I probably should not do it to myself, but sometimes I can not help but wonder how a large group of seemingly intelligent people can be so wrong about so much. Charlie Stross has written about what might even be somewhat legitimate concerns about Amazon but as ever with him there is an infuriating wrongness floating on the surface and the comments amplify it.
But there is much to learn here about misconceptions about libertarians. Let me start with Charlie’s characterisation.
I’m not going to lecture you about Jeff Bezos either, although I do want to note that he came out of a hedge fund and he’s ostensibly a libertarian; these aspects of his background make me uneasy, because in my experience they tend to be found in conjunction with a social-darwinist ideology that has no time for social justice, compassion, or charity.
I am a libertarian. I notice that people suffer less when they are richer. I notice that greater freedom leads to greater wealth. My views are formed precisely out of a desire to see greater wellbeing and happiness in the world and this has been translated in the mind of someone who is ostensibly not a moron into a survival of the fittest race to discard those inferior to me to starvation and disease for my own personal benefit.
I need a new advertising agency.
I need to start being explicit about the end goals and work back from there, and always remind people about the goal at every opportunity. It needs to be the first and last thing I say in any debate with a non-libertarian: the aim is to reduce suffering. Now: how do we do that?
Then there is comment 100:
Perhaps you could point to a working libertarian utopia so I could understand how such a wonderful system works? Otherwise, it’s no more meaningful than those who complain that they problem with communism is it hasn’t been tried properly…
It has not been tried but one can notice without much effort that the places that look more like libertarian utopias, that is to say they have more freedom and smaller governments, tend to be richer than those that look less like libertarian utopias. Richer meaning that there is less starvation and suffering, let us not forget.
In comment 128 Charlie makes the closest thing yet to an interesting point when he accuses us of having a “fundamentally broken model of human behaviour”. It is a shame he does not say how the model is broken. The biggest problem I can think of with human nature is the tendency in many humans to want a leader or to want to boss others around. It really would be nice if these people could find each other without involving me. Which brings us to comment 473:
The thing is, libertarians really don’t just want to be left alone. You want to impose a libertarian society on us even though the overwhelming majority has made it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no desire for such a change.
If you want to go off on your own and build a libertarian country, go with our blessing. But leave us in peace. If you want to stay, accept that we do not want a libertarian society and let the matter drop.
Oh how much I would love to. Perhaps Jeff Bezos will finally succeed. Until then, good luck getting the International Community to allow it. With that option removed it is probably not worth pointing out to this commenter exactly who is imposing what upon whom. What is really going on is that this person thinks that a more libertarian society would lead to more starvation and disease and of course he does not want that imposed upon him. It is the same marketing problem again.
A post at Climate Lessons reminded my of my own childhood experiences of environmentalist indoctrination at school. It could have been any post – the whole blog is about how children are frightened and mislead by environmentalists in the classroom.
The topic is closer to home now that I have my own two-year-old son, and it cropped up sooner than I expected. Someone bought him a book about Noah’s Ark. It is perfectly charming: thick cardboard pages; bright colours; but on the last page:
Noah helped save the animals of the earth hundreds of years ago by building an ark. Now we must help to save them too — not from floods, but from human beings who are hunting them, and cutting down the forests where they live.
I mean, come on! It is a story book for toddlers. A silly story from the Bible I can handle, but children should not be worried about this nonsense.
At the turn of the nineties I was at secondary school putting up with some of this. Most of it came from geography class. Deforestation was the big one. An area the size of Wales was destroyed every so often, we were told. Apart from all the extinct animals, the rain forests were needed to turn the carbon dioxide into oxygen. They are the lungs of the planet. These days the rain forests still seem to be there and I am fairly sure that, carbon going round in a cycle, the rain forests are only the lungs of the rain forests. The plants that I (and the animals I eat) eat produce enough oxygen for me.
We also learnt about acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Both these problems seem to have gone away, arguably as a result of timely state intervention but more likely because the problems were not so bad in the first place and now they have been replaced by more urgent and dire concerns.
Assuming the BBC exam revision guide is a good proxy for what is taught in GCSE geography lessons in schools, acid rain and the ozone layer are gone from the curriculum. Deforestation is still there, and now we have to worry about climate change, pollution and (oh no!) globalisation. If you follow that last link you will learn about Thomas Malthus and Esther Boserup but not Norman Borlaug.
I remember another strange lesson: not geography; possibly personal social health and flim flam studies or whatever it was called. I can not imagine why but we were made to watch a video that included abattoir footage and there was a class discussion in which we were asked whether the video made us want to be vegetarians. Some of the girls became vegetarians on the spot. I wonder what their parents made of it.
GCSE Double Science was a mostly sensible affair involving the Carnot cycle and electrons apart from one odd day when a guest speaker came in to tell us that more oil was used in the last ten years than in the entire history of humanity before that. The lesson was that this was because oil use doubled every ten years (or whatever the number was). I recognise it now as the standard limits-to-growth spiel, but what was it doing in a fourth year science class? Some organisation must have bribed the school or something.
What harm did it do? Here I am after all, not believing a word of any of it. At the time I believed it, but I was more interested in tectonic plates, magnetic fields and playing Elite on my computer. Most of the rest of the class was only interested in who was snogging whom. We were bombarded with doom and gloom but it was boring and irrelevant.
But I bet a lot of it stayed there, in most of the rest of the class, deep down, in a way that causes them not to question it when they see it on the news. They are not interested: they think about it when they are forced to; they give money to charity when they want to look like nice people or feel good about themselves; they moan about the taxes and they forget about it and get on with their lives. They do not write to their MPs or vote and they do not rise up.
The premise of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels sounds good. The Culture is a society with advanced AI and no scarcity and an inclination to liberate less advanced societies from their scarcity. So I am starting from the beginning with Consider Phlebas. I am reading the novel on my Kindle, which means that I get to see other users’ highlights. The following passage was highlighted by six users, unusual enough to make me wonder why. This might mean that six people thought “wow, man, that’s like, so profound”, or it might mean something else.
experience as well as common sense indicated that the most reliable method of avoiding self-extinction was not to equip oneself with the means to accomplish it in the first place.
It is a thought that occurs to a human member of the Culture, who is thought of as particularly insightful, when considering another society that went exctinct in a war involving fusion bombs, “delivered by transplanetary guided rocket”. Perhaps the people who highlighted it though it was clever commentary on nuclear proliferation or something like that.
The trouble is that the word “oneself” refers to billions of individuals. Where does that leave “common sense”?
What is interesting to me is the way that people fall for these sorts of rhetorical tricks. Perhaps we can turn it to our favour. After all, experience and common sense indicate that enslaving and stealing from oneself is not the way to get rich.
Stanley Fish is rightly getting a lot of heat in the internet for his brazen assertion that it is okay to adopt double standards in terms of the kind of language used to describe women so long as the person using such terms holds the “right” views and is, in some more general sense, on the side of the intellectual “good guys”.
David Henderson, over at EconBlog, has what I think is the most devastating take-down of this character, all the more devastating for doing so in measured tones. The associated comment thread is well worth reading also.
“Might is right”. For heaven’s sake.
As already mentioned here from time to time in recent weeks, I have been doing some tidying up. My place was a mess. More politely, it was suffering from severe infrastructure overload, which is that terrible condition that sets in when each new thing that comes in or gets done causes a wave of knock-on chaos out of all proportion to what ought to be its impact. To put this down, I make some space for it by moving this important item, on top of that important item, and then forget where it all is … you get the picture.
If you have never in your life suffered thus, that can only be because you have never done anything. Places where real stuff gets done frequently teeter on the edge of chaos. This is another Parkinson’s Law. I recall, in one of his books, contrasting pictures: of the Officers Mess (not a mess at all), and the Orderly Room (not orderly at all). The point being that it was in the latter place that all the work got done.
But there comes a time when consoling yourself with the thought of all those chaos-inducing accomplishments just doesn’t do it for you any more. You just have to stop – at the very least interrupt – everything else and turn back the tide, which is what I have forced myself recently to do. This has already the most serious tide resistance I have done since moving in here over two decades ago.
My problem was that although this task had become slowly more important, it had at no point become overwhemlingly urgent. So, how was I to motivate myself to get stuck into it? No externally imposed deadline loomed. No angry associates would punish me if I delayed. It was merely that if I delayed it yet longer, my life would work gradually less and less well.
If you are the sort of person who needs only to know that some task is important in order to start attacking it with enthusiasm, confident that you will conquer it, then this posting is probably not for you. If on the other hand you are like me, easily daunted and tempted hideously to postpone tasks which combine non-urgency, great importance (but only to you) and demoralising hugeness, then maybe skipping this might be an omission of significance. If the question “where do I start?” regularly recurs in your life, then read on. You might discover things of value. → Continue reading: Urgent and Important versus Easy – on tidying up my home – and on how to do libertarianism
As I commented on previously, David Cameron wants shareholders to vote on directors’ pay packages. Another problem with this occurs to me.
Right now I can value a company on its past performance and what I think its future performance will be, and part of this evaluation comes from my opinion of the decision-making abilities of the people in charge. If I know who they are, and am confident that they will hire the right people into the right positions, I might value the company more highly.
If shareholders make decisions I have the problem that the performance of the company depends on who the shareholders are, and I do not know who the other shareholders are.
In the specific case where shareholders can vote on directors’ pay, if we assume that the highest pay attracts the best performing directors, then the best performing companies will end up being the ones with the least left-wing shareholders.
The other day I had a pub conversation with a friend that went as rapidly from, “I favour reducing the size of the state” to “but poor people will starve” as any such conversation I’ve had before. There are certain things, such as roads, schools, health and welfare, that are so strongly connected in people’s minds to the state that intelligent thought about them is almost impossible. I wonder how this happens. It means that no shortcuts are possible. To be understood, you have to assume no shared knowledge with your interlocutor and start again from first principles. But this does not work well in a pub conversation or, for that matter, in a TV interview.
At one point I was told, “if you got your way, I would emigrate.” My friend was imagining a dystopian hell on Earth, which suggests, among other things, I had not properly made my motives understood. There is a tendency to assume that one’s political opponents want to enrich themselves at the expense of others. This may be a good assumption a lot of the time. When a socialist suggests taxing the rich to give to the poor, I might wonder how much he will cream off the top for himself. When I suggest that taxes should be reduced, it is obviously because I do not like paying tax and I am prepared to let poor people starve so that I can buy more gadgets. The universe is a zero-sum game: what else could I possibly mean?
So I need to spell out explicitly what it is that I want, because it turns out that it does not go without saying: everyone to be much richer, so that necessities and most luxuries are almost free; vastly increased life expectancy and improved health; less overall time spent on menial tasks and more time spent doing interesting things; in general more wealth, opportunities and happiness for all.
I know how to get there, too. A smaller state means faster economic growth. Nothing I want breaks the laws of physics, so the technology is just a matter of time and leaving people alone to get on with it.
What I want sounds to me like something that would sell. Maybe we should do what our opponents do and repeat it loudly, often and everywhere, and point out that anyone who opposes it is causing poor people to starve. It is the sort of approach that might work well in a pub conversation or, for that matter, in a TV interview.
Recently some teacher acquaintances on Facebook were discussing the recent public sector strike. Some were annoyed at accusations that they had spent the day shopping. Others said they had enjoyed spending the day shopping. Someone posted a message pointing out that Jeremy Clarkson, who said rude things about the strikers, was more than welcome to do a hard job saving lives or teaching disabled children. It occurred to me that, among other things, not all and probably less than half of public servants do such worthy jobs, and in any case what is relevant is what is really going on, which is that whatever the job, public servants (including (heh) Jeremy Clarkson, according to NickM) get their salaries and pensions from money extorted from others.
I considered getting involved in the conversation. I mentioned it to Michael Jennings. “The problem is that they think we are mad,” he said. Not only that, I thought, they will take offence and cast me out of society. “And they have the generally accepted narrative,” Michael observed. “How did this happen?”
I have some ideas about that. They are not original, have probably been stated better by someone else, and a more erudite person than I might well be able to summarise this entire post by stating the name of some philosopher or linguist. But here is my train of thought.
The primary purpose of language is cognition. So says The Monster in an epic comment on Eric Raymond’s blog.
I believe that communication is not even the primary use of language, despite the common belief that it is. That honor belongs to cognition. We use language to think; we produce names for groups of concretes that share certain properties and thereby achieve computational economy by not having to reason independently about the characteristics of every member of that group anew, as if we’d never seen any other members before.
This was in defence of an article by Eric Raymond in which he had used the same insight to seek to “undo the perversion of language that serves the enemy so well.” Clever use of language can manipulate people’s ideas. It makes sense: we put things into words to abstract big ideas and reuse them quickly and easily. I am a computer programmer. In software we write some code to, say, sort a list of items into numerical order, we give the code a name (sort) and then we just type ‘sort’ whenever we want to sort a list. If everything works to plan, we never have to think again about how that sorting code works. We have abstracted it. We might do some sorting of specific kinds of list mixed in with some other algorithm to do something complicated, like display a list of all the teachers in a payroll database whose salaries are greater than x, and give that code a name (GenerateRedundancyCandidates). In this way we build up layers of complexity at increasing levels of abstraction and get to do vastly complicated things with not as much effort as you might think.
Human language is the same. And therein lies a danger, because humans are not like computers: they are likely to forget that the word stands for something real, or get confused about what it stands for, or change its meaning half way through a sentence. → Continue reading: The map is not the territory
“Auction houses and auction websites make markets out of common objects that would be trash except for a celebrity having owned or used or once touched it. A set of golf clubs or a box of golf balls is worth far more in a pro shop if the brand name “Tiger Woods” is on the label, because by affixing the name of the golf legend the buyer is being told that Tiger Woods had personal input into the quality of the products. Anyone who copies that box of golf balls with the Tiger Woods label on it — without proper authorization — is committing an act of forgery.”
J. Neil Schulman.
He certainly has an unusual way of looking at IP. This issue is messing with my head. A few weeks ago, I read Tim Sandefur’s lucid take on the matter, and took the view that whatever else can be said about it, it is hard to see how I could make a “natural rights” claim for IP in the same way as some classical liberals can do with physical property. But a few days later, talking to an old friend who is a professional arbitrator, my view swung more favourably to this sort of argument, as presented in favour by the late, great Lysander Spooner.
I fear that with IP, this is going to be one of those “I haven’t really made up my mind yet” positions. I suspect I am not alone.
Surely it’s time for climate-change deniers to have their opinions forcibly tattooed on their bodies.
Not necessarily on the forehead; I’m a reasonable man. Just something along their arm or across their chest so their grandchildren could say, ”Really? You were one of the ones who tried to stop the world doing something? And why exactly was that, granddad?”
Dear Mr Glover,
I once lived next door to a lady who was tattooed at Auschwitz. I was outraged, as I suppose you intended, by your glib call for people who think differently than you do to be tattooed. But the outrage came from the smug assumptions you made. I bet you feel very “radical chic” after writing your article, a bit like the gay people who wear Che Guevara T-shirts, not realising that he used to enjoy killing people for being gay.
You want to tattoo me for doubting the claims of such people as Michael Mann, the fabricator of the “hockey stick” graph, which among other lies, denied the existence of the European medieval warm period and the mini ice age of the 16th and 17th centuries. I note that the hockey stick has quietly been abandoned as a model by the UN Climate Change campaign’s official documents. Does that mean the tattoo could be lasered off when what you think is true today, turns out to be inaccurate or plain wrong? I hope that at the very least you might say sorry and offer to pay for the tattoo’s removal. But as they say, Socialism means never having to say ‘Sorry.’
David Evans worked for what is now the Australian Department of Climate Change from 1999 to 2005, and part-time 2008 to 2010. Should he be persecuted for writing this?
I have changed my mind more than once about what to do about global threats to the environment. I have never taken a payment from an energy company and would welcome viable clean energy, but the carbon dioxide scare is as bogus as propaganda movies that depicted people like my former neighbour as rats spreading the plague across Europe. For one thing, I find it extremely unlikely that fluctuations in the Sun’s radiation has less influence on the Earth’s climate than humans do. I’m open to persuasion that I’m wrong about sun spots, but not by threats of torture or death.
If your ideology requires the extermination – or at least for now – the branding of all who opposes you, one might wonder just what principles you stand for. It is shameful that a reporter would advocate the terrorising of people based on their opinions. That does not seem compatible with freedom of thought, or of expression.
Once you get your police state, what are the odds that an opinion YOU hold will be deemed thoughtcrime and you get branded for holding “unhelpful” opinions on homosexuality, torturing prisoners, freedom of religion, or abortion rights? And what sort of person thinks that tyranny is fine provided that the “right” people are being tortured and killed? I usually take the view that any call to expand government power should be met with caution, even for causes I might privately support.
My concern is not the profits of oil firms but that environmentalism, as a political ideology, threatens the principle of science as an arena for competing ideas to be tested without prejudice, when its advocates demand the silencing of critics.
One final thought. If anyone attempts to tattoo or brand me or anyone else for their non-conformist opinions, anywhere in the world, I shall hold you personally responsible and to be an accomplice of evil men. If you call for people to be harmed, even in jest, you cannot hide from responsibility when your call gets acted on.
Clarke never got round to patenting the idea of a geostationary communications satellite.
Years and years and years ago when it was first reported to me that there were many lascivious moving images on the internet I thought, personally I would prefer to spend hours and hours watching cute furry animals. Maybe, I thought, I could set up a “web site” containing short video excerpts of animals, particularly juveniles, behaving in an appealing manner.
It seems someone else has already done this.
What did you never get round to patenting?
How to give the proper sort of nod towards the Japan earthquake? Not by saying that we are right in some opinion that we already hold that we can somehow hook onto it, that’s for sure. A disaster means uncontroversial urgency. To use it to pontificate about mere importance, and controversial importance at that, is to change the subject. Importance is important, but it can wait.
I went to Flickr, to see what “japan earthquake” yielded, and my favourite discovery so far, although I realise that is not quite the proper adjective, is this:
Which I found among these.
That is going to take a lot of sorting out, not least because cranes will be needed, and look what happened to the cranes that were there. Yes, every one of the thousands of deaths (did anyone die in those cranes?) is terrible for all of the dead and for all of their loved ones. But I’m guessing that the typical, as opposed to worst, stories will involve the immense labour of cleaning up all the mess, and the immense derangement done to various plans, business and otherwise.
Because of the shapes involved, and their repetitiousness, this picture reminded me – in a kind of compare-and-contrast way – of pictures like the one I put on my personal blog at the time of Hurricane Katrina, of semi-submerged school buses in New Orleans, when water made a rather more slow motion mess of that city, nearly five years ago. And I see that I had very similar thoughts then to now, although this disaster is far greater.
It’s good, I think, when disaster strikes anywhere on earth, that thanks to things like Flickr we can feast our eyes and minds on the wreckage and adopt the appropriate attitude, but without all of us getting in the way.
LATER: Uncontained chaos. I have to admit that when it comes to big time disasters like this one, which is getting bigger by the day, the old school media really do come into their own. I think that’s because there are so many facts, and those facts are so very, very photogenic. It also makes a big difference that this particular disaster is massively better to comprehend if a few people (it mustn’t be too many) take to the air to photo it, with really expensive cameras.
LATER: Richard Fernandez talks about urgency.
LATER: Maybe the old school media are not doing so well (thank you Michael J):
The whole sequence of events is a ringing endorsement for nuclear power safety. If this – basically nothing – is what happens when decades-old systems are pushed five times and then some beyond their design limits, new plants much safer yet would be able to resist an asteroid strike without problems.
But you wouldn’t know that from looking at the mainstream media. Ignorant fools are suggesting on every hand that Japan’s problems actually mean fresh obstacles in the way of new nuclear plants here in the UK, Europe and the US.
That can only be true if an unbelievable level of public ignorance of the real facts, born of truly dreadful news reporting over the weekend, is allowed to persist.
So, we’re back to contained chaos. And to talking about importance, but in reaction to other importance talk that is importantly wrong.
Says Michael: “The big deal is that Japan has lost as much of 25% of its electricity generation capacity.”