We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem

– Ronald Reagan

The joy of café computing

Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit has written a piece on the Wall Street Journal‘s Opinion Journal

Senators have “hideaway offices,” and so do I. Theirs are scattered in various nooks and crannies around the Capitol. Mine is at the local Borders. Theirs are more prestigious, but mine has better coffee.

I have an office with a nice computer, and I have a study at home with a nicer computer. But I often pack up my laptop, or a book that I’m reading, or student papers to grade, and relocate to this third place: somewhere more congenial than the office, less isolated than home

I understand that very well but from a different perspective. There is no Barnes & Noble in Zagreb or Belgrade or Sarajevo. But like Glenn I too drink a lot of coffee, which is perhaps why I am awake now at 3:15 in the morning? Most of the things I have posted to Samizdata before Christmas were written on my lovely titanium PowerBook whilst sipping turkish coffee or espresso or macchiato in a little café. Many times I go to a place I know with my cool leather computer case (I am big on that sort of thing) and if I do not see anyone I know, I pull out the computer and start writing. Sometimes I go to cyber cafés so I can plug in or at least use their machines to check my e-mail (I am compulsive about e-mail). When I was recently in Belgrade I was in a great cyber café, typing away and listening to the excellent Rambo Amadeus with a girlfriend who calls herself Serbogeek when on-line.

But usually, it is just plain old cafés I am in, which are extremely common in the former Yugoslavia and the bit that still calls itself that. Occasionally I can even sweet talk my way into plugging into a phone line to check my e-mail and maybe send a few: in my leather bag I have every type of phone jack adaptor known to mankind (all of which I bought in New York) and even a screwdriver if needed. I am very persistent. Once I surfed for hours in a place in Zagreb and in return I taught the café’s owner how to use the Internet. However it took me a while to get him to understand that he could access things in Australia and America and Russia without paying the phone bill for a call to those places, just a local one.

Of course setting up on a table with this exotic thing also leads me into many chats with people in the café I have never met before who are curious about my strange machine. So when I open up my computer and start to type, I frequently end up writing maybe only ten lines before someone has overcome their shyness and started asking me what I am doing and do I mind if they look.

So when people says that computers are cutting people off from real life and genuine social interaction, just tell them to walk into a café with a nice laptop and open it up. Someone will probably come say hello and offer to buy you a coffee.

Samizdata quote of the day

NEGOTIATION (n.): A tactic used when the target is obscured by clouds or smoke.

– Unknown

[Given the combative posts on Samizdata over the last few days, it just seemed appropriate]

Loose lips

Take a peek at this unusual link: author Claire Berlinski has written an interesting novel called Loose Lips, a roman à clef about CIA training at ‘The Farm’.

Save the hapless Claire from a fate worse than death (teaching)… go read the intro to this interesting book (also linked in the side bar under the Samizdata link farm’s ‘sundry fertilizer’).

Perception is everything

I recently received an article about hate crimes from one of the many email groups I read. It purported reporting is one sided and made a number of interesting statements. One that cannot be denied is that acts of violence of one person against another simply because of “what” rather than “who” they are is about as nondiscriminatory an occupation as one can find: everyone bashes everyone else with approximately equal fervour. This was most humourously stated several decades ago by Tom Lehrer in his song “National Brotherhood Week”.

The gist of the posting was that when whites trash blacks it is reported; but when blacks do similarly awful things it is not. It noted the absolute numbers of hate crimes committed by whites against blacks was larger, but statistically the rate of such crimes by blacks against whites was higher. As I have somewhat of a mathematical inclination this got me thinking. There was just something wrong with the reasoning and it wasn’t until much later over a pint at the local the flaw finally made itself clear to me.

It’s the perceived risk.

Let’s say there is an imaginary and mostly happy land of VRB in which a mix of A’s and B’s live. The vast majority of A’s and B’s are extremely decent folk, but unfortunately there is a rare genetic disorder that strikes 1 out of 10 newborns. They are born throwbacks to a primitive type of A or B. On the average these pitiful genetically-challenged pre-A’s and pre-B’s commit one act of violence against a member of the other type per year.

Now it happens that the VRB’s population is 100. There are 85 A’s and 15 B’s. So there are roughly 8 pre-A’s and 1 pre-B’s. That means that 8 B’s and 1 A get the shite kicked out of them each year. That is to say, over 50% of B’s are assaulted in a given year and 1% of the A’s.

Needless to say, the perception of B’s will be all A’s are out to get them. The average A will feel virtually un-threatened. They may not even know any of the violent pre-A’s who attack the B’s and wouldn’t associate with that sort anyway. The average A would likely only have heard pub rumours of an A getting beat on.

The second year, the pre-B’s will have some of the more fearful B’s beside them for “self-defense” and the percentage of violent B’s will go up. If just 2 more join the pre-B, they will triple the rate of violence of B’s against A’s. However the difference between a 1% and 3% chance of getting clobbered will not modify A’s risk perceptions at all.

Strange e-mails in Blogistan

I was warned that writing about sex would result in strange e-mails. I did not realise quite how strange however. Jay Driver wrote in a looooong e-mail:

I gather from your post about that Australian kid that you have been a prostitute yourself. I can understand who you might be pissed that people would say [you were] demeaned

As judging from the whole e-mail the remarks were obviously meant in all innocence, I am not insulted, but no Jay… I also have views on Formula One racing, why Christy Turlington is the best supermodel ever and the problem with Spanish politics. I have never driven a race car, I am not a model and I have never actually been to Spain.

Kevin Holtsberry wrote:

I was surprised that Natalija would lash out ay anyone troubled by supply 15 yr. olds with access to a prostitute. Is it really prudish to worry about this?

Fifteen year old dying boy, Kevin. To deny him a basic human experience because someone else has a problem with casual physical intimacy, yes I would have to say that is prudish. Also heartless.

Sandra P. wrote [with an attached picture]:

You trying to be the slavic Camile Paglia, honey? I think you’re looking for some adventures and if you think if you piss us off enough we will spank you. You might be right. Send me a pic and rock my world, Lipstick.

Hmmmm. For once words fail me.

Gavin Grant wrote [naughty bits excluded]:

I always find your writing exciting and interesting and stimulating and when you write about sex it is obvious you have tried things […] You really will not regret meeting me as I am also well educated and can provide you with intellectual stimulation as well. As you will be just up the road from me, you should call me on [phone number] and we can chat

Sorry Gavin, but you really really really need to go back and re-read that article I wrote about Christmas again… in it I told you I was going to be driving to Vienna in Austria not Vienna in Virginia. The fact I mentioned I was spending Christmas with my family in rural Croatia should have given you a hint I was not ‘just up the road’ from you.

Blogging is… interesting.

Boys, boys!

Put those guns down before someone gets hurt! Let poor Brian limp back to his People’s Republic with its People’s Government… we love you really Brian.

Although I don’t disagree with the points Perry and Walter have been making (at excessive length), lets not forget that we all find much about the United States that we admire when we compare it to most of Europe. Switzerland also has much to commend on these issues, but then of course as well as having a civilian population armed to the teeth and a very high standard of living, they are having none of this European Union silliness… and their chocolate is better than Belgium too.

All’s not quiet on the Western Front

The rabid libertarian pack-attack on the hapless ace blogista Brian Linse continues unabated.

But I am addressing the issue, and I have over and over again. I think that the extreme anti-gun “wackos” are as much the problem as the “gun nuts”, and that the Brady Campaign folks are delusional morons. The difference between myself and Perry is that I posess a rational awareness of the fact that the Constitution and the government it guides will protect my liberties. It’s how it works here. Unlike many allegedly free and democratic countries in Europe, individual liberties are protected here.

I reject the link between ‘free’ and ‘democratic’. Britain does not have a written constitution that purports to greatly limit the scope of democratic legislation and is thus profoundly more ‘democratic’ than America… yet the British state restricts liberty in many ways far more than the less democratic USA. Liberty and democracy are only acquaintances, not partners.

But just how are individual liberties protected in the USA? Can I purchase a handgun for my individual protection, put it in my car and drive from New York to Florida without fear of arrest? No. Could my nephew and his 16 year old fiance freely wander the USA without risking arrest for statutory rape or ‘under age’ drinking? No. Can a Dutch tourist go into a café in Miami and smoke a joint as he could in Amsterdam without being arrested? No. Can I walk into a car showroom and pay cash for a car without the government being told of my ‘suspicious’ transaction? No. Even large withdrawals of cash from your own bank account can trigger a call to the IRS and DEA! Can the state make a homeowner responsible for maintaining property he does not even own and make liable for anyone who injures themselves on it? Yes, if a person slips on snow on a sidewalk in front of their house, they can be held liable for the action of a stranger on ‘public’ land. Freedom of religion is protected yet schismatic Morman polygamists face arrest. Not quite so free as you seem to be suggesting.

I am sure you think all these issues are petty but that is because they do not effect you. I am not claiming the USA is like Cambodia or the Soviet Union, but your sense of ‘freedom’ is in many ways an illusion. You live in a highly regulated nation which enforces many of its laws far more rigorously than in the European nations you say (correctly) are only ‘allegedly free’. By all means argue these many and varied US regulations are benign and that I am hypersensitive, but please at least acknowledge that they are there and that a highly regulated society cannot be a society in which the protection of individual liberty is foremost amongst the state’s objectives.

And as I have stated before, if the US Supreme Court would make it clear the the 2nd Amendment is a protected individual liberty, there would be no need for the extreme rhetoric on both the left and the right. Chuck Shumer’s got no chance of taking my guns away, but it’s not because I’m better armed than he is, it’s because the Constitution and the representatives elected by the people won’t let him.

Yet the US Supreme Court has singularly failed to do that. US gun laws are moderate in some regions, yet severe in others. Am I free to arm myself if I live in a high crime area of New York City or Washington D.C. where I am most likely to need a weapon? No, I am not. If I live in New York City or the nation’s capital, Chuck Schumer and his cohorts have already had their way and deprived me of the rights you assure me will be protected by your yellowing piece of paper and stout yeoman democracy.

You dismiss the U.S. Constitution because of forefiture laws? I don’t know how better to explain it than to point out that there is no country on earth that enjoys the same freedoms that we do here in the US. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it is a given that a hard core Libertarian will never see it that way. I guess I find Perry’s lack of faith inexplicable.

Ah yes, I hear what I call ‘The American Mantra’ again and again in e-mails to me from the USA. Certainly there are many very admirable aspects to the exercise of American liberty, such as free speech, and anyone who reads my remarks regularly can hardly have missed my pro-American tendencies. Yet what makes you think “no country on earth that enjoys the same freedoms that we do here in the US”? This seems to be an often repeated ‘article of faith’ rather than a real critical judgement. How many other countries try to tax ‘their’ citizens even when they do not live or work in that nation? Almost uniquely the USA does just that. It seems to suggest the US government actually owns it’s ‘citizens’ regardless of their location and therefore has a proprietary interest in their wealth regardless of where it is. Appalling.

How do you figure that forfeiture laws are not a huge issue? Certainly lots of your fellow countrymen disagree. The state can seize your property on the mere accusation of a crime, without actually even charging you, and even if you are never convicted, it is you, the owner of the property, who must go cap-in-hand with a lawyer for which you have to pay even if you are successful, to sue for the return of your property. If you don’t think that is a massive indictment of the system of US justice, they perhaps you can explain to me why you think that it is a trivial matter. The US Constitution is supposed to prohibit unreasonable search and seizure, yet under these laws you are effectively deprived of due process. My lack of faith in such a system is far from inexplicable.

The first axiom is, I believe, correct. The right to keep and bear is set forth in the Bill of Rights, and the limits that government can put on individual liberties so innumerated are subject to review by the Supreme Court. Just as we limit speech in certain narrow situations, it is perfectly rational and logical to limit gun ownership. If Perry’s logic were argued through, then it would have to be legal to incite to riot, or to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, etc. This is how the debate is framed.

In supporting the idea of an armed population, I am stating a rational critical preference: nothing more and nothing less. To thereby deduce my views would lead to supporting the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre is to suggest that I support not liberty but rather chaos. However the very reason I support an armed society is the view that this is the best way to avoid chaos and disorder, not to mention tyranny. Whilst I distrust the motives of the US state as much as I distrust the British state, I have tremendous faith in the essential underpinnings of American society (more so in fact that British society to be honest).

To support ownership of arms is to support the ability to make choices. Yet to support the ability to choose is not to uncritically support whatever choices are in fact made. Advocacy of ownership of weapons is not to support them being fired off for the hell of it in a public street (the equivalent of your ‘shouting fire in a crowded theatre’). That is quite another issue again. The essence of libertarianism is not to advocate disorder but rather to advocate the right to choose and the right and obligation to reap the consequences of those choices, be they good or bad. If you yell fire in a crowded theatre or fire off guns in the street, expect severe sanction from the people who suffer as a result (be that in the form of the state or whatever proxy)… yet would you licence voices, as you would guns, for fear they be misused?

Is it a belief that these axioms are false that prevents Perry from directly addressing the illegal gun show purchases I’ve noted? Funny how no post in opposition to mine ever directly addresses these issues. Maintaining that the debate is framed by false axioms is a cop out. Show me why I’m wrong within the framwork of the laws that govern us, not the utopian fantasy of a Libertarian State that doesn’t exist.

Again you miss the point… as I do not regard these laws as legitimate, you cannot expect me (or Walter) to argue with you on the basis of how they can be made to work better. I don’t want them to work at all and neither does your chum the ‘gun nut’ who purchases weapons and then buries them as a hedge against future confiscation. You may not like the implications but he (like me) refuses to show you how you are “wrong within the framework of the laws that govern us” because he (like me) will not accept that framework. By his actions, your friend has decided those laws will not govern him and it is implicitly clear he places liberty above democracy. By doing this, he, and I, simply will not participate in a battle on ground of your choosing. He is indeed voting, just not in the democratic process you think so important. That is the libertarian fact, not fantasy. Pass as many laws as you like, in the final analysis reality is not made by congresses or parliaments or kings or pieces of paper, it is made on the ground by people deciding if they will cooperate with their own oppression…or refusing to cooperate. Your friend the ‘gun nut’ has made his position clear by his actions and so have Walter and I.

Sorry, Perry, but we are a government of laws, not a government of men. Natural Law underlies our Constitution, but it is the document itself that makes practical law out of philosophy. I’d rather continue to rely on the system of government that we have established with the Constitution, as opposed to a free for all where the guy with the highest caliber runs the show. Why? Because it works. And the reality is, that the guy with the highest caliber is always gonna be the government. Bottom line? I understand Perry’s views in the context of the Libertarian argument. I’ve got more than a few Libertarian views myself. But this is the very real United States of America, and there is no way in hell that the 2nd Amendment is ever going to be more important than the rest of the Bill of Rights.

That is a masterpiece of inductive thinking and selective logic. You say you support constitutional government yet it is you who seems to regard it as a smorgasbord to pick and choose from. The two salient parts of the second Amendment are ‘regulating’ (you may not shoot your guns off in the supermarket) and ‘keeping and bearing’ (you may both own and carry guns). No one is suggesting the Second Amendment trumps all the others… rights are rights. Yet keeping and bearing are very much infringed. You also contend that the only alternative to the current official (and widely resisted) system of overarching state control, is for the USA to descend into armed chaos similar to Lebanon circa 1988. Yet US history itself is replete with examples of heavily armed communities that were quite functional prior to the existence of BAFT. Laws can only be legitimate if they are based upon objective morality and objective morality does not spring magically from some scripture, be it the Holy Bible or the secular constitution. Morality is either objectively true or it is not and the best a successful constitution can do is to point that out.

There is also no way in hell that the government is ever going to take my guns away. Look, just as there are people in government who don’t want me to have the right to certain forms of political speech, there are also those who don’t want me to own any guns. But they will not succeed.

US gun laws are reasonable in some regions, yet are worse than some other nations in other regions. Am I free to arm myself if I live in a high crime area of New York City or Washington D.C. where I might actually need a weapon? No, I am not. It seem that if I live in New York City or the Capital, Chuck Schumer has already had his way and deprived me of the rights you assure me will be protected by your yellowing piece of paper and stout yeoman democracy. It would seem not.

And yes, Perry, the reason they will not succeed is the power of the Constitution and the moral authority of the peoples’ government.

You may feel ‘The People’s Government’ has moral authority (I cannot wait to get Natalija’s reaction when she read that phrase) to dispense violence backed regulation of fundamental rights, but if that is the case, why is your chum burying weapons in plastic tubes? ‘The People’s Government’ does not seem to have a whole lot of ‘moral authority’ to him… or to me. And why should it? You have given me no reason other than a vague deontological appeal for faith in the state’s exercise of authority.

Sporting Rounds

While Brian Linse is probably right about our fundamentally different views, one good riposte deserves another.

According to Brian’s view,

The right to keep and bear arms is set forth in the Bill of Rights, and the limits that government can put on individual liberties so innumerated are subject to review by the Supreme Court. Just as we limit speech in certain narrow situations, it is perfectly rational and logical to limit gun ownership.

While I will not concede the point, in the interest of being sporting I’ll take a shot at it from his court.
In that vein, it was interesting to learn about Brian’s buddy with the penchant for illegal weaponry. As Brian explains it, his friend makes it a point to break both the existing laws and the rules of gun safety by illegally buying guns and caching them in public areas. Brian feels that since his friend chooses to break the existing laws, we should pile on more in the vain hope he’ll find one to his liking. Take that to its logical conclusion and the only way to ensure compliance is a complete ban on everything remotely resembling a firearm. Does limiting a right described by the Constitution include eliminating it?

Brian also states

Chuck Shumer’s got no chance of taking my guns away, but it’s not because I’m better armed than he is, it’s because the Constitution and the representatives elected by the people won’t let him.

Brian is probably correct that Chuck Shumer’s appointed minions won’t burst into his house to physically take the family shotgun. Yet. In today’s society attempts to do so would at the very least end up with the Irish scene described by Perry in the following blog, and Brian’s buddy’s buried arsenal might well come into play. If the current trend of malediction towards gun owners continues, however, then the representatives elected by people twenty years from now may well let him and that musty scrap of parchment be damned.

In the meantime, however, if enough laws are passed limiting how a piece of property can be obtained, owned or used, then at some point the property becomes unusable. Therein lies the whole danger of the “Limited Rights” concept. If you have to ask for permission, then it is not a right; it’s a privilege subject to the whims of the current administration. In that regard, Chuck’s crew is well on the way to taking away your guns. Ask any resident of New Jersey or California who saw legally purchased, owned and registered firearms become illegal weapons overnight. Ask the residents of New York City who had the police call up and tell them to turn in the rifle that was just outlawed. Ask any of the thousands of innocent people nationwide who failed a NICS check because they have a common name.

Obeying laws is always a matter of private choice. So is engaging in commerce. That’s the point Brain seems to have missed in the first article. It’s not just about guns. Its about your right to dispose of your property as you wish. Should the state be involved when you sell the neighbor your old car? Should you have to call up the DMV and obtain his driving record, then verify he has valid auto insurance and get him to take a breathalyzer before you trade keys for cash? Should his mental health records be made public so you can check for evidence of depression before selling him that rope from your garage? Where do you draw the line? Private transactions between individuals involve a certain amount of trust. If, as in Brian’s nutty friend’s case, one of the parties chooses to break that trust than no number of laws is going to stop him.

If it is really a Bill of Limited Rights constantly re-defined by additional laws as Brian suggests, then the only way to protect your cherished liberties is by keeping those limits to the absolute minimum. In the case of the 2nd Amendment, with well over 20,000 gun laws on the books, I would suggest that we are already well past any sort of reasonable minimum.

Incidentally, I rather liked Ginger Stampley’s modest proposal. Something very similar to it has been on the books for about 30 years. It’s called the Gun Control Act of 1968. Trying to enforce it is the prickly part of the whole thorny issue. It all boils down to: “If I just met you, how do I know you are really you?” If I read Ginger correctly, she’s implying that if you manage to fool me, I become responsible for your actions. Rather alarming, that.

Guns: and just what are the ‘real issues’?

The problem I have with the views of excellent blogista Brian Linse are actually the same as the one’s he has with Walter Ulhman‘s post to the Samizdata…

The problem I have with these posts is that they never address the real issues, choosing instead to just characterize the opposition as liberty-hating confiscators who are aware of their authoritarian motives in a conspiracy with evil forces in government.

Yet can Brian seriously read Senator Chuck Schumer‘s endless remarks on the subject and still say there is no foundation to the widely held view of ‘gun nuts’ that powerful factions within the state are indeed ‘liberty-hating confiscators’? How is that not a ‘real issue’? I think it is Brian who is not addressing the issue here, not Walter or Glenn.

Walter would no doubt argue that the existing laws should prevent this kind of activity, but the reality is that they do not work.

I would not normally presume to speak for another like this but I have known Walter extremely well for over 20 years so I will do exactly that: I rather doubt in reality Walter cares a hoot if it works or not (he may say otherwise if he disagrees). Both he and I support the idea of a free armed civil population and reject anything that makes that more difficult. Bad guys are also armed and will always be regardless of any number of idiotic laws. Just look at the rate at which armed crime is increasing in Britain regardless of law after law. If that is not enough, then let me point you at that part of the UK called Northern Ireland and suggest to you that it is demonstrably impossible to disarm a section of society if they refuse to comply. Bad people are already armed in every nation on earth (well, maybe not the Vatican and Sealand)… some of them are muggers, some of them are murderers, some of them are terrorists and some of them wear blue jackets with ATF or FBI or ‘Metropolitan Police’ printed on the back.

A law that doesn’t work is useless, and only serves as fuel for the wackos on the other side (Brady Campaign) to further polarize the debate. Walter describes gun shows as “…simply private commerce between individuals.” Well if Walter offered to sell me his sister for 50 bucks, that too could be called “private commerce between individuals”, but it would still be illegal and immoral.

I do not see your point here. Not that Walter actually has a sister, but if he did, certainly if she was unwilling then it would be immoral to force her into what would amount to slavery as she too is a free individual. Otherwise, I fail to see the problem… prostitution is the combination of sex and free enterprise: which one are you against? More seriously, here comes my profound ambivalence to democracy: I would prefer a bad law that does not work to a bad law that does. A law that doesn’t work can only come about if enough people refuse to accept it, regardless of its sanctification by some elected buffoons with media access who claim to speak for the very people who choose to break that law. I actually make a point of going out of my way to break laws I judge unreasonable restrictions on my liberty. If you choose to speed on an empty road, so do you.

Somehow I don’t think that 30 round magazines and SP-89’s illegally converted to full-auto would be much use against laser guided bunker busters and smart bombs.

I suspect the US Rangers who died in Somalia might have disagreed. You seem to think that some future tyranny in the US would find dealing with armed resistance by sections of US society rather like fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. I think Somalia and Vietnam and Northern Ireland and Algeria would be better analogies. It is hard to ‘smart bomb’ your own population into submission. Britain also has smart bombs and all the panoply of modern war, yet that meant nothing in Northern Ireland when a section of society refused to be governed.

Representative Democracy and the US Constitution are all the protection we need for our individual liberties.

Ah, that would explain US civil forfeiture laws then eh? Were they not passed by your beloved democratic representatives? So much for your mighty constitution. I find your faith inexplicable.

We currently live with a variety of laws that limit our rights to free speech. If we agree that there are legitimate restrictions on free speech, how can we ignore the same needs for limits on the right to keep and bear arms? How about addressing some of these question instead of endless polarizing rhetorical posts? Preaching to the choir is fun, but not very useful.

You seem to be demanding that Glenn and Walter argue the issue by first accepting your underpinning axioms (i.e. not ‘polarizing’ the debate): firstly it is legitimate to restrict the liberty to arm yourself and we should only be arguing about how much to restrict it. Secondly that the belief that the US system of government and its constitution are such sound and fundamental foils to tyranny that fears to the contrary are irrational.

I don’t know about Glenn but I am damn sure Walter and I will never accept either of those axioms as a basis for discussion. In fact I would say to do so would itself be irrational given the evidence that both views are false and it is you who are not really dealing with the issues by retreating into the comfortable fiction that the system in the USA is fundamentally okay. I beg to differ. American success and prosperity come not from its constitutional system and sure as hell not from it’s ghastly legal system: it comes from the fact a large and productive chunk of the population is imbued with a civil culture of liberty that transcends mere written laws… and my admiration for that aspect of America is boundless. The US Constitution is the actual source of precisely nothing and to argue on constitutional grounds, now that is avoiding the issue. The US Constitution merely enumerates some of the rights that people possess by right, whether those rights are written down or not. It is not a matter of laws, it is a matter of rights… but if you insist on arguing on the basis of a two hundred year old bit of paper, which part of ‘…shall not be infringed’ did you not understand?

Triumph and realism

It is almost inevitable that a degree of triumphalist intoxication starts to surge into commentary regarding the allegedly all-but-over war in Afghanistan. However in their eagerness to at last drive a stake through the heart of that American vampire-of-the-soul, Vietnam, people are starting to sound rather like the pundits opining on the future after every war since the industrial age started to make each war different than the one before. Television, internet and printing presses are humming with commentators who are making extravagant leaps of inductive thinking… never a good sign.

Victor Davis Hanson over on National Review is a case in point and has written an intemperate article called Glad We Are Not Fighting Us, that takes dramatic historical and sociological liberties with fact and evidence. Although I do agree with many of his points, others that he makes are very odd indeed.

America now enjoys a level of global military and political influence not seen since the Roman Empire in the age of Trajan.

This is a poor comparison. What of the Mongols? Theirs was a vast empire based on sheer military might into which the Roman Empire, even under Trajan, could have neatly fitted into one corner. The shadow it cast over the entire Eurasian world was every bit as profound as the US casts now and far harder to ignore.

He goes on to describe an America that will no doubt appeal to a section of his US readership but it is really nothing more than tub-thumping propaganda rather than sensible appraisal of the undoubted might of the USA.

But in the last two decades America, for better or worse, has evolved beyond the traditional Western paradigm, in reaching the theoretical limits of freedom and unbridled capitalism to create a technologically sophisticated, restlessly energetic, and ever-changing society whose like has never been seen in the history of civilization.

That is not just wrong, it is ridiculous… for one, I would argue that the United States was far more free in many ways, both in terms of general liberty and economically, prior to the First World War. The astonishing US forfeiture laws under which one can have property seized and then not returned even if not eventually convicted of a crime (and in some cases not even charged), make it clear that large chunks of the much hallowed Constitution are in fact a dead letter. Even more grotesquely obvious, one only has to look at the huge share of national wealth appropriated by the various tiers of American government and compare it to 100 years ago to realise the absurdity of claiming the United States is “reaching the theoretical limits of freedom”. Ethnic minorities and women are now freed from onerous restrictions compared to a century ago, yet what they may actually do with that restored liberty and economic power is drastically ‘bridled’ by the intrusive regulatory state as never before in American history.

In areas of US society where liberty is indeed in the ascendant rather than in retreat , it is due to the information technology and communications that are exerting their influence far beyond just America.

I would also contend that the Dutch in the 17th century and British in the first half of the 18th century were every bit as dynamic. And of course their pundits made much the same overarching claims about their cultures as well.

Hanson gets back on more solid ground by pointing out where the true root of America’s real comparative advantages lie by contrasting its freedom of expression with that found in other civilisations. Yet it does not take him long to stray back into questionable historical contentions

But unlike the Soviet infantry and armor doctrine of the 1960s and 1970s, which had changed little from World War II our new tactics are not static. We are just as likely to see armored divisions on the ground in Iraq, storms of cruise missiles in Lebanon, or covert assassination teams in Somalia or the return once again of the Afghani mode depending on the changing nature of our adversaries.

Here Hanson just does not know what he is talking about. Soviet infantry and armour doctrines evolved hugely after World War II and in the 1970’s, US doctrines might as well have been drawn up with the intention of maximising the Soviet advantages in combat mobility. Soviet military theories very accurately assessed US strengths and weaknesses, leading to the Operational Manoeuvre Group (OMG) doctrines. US Army reforms came belatedly in the 1980’s to address the weakness of US operational level doctrine compared to that of the Soviets (i.e. the introduction of ‘Air/Land Battle’ doctrines aimed at reducing the large Soviet advantage in combat mobility).

I cringe somewhat at Hanson using ‘covert assassination teams in Somalia’ as an example of American military superiority. What the last US adventure in Somalia proved was something rather different. As any NRA activist will tell you, never underestimate a pissed off armed civilian population. Sure, high tech and well trained US troops can probably kill a low tech bunch of Somalians at a ratio of 100:1… but at the end of the day, it was the Somali ‘warlords’ who held the field and watched the US retreat, because they, unlike the hideous Taliban in Afghanistan, commanded the genuine support of their population. It would be hard to overstress the importance of understanding the implications of this.

I came away with the impression that September 11 has supercharged rather than short-circuited this multifaceted engine of America. What were bin Laden, the mobs in Pakistan and the West Bank, the nuts in al Qaeda, and their opportunistic supporters in the Middle East drinking? We shall never know, but their attack on a country such as this was pure lunacy. Thank God we do not have to fight anyone like ourselves.

Yes, that is quite true and in fact much of Hanson’s article is spot on. However I do worry that in the wave of understandable euphoria following the destruction of the Taliban and the scattering of Al Qaeda, that an air of unrealistic expectation and ill conceived adventurism may replace the air of unrealistic pessimism so beloved of the dismal and irrational Buellers and Fisks.

Samizdata quote of the day

Nothing contributes more to peace of soul than having no opinion at all.

– George Christopher Lichtenberg