Category Archives: Democracy

The Social Media Revolution–An American Spring?

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Regular readers know that I–an irregular contributor here–have long said that the power of the internet is as-yet poorly understood and mostly untapped. Sure, we’ve seen the Arab Spring, but what is the internet really going to do in America beyond providing us endless hours of cat videos?

Well, Scott Adams [of Dilbert fame] suggests that it’s broken down our electoral politics and is turning us into a direct democracy:

The media has led you to believe that this is a presidential contest between Democrats and Republicans. But Sanders is barely a real Democrat and Trump is barely a conservative Republican. If Bloomberg jumps into the race, we will have three candidates with ambiguous party affiliations. So maybe there is a more helpful way to frame this contest.

Naval Ravikant calls it The American Spring, and points out that social media has become the real conduit to power. That’s a revolution. We the People are on the brink of replacing the entrenched powers and their monied interests. If the patriots in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other early primary states put both Sanders and Trump in commanding leads, they will be – in effect – firing the government. But they would also be firing the system of government that was created by the Founders. Direct democracy via social media – chaotic and ugly – is about to replace the Republic. No longer can a strong leader ignore the will of the people when it is pounding on every door and tapping on every window. The Republic was designed to give elected officials the power to decide for the people. But the elected elites have lost their legitimacy and The People are on the brink of taking back power.

I’ve said before that technology has led America to an increasingly centralized society, culture, and government.

  1. The printing press itself was the first step in creating durable broadsheet dissemination of information to a wide audience. The pen is mightier than the sword, but owning a printing press is like being the general of an army of penmen.
  2. Newspapers have followed an overwhelming consolidation and much of their news-gathering is centralized via the AP. And they had real power, because you “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
  3. The introduction of radio enabled a true real-time broadcast to allow single voices to reach much more widely than ever before.
  4. TV came along, and video truly killed the radio star. Because of the expense, consolidation into the “big 3” networks meant that the largest corporations could filter and control the presentation of information to the masses.

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“Television”. Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.


Each step increased the flow of information. But each step also drove the control of which information would flow into a narrower and narrower group of people. But technology marches on, and the filters of broadcast media are increasingly being sidestepped, democratized, and subsumed. It started with Cable, as the cost of getting into the television business dropped dramatically, and the appearance of the 24-hour cable news station widened the number of voices in the market. But nothing has come close to becoming relevant as quickly as the internet and social media. We now see major news productions no longer driving the reporting, but rather highlighting the tweets of feet on the ground. And Presidential primary political debates are taking questions from YouTube “stars”.

The internet has been around the “mainstream” less than 20 years now… Since then, it’s basically broken or fundamentally changed multiple business models in all sorts of industries, as any unemployed former travel agent will tell you. Politically, by 2004, blogs had changed the political landscape enough to give us Rathergate. But 2004–a mere 12 years ago–only brought us the first inklings of the social media future with MySpace. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all of these hadn’t even been invented yet. Essentially the “modern” social media landscape was built in ~2006, with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and integrated with the “computer in a pocket”, the iPhone and Android devices, over the following few years. We’ve been living with it for only a decade.
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The first decade of television was exciting, but raw. Everyone could tell that this was something new, and something important. Much like they can tell with the internet and social media now. It created new stars and obsoleted many former ones. It changed the world of politics. Much like internet and social media has done since. And now, as streaming video is replacing broadcast video for more and more households, and with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu becoming production companies in their own right, the traditional hold of the TV networks is breaking with it.

The “out of the blue” appearance of Ron Paul and now Bernie Sanders? Voices who have spent decades with no “mainstream” platform are now finding their audience. The growth of “outsider, anti-establishment” candidates gaining real traction? This is due to media conglomerates no longer being able to control the message and marginalize them. These candidates, rightly or wrongly, stand in stark contrast to the politicians who have been screwing us over for years while growing their own power. And can you imagine the quick changes in public opinion on the gay marriage, medical/recreational marijuana legalization fights, and civil liberties issues without a democratized communication platform like the internet? And the internet is not only domestic–it’s making these changes on a global scale.

So, what is the point? Well, it remains to be seen. We are witnessing the greatest social transformation the world has seen since at least the invention of television, but probably since the creation of “mass media” at all. We’re seeing the replacement of “broadcasting” with “narrowcasting”, or “sidecasting”, or “targetedcasting”, or “peercasting” or whatever you want to name it. But the fact is that information no longer only flows downhill from the powerful to the rest of us. Now, while each of us may individually be no more powerful than we ever once were, all of us are collectively more powerful than any individual media magnate or opinion-maker on the globe. While much of Scott Adams post goes into suggesting an idea that I don’t think will ever come to pass, the question of demolishing our system of government is well under way, whether the visible structures of government change or not.

Is this a good thing? Will it advance liberty? I’m not sure. But it’s certainly different, and the world–be it politicians, media folks, leaders of industry, etc–hasn’t quite figured out the implications of that yet.

How Donald Trump Has Destroyed The Republican Party

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The Republican Party is dead in its current form. The coalition of classical liberals, country club business types; and since Reagan religious conservatives, neocons, and populists, has been irrevocably broken. The man who gave it its final coup de grace is a toupeed billionaire blowhard named Donald Trump.

Trump has run a campaign that more resembles the National Front of France than anything else that has been in American politics for decades. Ben Domenech at The Federalist says that Trump could transform the GOP into a party based on identity politics for white guys. He’s right and it’s terrible for the country.

Over the next few months, even if Trump fails to win the Republican nomination, three parts of the old Republican party coalition: classical liberals (whether they self-identify as conservative, Constitutionalist, or libertarian), religious conservatives, and the country clubbers; will have to decide if they can be a part of a Trump-influenced party. Trump’s xenophobic populism is anti-free market and anti-Christian.

Let’s first examine how we got here. Since the Cold War ended, the Republican coalition lost a sense of purpose. It briefly got it back in the 1990s with the Contract With America, but the election of George W. Bush in 2000 knocked the party off track. The party that believed in limited government spent more than LBJ. The party that was once skeptical of foreign interventions launched a war of choice in Iraq. The party that claimed federalism as a principle expanded the role of Washington in everything from education to gay marriage. With the failures of the Iraq War and an economic crash on the minds of Amerians, Democrats were able to easily take control of the entire Federal government.

In the Obama era, we’ve seen even more Federal government intrusions in everything from the food we eat to religious freedom. The Tea Party was inspired as a backlash against the intrusive Federal government of both the Obama and Bush eras. Meanwhile, some Republicans saw it as an opportunity to rebrand from the disasterous Bush era. Still much of the opposition to Obama took on an ugly racial overtone that was a prelude to the current culture war.

Which brings us to the end of the prequel of this terrible tale. The country has erupted in a cultural cold war. The left, which is now fully embracing cultural Marxism, is pushing the politics of racial and cultural grievance. They’re not only content to defeat what they see is white, conservative privilege but they also want to shoot the wounded survivors of the battle. We see this with Christian wedding businesses who refuse to service gay weddings for example. Much of the reason why people support Trump is because they want to take part in a backlash against the uber-PC, cultural Marxist crowd. They see a Republican Party and conservative movement that is not defending their freedom and not fufulling their campaign promises. They’re angry and they’re going to Trump because “he fights.”

But when you delve into the substance of Trumpism, it’s fascism. Classical liberals will not go along with it. Religious conservatives are more interesting. There is definitely an age divide. Older religious conservatives may go along with Trump, but I have a hard time believing younger ones will. Polls show that younger evangelical Christians are more politically tolerant, even if they’re still socially conservative. As the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore points out, there’s not a lot of evangelical support for Trump. Finally, I have a hard time believing my neocon and country club friends will buy into a man who wants to retreat America from the world.

What could this anti-Trump coalition look like? An anti-statist movement that rejects nationalism, but still believes in a strong America playing a leading role in the world. History shows that a liberal democratic society can only exist if it is protected by a great power. It will be unapologetially for free markets, anti-crony capitalist, and a realistic approach on immigration. It will be federalist in nature returning as much power as possible from Washington D.C. and to states, communities, and individuals.

Whether this anti-Trump coalition will be a new political party or built upon the ruins of the Republican Party is yet to be determined. Who could be attracted to it are classical liberals, non-statist religious conservatives, some neocons who can see limits on American power but still want America to play an active role in the world, and many others who were previously not a part of the Republican Party such as independents, moderates, and perhaps some of the old left.

I think that Trump will kill the Republican Party as we know it, but in its place could be something that could be bad for American politics or it could be the birth of a new classical liberal movement. Only time will tell which one will it be.

 

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 The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:

 

 

 

Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

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

Gun Control and Electoral Math – The Scoreboard

Two years ago, I wrote a piece about electoral math and gun control, and how it was unlikely that we would have any serious national level gun control… and we have not (state level is another story unfortunately).

In that, I included a list of democratic senators who were up for re-election this year, their position on gun control, and how “at risk” their seat was:

Stupidity, Politics, and Electoral Math

So, now that we have the results of all of their elections, let’s see what the last two years hath wrought among them:

XX = Unelected (or resigned and replaced by Republican)

  1. XX – Alaska – Mark Begich – Very Pro Gun – very unsafe seat
  2. XX – Arkansas – Mark Pryor – neutral – very unsafe seat
  3. XX – Colorado – Mark Udall – neutral – not a safe seat
  4. Delaware – Chris Coons – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  5. Hawaii – UNKNOWN (special election to replace Daniel Inouye) – safe seat
  6. Illinois – Dick Durbin – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  7. XX – Iowa – Tom Harkin – Very anti-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  8. XX – Louisiana – Mary Landrieu – neutral – very unsafe seat
  9. Massachusetts – UNKNOWN (special election to replace John Kerry) – safe seat
  10. Michigan – Carl Levin – very anti-gun – safe seat
  11. Minnesota – Al Franken – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  12. XX – Montana – Max Baucus – very pro-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  13. New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  14. New Jersey – Frank Lautenberg – very anti-gun – safe seat
  15. New Mexico – Tom Udall – slightly anti-gun – safe seat
  16. XX – North Carolina – Kay Hagan – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  17. Oregon – Jeff Merkley – very anti-gun – safe seat
  18. Rhode Island – Jack Reed – very anti-gun – safe seat
  19. XX – South Dakota – Tim Johnson – very pro-gun – very unsafe seat
  20. Virginia – Mark Warner – very pro-gun – not a safe seat
  21. XX – West Virginia – Jay Rockefeller – moderately anti-gun – very unsafe seat

Lotta XX’s there… 9 actually, out of 21 (10 of those 21 were considered safe seats, barely challenged by Republicans). Pretty much every anti-gun democrat that wasn’t in a safe seat, except Shaheen and Franken (and they’re kinda weird cases).

And THAT folks, is why we will not have any significant gun control on the national level any time soon.

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 Senate Torture Report Will Change Nothing

I realize this is from Abu Ghraib, but at this point, does it matter?

I realize this is from Abu Ghraib, but at this point, does it matter?

The recently released report on CIA-authorized torture of detainees and prisoners includes everything we’ve known about our tortu– *ahem*, enhanced interrogation techniques of people at places like Guantanamo Bay, and then some. Featuring gruesome descriptions of waterboarding, beatings and “rectal feeding” – I didn’t know you could feed someone through their asshole1 – I’m not sure if the most shocking thing is the descriptino of what happened, or the fact that the reports we got – 600 out of 6,000 pages, and heavily redacted – is just the tip of the iceberg. Simply put, between this and the ongoing protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it’s not a good month so far for the government at virtually any level.

One would expect, after hearing “we’re not torturing people”, then seeing a report blatantly state that we’re definitely torturing people, that this would spur Congress to action, and if they wanted to drag their asses, the American people would spur them on, right?

If only it was that easy. Nothing will happen as a result of this. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised, as I write this on Tuesday night, if this was completely out of the news by the time the weekend comes. There are numerous reasons why I believe this disgusting report will ultimately blow over.

The release of this report wasn’t about policy. It was payback. – While Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was in front of cameras, accusing the CIA of lying to the President, the Senate, and just about everyone else it came across, all I could do was remember back to March, when she was going after the CIA for improperly accessing Senate computers as the Senate Intelligence Committee was preparing its report of detention and interrogation policies. The release of this report – the last chance to do so, by the SIC’s outgoing chairperson before Republicans take over the Senate – is a giant “fuck you” to John Brennan and the rest of the CIA. It’s a political receipt. At no point did transparency for the sake of improving our standing in the world and with our country’s citizens come into play, no matter how it’s spun.

Also, for all of Feinstein’s grandstanding, it should be noted that she’s probably the National Security Agency’s biggest cheerleader, and is perfectly fine with government agencies spying on ordinary Americans.

No one wants to set the precedent of trying major political figures – President Obama – who campaigned on transparency, fixing clandestine government actions, and ending wars – backed off of going hard after Bush Administration officials who started most of our torture programs after 9/11. He kept that limp-wristed, wishy-washy tack yesterday, praising the “patriots” who protected America after the attacks. Of course Obama doesn’t want to look back; if we decide to look back at his own Presidency in eight years, chances are very good that his two wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as his actions in Libya, would not survive scrutiny. In fact, if one looks back, the only President I can find who wasn’t guilty of either a war crime or a domestic action that could bring a death sentence is Carter. If we were to start trying major political figures, especially with a partisan bent, at what point do we cross the line from righteousness to Nixonian? No matter how much we want blood – a sardonic statement, given the circumstances – the political cost is too great.

It’s this reality that the ACLU’s Anthony Romero concedes to in his NYT Op-Ed stating that we should pardon Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others guilty of torturing or overseeing said torture. Romero’s intentions are noble – partly to shame Obama, partly to allow some the authority to talk without fear of retribution, and partly to further stain the names of Cheney and others – if not satisfying. We’re still prosecuting low-level Nazis 70 years after World War II, and we’re expected to pardon people who tortured people within the past ten years?

We’ve done this for years – Here is a brief summary of what our government is capable of: Operation Condor, Japanese-American Internment, Project ARTICHOKE, MKUltra, COINTELPRO, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the My Lai massacre, Iran-Contra, and more political overthrows than I can count… and that’s just since World War II. Shoving hummus up someone’s ass doesn’t even make the top five of that list, and that’s before I get to the Trail of Tears.

Most damningly…

Most Americans don’t give a shit – This is the most depressing part. I expect conservatives to beat the “kill the raghead!” drum, but it’s the liberals I’m most disappointed in. Outside of the Glenn Greenwald/Edward Snowden crowd2, there’s not much noise because everyone’s too busy with other issues. Today, it’s mostly the deaths of Garner, Brown, Tamir Rice and others that are starting to cause overreactions. Most liberals who are making noise about this are forgetting everything that’s happened since January 20th of 2009, preferring to put 100% of the blame on Bush and his people. In short, when it’s not a convenient partisan talking point, it’s a “they” problem, not a “we” problem, with “they” being those unfortunate enough to be threatened with their families being raped. Put simply, the only people that really care are the sadists, and those that cater to them. While it’s fun to watch Andrea Tantaros have a meltdown on national TV, it’s important to remember that her views are shared by almost half the country. And then we wonder why ISIL is beheading Americans.

I love America, but I’ve never been more ashamed of my country. It’s depressing to know that despite pretty clear indications of war crimes, no one will go to jail for it except those that reported it in the first place, no policy will change as a result of the torture report, and there’s a strong chance that by this time next week we’ll all be talking about the “War on Christmas” or some other made-up bullshit. We are too ill-informed, too shallow, and too lazy for any other result to come about from this.

2 – This is your friendly reminder that while the architects of torture since 9/11 still walk free, Edward Snowden is in Russia, John Kiriakou is in prison, Chelsea Manning is in prison, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is being held at the Ecuadorian Embassey in the United Kingdom on trumped up sexual assault charges

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.
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