July 20, 2011

Heinlein’s influence on the evolution of the libertarian movement

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:14

In a post to correct an assertion by SF author David Brin, Eric S. Raymond shows just how influential the writings of Robert Heinlein were to the early libertarian movement:

Robert Heinlein was a complex man whose views evolved greatly over time. The Heinlein of 1942, who put into the mouth of one of his characters the line “Naturally food is free! What kind of people do you take us for?” was only five years on from having been enchanted by social credit theory, which underpins his “lost” novel For Us, The Living; in later years he was so embarrassed by this enthusiasm that he allowed that manuscript to molder in a drawer somewhere, and it was only published after his death.

Between 1942 and 1966 Heinlein’s politics evolved from New Deal left-liberalism towards what after 1971 would come to be called libertarianism. But that way of putting it is actually misleading, because Heinlein did not merely approach libertarianism, he played a significant part in defining it. His 1966 novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress was formative of the movement, with the “rational anarchist” Bernardo de la Paz becoming a role model for later libertarians. By 1978, we have direct evidence (from an interview in Samuel Edward Konkin’s New Libertarian magazine, among other sources) that Heinlein self-identified as a libertarian and regretted his earlier statism.

But if Heinlein’s overall politics changed considerably and wandered down some odd byways during his lifetime, his uncompromising support of civilian firearms rights was a constant on display throughout his life. Brin observes that was already true in 1942, but attempts to attribute this position to John W. Campbell. Multiple lines of evidence refute this claim.

[. . .]

(When time has given us perspective to write really good cultural histories of the 20th century, Heinlein is going to look implausibly gigantic. His achievements didn’t stop with co-inventing science fiction and all its consequences, framing post-1960s libertarianism, energizing the firearms-rights movement, or even merely inspiring me to become the kind of person who not only could write The Cathedral and the Bazaar but had to. No. Heinlein also invented much of the zeitgeist of the 1960s counterculture through his novel Stranger In A Strange Land; it has been aptly noted that he was the only human being ever to become a culture hero both to the hippies of Woodstock and the U.S. Marine Corps. I am told that to this day most Marine noncoms carry a well-thumbed copy of Starship Troopers in their rucksacks.)

Here’s a bold proposal for Greece

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

Bill Frezza has an idea of what Greece really needs:

what is the purpose of casting Greece into some selective temporary financial purgatory where the irrelevant Greek economy can continue embarrassing anyone foolish enough to lend their dysfunctional government a dime? Why not go all the way and give the country what many of its people have been violently demanding for almost a century?

Let them have Communism.

[. . .]

What the world needs, lest we forget, is a contemporary example of Communism in action. What better candidate than Greece? They’ve been pining for it for years, exhibiting a level of anti-capitalist vitriol unmatched in any developed country. They are temperamentally attuned to it, having driven all hard working Greeks abroad in search of opportunity. They pose no military threat to their neighbors, unless you quake at the sight of soldiers marching around in white skirts. And they have all the trappings of a modern Western nation, making them an uncompromised test bed for Marxist theories. Just toss them out of the European Union, cut off the flow of free Euros, and hand them back the printing plates for their old drachmas. Then stand back for a generation and watch.

The land that invented democracy used it to perfect the art of living at the expense of others, an example all Western democracies appear intent on emulating. Being the first to run out of other people’s money makes Greece truly ripe to take the next logical step beyond socialism.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the link. As he suggests “this probably would be kinda fun to watch”. After all, retro-kitsch “Soviet theme parks” are a going concern, why not a country-sized version?

UN contemplating “Green Helmet” climate peacekeping forces

No, this isn’t taken from the pages of The Onion — the United Nations is seriously considering adding “climate change” to its peacekeeping portfolio:

A special meeting of the United Nations security council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.

Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the security council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.

[. . .]

Wittig seems to agree, noting that UN peacekeepers have long intervened in areas beyond traditional conflicts.

“Repainting blue helmets into green might be a strong signal — but would dealing with the consequences of climate change — say in precarious regions – be really very different from the tasks the blue helmets already perform today?” he wrote.

In an official “Concept Note” ahead of the meeting, Germany said the security council needed to draw up scenarios for dealing with the affects of extreme temperatures and rising seas. How would the UN deal with climate refugees? How would it prevent conflicts in those parts of Africa and Asia which could face food shortages?

Another aspect of China’s amazing economic growth

Filed under: China, Economics, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:28

Steve Jobs might want to look at the Chinese market a bit more carefully . . . something’s happening that he may need to pay closer attention to:

The Western news media is replete with pithy descriptions of the rapid changes taking place in China: China has the world’s fastest growing economy. China is undergoing remarkable and rapid change. This represents a unique moment for a society changing as quickly as China.

You probably read such things in the paper every day — but if you have never been to China, I’m not sure you know quite what this means on a mundane level. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in the 2+ years that RP and I have been in our apartment, much of the area around us has been torn down, rebuilt, or gutted and renovated – in some cases, several times over. I had the thought, only half-jokingly, that when we returned from a couple months abroad, we might not be able to recognize our apartment building. Or that it might not be there at all.

As it turns out, my fears were baseless — our scrappy little home remains. The neighborhood, however, has definitely kicked it up a notch or seven. Starbucks has opened not one, but THREE branches (that I encountered) within a 10 minute walk of one another. An H&M has opened across from our apartment building. These are the kinds of major Western brands that were previously only represented in Kunming by fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC. Our neighborhood has quickly become the swanky shopping center of the city.

Update, 21 July: Andrew Orlowski thinks I’ve been taken in by a non-story:

Some stories are so unusual, you immediately wonder if they’re too good to be true. On Tuesday, a Western NGO in China posted a remarkable tale, reporting that ingenious Chinese retailers in a medium-sized provincial city called Kunming had cloned an Apple Retail Store, faithfully reproducing the staff T-shirts, furniture, display material, and name tags.

[. . .]

But another 10 seconds with Google would reveal that in China, as in the UK and many other countries, Apple has a network of authorised resellers. Apple lays down very strict guidelines on how the resellers must present the gear. The sales material is Apple’s, and the specifications are extremely precise. And to be an Apple “Premium Reseller”, you have to look a lot like an Apple Apple Store, but naturally, you can’t call yourself one. There are hundreds of these, with Apple manufacturer Foxconn’s brother Gou Tai-chang planning 100.

[. . .]

Think of it like this: if you had a Jaguar showroom, anywhere in the world, would you operate from a dodgy lock-up and advertise it with a hand-painted sign? I thought not. You’d want it to look as slick and expensive as the real thing. I’m not sure why we expect Chinese Apple resellers not to do so, too.

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