Does Michael Moore support the 2nd Amendment?

bowlingforcolumbine-michaelmoore2In the wake of the Baltimore riots and the latest charges of police violence against unarmed suspects, Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore has called for disarming American cops, saying in his Twitter feed, “We have a 1/4 billion 2nd amendment guns in our homes 4 protection. We’ll survive til the right cops r hired.”

Is that an implicit endorsement of private individuals’ right to armed self-defense?

Probably not.

Moore, who became the darling of the gun-control movement in 2002 for the movie Bowling for Columbine, is an outspoken critic of the 2nd Amendment, saying that the Founders themselves would have excluded gun rights from the Constitution if they had known what firearms would become over the next two centuries:

If the Founding Fathers could have looked into a crystal ball and seen AK-47s and Glock semiautomatic pistols … I think they’d want to leave a little note behind and probably tell us, you know, that’s not really what we mean when we say “bear arms.”

It’s tempting, therefore, to dismiss Moore’s April 30th tweets as conscious hyperbole — perhaps confronting law-and-order types with the logic of their own support for gun ownership.

But if you look at the full set of Moore’s tweets on the subject, a consistent libertarian logic is evident:

  1. Government agents currently do more to endanger private citizens than they do to protect us.

  2. That oppression can only continue while the government holds a monopoly on armed violence.

  3. We need to shift the balance of power away from the state and back to the people.

Is that too much to read into one angry Twitter rant?

If Moore’s goal was to outrage the American public, he has certainly succeeded. Pro-police conservatives are jerking their knees at the far-left filmmaker’s provocations. But advocates of liberty can find at least a sliver of common cause with those who see the visible fist of government power in Baltimore and too many other American cities in recent months.

Many libertarians consider the police to be among the few legitimate roles for a night-watchman government; defense and security are necessary to protect the rights of individuals. But there is no question that the government’s most heavily armed agencies have grown well beyond the role of night watchmen, if that was ever really their function. And then there is the proliferation of armed agents to organizations like the Fisheries Office, NASA, the EPA, and the Department of Education.

As the sharing economy chips away at other cartels in our over-regulated economy, we need to accept that the police, too, need competition — and we have the opportunity right now to ally with many on the American left who are beginning to suspect the same thing.

When government agents hold a monopoly on the tools of violence, is it any wonder when they behave like a cartel? Privately owned firearms are part of the decentralized solution to both looting and the police violence that triggers the protests.

By allowing individuals to defend themselves, their homes, their businesses, and their communities from crime and rioting, they need not rely exclusively on police forces that may be ineffective or corrupt. (The famous defense of Koreatown by armed shop owners during the LA riots shows this principle at work.)

If you don’t recognize the right to armed self-defense in principle, you are either dogmatically opposed to private guns, or you think the question is pragmatic and that there is a calculus of trade-offs: which is more dangerous at the moment, armed citizens or a police monopoly?

Michael-Moore-and-the-2nd-AmendmentThere isn’t much say to dogmatists on the matter. But the question of practical trade-offs may resonate with those on the left who currently see the police less as protectors and more as a danger.

Would such an alliance evaporate as soon as our allies perceive themselves to be in power again? Probably. Moore doesn’t see the problem as permanent: “We’ll survive til the right cops r hired.”

But we have the opportunity right now to drive home the point that the government needs more than checks and balances within itself. The people must have the ability to defend themselves independently of the state, and that’s harder to do when the government has all the guns.


This article originally ran on FEE.org’s Anything Peaceful.

1 Cheer for Police Corruption

Last night at Toastmasters, I delivered my most libertarian speech yet.


PoliceBribesLate at night, a tall, handsome cop is chatting up a hooker in New York City. He’s supposed to be patrolling 2nd Avenue, but he prefers to socialize with the streetwalker.

A short man with small spectacles and big teeth steps out of the shadows and tells the patrolman that he is neglecting his duty.

The police officer lifts his baton and threatens his accuser with a beating. The smaller man identifies himself as Theodore Roosevelt, the new commissioner of police, and tells the officer to report to his office the next morning.

There’s something very satisfying about this scene. A bullying cop brought down by a heroic reformer.

In 1895, before he was president, before he charged up San Juan Hill with the Roughriders, Theodore Roosevelt spent a brief spell as a police commissioner, conducting what the city papers called a “Reign of Terror” to root out corruption among New York’s Finest.

What does TR’s crusade teach us about police corruption in our own time? That’s what I’d like to address tonight.

The people of New York did not feel protected by the police. At best they found the cops negligent. At worst the citizens felt threatened by their supposed protectors.

Roosevelt’s early anti-corruption campaign made the city safer — and made him the most popular political figure in New York.

Three cheers for the great reformer, right? Well, I want to reserve one cheer for corruption.

If I were trying to persuade you that puppies are cute, or that love is good, I’m guessing I wouldn’t have a very hard time. But preaching to the choir is boring. Instead I’d like to play Devil’s advocate and argue that widespread corruption among the police is not necessarily a bad thing. It very much depends on which supposed duties the cops are violating.

OVER THERE

Let’s start with an almost absurdly easy case. In Nazi-occupied Europe, the law said it was a policeman’s duty — in fact, it was every citizen’s duty — to report Jews who hadn’t made themselves known to the government. The established wisdom in the West, ever since the Nuremberg Trials, is that “just following orders” isn’t enough to avoid culpability if the orders you were following were themselves morally reprehensible.

We look back on such corrupt party members as Oskar Schindler as heroic.

Has everyone here seen the movie Schindler’s List? A politically connected industrialist and a Nazi spy, Schindler helped 1,200 Jews escape the Holocaust.

We consider Schindler’s lawbreaking to be virtuous, but what about the Nazi officials he paid to let him get away with it? What if they had refused his bribes? Without their corruption, Schindler’s heroism wouldn’t have been possible.

That doesn’t make them heroes. But surely we should prefer their corruption to the duty-bound Nazis who followed the letter of the law and helped send innocent people to the concentration camps.

OVER HERE

Maybe it’s too extreme to invoke the Nazis. Let’s bring it closer to home.

Once upon a time in our own United States, it was the legal duty of a police officer, even a diehard Yankee abolitionist in the slave-free North, to assist Southern slaveowners in the capture of runaway slaves. There were heroic people, black and white, North and South, who risked everything for no immediate reward in order to smuggle escaped slaves into Canada. Again, these people were heroes — but what about the people they bribed? Shouldn’t we prefer the corrupt cops who profited from the Underground Railroad to those who insisted on obeying the law of the land?

HERE AND NOW

I’d like to bring it even closer to home. I have a friend who has cancer. He has an excellent chance of survival with chemotherapy — but the treatment is horrific. He feels like vomiting all the time, and the prescribed anti-nausea pills aren’t working.

Marijuana, however, makes the nausea go away. But medical marijuana isn’t legal in our part of the world. Think about how you felt the last time you were nauseous. For me it was on one of these puddle jumpers that fly in and out of CHO. I kept telling myself, Just hold out a little longer, just a little longer.

Now imagine feeling that way day in and day out, week after week, month after month.

Do we prefer the dutiful narcotics agent to the one who looks the other way, whatever his or her reasons for doing so?

BAD LAWS

I’m not trying to convince you that medical marijuana should be legal. I’m saying that there is some law on the books that you don’t want enforced.

If you doubt me, consider this short list of candidates:

  1. In Alabama, you can be sentenced to three months hard labor for playing cards on a Sunday. (And by the way, interracial marriage was technically illegal in Alabama only 15 years ago!)

  2. Over the mountain, in Waynesboro, there is still a law on the books that says a woman may not drive a car on Main Street unless her husband walks ahead waving a flag to warn other drivers.

  3. And throughout our fair state of Virginia, it is illegal to have sex if you are not married — and if you are married, you may only do it with the lights on, face to face.

Anyone with an ounce of moral sense has to consider some laws to be unjust.

Some laws should themselves be considered criminal.

For me, the distinction is easy: Good laws protect us from crimes — and by crimes I mean someone harming someone else. So-called victimless crimes aren’t really crimes at all.

BACK TO TR

This distinction must have been lost on Theodore Roosevelt. His anti-corruption campaign made him extremely popular with New Yorkers — at first.

Then he began to insist that the police enforce a very old and rarely observed law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday. For working-class people, that was their only day off. TR may have wanted all laws enforced equally, but the people of New York understood that buying a beer on Sunday was no more criminal than having a beer any other day of the week. TR went from being the most popular man in the city to the most reviled, practically overnight. And his campaign against corruption fell apart.

CONCLUSION

I’m certainly not saying that all corruption is good. We are right to be scared of bad cops. But whether or not the corruption is a bad thing depends entirely on whether the law being corrupted is itself a good or an evil.

Thank you, Madame Toastmaster.


For a far more hardcore libertarian treatment of this subject, see Walter Block’s “Defending the Dishonest Cop.”

Are we too dumb for democracy?

TheFreeman-TooDumbForDemocracy

FEATURE

Too Dumb for Democracy?

Global ignorance vs. local knowledge

NOVEMBER 17, 2014 by B.K. MARCUS

Mass ignorance about an increasingly complex world is a fact of life. And yet we’re all supposed to make decisions on matters about which we know little to nothing. It’s called democracy.

(If you enjoy the article, please consider sharing it.)

why libertarians wanted Scotland to secede

Scotts-secedeMy Facebook feed is full of disappointment in Scottish voters’ recent rejection of independence from Great Britain. For a while there, we were all wearing the white and blue Saint Andrew’s cross, at least in spirit. Why do we feel so let down?

Our brief Scottish fever and subsequent despondency over the No vote must have seemed especially puzzling to those who knew the immediate goals of the separatists. As libertarian scholar Robert Higgs writes, “the contest was essentially between the establishment plutocrats, on the one hand, and the welfare drones, on the other. It’s tough to root for the ‘good guys’ when one cannot identify any good dogs in the fight.”

Many libertarians have been fans of secession for a while, so much so that we have become uncomfortably associated with one of modern history’s most illiberal institutions: Southern slavery. If our ideological opponents want to paint us as apologists for the rich and powerful and enemies of the little guy, they don’t need to reach much farther than our retrospective support for the “wrong side” in the American Civil War.

And no matter how many times we defend ourselves by pointing out that the issues of secession and slavery are distinct — and that the War between the States was not fought for emancipation but for taxes, tariffs, and political centralization — we will always be on the losing side of that conflict in the popular imagination.

Scotland offered us a chance to root for the secessionists without rooting for the slavers.

But was it any better to be rooting for the socialists?

One comrade put it to me this way: if the dominant political culture of the Green Mountain State wanted to withdraw from the Union so it could form the People’s Republic of Vermont, should local libertarians side with their socialist neighbors in secession? Do the classical liberal principles of independence and self-determination trump the protection of the Bill of Rights, or might a Vermont libertarian support political centralization in good conscience?

I, for one, would lock elbows with the Green Mountain State reds and march for separation. And I trust that many Vermont libertarians would join me. Because libertarians know the dirty little secret of democracy: who’s in charge and what they believe doesn’t matter nearly as much as the institutions and incentives that will outlive any current administration. We also know that the smallest political units will inflict the least long-term damage.

Our focus on economic education is not just about helping potential voters to understand the damage done by price fixing, protection, and other interventions into the market economy; it’s also about understanding the nature of collective decision making, when and why special interests win out over the general welfare, and how even well-meaning people will usually make things much worse through the coercive mechanisms of government.

What economics has taught us is that the bigger the collective making the decisions, the easier it is for a political class to feed its cronies to everyone else’s detriment. The smaller the polity, the harder it is for an elite to externalize its costs, and the easier it is for the public to be informed on the cause and effect of political policies.

Small nation-states (or even better: city-states) can’t afford to erect significant trade barriers. They can’t afford to impose heavy regulations on local businesses or burdensome restrictions on the freedoms of individuals, because in a small state both businesses and individuals have the power of easy exit. If an independent Scotland had tried to build a giant welfare state, how would they have funded it? What would keep the biggest taxpayers from fleeing the tax-consumers, crossing a nearby border into the welcoming arms of less intrusive political masters?

No matter what political ideology drives an independence movement, real independence for a small political territory requires smaller government to survive. Perhaps the Yes voters were seeking a more generous dole from a new Scottish welfare state, but what economic principles teach us is that the citizens of an independent Scotland would instead have discovered greater prosperity, freedom, and flourishing.

House of Refuge: Fiction for a Future of Freedom

HouseOfRefuge-CoverToday Liberty.me adds Mike DiBaggio’s award-winning novella House of Refuge to the Library.

I was very excited by the opportunity to release a Liberty.me edition of this story, as my editorial preface should make clear:

Editorial Preface by B.K. Marcus

I became a devotee of seasteading — the creation of autonomous communities out at sea — during the summer solstice of 2014, while seated in the Austin Music Hall, surrounded by hipsters half my age.

We were at Voice & Exit, an event, “built around a simple idea: human flourishing.”

The hipsters were waiting, I suspect, for the liberty-minded lectures to end and the arts festival portion of the evening to begin.

I was there to hear about the end of the era of coercion. They were there for collaborative wall painting, group yoga, and the electronic violin of soundscape guru Govinda (né Shane Madden).

Maybe the alien setting made me more receptive to new ideas — or even some not-so-new ones. Seasteading, in particular, was not a new idea for me. Yet something opened me up to the visionary talk given by “aquapeneur” Joe Quirk, director of communications for the Seasteading Institute.

Joe talked about the technological benefits of seasteading and the untapped potential of the oceans for healing the planet and feeding the world. His focus, however, was on the unique opportunity uncolonized waters present for escaping the crippling strictures that land-based monopoly governments impose on both freedom and innovation.

The American Founders saw the future of freedom in the idea of federalism: small governments that would have to compete for citizens, akin to businesses having to compete for customers. It was, after all, such freedom of movement — of “voting with one’s feet” — that had allowed individual liberty to grow, however imperfectly, in late-medieval Europe. The Founders looked to the model of Greek and Italian city-state republics as a way to keep the state (coercive territorial monopoly government) from growing in America the way it had done in the Europe of their recent ancestors.

But federalism among territorial governments requires small political domains. As Sheldon Richman said in a recent session at Liberty.me U, the smaller the jurisdictions, the cheaper it is to vote with your feet.

It’s hard enough to uproot your family and move to the next town or county in the hope of lower taxes and fewer illiberal laws. It’s much harder when the laws and taxes become ever more centralized over ever vaster territories. As the enemies of freedom seek greater international “cooperation” on banking, taxation, and regulation, how do we recover the liberalizing power of exit?

Those of us with a fondness for science fiction — especially written science fiction — may see our salvation in the colonizing of space. While Star Trek has its Federation and Star Wars its Empire, author Robert A. Heinlein (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough for Love) offered a different vision of the future, one in which new pioneers could push new frontiers to keep the option of individual liberty alive. Innovation, Heinlein understood, happens at the outer margins of coercive authority, not in the capital cities or central planets of interstellar governments.

But as Joe Quirk put it that solstice day in Austin, “First the ocean, then outer space.”

However unfamiliar, challenging, and even dangerous the oceans may be for 21st-century pioneers, they are far safer and more familiar than the irradiated vacuum outside our gravity well. And ocean colonization will be cheaper. In fact, it will be profitable. The seasteads will innovate both technology and systems of community, law, and governance. If you don’t like how your current ocean city is being run, just sail on to a more compatible arrangement. You can leave the government without leaving your home.

And knowing the tenuous grasp any floating city will have on its citizens, each government will finally face the appropriate incentives to serve the governed — to provide the legal infrastructure to allow maximum private innovation, the best environment for secure wealth creation, and a civic culture that is respectful of privacy and individual autonomy. Talk about human flourishing!

Why did this vision finally take hold for me that day? I’d heard about seasteading for many years. I read about it soon after Patri Friedman began to evangelize for the idea. So why hadn’t I caught the bug before Voice & Exit? Why am I now fired up by the potential for real human freedom offered by “voting with our paddles,” whereas before, seasteading was just one of the many topics buzzing around the liberty movement?

As I said, it might have been that the culture shock of Voice & Exit had disoriented me to the point where my mind was more open to radically different perspectives. But I’m not quite as excited about biohacking, smart drugs, 3D printing, or other disruptive technologies that were discussed that day.

Maybe Joe Quirk just found the right way to bypass my defenses. He is an effective speaker, and his quiet passion and deadpan delivery probably match my aesthetic better than the energetic enthusiasm of most evangelists.

But I suspect much of the credit goes to the science fiction story you are about to read.

House of Refuge is first and foremost a fast-paced adventure story,” author Mike DiBaggio writes in his special introduction to the Liberty.me edition. “And I think it is fully capable of being enjoyed by those who don’t agree with its anti-war and anti-statist undercurrents, or for those who don’t care to look too deeply for lessons in their literature.”

I first read the ebook last spring, shortly after it won second place in the Students for Liberty/Libertarian Fiction Authors 2014 short fiction contest. After starting to talk with Mike about releasing a special edition to Liberty.me members, I very much had his story on my mind when I rediscovered seasteading in Austin. Had Mike’s fiction been my catalyst?

After the Austin event, my family visited the Houston space center on our way out of Texas. The visitors center exhibit that my eight-year-old son and I were most excited by wasn’t anything from the past, present, or future of NASA. It was Star Trek’s Galileo shuttlecraft, restored by fans and donated to the space center. Surrounded by a well-financed propaganda program to promote government funding for centrally planned space exploration, I found that the high point of my visit was instead this fan-restored TV stage prop from the original 1968 science fiction series.

It may seem inappropriate to include a television prop among the exhibits promoting real science and real exploration, but the connection between science fiction and the early history of NASA is an important one. I’ve heard more than one post-Apollo-era astronaut or NASA scientist say that it was Star Trek that turned their imaginations — and later their studies and careers — toward the stars. In the original Cosmos series, astronomer Carl Sagan had similar things to say about Edgar Rice Burroughs’s sci-fi pulp hero John Carter of Mars.

Science fiction captured hearts and shaped imaginations, making the idea of space exploration more and more mainstream — less and less, well, science fictional.

If a government agency can benefit so significantly from imaginative literature, why can’t the advocates of peace and freedom?

We have to help people imagine alternatives to monopoly government before we can hope for any popular support for those alternatives. Heinlein and other individualist science fiction writers have helped more than one generation of libertarians imagine long-term alternatives, but humanity’s future in space is too remote. Joe Quirk is right to point out that we skipped a step: before we leave the earth, we need to leave the land.

And if seasteading’s radical experiment in thousands of competing governments on myriad ocean cities succeeds, we may yet find the call of outer space less alluring.

Mike DiBaggio’s story of adventure and heroism, set entirely at sea, exemplifies the sort of fiction I think the freedom movement needs much, much more of — a tale that demonstrates the evils of force and the virtues of freedom without ever allowing an ideological agenda to distract the reader from the action and drama.

Enjoy House of Refuge and let me know if you agree. Will it draw you into the blue revolution, as it helped do for me, or is it just a ripping good yarn?

Mike and I are both available to continue the conversation on Liberty.me.

BK Marcus, Chief Bookworm
Tannersville, New York
July 2014

Are seasteaders politically agnostic?

SeasteadingInstituteLogoSince hearing Joe Quirk, director of communications for the Seasteading Institute, speak at Voice & Exit in Austin last June, I have become very excited about the creation of autonomous communities out at sea. I think seasteads may be the future of freedom and innovation, a way to bring greater health and wealth to humanity as a whole, and greater liberty to individuals. Pursuing these goals is, as I see it, the positive agenda of libertarianism.

So is seasteading fundamentally libertarian?

The folks over at the Seasteading Institute say no. They claim that the institute and the movement are politically agnostic.

The Seasteading Book itself (perpetually in beta, it seems) has this to say:

While the authors have a libertarian viewpoint, we want to stress that seasteading is politically agnostic. We’re attempting to describe (and create) an enabling technology for small-scale sovereignty. This will give many different groups the autonomy to experiment with their theories. We find it very satisfying to be empowering all minority political groups, not just advancing our own vision.

And in this “Floating Cities” video, Joe Quirk says,

Seasteaders are agnostic about what political systems are going to work in the future. Our goal is to create a Silicon Valley of the sea, where lots of seasteads — hopefully thousands some day — compete to attract residents. And the best social systems attract the best people…. Why not give your political opponents a chance to try out their ideas on a seastead? You can laugh at the fiascoes, and you can learn something if something surprising works. We think the inevitable result will be that solutions will emerge that are not part of what we argue about now…. I would love to see a socialist seastead trying out its ideas. I would love to see an anarcho-capitalist seastead trying out its ideas. I’d like to see political systems I’ve never heard of and don’t understand trying out their ideas. I’d like to see them attracting different types of people, different kinds of ideologues to different seasteads…. And hopefully we’ll create a diversity of political systems suitable to different kinds of people with different kinds of values, and in this market of governance, we’ll discover the best solutions for how to live together.

But how is this different from libertarianism? So long as individuals are free to enter and exit these competing governments at will — and to take their property with them — the world of a zillion seastead communities would exemplify libertarian free-market anarchy.

DeltaSync-Seasteading-Promo

Do socialists believe that libertarians want to prevent them from practicing voluntary socialism?

Do the opponents of the freedom philosophy somehow believe that we want to deny them their options?

The only option we refuse to acknowledge is the option to deny us our options.

I suspect the Seasteading Institute is wise to distance itself from a political philosophy so many people misunderstand. Their goal is to save the world through the freedom of association, not to clear up muddleheaded misunderstandings of that very freedom.

I cheer them on and hope to join them in the blue revolution. But I do think there’s a place for battling muddleheadedness, and it frustrates and saddens me that the best strategy for promoting the blessings of liberty may be to distance oneself from our tradition.

The Nightmare of a Free Market: Buying Drugs from Strangers

PillsFromStrangerThis week’s featured guide at Liberty.me is Dr. John Hunt’s “Surviving Obamacare”— which is about navigating around Obamacare in order to pursue free-market healthcare in an ever-less-free healthcare market.

John is a local comrade. I only met him in person about a year ago, but we had already worked together extensively online to put together his great libertarian action-adventure thriller Higher Cause for Laissez Faire Books. (I’m sorry to say that I had nothing to do with his wonderfully funny novel Assume the Physician — free to Liberty.me members this month.)

When the Young Americans for Liberty, University of Virginia chapter, hosted John for a talk on the same subject as his Liberty.me guide, I of course had to attend. [Read the rest at Liberty.me.]

why the vocabulary of our tradition matters

semanticsI’ve been blogging recently (An Idiot Abroad, the Economist, Sp!ked) about "Little Englander," a term that I would argue is a contranym, something that means both one thing and its opposite.

So what are we to make of these opposed connotations of nationalist bigotry on the one hand and peaceful internationalism on the other, both wrapped up in a single term?

For one thing, the contrast is no accident — no more than it is an accident that the term liberal can mean left- or right-wing, pro-or anti-market, an advocate of hard capitalism or soft socialism, depending on the context and the speaker.

At the time of the Manchester School, when the slur "Little Englander" was being coined, the term liberal unambiguously meant a reformer who wanted to dismantle the conservative status quo. Liberals were unequivocally in favor of individual freedom, open borders, free trade, and international capitalism in its anti-Mercantilist and anti-Marxist sense. They opposed big government, high taxes, tariffs, political privileges, and all but the most limited and purely defensive war.

It was this final value, a principled preference for peace over war, that led the interventionists to coin the term Little Englander. Liberalism, as a term and as an ideology, was too popular for the conservatives and socialists to attack it directly. Socialists therefore connived to appropriate the term through redefinition. Conservatives, in contrast, attacked the liberals’ patriotism with the dichotomy of Great Britain and Little England.

There is a division within libertarianism over the question of vocabulary and the importance of semantic positioning. While some debate the definition of, for example, capitalism or patriotism, others argue that it is folly to get stuck in struggles over terminology. Explain what you mean, the latter contend, and don’t worry over the words.

I understand why the semantic quibbling can seem both endless and pointless, but the lesson I take from the linguistic history of our movement, broadly defined, is that the words do matter. The slurs work, and their effects can still be felt over a century later, when the specific debates have long been forgotten. Language banditry has been a thorough success for the opponents of individual freedom.

I don’t know Stephen Merchant’s politics. He and Ricky Gervais have been deliberately quiet on the subject, other than to oppose the humor-killing strictures of political correctness. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb, however, to guess that they are not sorry to say goodbye to the British Empire and would oppose any sudden resurgence of imperialism. I don’t take Merchant’s casual slur as an attack on the proponents of peace and a humble foreign policy.

So why should we care if an entertainer uses Little Englander to signal his friend’s parochialism? What was lost in the imperialists’ semantic victory over the term? What does it mean for the future of freedom when we have reached the point where even the Economist, without any apparent irony, uses a term of derision that was originally aimed at the magazine’s founders — and uses it without historical context and completely in keeping with the worldview of the political interventionists the magazine was founded to oppose?

When we lost the semantic battles over liberalism, isolationism, and Little Englander, what was also lost was the connection in the public mind between the philosophy of freedom and a policy of peace. To be pro-capitalism and anti-poverty strikes our contemporaries as perverse. A philosophy that is pro-market and anti-war creates cognitive dissonance in today’s mainstream, and yet these values were assumed to go together at the height of our movement’s popularity and effectiveness. In letting our opponents, both on the left and the right, redefine the terms of the debate, we have allowed ourselves to descend to the position where we constantly have to explain what we don’t mean.

This is not to say that we should let ourselves be derailed by terminological disputes. But neither should we let go of our history — or the language of that history.

The principled advocates of liberty can even reclaim, I hope, some of the terms used against us — anarchism, capitalism, isolationism, among others. That these terms can cause misunderstanding is not sufficient reason to abandon them. Everything about our philosophy can cause misunderstanding among the uninitiated. I contend that the vocabulary is an important part of the package.

I look forward to the day when we can join Spiked in proclaiming ourselves proud Little Englanders (whether we have any personal connection to England or not) and be understood to stand for cosmopolitan openmindedness, individual liberty, and a policy of peace.

Hayek’s defense of tradition

20140401-071447.jpgF.A. Hayek considered himself a liberal, as do I. But in the United States, he was and is called a conservative. This irked him enough that he wrote an article called “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”Download PDF

But while it may have been wrong to associate Hayek’s thought with the political conservatism of the 20th century, there is at least one powerful argument Hayek contributed to the cause of cautious traditionalism.

Tradition isn’t quite the dirty word today that it once was for most post-Enlightenment intellectuals, but it does still have the reputation of being irrational — and it’s certainly still considered inadequate cause to stand in the way of centrally engineered social progress.

Hayek argued, however, that tradition was often an economically efficient way to transmit hard-won lessons from the past into the future. Rational arguments take time and effort, and they rarely have the effect on behavior that we rationally argumentative types wish they had. Tradition, on the other hand, is very effective and relatively cheap. The “transaction costs” — to use econ-geek language — are considerably lower for tradition than they are for propositional logic.

Yes, We Have No Bananas

YesWeHaveNoBananasIn a recent post ("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

Do you remember in my earlier post when 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 with the concept of the genetic deme and the relativity of fitness, 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

This past 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 sticker 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.

[Cross-posted at LibertarianStandard.com]