ like the people in Arizona.
Still, to yet again begin a paragraph with a position-reversing word, much of the supposed state-activism mentioned in the article consists of states lobbying the federal government to keep or reenact regulations. Just what we need: governments lobbying other governments to make their jobs easier.
So, to conclude without any actual conclusion, this could go somewhere, or nowhere, or back where we came from. I'll keep watching and let you know when I don't come up with anything.
I don't think this is as new and different as the writer of the article thinks, but it's still interesting. He forgets to consider half the issue, though.
If the observed behavior of people doesn't follow the patterns you would expect through rational choice calculations, there are two possible explanations. Either people are irrational (a theory covered extensively in this article) or there is something wrong with your calculation (a theory which could just as easily explain the facts in this article).
The economic question is why people save less than the optimal amount for retirement. The psychological question is why people do not contribute more money to retirement savings even when they think they should. The proposed answer in the article is that people are irrational and greedy, and need to be manipulated.
Another answer is that the future is uncertain. You could die before using any of your retirement savings, thus missing out on all the comforts you could have purchased with the money you locked away in savings. Or you could inherit a large sum of money, making your present sacrifice pointless. Or your children could grow rich and offer to support you in your old age. The present, on the other hand, is certain. Your current needs and desires are present right now. A certain present desire gets more weight in a rational choice calculation than an uncertain future desire.
The Save More Tomorrow option discussed in the article is an excellent idea. It keeps your present desires from expanding as they do when there is more money to play with. Such a plan is a rational response to a known psychological fact. No irrational and greedy person would ever agree to it.
This is rare news! The government is scandal-free and functioning according to law. Congress and the media, flabergasted by this turn of events, are hard at work looking for a scandal to prove their assumptions.
Representative Henry Waxman of The People's State of California has redefined the word "scandal". A good government, according to Waxman, would have ignored laws and propriety in order to save the poor, innocent employees and shareholders of Enron from their sad fate. What has this guy been smoking?
Jacob Sullum advises us to Just Say No to police searches without a warrant. But he's right - it can be very intimidating.
It might be reasonable to forbid police from asking for searches in a manner such that to deny the search, a person would have to answer in the affirmative. For instance, if a police officer asks you, "Do you mind if I take a look around your house?" you would have to answer, "Yes, actually, I do mind." That's a lot more psychologically difficult than a question like "May I take a look around your house?" to which you can simply answer, "No."
I'm not the only one worried about blogs and money. Natalie Solent talks today about payment schemes, and quotes Joanne Jacobs on unpaid blogging versus for-profit activities.
Quare is and will remain free. There will be no soliciting of tips. This is my hobby. I love it, I learn from it, and I get more from writing it than anyone ever could from reading it. If any of that changes, I'll quit.
Yesterday I spoke about moderate Islamic theology and why it might be banned in dictatorial Arab regimes. I realized last night that moderate theology probably seems extremely radical within the context of the type of religion practiced in those nations. There was a time not so long ago in Europe when asserting that every word in the Bible is not literally true would be considered not only blasphemy, but also lunacy. Perhaps something similar is going on in Islam now.
A friend of mine also pointed out that when a nation's government and its religious hierarchy are closely integrated, a challenge to one is a challenge to both. Even if government and religion are separate entities, a smart government might realize that if people are allowed to question the authority of religion, they might think to question authority in other realms as well.
It's important to remember, as Reynolds notes near the end of his column, that bloggers aren't getting paid for this. Updating frequently takes a lot of time, and even the most devoted hobbyist can get worn out. Most of the popular blogs out there started no earlier than last October. Three months is not enough time to predict who will remain popular. I've been involved in time-consuming Internet projects before, for which I was a volunteer, and I know from experience that popularity levels rise and fall in a flash on the Internet. Competitors arise looking strong, then fade away into nothingness before you can blink an eye. I wonder how the blogging community will react to the first member who resigns citing other time commitments or Internet addiction. I wonder how it will react to the first popular blogger who disappears from the Internet without a trace.
It's also important to remember that Blogger, the program most of us rely upon for publishing and hosting capabilities, is in grave danger of collapsing under its own weight. Even as I type this, I am unable to publish because of a new "rolling blackouts" system that has been implemented to cope with high posting rates. Glenn Reynolds will surely go on if Blogger fails, and Virginia Postrel, and anyone with money or good programming skills. But many voices will be lost without the free services. I certainly don't have the money to pay for hosting or a domain name, nor do I think I have the skills or the time necessary to switch to a different publishing system.
I think it's too early to talk about the Blog Revolution. It may just turn out to be a short-lived Blog Fad.
Is Khaled Abou El Fadl one of those unlikely leaders? His own life story seems to prove the cliche that a little education is dangerous, but a lot of education can bring about good.
I'm not really clear on why Arab nations consider moderate ideas to be dangerous. Is it because of their political content? Ideas of democracy and the rule of law could bring about the end of many oppressive Arab regimes. But moderate theology? Does anyone know?
These rumors of underground publishing of reformist texts are excellent news. Tomorrow, the French Revolution.
William Saffire weighs in with a personal statement that relates to the reallignment question. "As a libertarian conservative Republican contrarian iconoclast, I'll take the best I can get from Bush policies and holler for more." Doesn't sound to me like everyone's rallying around Bush.
The Wall Street Journal makes sense of the Larry Summers / Cornel West fight. Two issues to watch: First, can a real-world president bring some sense to a modern university. And second, will this idea of diversity without affirmative action get off the ground? One can hope.
New ideas come from unlikely places. People with established ideas rarely change those ideas, even after a major crisis, and even if those ideas have been proved false. It is, of course, important for Muslim leaders to be open to new ideas. But it's more likely that reform will come from unknowns who have long kept silent. There is always a struggle before it is safe to speak.
Not unexpected, but still depressing. The notes of responsible government in the northern provinces are encouraging, though. I think Afghanistan has a chance to be more than just another third world kleptocracy, especially because of all the international attention focused there.
InstaPundit talks today of a loser pays system for criminal prosecutions. If the government charges an innocent person with a crime, that person could end up financially ruined through court costs by the time he is proven innocent. What if the government had to pay the court costs of anyone who was found to be innocent?
This would be an excellent idea if the government functioned like a private company. When the cost of being wrong is too high, the level of certainty needed to make it worthwhile to bring a case to court would be higher. Thus, presumably, fewer innocent people would be prosecuted.
But the government does not work like a private company. It operates as if it has infinite money, which is almost true. The paying of court costs for innocent defendants would be barely noticeable, especially to the federal government. In the end, it would become just another social welfare scheme, a mandatory "public insurance" against being charged with a crime. Instead of financially ruining the one person being prosecuted, it would take a small bite out of each taxpayer's wallet.
The same thing could be accomplished privately, with something like malpractice insurance. Individuals could buy insurance that would cover their legal expenses if they were ever prosecuted and found innocent. Probably the reason this kind of insurance doesn't exist is that the risk of being wrongfully charged with a crime is so incredibly small. I don't know any actual statistics, but it does seem like a rather rare phenomenon.
Yet another article on what's happening to the Republican party and the conservative movement in general. I've previously noted what Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg had to say on the subject. I find this version less appealing than either of those.
This piece divides conservatives into National Greatness conservatives and Leave Us Alone conservatives. Libertarians are not mentioned, but they are probably intended to be a subset of Leave Us Alone conservatives. It argues that George W. Bush has united these two kinds of conservatives, including the goals of both in his policies. This may actually be true for people who affiliate themselves with the Republican party, but I think it leaves the real libertarians out of the picture.
A quote from this article scared me enough to send chills up and down my spine. John Coatsworth, a professor of Latin American Studies at Harvard, says of the President of Harvard, "I think no leader of a major American cultural institution can afford to have his commitment to diversity in question."
This looks dangerously close to an assumption that people are racist until proved innocent. Is an uncertain commitment to diversity akin to an uncertain commitment to democracy and the American way of life? If you're not an ardent defender of diversity, are you unfit to be on a university's staff, in the way that dissenters from the Anglican church were once denied such positions in England? Ideological litmus tests, anyone?
While reading this, it occurred to me that the poll numbers during this war are an excellent example of popular support for a government fulfilling its legitimate role. Government is supposed to protect the lives and the rights of its citizens. When the government is focused on doing just that, an overwhelming majority of the people support the government. On the other hand, when the government is trying to coin new rights, support some citizens and the expense of others, inject religion into the public sphere, limit freedom, or any of the other things governments tend to do in peacetime, poll numbers fall as the government turns one citizen against another.
The government just shouldn't interfere in most things. A good rule of thumb for determining what the government should do is that a huge majority of citizens, not just 51%, agree that it should be done and agree on how it should be done. It's not enough to say that 90% of Americans believe every child should have health care, because nobody will ever reach agreement on the details. It is enough to say that 90% of Americans approve of the war in Afghanistan as it is currently being handled.
Now, that's not meant to disregard the differences of opinion about the way the war is being run. I'm sure that many of the people who support the war would have done some things differently if they'd been in charge. But there is tremendous agreement about the goal (ending terrorism), the means (military action) and the monetary support. And the fact that this agreement exists is a good sign that it's a legitimate task of the government, which acts in the name of all its citizens whether they agree or disagree with that action.
Bias alert: The second sentence of this article reveals the belief that everything should be regulated. "Educators are confused about how this growing practice should be regulated," not whether it should be regulated. The whole point of teaching your children at home is to be free of government's ideas of what your children should be taught and what methods should be used. The fact that some states send educational spies to make sure home-schooled kids are learning the right things makes me sick.
Mary and Andrea Brown should be free to decide whether it's necessary to learn evolution or not. When public funds and government compulsion are not involved, religious teaching is perfectly acceptable. People who don't learn evolution might be at a disadvantage in life, true, but the same could be said for people who don't learn poetry. I never learned poetry in my public school education, and I seem to be living a pretty happy life without it. (Poems which may have been published earlier today notwithstanding.)
Helena, Montana's experiment with part-time public schooling has also singlehandedly disproved the argument that if education was not compulsory, no one would do it. The feared exodus of regular students to part-time education has not occurred. People value education. Parents would not withdraw their children from schools if it suddenly became legal to do so. Indeed, parents often sacrifice a great deal to ensure a good education for their children. A good education ... something the government has never provided.
This article raises many interesting points, but I'm going to talk about one that's just sort of floating above the text. My question: Where are all the non-libertarian bloggers? There must be some out there, don't you think? Socialists, greens, conservatives, moderates ... where are they hiding? Yet the major bloggers discussed in this article are Glenn Reynolds, Virginia Postrel, and Andrew Sullivan - and no ideological leanings are mentioned.
Go to any libertarian blog and you'll see a list of 5-20 blogs the author reads. These are all taken from the same meta-list of perhaps 30 libertarian bloggers. InstaPundit, QuasiPundit, PseudoPundit, UltraPundit, MetaPundit, NeoPundit - where are the links to the outside world?
An alert reader suggested last night that my praise for Pervez Amir Ali Hoodbhoy yesterday was overdone. He was right. I overlooked the scary socialist messages near the end of the article because the beginning was so correct and important.
The two things any society needs in order to be free and successful are a commitment to reason and an understanding that there is no "ultimate truth" that should be imposed on everyone. Hoodbhoy firmly upholds these two principles in his article. He characterizes the golden age of Islam as one committed to reason, and he attributes the downfall of the Muslim world to a renewed mysticism and an abandonment of scientific inquiry.
He says, furthermore, that there is no "true Islam." Muslims practice their religion in many different ways and hold many different beliefs, and that is okay. Just as Christians have many sects and yet are at peace with one another, members different Islamic sects should respect each other. Before this idea was spread in Christian Europe, there were endless religious wars between Calvinists, Catholics, Anti-Trinitarians, and other competing sects. Now, no Presbyterian would ever think to murder a Methodist for holding to a different interpretation of some scriptural passages.
I'm willing to make the radical claim that these two elements are sufficient for the formation of a liberal society. They can, however, be easily corrupted to other purposes, as is shown in the rest of Hoodbhoy's article.
His solution to the problems of the Muslim world is the spread of secular nationalism. He fails to mention that Saddam Hussein's dictatorship is the biggest example of secular nationalism in the Muslim world, nor does he explain how other nations might avoid Iraq's fate.
In addition, he looks down on capitalism, blaming "western imperialism" for sending budding Muslim nations back into the dark ages in the late 20th century. He discusses the "national interest" and "social justice" which secular governments were unable to fulfill because of pressure from western nations.
One might say that the European-style socialism Hoodbhoy is advocating is at least better than the Islamic theocracy many nations now have. Indeed, I think it probably would be better. I'd certainly rather live in Norway than in pre-war Afghanistan, even given the fact that Norway's summer temperatures seem like the middle of winter to me! But such a position is not worthy of the glowing endorsement I gave the article yesterday.
There is an interesting question in all of this. We are talking about people who take seriously the idea of calculating the speed of heaven or capturing genies for a source of energy. Is it best to teach them ideas of reason from any source, even if that source includes false conclusions? Or are such people more likely to catch hold of the easier, less fundamental ideas, the flawed socialism, without understanding the background that is truly important? I almost want to reach for John Stuart Mill and conclude that a "childish" society cannot handle democracy. Education is the key. But how?
It is completely absurd to say that the Taliban at least brought order and security to Afghanistan. The fact that all the criminals are organized into one group and called "government" does not mean that there is no crime.
The Taliban brought to Afghanistan order in that no woman ever dared show her face. They brought security in that a citizen could at any time be accused of blasphemy and stoned to death. They brought safety in that the price for theft (execution or mutilation) was higher than the expected benefit (a couple loaves of bread).
Yes, bring peace and safety to Afghanistan. But don't say you bring their return.