Monthly Archives: June 2006

The Source Of Our Rights

Massachusettes Governor Mitt Romney is campaigning in favor of that state’s ballot initiative to ban gay marriage, which is on the ballot in July. In the course of his campaigning, he has managed to say something substantive that so blatantly reveals a political philosophy completely at odds with the Founding Fathers.

BOSTON –Gov. Mitt Romney, renewing his support for a ballot question banning gay marriage, said Wednesday it’s the job of voters — not the courts or lawmakers — to define what constitutes a civil right.

“Who’s going to tell us what a civil right is and what’s not? Well, the people will,” Romney said at a news conference calling on lawmakers to allow a vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage here. That vote is scheduled for July 12.

Supporters have long cast same-sex marriage as a civil right that should not be subject to a popular vote, likening it to the desegregation battles of the 1950s and 1960s, where the courts played a central role in expanding rights for blacks.

Yet Romney, during a Statehouse news conference attended by Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other religious and civil leaders, said that in a democracy, nothing is off-limits to voters, even the definition of civil rights.

“We have a Constitution. We can look in there and say, ‘Does it say here you can vote on matters unless someone can define them as civil rights?’ No,” said the Republican governor, a graduate of Harvard Law School who is mulling a presidential run. “It says you vote on all matters in this country and we’ll decide what is a civil right and what’s not. So, fundamentally, we come back to the principle that the people speak.”

He added: “Is there anything more fundamental to the commonwealth and this country than the principle that the power is reserved for the people, that government is the servant, not the master?”

Hmm, well I don’t know Governor Romney, how about this little bit from a guy you may have heard of named Thomas Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

If there is one idea fundamental to the American Republic, it is the idea that individual liberty derives not from the will of the majority — whether that be the majority of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusettes or a majority of the members of the Supreme Court — but is an inherent part of who we are. Individual rights do not need to be recognized by the state to exist, they exist because we are free human beings and if the state fails to recognize them it is the oppressor.

The Legitimacy of Government

(This is part two of the discussion I started Sunday with Constitutions: Why the EU Will Fail.)

On Sunday, I discussed the various ways in which Constitutions can be written to describe a government. Specifically, I discussed the American Constitution, which is a document which we are mostly able to agree forms a strong foundation for the government we would like to live under, and thus considered by most Americans to uphold a government that we consider legitimate. At the same time, the proposed EU Constitution is a convoluted mess of indecipherable legalese, trampling on what its member nations consider to be their own sovereignty. In short, they do not see the rule imposed by the EU Constitution as legitimate, and have thus voted against it.

But what makes a government legitimate? It is not simply a Constitution, although that can be a very important part. The British consider their government legitimate, although there is no single written Constitution. They consider their Constitution to be the amalgam of common law, Parliamentary acts, and judicial tradition. Earlier tribal societies likewise had no written Constitution, but yet considered their governing rules to be legitimate.

Whether or not a government is legitimate rests on one very simple basis: whether the overwhelming majority of people living under that government recognizes its legitimacy.

In the middle of the 18th Century, the American colonists were increasingly feeling as if the British crown was ignoring their rights as Englishmen. They were heirs of the Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution, and yet the King was increasingly infringing upon their affairs with taxes and regulations that they considered onerous. In short, the King and Parliament were treating the colonists as if they were subordinate to Englishmen, not as if they were Englishmen.

Now, at the time, it is not that Americans though taxation was illegitimate. Americans were not searching for anarchy, they were searching for a just, legitimate government that respected and protected their natural rights. They didn’t object to taxation, they objected to taxation without representation. They didn’t object to being under the rule of a government, but they objected to the arbitrary rule of men.

The situation of the Americans under British rule really wasn’t all that bad. America was a frontier, where many of the edicts of the British couldn’t reliably be enforced. The taxation of the Crown was nowhere near the levels of taxation in almost any major nation. But the colonists rebelled against one of the world’s two superpowers, barely winning independence, because they refused to live under a government they considered to be illegitimate.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and look across the globe to Iraq. Much like the American colonists who wouldn’t submit to British rule, the Iraqis of today won’t submit to American rule. It doesn’t matter whether that rule is better for them than things were under Saddam. It doesn’t matter if we were to set up the means to ensure that they’d have a Bill of Rights protecting the very same freedoms that we have here in the United States. To the Iraqis, we are, and always will be, an occupation force. And as long as they perceive themselves as living under foreign rule, that rule will be considered illegitimate, no matter how well-intentioned.

For us to succeed in Iraq, the Iraqis cannot see the endgame as America’s success. For the Iraqis to consider the government they live under to be legitimate, they must see it as an Iraqi government, not an American government. It’s a dangerous razor-blade we must walk. We must constantly show that we are turning over government and security to the Iraqis, but we cannot do so before they’re ready, as the power vacuum will be filled by the terrorists and insurgents. The Iraqi people won’t consider the rule of people like the now-neutralized Zarqawi to be legitimate, but tyrants often take power, and the Iraqi people may have little to say in the matter.

So that brings us to a major point. Governments must have certain aspects to be considered legitimate. The experience of both the American revolution and the Iraqi occupation show us that a government, to succeed, must be accountable to its citizens. Governments who are not accountable can only preserve their place– as we saw in the Soviet Union or Iraq under Saddam, and as the British attempted– by force.

And that forces us to look at our own government. When the notreason folks ask us minarchists and classical liberals where our own government draws its legitimacy, we tell them that it draws its legitimacy from the fact that the vast majority of our populace has agreed that it is legitimate. While that doesn’t mean that the social contract is something every individual agreed to, it does mean that if they are to damage that legitimacy, they must convince a critical mass large enough to get the rest of the majority to doubt the legitimacy. Once that doubt is there, their job is half won.

But it cuts both ways. We classical liberals ask why it’s legitimate that our government should have an income tax, or why it should allow things like Kelo to stand. We ask why our government has the authority to replace our private charities with their own distribution of our tax dollars, or why our government thinks it is their responsibility to control education, or health care, or the stock market, or anything else they’re shoving their grubby hands in.

Why is it legitimate? Because our populace largely believes it is. While we classical liberals expect our government to live within the means provided in the Constitution, the majority asks for bread and circuses, and act as enablers for the power over which the statists lust. Our government has been accountable to those who demand more government.

But times are changing. I believe that recent approval ratings for our Congress show that the majority are starting to believe that the government is becoming increasingly unaccountable. They see that government has become accountable to furthering its own power and to satisfying the wants of special interests– not of helping ordinary citizens. And as information and media are increasingly dominated not by big interests, but by individuals, I think that feeling of unaccountability will increase.

In my estimation, we’re on a tipping point in society. The feeling of ordinary Americans in the legitimacy of their government is failing. While they ask their government to protect them from terrorists, the government is arguing ceaselessly over gay marriage and flag desecration. And as we fight against this stupidity, I am reminded of something. History isn’t written by the majority, it is written by small groups able to sway opinion. This is as true today as it was when Samuel Adams suggested it 2 centuries ago:

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.

The American people all revere the Constitution, but cracks are forming in the government that has grown out of control and exceeded the specifications that document lay out. Those cracks aren’t simply in its ability to do its job, but they are cracks in the publics belief in the legitimacy of that government to continue to exist. How do classical liberals and minarchists make changes? We don’t need to dynamite the structure. A few well-placed stresses with crowbars will open those cracks up and bring the whole thing down. The revolutionaries had pamphlets, and we have blogs. Both are proverbial crowbars, and they’re working better every day.

Constitutions: Why the EU Will Fail

This will be part one of a two-part post (part 2 is here), discussing the legitimacy of government. In all senses, government is intended as a voluntary social contract in which citizens give power to the government in exchange for protection of rights. In the case of modern government, this is typically done with a Constitution.

But what goes into the making of a Constitution? What determines whether a Constitution will be successful or unsuccessful? To help illustrate, let’s look at two examples.

First, the United States Constitution. We, as Americans, look back upon this document as if it was holy writ, with the virtues of all that is good in the world shining down upon the Founding Fathers as they wrote this document. And, in many ways, when you see the incredible speed and stability with which America has found her place as the leader of the free world, you glorify those Founding Fathers as if the document itself is perfect.

But is it? Ben Franklin didn’t entirely think so:

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.

As I’ve pointed out before, the men who founded our country were not perfect, nor did they expect government to be perfect. Nor, then, do they necessarily think the document they were creating was perfect. It is well known that at the time of the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the creation of the Constitution, that many of its proponents had a moral qualm with slavery. How a document asserting that all men were endowed by their creater with the right of Liberty be drafted in a place where slavery was practiced? How could we have an official Constitution which declared some human beings only 3/5ths equal? Even a slaveowner like Thomas Jefferson understood the hypocrisy of declaring all men equal while holding some in bondage. But to create the best document and best government they could, they had to make compromises. And they left open the amendment process, to fix their unfortunate compromises in the future.

I look at the United States Constitution as the foundation for a house. When you build a house, you don’t need a foundation that drives 100 feet into the soil. Nor do you need 3-foot thick concrete walls to support that house. You look at the reasonable size of the house you’re trying to build, and develop a foundation which will support that house. And in the future, if you want to build an addition, you may need to extend the foundation, which we do through the Amendment process.

If anything, the current problems we have in this country stem from the fact that we have tried to build a house (government) too large for its foundation (Constitution). Instead of understanding this error, and making sure that the Constitution is amended to strengthen that foundation, we have simply started adding weight, completely disregarding the Constitution. As such, that foundation we started with is crumbling, and threatens to take the entire structure with it.

Our Constitution, while not perfect, gives a very strong foundation for the sort of government the Founders intended, one of limited power and scope. It is not strong enough to support a government that provides cradle-to-grave sustenance, a fact that has been ignored for the last century.

Now, compare this to the Constitution proposed by the EU. I should warn before you click over that it’s a nearly 2-megabyte, 485-page PDF file. 200 pages or so define the EU itself, and then another 200 pages are devoted to protocol related to previous treaties between the member nations. What the United States accomplishes in a document that will fit in a pocket requires a volume for the EU.

If you compare the US Constitution to the foundation for a house, you must then compare the EU constitution to plans designating its floorplan, exterior, and window treatments. In short, you have created something that is nearly impossible to agree upon. While the US Constitution largely defines basic rules of government that are easy to form consensus, the EU asks you to look at an entire house and determine if you like it.

What happened when the French and the Dutch voted “No” on adopting the Constitution? Basically they were saying they prefer a split-level ranch with stucco exterior as their house, and the Constitution was offering them English Tudor. When your constitution moves beyond basic structure of the government, stepping into the realm of minutiae, you’re quickly going to find yourself alienating constituencies that disagree with a bit of minutiae that harms them in particular, even if the rest of the government is to their benefit. And when you have a 485-page Constitution, it’s going to be clear that nobody can even truly understand the whole implications of agreeing to it, which also works against its potential adoption.

However, there is even a more fundamental error. As I pointed out, there are 200 pages of the document devoted to protocol on former treaties of the member nations. This is akin to trying to build your house on a foundation of sand. If the EU wants to write a successful constitution, it must be written not based upon these treaties, but based upon making all these treaties obsolete. What needs to be written is a Constitution that tells the member nations that what the Constitution provides is beneficial to all, and is better than their previous treaties. In addition, it needs to say that these treaties are no longer acceptable, because the rules between members of the union should be decided by the union itself.

The EU is trying to become as powerful as the US, but doesn’t understand that to do so you need to trample on sovereignty a bit. In some ways the United States became successful because our Constitution designed a union that all States must be bound by, and as a part of this Union, did all it could to make travel and commerce between states as easy as possible. The EU is trying to simply codify each nation’s particular rules and protectionist practices.

At the time of the American Constitutional Convention, we had states with largely similar culture, ideals, and goals. The United States Constitution reflects this, setting up a government that each State had general agreement with. In many ways, the United States Constitution tramples on the sovereignty of each individual State, but they did so in a way that the States believed were advantageous to them. The EU has not done so. The EU has taken nations with little common culture, common language, and who each have their own nationalist streak, and tried to form them into a union that doesn’t really do what is required to unite those nations. In honesty, they are forming a treatied alliance, not a Union. And without a solid foundation, they are setting themselves up to fail.

Never Again

On July 4th, the United Nations will convene a conference on “the international trafficking and trade in small arms”; which is essentially shorthand for U.N. gun control.

For some time now the U.N. has promulgated treaties which would effectively ban private firearms ownership in signatory states. They have also attempted (thus far unsuccessfully) to add such provisions to their charter, and the universal declaration of human rights; which all U.N members are required to be signatory to.

The various gun rights organizations in this country (and to a lesser extent around the world), are making a very big public relations deal about this; and they have been for quite some time (since the 1970s in fact, but especially since Wayne LaPierre became president of the NRA. He’s even written a book on the subject which a kind reader is sending me to review). Conversely the statist media around the world are using these groups opposition, and sometimes seemingly paranoid rantings (believe me there are just as many whack jobs on our side as on theirs) of these groups supporters as their own public relations bonanza.

Which, in the U.S., is all this is; public relations.

The bald fact is that the U.N.; and the various NGO’s who support this initiative; have the stated and trumpeted goal of banning all private firearm ownership. This is not even an open question, it is their stated goal. It may not be their short term goal for today; but it is what they want in the long term, and universally; and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

So what.

No treaty may take precedence over the U.S. constitution. It’ written right into the document itself; the constitution is the supreme law of this land. The constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms (note: it does not GRANT that right, it recognizes and protects the pre-existing right). This is incontrovertible.

We in America are safe from the U.N. and other NGOs manipulations in this matter; until such time as our constitution is amended; or forcibly ignored (but that’s another topic entirely). The rest of the bleating from the NRA and other organizations is essentially fundraising, and consciousness raising. They are using this issue to alarm folks who might otherwise not be paying attention (and god knows there are millions of gun owners who don’t); into understanding that there are organized, well funded, and even extranational (or transnational) efforts to abrogate their rights.

That part of the effort, or at least that purpose attached to it, I applaud greatly; but screaming “The UN is going to take your guns” to Americans is both untrue, and crass.

This is not to say that the UN’s efforts in this regard should not be opposed; they should; and not simply because the U.N. is a corrupt, criminal, and fundamentally unsound organization (though that is a sufficient reason, it isn’t the only one).

This reason alone is both sufficient, and necessary: The only effective long term tool to combat genocide and democide, is an armed and educated populace.

Please note it takes both components.

An educated unarmed population will still be slaughtered by those intent on enforcing their will on them; or in effecting their destruction.

An armed, uneducated population, is nothing more than a tool for a dictator to effect such genocide and democide.

Some would cry “but what can private individuals do against an army, or a government?“.

Let me tell you right now, it is amazing what an armed and educated population can do; even when their arms are limited, scrounged, and inferior; and their numbers seemingly too small to matter.

I could give you many examples, but I believe one is sufficient: our nation was founded by such men.

Even when victory is remote, one can choose to fight; fight for the chance to be free; and choose to be free in fighting rather than to be a slave, or to be slaughtered.

In 1943, no more than 200 Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian Jews held two divisions of NAZIs at bay for two months, using only captured and scrounged weapons; with which they had no training or experience (before the fighting ended another 750 men joined them). None of these men were soldiers, they were tailors, and scholars, and jewelers… but they had intelligence, and a will to survive.

Yes, they were eventually slaughtered; as the NAZIs did to so many others; but they died defending themselves and their families.. or what was left of their families. They were not simply mown under like wheat.

Even if one cannot prevail; it is sometimes better to fight and die, than to be led to the slaughter.

They had a choice, and they fought, and they were free for at least a time. They chose death fighting, over being slaughtered like cattle, or made to be slaves in the concentration camps.

In 72 AD another group of Jews; this one perhaps 1000 strong, but 2/3 of them women and children; made a similar choice. They withdrew themselves to the fortress at Masada, where they were besieged by perhaps 10,000 Romans. For two years they held the Romans at bay; but they received no support from their disarmed brethren; who were content to live under the heel of Rome.

Without outside assistance, they did not have the arms sufficient to resist the Romans; but rather than be enslaved or executed by them, thy chose to die; poisoning each other, and slitting each others throats.

“Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice…We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.”

— Elazar ben Yair, Patriarch of Masada

An armed man need not choose to die at the hand of his persecutors; he may fight them, and he may win; he may fight them, and he may die; or he may be overwhelmed by them, and he may take his own life; but an armed man has a choice.

Leonidas held the pass at Thermopylae with 300 spartans, (along with 700 thespians, and 400 thebans); against many thousands (anywhere from 800,000 to several million) of Persians under Xerxes. He knew the battle was lost, but he would not submit. When Xerxes petitioned the Spartans to lay down their arms, and they would be spared; Leonidas responded “?O??? ????“… “Come and take them!”

They made their choices to die fighting, to die free. The unarmed man has no choice but to submit.

An unarmed populace, with an enemy bent on their genocide: Germany, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania Serbia, Bosnia, Armenia, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Kurdistan, Cambodia…

Hundreds of Millions dead in the 20th century alone… HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS

The U.N. must be stopped in this; if for no other reason than to prevent these horrible things from happening once more.

Never Again

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Ditch the UN — Before it’s Too Late

Today in the Washington Post, the suggestion is that we learn from the game for skinny guys who can’t throw, and adapt FIFA practices to the UN:

Though it is difficult to envisage a FIFA-colored bulldozer forcing regime change at the UN, some parts of the organization could certainly benefit by adopting FIFA’s principles, transparency and common vision, and the Beautiful Game’s rules of fair play.

FIFA owes 102 years of success to its emphasis on fair play, which has survived numerous disputes, communism and two world wars. The UN was formed by mostly Christian, industrialized countries after World War II. Like FIFA, it seeks fair play, but in its search for “stability”, has grown and sprawled into multiple organisations. Unlike FIFA, it has lost its focus.

I’ve got a better idea: why not just leave the UN?

In the debates between minarchism and anarchism, there are two common points. The minarchist claims that the anarchist’s society will devolve into totalitarianism and rule by the strong. The anarchist, on the other hand, claims that no matter how well you set up a minarchist society, you will inevitably have sprawling government that infringes on its citizen’s rights.

Thomas Jefferson understood both points very well, when he said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” He knew, and also said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” The natural trend of minarchy is towards statism. And the only way to fight this is to keep statism in check whenever and wherever possible.

Is it not time to do so with the United Nations? All governments tend to accumulate power, and while the UN hasn’t really yet become a true government, it is slowly trending that way. They’re already trying to find ways to lobby direct taxes on member nations, looking to take over control of things such as the internet, and generally trying to be the arbiter of when and where the use of military force is “legal”. Allowed to grow unchecked, the UN will eventually become to the United States what our own federal government is to the individual states of the Union: its master.

When the United Nations was formed, it was largely a puppet of the permanent members of the Security Council, a group who desired world stability. Now it has become a forum for tin-pot dictators to be the tail wagging the dog. It’s a farce, where the UN Human Rights Commission is populated by some of the largest human rights violators in the world. The UN doesn’t serve our purposes any more, and if we don’t watch out, the UN will make sure we serve theirs.

However, we have a chance today to change this course. The United Nations has a crucial flaw, in that it relies on the United States for almost all of it’s military power, a base of operations in New York, and an enormous chunk of its budget. The United States’ withdrawal from the UN, if done soon, could cripple the organization, forcing it to wither in irrelevance.

Every day that we wait, though, the UN grows stronger. If we wait too long, the UN will be strong enough on its own to exist without us, and losing our seat at the table will be a negative. In the 1860’s, we saw what happens when a group tries to break free from a position of weakness, rather than strength. But instead of a group held together to halt such evils as slavery, we will be held in the UN by a group who exalts Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and denigrates freedom and capitalism.

I think that both the anarchist and the minarchist is correct. Anarchism and minarchism both end up somewhere we don’t want to be, although through different methods (and, IMHO, at different rates). We already may be too far down the road to stop the US government, short of expelling the blood of patriots and tyrants. But it’s not too late for the United Nations. Weeds are best defeated before they’re allowed to take root, and the UN is no exception. Let’s uproot them from Turtle Bay, make them pay their parking tickets, and get them on the first plane to Geneva.

Democracy, Stability, and Science Fiction

A very common conceit in fantasy and SF, is the “time traveller gets stuck in the past and builds an ideal society”, and it has been through the entire history of the genre going back a few hundred years. In fact I think the very first SF/F book I ever read was “A Connetticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court” by Mark Twain. It’s absolutely iconic of this type of SF/F.

Anyway, theres a good reason for the popularity of the type, in that it makes a good story. Theres just remendous potential for exploration, and it engages the authors mind and passions, which although it can degenerate into wankerism, can also produce amazing things.

Even more so, it engages the readers mind (assuming they are an engineer type, social, political, or hard sciences oriented) in similar pursuit. I dont think theres a group of geeks, gun guys, or re-creationist (funny how much overlap there is there) who hasnt had discussions about what they would take back in time with them, or how they would rebuild civilization after the fall or some such thing.

My favorite series in this subgenre is definitely Eric Flints (and others) “Ring of Fire” series; and I would guess that in recent years it has been the best selling of the type. My SECOND favorite series of the type however, is collectively called “The Adventures of Conrad Stargard”, by Leo Frankowski; and he is still writing them today.

At any rate, there is no clearer example of an authors engineering (both social and technical) fantasy fulfilment than these books; and the fact that they are written by a former specialty equipment controls engineer (they make the systems which control large complex custom machines, like entire assmebely lines etc…) means that the TECHNICAL detail is great fun (and not really excessive to my mind… but I’m an engineer myself).

Also though, and I think more significantly, the author goes extensively into how technology effects social factors, and vice versa. So along with the technological engineering, he is a social engineer; but at the same time the technology and society of the time are re-engineering the main character.

Recently, I was so strongly put in mind of the Stargard series that I decided to re-read it; and while reading, I came across this passage, while Conrad was going over various political systems in his mind:

I believe that democracy is the best possible system for a nation with an educated, concerned, and reasonable population.

It is not that the people are particularly wise. They aren’t. And the larger the number of people involved in a decision, the poorer the decision is likely to be. To find the IQ of a group, take the average IQ of the people involved and divide by the number-of people in the group.

Anyone who has ever marched troops can verify that a hundred men have the collective intelligence of a centipede. Worse. A centipede doesn’t step on its own feet.

No. Democracy is a good system because it is an extremely stable system.

In many parts of South America and Africa, when an individual becomes truly disgruntled, he gets together with six hundred friends, three hundred rifles, and maybe a hundred bullets and starts a revolution. This practice is socially disruptive and results in lost worktime, destroyed property, and dead bodies.

In America, such an individual does not go off to the hills with a gun. He becomes a political candidate.

Of course, he knows that, to be effective, he must start at the bottom-say, sewer commissioner. So he runs against six other social misfits for that office. If he loses, at least he feels that he has done his best to straighten things out, that if the people don’t appreciate him, they don’t deserve him. Anyway, an election is so exhausting, physically, financially, and emotionally, that he is likely to be over his initial anger. If he wins, well, he can’t really do much harm. There are engineers to make sure that shit flows downhill. And who knows? Maybe he will turn out to be a good sewer commissioner. In any case, society is the winner. Seven potential troublemakers have been defused, only one of them has to be paid, and they just might get some useful work out of that one.

One should note, Frankowski is a bit of a socialist libertarian anarchist mix… Not really an anarcho syndicalist, one might call him a social democrat in the literal sense. Although I’m a bit more idealistic about democracy than that, I can’t say as I disagree with it, and I think it is a good point to make about our current situation in the mddle east.

See, there are idealistic reasons to democratize the mid-east, but there are also very practical reasons. Democracies are generally so busy with their own internal politics, that they dont have the time or energy to attack the rest of the world.

Or maybe I’m jsut reading to much into this…

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

When did they stop?

When I was a kid, and that isn’t exactly a geological age ago; there was a U.S. Flag in every single classrom. Most were on angled jackstaffs flying on the wall next to the P.A. speaker, over the chlakboard, or maybe over the main door.

This didnt warrant notice, any more than desks or chalkboards would.

A bill has just been introduced in the Arizona state house to require that all educational institutions that recieve public funding display the flag in every classroom. Current regulations (as pursuant to U.S. Flag code) only state that a flag must be flown somewhere on campus while school is in session.

My question is, when did they change? When and why did they stop?

The ed-stablishment is complaining that they don’t have the budget, and that they don’t have the personell trained in U.S. Flag code, to do so.

You have got to be kidding me.

Every day at my school, the teacher or the custodian would go around at night and roll the flags up on their jackstaffs. I (or my wife) do it every night to OUR flag. It’s not all that hard. Not only that, but if a flag is permanently mounted, it is acceptable to leave that flag flying at all times, so long as that flag is “properly illuminated” or so long as that flag is indoors.

The flag code is not difficult. Here’s a well illustrated guide, and the annotated code.

Not only that, but I guarantee you they could ask for and recieve enough donations for a proper flag in every classroom in a heartbeat. A decent small indoor flag, U.S. made, only costs about $20. Even a beautiful embroidered presentation flag is only about $100 for a small classroom size model.

Even better to my mind, an ammendment has been added to the bill that would require the concurrent display of the constitution, bill of rights and other ammendments, and declaration of independence as well.

Again, the ed-stablishment says they don’t have the budget; but I ask why isn’t this done alreayd/ Why hasnt this ALWAYS been done? When I was a kid every general ed classrom and history classroom had all of the above prominently displayed.

And still they protest?

No, I believe they are unwilling, because they do not beleive in our nation, our greatness, our exceptional position in this world as the true bastion of freedom and liberty (however it may now be compromised); and they do not wish to be associated with our symbol.

If this legislation passes, and is funded or volunteers fund it; I can assure you the ed-stablishment will find some other excuse to refuse to display our flag. I can guarnatee you that there will be protests by hispanic and native American groups. I guarantee you there will be teachers who refuse to display the flag in their classrooms, or who refuse to teach or assemble in a room where the flag is displayed.

They do this because they are the enemies of our country, and of our children; no more, no less.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The Flag And Freedom

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey has an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post about the latest attempt to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning:

With campaigns at full tilt and the Fourth of July just around the corner, the Senate’s new priority is to debate and vote on yet another resolution to amend our remarkable Constitution. This time it’s an amendment that would allow Congress to prohibit a form of protest that a large majority of Americans do not like: the burning or desecration of the American flag. Since 1989, when the Supreme Court decided unanimously and correctly that these rare, unpleasant demonstrations are expressions of speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment, there have been many such attempts. Fortunately, all have failed.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm for this amendment appears to have grown even as flag-burning incidents have vanished as a means of political protest. The last time I saw an image of the U.S. flag being desecrated in this way was nearly 20 years ago, when the court issued its decision. Thus this amendment — never appropriate in the oldest democracy on earth — has become even less necessary. But necessity is not always the mother of legislation.

Its also been nearly 20 years since the Supreme Court decided Texas v. Johnson, the case which struck down laws against flag burning. After an ill-advised attempt by Congress to pass a law that effectively reversed the decision, opponents tried the amendment route. The momentum for a Constitutional Amendment to reverse the decision has ebbed and waned over the years, and now appears to on the uptick again.

WASHINGTON — The Senate is one vote away from passing a constitutional amendment that would ban desecration of the U.S. flag, the closest that amendment supporters have been to passage.

The American Legion, which supports the amendment, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes it, both say there are 66 votes to pass it.

Whether advocates can find the 67th vote to send the flag amendment to the states for ratification remains unclear. A Senate vote is set for the week of June 26.

After that, all that would be in the way of a 28th Amendment would be the votes of 38 states. As Kerrey points out, the cost to freedom of speech that such an amendment would impose far outweigh whatever benefits would might accrue from banning the act of flag burning:

If our First Amendment is altered to permit laws to be passed prohibiting flag desecration, would we like to see our police powers used to arrest an angry mother who burns a flag? Or a brother in arms whose disillusionment leads him to defile this symbol of the nation? I hope the answer is no. I hope we are strong enough to tolerate such rare and wrenching moments. I hope our desire for calm and quiet does not make it a crime for any to demonstrate in such a fashion. In truth, if I know anything about the spirit of our compatriots, some Americans might even choose to burn their flag in protest of such a law.

When the flag burning debate was still young, I wrote this article for The Freeman. I’ve posted it before, but the words bear repeating:

The recent Supreme Court decision overturning state and Federal laws that made it a crime to burn or desecrate the American flag has created a storm of controversy. By now, the arguments against the decision have become familiar: by making it legal for the flag to be burnt or desecrated, it is argued, we are denigrating the banner under which Americans have fought and died for over 200 years. Furthermore, it is held, people who burn or desecrate the flag are attacking America as a nation and do not deserve the protection of the Constitution of the nation they are implicitly rejecting.

However, the reaction to the decision has focused more on emotional appeals than rational analyses of the issues at hand. We must not allow personal esthetic or emotional attitudes about flag burning to obscure the essential question: which should we be protecting, the flag of the United States or the principles of individual liberty, responsibility, and self-government upon which the United States was founded and which the flag is supposed to symbolize?

In adopting the position of the opponents of the Supreme Court decision, one would have to accept the seemingly contradictory idea that in order to protect the symbol of a nation founded on individual liberty, one must restrict individual liberty. Taking this position also leads one into dangerous territory in relation to other areas of action or thought and the effect that they might have on the rest of society. After all, if flag burning can be banned because a majority of the public are offended by an attack on what they believe to be a sacred symbol, then why not extend the ban into other areas where an individual’s actions might be offensive to others? If we ban flag burning, then why not ban movies or books that depict in an offensive way religious figures or other subjects considered to be sacred? Why not ban magazines, films, or groups that offend the sensibilities of women, blacks, Jews, or any other minority group?

A person who opposes flag burning may argue that he would not extend his logic as far as that in the above examples. But the reasoning behind these examples and that behind flag burning are of the same majoritarian parentage: the belief that if a sufficiently large number of people find an activity offensive then they can use the coercive power of the state to regulate or, preferably, to ban that activity.

The problem, then, with taking the position that the flag should be protected even at the expense of individual liberty is not that flag burning or any other activity deemed to be offensive has some sort of redeeming value, or that symbols such as the flag are unimportant, but that in banning these activities, one is accepting a principle that is ultimately destructive of a free society. By accepting this principle, we are allowing for the creation of a society wherein appropriate expressions of patriotism, appropriate forms of artistic expression, and appropriate activities are decided by a process of majority rule that, rather than minimizing conflict in society, heightens it to a dangerous degree.

A preferable position would be to assert that while the flag is an important American symbol, it is more important that we protect principles such as liberty, private property, freedom of speech, and freedom of thought that have been at the very core of the American system, even if this means that we must tolerate activities that offend us. In taking this position, one would not have to assert that these activities have any redeeming value or recommend that others engage in them, but simply that toleration of such acts is the price that must be paid for living in a free society. Most important, it would not be left up to the state or an ever-shifting majority to decide what is offensive and whether something that is deemed offensive should be banned. This would minimize the conflicts over such sensitive areas as religious belief and artistic expression.

It is undeniable that to most Americans, including those who value liberty, flag burning is offensive. We do not like to see someone set fire to a banner that is a symbol of freedom, especially when that person rejects the freedom the flag symbolizes. However, we must not allow our love for the flag-as-symbol to blind us to the reality that a law banning flag burning or desecration would be as much a restriction on individual liberty as would be a law banning publication of a book that seems to denigrate a religion. Neither must we forget that the moment one concedes that certain activities should be banned simply because they offend other people, one is allowing for the creation of an environment in which no one is safe to do what he might, lest he offend someone and bring down on him the heavy hand of the government.

The answer to the question, “Which should we protect, freedom or the flag?” is that we should protect freedom above all else. In denying an individual the right to burn his own flag in protest or to engage in any number of offensive but otherwise harmless activities, we are denigrating the principles that the flag is supposed to symbolize and are doing a disservice to the patriots who established this nation not to protect a flag but to enshrine freedom

In some ways, its hard to believe, that, 16 years later, we’re still having the same debate.

A New Paradigm Replacing the Old

The other day, I was visiting der Eidelblogger, who was discussing the rising rents and impending demise of New York’s Flower District. He made an offhand point, about using to buy flowers, which got a tad under my skin. I commented on his post, but there’s a lot more to be said.

The best man in my wedding spent several years working for FTD (along with one of it’s subsidiaries, Flowers All Hours). Since we regularly chat about business, and the various business models our companies followed, I have a more-than-rudimentary understanding of how FTD works. Thankfully, he’s moved on to greener pastures, so if I illuminate people as to how their business works, it’s no skin off him.

So let me make sure everyone, off the bat, understands one thing. FTD doesn’t sell flowers. They don’t make flower arrangements, they don’t deliver flowers, and they don’t own any flower shops. They are only one thing: an order fulfillment service.

FTD is a network. They work with individual florists, and when someone from, say, Massachusetts wants to send flowers to a friend in California, they contact FTD. FTD takes their credit card info, for a $50 arrangement, tacks on $10-20 in fees, plus a $10 delivery fee, and sends the order to one of the florists in their network. They don’t particularly care if the florist is wonderful or simply adequate, they’re just looking to pass along an order and get their commission. As a consumer, you’re getting a $50 arrangement for $80, but since you don’t know the florists in California, you know you’re getting an adequate product, but without having to know the reputation of the florist you’re working with. Of course, FTD constantly has to monitor their florists to make sure they don’t short their orders, since it’s rare that someone who’s receiving flowers knows the difference between a $40 and $50 arrangement. And the individual florists have ample reason to try to game the system, because they’re spending boatloads of money to be a member of the FTD network, and want to ensure it generates a positive cash flow.

Well, that business model may have made sense a few years ago, but with new information, it’s much better to simply cut out the middleman. Why use FTD, for example, when you have CitySearch? Instead of placing an order for adequate flowers using FTD, knowing for a fact that I’m being overcharged, a quick search of local florists on CitySearch can provide reviews, ratings, and an assurance that other consumers have been happy with that florist’s products. I know that instead of the adequate, overpriced arrangement I might get through FTD, I’m likely to get a spectacular and properly-priced arrangement from a florist that is trying to impress a potential repeat customer.

Five years ago, before the internet had reached its current level, FTD was an indispensible tool in sending flowers to someone across the country. Now, it’s a wasteful middleman who serves no purpose. It will take a couple years for that message to reach down to the average person like me, who– without having a friend in the business– wouldn’t have had a clue about the flower industry, but it is something that can easily change over time.

But flowers are just one facet. To see where the flower industry might end up in several years, we should look at the current travel industry. 10 years ago, if you wanted to go on vacation with your family, you’d look around for the best travel agent in your area, set up an appointment, and let the travel agent book and organize your trip. These days, however, I doubt that a single one of the readers of this blog has done so for a trip they’ve made in the last year. If they have chosen to do that, I’ll bet they’ve looked back on it with at least a small bit of regret, assuming they’ve actually done some research on their own since.

Years ago, the only way that someone could reasonably keep on top of travel deals and knowledge of destinations would be to make it a full-time job. Travel agents were a necessary middleman in the business. If I wanted to travel to, say, Montreal, I could look around at the library and bookstores for Montreal travel guides. I could call around to all the airlines to find who had the best fares, call all over the place for the best hotel deals, and then call all around to find out the best rental cars. I might spend several days compiling all this information before making a decision. Or, I could simply pay a travel agent a small fee to take care of it. I may spend a small amount of time talking to friends and coworkers to find a reputable agent, but beyond that, it’s just not worth it to do the rest of the research on my own.

These days, though, all the information a travel agent has is at my fingertips. I have a host of different web sites I can use to find the best airfare, car rental, and hotel deals, complete with pictures, ratings and reviews, and much more information than a travel agent of 10 years ago could have dreamt of. To say that the internet has empowered individuals is the only apt description, because it has given laymen the power that only professionals once had.

This scenario is being played out in far more places. Nobody needs a Zagat guide when they have a myriad of sites for restaurant reviews. Purchasing maps is slowly phasing out, with the advent of online point-to-point directions and the lower costs of GPS navigation systems. Even such things as retailing are feeling the pinch, as a greater number of items are being offered online, and a greater number of people are self-selling items through services such as eBay. The old paradigm, where local businesses acted as gatekeepers to information, is imploding. Information is both expanding and becoming more accessible at an ever-increasing rate, to the point where the cost of information– in many areas– is simply zero.

Does that mean that travel agents and FTD will disappear in the near future? No. Travel agents are still more efficient at booking vacations for large groups than the internet. For example, my company is doing a trip later this year, and to pile the work of organizing dozens of people strewn all over the country to get them to the destination onto one admin is absolutely insane. For the moment, at least, those sorts of arrangements work better with someone who is used to arranging group discounts and group trips. Likewise, for the moment, the ease of FTD is still preferable, to most people, than the hassle of searching CitySearch to find a highly-rated florist who can provide a great product, regardless of the cost savings which might follow.

But these things are changing. Just as travel agents for personal vacations and the Zagat guide are simply obsolete, services like FTD will become so soon. The world is changing quickly, and the only way to prosper is to see which way it’s headed.

Why Any Rights At All?

Edit: I should point out that I’m a doofus. I didn’t intend to mischaracterize Francois’ position. Didn’t even mean to intimate that this was a direct response to his position. Just a general thingy on the problems I see with anarchy…and why I support the concept of negative rights. And, as a couple point out, I might be dead wrong in my characterization of anarcho-capitalism entirely.

There are many who claim not to see the difference between negative and positive rights. However, this isn’t a valid position to take given the extent of application of the positive/negative distinction. Far from being applicable solely to the rights of man, they find use in describing virtually every situation in which action is required. For instance, in Operant Conditioning, the terms positive and negative are used to denote different forms of reinforcement. Negative reinforcement isn’t punishment and positive reinforcement isn’t reward. Negative reinforcement is withholding or not using a stimulus (whether a reward or a punishment). Positive reinforcement is giving that stimulus to the subject (again, whether it’s a good or bad stimulus).

When it comes to rights, negative rights are quite simply those things you would have with no interference; Unless you murder me, I live. Unless you stop me, I’m free. Unless you take it, I have property. Unless you attempt to take it away from me, I have that right. Positive rights on the other hand are things you can only have with interference (again, ‘good’ or ‘bad’). A ‘right to a standard of living’ can only be maintained if those who don’t have that standard of living are given it by an outside source. This outside source is inevitably government. And said government works through taxation and regulation. You have a ‘right to a standard of living’, if I subsidize it. You have a ‘right to maternity leave’ if your employer concedes it. The difference can only be made up through the contribution of others. It is thus a ‘positive right’. And, because this ‘right’ can only be maintained through the coercion and loss of property of others, it is mutually exclusive to the maintenance of negative rights. The same is true for all ‘positive rights’. They thus result in a net loss of liberty.

But a man could ask why any rights at all?

Which is an exceedingly more difficult question. But one I’ll try to handle in the following post. As I’ve said, I’m a behavioral ecologist. And while I love monkeys, I also have a passion (if you couldn’t tell) is for philosophy. Particularly evolutionary epistemology and ethics. Evolutionary epistemology is comparatively easy to derive from first principles, and even easier to expound upon. Evolutionary ethics, on the other hand, is a huge mess. It is nearly impossible to derive a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ when all actions essentially derive from selfishness. We call the selfish but devoted father that is the Titi monkey ‘good’, while we call the infanticidal–but no more selfish–male Howler monkey ‘bad’. I still haven’t figured that problem out, and the manuscript still sits on the back burner more or less untouched, 2.5 years later.

The Problem
This basic problem of how to define ‘good’ without a clear universal is even more complex when it comes to political philosophy. The reason is because what at first looks like a simple problem is actually twofold:

1)Why are ‘negative rights’ good? Why are ‘positive rights’ bad?
2)Why any rights at all?

I’ve discussed Problem 1 at length both here and at my own blog. The major defect in ‘positive rights’ is that it posits the existence of ‘The People’ as a single entity, a collective. This differs from ‘the people’ as used by the Framers to denote a collection of individuals who share a common government. The idea of a collective, of group selection, has little or no basis in reality. It hasn’t been shown to exist. Rather, as outlined by Adam Smith and corroborated by two decades of economists, mathematicians, and behavioral ecologists progress and cooperation are simply epiphenomena relating to self interest. To quote Terry Pratchett:

‘I’m sure we can all pull together, sir.’

Lord Vetinari raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh I do hope not, I really do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.’ He smiled. ‘It’s the only way to make progress…’

Forcing humans into a collective goes against our very nature, which is why such coercive governments seldom last without the added coercion of lethal retaliation for disobedience. And why they inevitably succumb to stagnation.

The Solution
And in here we see a makeshift solution to the ‘good’/’bad’ problem: What were we built to do? How were we built to behave? What are the rules by which we function? And if the trend continued, how would things end up? In other words, if the models that behavioral ecologists and economists used were taken to their logical conclusion, what would we see?

With Problem 2 we run into greater difficulty. ‘Surely what we see in nature is anarchy,’ would inevitably be an anarchist’s reply. And in that no animal other than humans has a codified rule of law, he’d be right. Yet there are trends we can see within the animal kingdom, particularly among the most intelligent social mammals, that would seem to tend toward things that are too expensive to fight for.

The basic idea is that the ‘worth’ of an individual can be calculated in terms of the time and energy spent to create said being. An insect or a mantis shrimp doesn’t cost a whole lot to make. Neither does an egg-laying vertebrate like a fish or a frog or a snake. Small mammals aren’t much further up the scale. But as one goes up the scale in intelligence, sociality, longevity, and size, they get much more expensive and much more demanding very fast. Just for some perspective, while some rodents can produce up to 6 offspring every 3 weeks, you can only produce 2-4 wolves every two years in your average pack (which consists of several adults of both sexes). It takes a monkey anywhere from 2 to 6 years to achieve completion, a chimp or a gorilla up to a decade, and a human close to 18 years, with correspondingly lower interbirth intervals.

A mantis shrimp dying might only represent 50-100 calories lost. A chimpanzee on the other hand, would amount to literally anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of calories of lost investment if he died. Interestingly enough, the cost of producing an adult of a given species and the intensity, frequency, and lethality of fight situations within and between groups shows a pretty robust trend toward fewer and less intense fights the more expensive the individual. Fights to the death are not uncommon among invertebrates and ‘cheaper’ vertebrates such as the famed lethal dances of male hummingbirds. But amongst higher primate males (excluding humans), within-group lethality is such an uncommon occurrence that a simple description of the incident is often worth an entire scientific publication (in other words, pretty remarkable). Lethality between groups is likewise low, with Chimpanzees being the only other primate known to do so in a systematic manner. And even that is rare.

As might be predicted, the general trend we see, from ‘life’ on down through ‘property’, is that the higher the energetic worth of an animal, forcible coercion through violence drops lower and lower. Instead, the mere likelihood of retaliation is enough to convince the would-be aggressor not to bother. This is the basic principle behind Heinlein’s assertion that ‘an armed society is a polite society’.

This would seem to be an argument in support of the anarchist’s assertion that society will find order on its own anyway. But an important part of this understanding is that violence does happen. Animals’ ‘property’ (whether food or territory) is stolen. And females and males alike find themselves coerced by more dominant individuals on a regular basis.

Although the incidences of all of these would decrease relative to other animals in a human anarchistic society due to an increased fear (and cost) of retaliation, they would still exist. So what the anarchist asserts is that a basal level of murder, coercion, and theft is somehow ok. The depredations against others in an anarchy represent the background noise that proponents clearly ignore as mere stochastic effect. Which seems just a bit dismissive, if you ask me. And not all that different from the collectivist mentality of the leftist when you get down to it. Just as–according to the Supreme Court–the police are responsible for the protection of ‘the people’ but not a single individual, the anarchist is fine with a relatively low level of transgressions against man’s right to life, liberty, and property among ‘the people’ despite its continued occurrence amongst individuals. ‘As long as ‘the people’ are more or less free, who cares about a couple of them?’ is what they seem to say.

But more importantly, the anarchist imputes too much to statement that ‘All men are created equal.’ Even at birth, some are taller, some are heavier. Some are healthier, some are more alert. Should one strip away all of the material (environmental) differences, the genetic differences would still leave vasts gulfs between the most capable and the least. The anarchist’s basic argument of self order is dependent upon not only a level playing field but teams consisting of cloned players. While his assumptions hold basically true in the animal kingdom where the difference between the Alpha male and the lowest of the subordinate males doesn’t tend to be all that great, in a population as varied as humanity, the assumption doesn’t even begin to resemble reality. In such a system, where some are capable of greater acts of coercion than others, and where the threat of retaliation varies widely from almost none to almost infinite, a few will inevitably come to control the many. An oligarchy. History tells us much about these oligarchies, and about how noble, how meritocratic, how well-meaning they are in the beginning, such things will inevitably become mere tools for the ambitious, the greedy, the predators, to all the more easily take power with. And so tyrannies are born.

The anarchist turns a blind eye to the difference between the perfect world of their assumptions and the real world. The classical liberal merely acknowledges them. He sees that for society to remain free from tyranny, individuals must treat each other as if they were equal. It is not only the logical conclusion of the trend toward less and less coercive acts in the animal world, but also the only way to prevent tyranny. The young man must not kill the old one merely because the latter cannot protest. The man must not rape the woman merely because he can pin her. The strong must not take bread from the mouth of the weak merely because he can. Because eventually the young man will become a general, the man a police chief, the strong an iron-fisted dictator.

Book Review: An Army of Davids

Ahh, the advantages of plane travel: I finally get a chance to read in peace!

I just finished reading Glenn Reynolds’ (of Instapundit fame) An Army of Davids. The tagline, “How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths”, pretty well sums it up. Reynolds believes we’re at a turning point in world history, where technology has leveled the playing field, chopping down the natural advantages that the “Goliaths” have had for many years. If anything, Reynolds is a firm believer in the Adam Smith “invisible hand” theory, where millions of distributed individuals, working at what they love, bring about monumental changes. It’s not government that does so, unless they find ways to harness the power of those individuals.

If you’ve read me for any period of time, you will see that I’ve had some influence by the ideas Reynolds brings up this book, although since I rarely read, he hasn’t been a primary source for me. I’ve posted here, here, and here about how I believe the current shift has moved away from government to the individual. I think I had found my way, through the blogosphere and my own introspection, to agreement with Reynolds on a number of subjects presented in the book.

As for the book itself? Well, how can I dislike a book whose opening line in the introduction is “About fifteen years ago, I started brewing my own beer”?! It was a very well-written look at the ways that individuals are gaining power in the world, with only a short look at blogs and the media. Moving along, he touches on subjects like the growing ability of workers to telecommute and the rise in entrepreneurial opportunity, the change in music recording and distribution brought about by the internet, and the ability of humans (both within the blogosphere and in the meatspace world) to act as a pack of individuals with a common goal– and not a herd being led. He goes on to point out how our media has grown and will continue to grow with the revival of the citizen-journalist, and how “horizontal information”, as he calls the greater inconnectedness of information in today’s society, changes the learning curve of humanity itself. Throughout this first section of the book, he gives real-world examples of trends he’s spotted in today’s world, and where and how he sees them impacting humanity in the short and long term.

When you get into the second section, he moves farther into true futurism, such as nanotechnology, life-extension, the colonization of space, and the Singularity. Through these chapters, his greatest theme, as far as I can see, is a simple one: “Hey folks, this stuff is coming. We’d better get used to the idea, so we can plan for it.” Reynolds doesn’t ask whether these advances will occur, he asks what we’re doing to help ensure that we know how to handle life when they arrive. In this section (with the exception of the space colonization chapter), he does tend to stray from his “Army of Davids” theme, though. He occasionally comes back, with discussions of how technologies such as nanotechnology might empower individuals, but it ceases to be a central theme here. Either way, it’s still an interesting read through these chapters, especially if you’re not already well versed in these areas.

The central theme of the book, of course, is truly a heartening idea to individuals. For a very long time, the dominating change in our world has been towards greater and greater centralization of power, whether it be in corporations, media, or government. Technology, however, has now reversed that trend. We are seeing every one of those areas returning power (though reluctantly) to individuals, as individuals find their voice to demand it. From the effects of blogs on media (i.e. Dan Rather) and politics (i.e. Porkbusters), to the effect of open-source on technology (i.e. Microsoft), loosely-connected groups of individuals, working for their own personal reasons, have acheived incredible accomplishments. He points out the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when– in the absence of government control– individual citizens simply organized on the fly and took care of what needed to be done. As the world becomes more complex, central control becomes less useful. With the march of technology, though, it becomes unnecessary even more quickly.

Reynolds uses the example of the creation of the internet as a global information warehouse, pointing out the naysayers– had they been asked 10 years ago if our current access to information was even possible– would never have thought it could occur. The argument of “it would take every librarian in the world decades to input all that information” doesn’t make sense when you have millions of individuals willing to do it for them, for free, simply because they find it interesting. Curiously, Reynolds doesn’t use the example of the open-source movement, which has the same nay-sayers. The open-source nay-sayers think that programmers would never work tirelessly to bring about major innovations in the software world. Yet exists, and provides a usable alternative to Microsoft. Did someone organize huge stockpiles of capital to make it happen? Nope, a million dedicated people who wanted to see it happen simply did it.

Overall, I consider it to be a great read. However, for those of you who are already evangelizing for the “Army of Davids” world, and who consider yourself a “futurist”, there isn’t a whole lot new here. Reynolds does craft it into a very readable and cohesive package, though, so it’s a great read regardless. If the preceding description doesn’t apply to you, though, buy it now! There are a heck of a lot of people who think the world is headed for some big changes, and Reynolds lays out a simple, readable, and entertaining description of what shape he (and I) think it will take.

The world is changing, and changing quickly. If there is truly an “Army of Davids”, consider me a self-ranked Lieutenant. Glenn Reynolds may just be one of our Generals. Thankfully, though, unlike the U.S. Army, the chain of command is nonexistent, and I don’t have to fear the UCMJ. I can go tell Gen. Reynolds to go pound sand if I like, and the best he can do is not link to me. Of course, knowing his sense of humor, he’s more likely to link to me with a derisive “Heh.”, defusing my suggestion of pounding sand pre-emptively. Either way, if Gen. Reynolds ever finds his way through Marietta, I’ll have a bottle of homebrew waiting :-)

As for what convinced me to “serve” in the “Army of Davids”? To that, I can only say the same thing I’d expect to hear from my fellow warriors: I’m doing this to make me happy, and any benefit you receive is ancillary.

Quote of the Day

It shouldn’t be hard for Republicans to see why they’re in danger of losing their majority. Voter anger over immigration and spending has manifested itself in citizen groups patrolling the border, challenging them in primaries, and bussing reporters to the sites of shameful pork-barrel projects. Going back to the story of the failing marriage, one spouse has known for a while what the other one’s up to. The source of her anger is clear. Maybe the wife doesn’t want a huge bouquet and an apology. Maybe she wants her husband to quit screwing around.

David Weigel in Reason Online, comparing the Republican push for the Federal Marriage Amendment to a cheating husband trying to make up to his wife after he’s been caught cheating. Hat tip: Instapundit.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Frist: You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Denny!

Someone stop this crazy circle-jerk, the real conservatives want to get off…

Hastert is longest-serving GOP speaker

Rep. Dennis Hastert, who vaulted out of political obscurity when Newt Gingrich resigned as speaker of the House more than seven years ago, on Thursday became the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.

Hastert, 64, surpasses fellow Illinoisan Joseph “Uncle Joe” Cannon, a pugnacious politician who ruled the House from November 1903 until the Democrats regained the majority in March, 1911.

“The House has achieved unprecedented success under his leadership,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., noting GOP successes in Medicare, education and tax cut legislation. “It’s no wonder Denny has become the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.”

GOP successes in Medicare & education? Sure, if you call falling on your own sword a “success”. Cutting your own guts out sure does keep your opponents from being able to claim they killed you, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

I think the American people, judging by their polling numbers of Congress, don’t consider the House to have unprecedented success. I sure as hell don’t.

And these days, neither does Doug:

Once Republicans acheived power in the 1994 elections, they were pretty quick to jump off the term limits bandwagon that had been a part of their electoral success. With a few notable exceptions, many of the members of the Class of `94 who had campaigned on the promise that they would only serve for a set number of terms suddenly found several convenient reasons why it was a good idea to break a promise to the voters. The real reason, of course, was that, once they had it, many Republicans found that they liked power and they liked being powerful. Why give it up voluntarily ?

In other words, Republicans in power began behaving just like the Democrats they had complained about during their 40 years in the wilderness of a seemingly permanent minority.

And, Hillyar notes, with Hastert at the head of the pack, the House GOP began displaying what can only be called the arrogance of power…

Time to go, Denny. If you don’t step down voluntarily, you’re rapidly leading us down the road to the words “Speaker of the House Pelosi”.