Quotulatiousness

February 19, 2017

Media mis-characterizations of FIRE

Filed under: Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has been getting a lot of media attention for their efforts to ensure due process rights are observed for students at US universities. In the process, some distortions have been included in that media coverage:

In recent weeks, news outlets across the country have written about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family foundation’s donations to FIRE. In doing so, many outlets have mischaracterized FIRE’s work defending students’ due process rights — particularly in the realm of campus sexual assault, where the federal government has taken several significant steps to impede the ability of institutions to provide fair hearings and freedom of expression.

We have written on this topic before, but it is worth reiterating a few points.

Perhaps most importantly, our defense of accused students’ rights is not an attack on complainants’ rights, as some writers have suggested. To the contrary, we aim to ensure all students’ rights are protected. The procedural safeguards for which FIRE advocates — such as the right to cross-examine witnesses, active assistance of an attorney, and impartial fact-finders — help ensure that campus adjudicators reach accurate and reliable findings of fact. This goal serves the entire campus community and is appropriate in all cases, but it is especially paramount where the ramifications of either an erroneous guilty finding or an erroneous not guilty finding are particularly significant, such as with accusations of sexual assault or other violent offenses.

Accordingly, FIRE has opposed legislation that attempts to address the issue of campus sexual assault simply by making it easier to find accused students guilty, rather than by helping fact-finders reach accurate results. We have not opposed provisions that could “prevent campus sexual assault,” as some writers have claimed. FIRE’s concern is focused on how the parties are treated and campus justice is served after an assault is alleged to have occurred.

Because only the criminal justice system can remove perpetrators from the streets and not just from campuses, and because the court system has procedural safeguards in place to help fact-finders reach reliable findings, FIRE supports legislation that would strengthen law enforcement’s role in addressing campus sexual assault. Campus criminals are not immune from the criminal law. Even in advocating for greater involvement by law enforcement, however, we have emphasized that colleges and universities have an important role to play in responding to alleged sexual misconduct.

February 18, 2017

Twitter turns on the free speech filters

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Forbes, Kalev Leetaru reports on Friday’s introduction of “hate speech” filtering on Twitter:

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

It was just a year ago that I wrote on these very pages about Twitter’s evolution from bastion of free speech to global censor as it stepped back from its utopian dreams as they collided with the realities of running a commercial company. Yet, even after changing its official written policy on acceptable speech and touting that it would do more to fight abuse, little has changed over the past year. Indeed, from its inception a decade ago, Twitter has done little to address the problem of hateful and abusive speech on its platform.

[…] the concern here is that Twitter has thus far refused to provide further detail into at least the broad contours of the indicators it is using, especially when it comes to the particular linguistic cues it is concerned with. While offering too much detail might give the upper hand to those who would try to work around the new system, it is important for the broader community to have at least some understanding of the kinds of language flagged by Twitter’s new tool so that they can offer more informed feedback to help it shape that tool given that both algorithms and people are far from infallible. Simply rolling out a new tool that begins suspending users without warning or recourse and without any visibility into how those decisions are being made is a textbook example of how not to roll such a feature out to a user community in that the tool instantly becomes confrontational rather than educational.

Moreover, it is unclear why Twitter chose not to permit users to contest what they believe to be a wrongful suspension. The company did not respond to a request for comment on why suspended users are not provided a button to appeal a suspension they believe is due to algorithmic or human error or lack of contextual understanding. Given that the feature is brand new and bound to encounter plenty of unforeseen contexts where it could yield a wrong result, it is surprising that Twitter chose not to provide a recovery mechanism where it could catch these before they become news.

H/T to Peter Grant for the link.

February 15, 2017

Yale’s name change doesn’t go far enough

Filed under: History, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

Names matter, as the recent decision to rename Calhoun College at Yale clearly indicates. As a distinguished alumni of Yale, Calhoun rated having a college named after him, until modern awareness of his involvement in the slavery issue demanded that his name be expunged immediately. Case closed, right?

Well, not so fast. As it turns out that there are much worse examples of things named after slave owners and slave trade supporters at Yale:

Calhoun owned slaves. But so did Timothy Dwight, Calhoun’s mentor at Yale, who has a college named in his honor. So did Benjamin Silliman, who also gives his name to a residential college, and whose mother was the largest slave owner in Fairfield County, Conn. So did Ezra Stiles, John Davenport and even Jonathan Edwards, all of whom have colleges named in their honor at Yale.

Writing in these pages last summer, I suggested that Yale table the question of John Calhoun and tackle some figures even more obnoxious to contemporary sensitivities. One example was Elihu Yale, the American-born British merchant who, as an administrator in India, was an active participant in the slave trade.

President Salovey’s letter announcing that Calhoun College would be renamed argues that “unlike … Elihu Yale, who made a gift that supported the founding of our university … Calhoun has no similarly strong association with our campus.” What can that mean? Calhoun graduated valedictorian from Yale College in 1804. Is that not a “strong association”? (Grace Hopper held two advanced degrees from the university but had no association with the undergraduate Yale College.)

As far as I have been able to determine, Elihu Yale never set foot in New Haven. His benefaction of some books and goods worth £800 helped found Yale College, not Yale University. And whereas the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica praises Calhoun for his “just and kind” treatment of slaves and the “stainless integrity” of his character, Elihu Yale had slaves flogged, hanged a stable boy for stealing a horse, and was eventually removed from his post in India for corruption. Is all that not “fundamentally at odds” with the mission of Peter Salovey’s Yale?

I anticipate a quicker response to these revelations than the administrators managed in the Calhoun College case…

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

February 13, 2017

Lessons from repeat bestseller Nineteen Eighty-Four

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Brendan O’Neill hopes that some of the folks just encountering George Orwell’s novel for the first time are able to draw the correct lessons from the text:

It’s great to see that leftists and millennials and others are snapping up George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in a bid to make some sense of Trump’s presidency. Because when they get deep into this dystopian tale — into the Newspeaking, sex-fearing, history-rewriting meat of it — they might realize that it describes their authoritarianism better than Trump’s. I can picture their faces now: “Guys… is this novel about us?”

The book shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list after Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to describe the Trump administration’s belief that the crowds at his inauguration were larger than the media had let on. People pointed out that “alternative facts” sounds creepily like something the Party in Orwell’s story would say. Trump seems to believe he can fashion facts from thin air, to boost his own political standing.

“Alternative facts is a George Orwell phrase,” said Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty. MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid tweeted the following lines from the novel: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Within hours Nineteen Eighty-Four was a bestseller again, people buying it as a map to the liberty-challenging Trump era.

But the novel is a better guide to what preceded Trump, to the nannying, nudging, speech-policing, sex-panicking, P.C. culture that Trumpism is in some ways a reaction against.

Consider the Junior Anti-Sex League, the prudish youths in Orwell’s story who think the “sex impulse” is dangerous and devote themselves to spying on interactions between the sexes. “Eroticism was the enemy,” they believed. “Desire was thoughtcrime.” If this prissiness finds its echo in anyone today, it isn’t in the creepily oversexed, pussy-grabbing Trump — it’s in the stiff buzz-killers of the campus feminist movement.

February 12, 2017

QotD: Magna Carta

Filed under: Britain, History, Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s remarkable that the English-speaking world remembers Magna Carta. The product of a struggle between King John and his barons, it was sealed on the bank of the Thames 800 years ago, on June 15, 1215. But in a sense, the most valuable thing about Magna Carta is precisely that it is remembered. Other charters were issued across medieval Europe, but they were rapidly forgotten.

Magna Carta alone endured because the kings of England never consolidated their power fully enough to be able to ignore their subjects. The charter was a useful political weapon in this struggle against arbitrary royal power, which is why it was so often reissued, appealed to, and celebrated, not least in the United States by the Founding Fathers: The Massachusetts state seal adopted in 1775 includes a patriot holding the Great Charter. To remember is, literally, to recall to mind, to renew in thought, which is why memory, as Orwell recognized in 1984, is a great defense of liberty.

This year, Magna Carta is being acclaimed as the contract that first established the idea that law was above government. As British politician and historian Daniel Hannan has put it, from Magna Carta flowed “all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials.” And that’s fair: The barons wanted to limit King John’s arbitrary power, and without limits there is no liberty under law.

But it does not take very much bravery now to celebrate our rights. Today, the language of rights is universal, though often hypocritical. Worse, the danger to liberty in the U.S. and Britain today is not arbitrary power of the sort exercised by King John, who offered no real theory except that he needed the money he was stealing to fight his wars in France. The danger to liberty today, ironically, comes more from arbitrary power backed up by the rights-talk that can trace its origins back to Magna Carta. Against my right to free expression stands your supposed right not to be offended. My right to property must now pay for your right to free health care. My right not to be discriminated against must give way to your right to be discriminated in favor of.

Ted R. Bromund, “Magna Carta limited government”, National Review, 2015-06-15.

February 2, 2017

QotD: Noblesse oblige

Filed under: Europe, History, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was raised with noblesse oblige, which, as we all know is a kind of almond and mare’s milk pastry made in the mountains of outer Mongolia and eaten at wedding feasts to assure good luck.

Okay, I lie. Noblesse Oblige is literally – as all of you know! However, let me unpack it, because sometimes it’s good to reflect on things we know – the obligations of noblemen.

In a world in which station was dictated by birth (most of the world, most of the time) the way to keep society from becoming completely tyrannical and the burden of those on the lower rungs of society from becoming unbearable was “noblesse oblige” – that is a set of obligations that the noblemen/those in power accepted as a part of their duty to society. Most of these involved some form of moderation of force.

The amount of moderation depended on the culture itself. For instance, in those lands in which the nobleman got first night rights (or claimed them anyway) it might be noblesse oblige to return the bride after that. It might also be noblesse oblige to stand godfather to the oldest child, who, after all, might be more than a godchild. And in other cultures, though the first night thing wasn’t there, the godchild thing still applied. A small return for faithful service to closer servants and courtiers, etc.

In the same way, while you might treat your serfs or villains like dirt, you forebore to take their last crumb of bread and left them enough to live on. This might not be because you were smart or merciful or whatever, but because someone had dinged it into you.

Noblesse oblige, by that name or others, appears every time there is a gross imbalance of power in human society. Or that is, it appears if society is to survive.

Sarah Hoyt, “Noblesse Oblige and Mare’s Nests”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-05.

January 27, 2017

QotD: Greed

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Well first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.

Milton Friedman

January 24, 2017

A nation divided against itself

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Bretigne Shaffer on the intensely partisan American political scene:

It’s been a weird couple of months. I’ve seen more people unfriend each other on FaceBook than in the past few years combined; There have been several reports of both Trump supporters and minorities being physically attacked; I’ve been asked to wear a safety pin to proclaim to the world that I am not a racist, because the presumption now is that everyone is a racist and you have to (secretly – only not so secretly) announce to everyone if you’re not; and the senior editor of ThinkProgress is afraid of his plumber. (This, based solely on whatever profiling techniques they use over at ThinkProgress – “…a middle-aged white man with a southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.” – rather than anything resembling a conversation with the man.)

Here’s the thing: I’m a libertarian. I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t agree with me for as long as I can remember and it has never occurred to me to isolate myself from everyone because of our political differences. Certainly not to assault them. Nor am I filled with anxiety by the thought that people who work in my home might have different political views than mine. To me, you’re all a bunch of fascists. But I’ve somehow learned to live with you.

For me, watching people unravel over this election has been instructive. The – yes, I’m going to say it – bigotry of many on the left, in their caricaturing of Trump supporters, has never before been so blatant. Nor has the jaw-dropping, mass-hypnosis level of selective partisan-driven outrage. I understand that a lot of people are worried, upset, even frightened over the prospect of a Trump presidency. Good. They should be. But they should have been worried eight years ago, or at the very least, four years ago.

January 23, 2017

QotD: When “nerd culture” became (kind of) normal

Filed under: Gaming, Liberty, Media, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Interestingly, the dot.com bust does not seem to have slowed down or discredited the geek subculture at all. Websites like http://geekculture.com and http://thinkgeek.com do a flourishing business, successfully betting investment capital on the theory that there is in fact a common subculture or community embracing computer hackers, SF fans, strategy gamers, aficionados of logic puzzles, radio hams, and technology hobbyists of all sorts. Just the fact that a website can advertise “The World’s Coolest Propeller Beanies!” is indication of how far we’ve come.

I’ve previously observed about one large and important geek subtribe, the Internet hackers, that when people join it they tend to retrospectively re-interpret their past and after a while find it difficult to remember that they weren’t always part of this tribe. I think something similar is true of geeks in general; even those of us who lived through the emergence of geek culture have to struggle a bit to remember what it was like back when we were genuinely atomized outcasts in a culture that was dismissive and hostile.

There are even beginning to be geek families with evidence of generational transmission. I know three generations of one, starting when two computer scientists married in the late 1960s, and had four kids in the 1970s; the kids have since produced a first grandchild who at age five shows every sign of becoming just as avid a gamer/hacker/SF-fan as his parents and grandparents.

Little Isaac, bless him, will grow up in a culture that, in its plenitude, offers lots of artifacts and events designed by and for people like him. He will take the World Wide Web and the Sci-Fi Channel and Yugio and the Lord of the Rings movies and personal computers for granted. He’ll probably never be spat on by a jock, and if he can’t find a girlfriend it will be because the geekgirls and geek groupies are dating other guys like him, rather than being nonexistent.

For Isaac, Revenge of the Nerds will be a quaint period piece with very little more relevance to the social circumstances of his life than a Regency romance. And that is how we know that the nerds indeed got their revenge.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Revenge of the Nerds is Living Well”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-20.

January 21, 2017

Inauguration day

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Warren Meyer on the downside of Inauguration Day for small government fans, regardless of which “team” won this time around:

Inauguration day is probably one of my 2 or 3 least favorite days in every decade. My feelings on the whole exercise are probably best encompassed by a conversation I had the other day at a social function.

A couple of my many liberal friends were complaining vociferously about the upcoming Trump Presidency. After a while, one observed that I seemed to be insufficiently upset about Trump. Was I a secret supporter?

I said to them something roughly as follows: You know that bad feeling you have now? That feeling of anger and fear and exasperation that some total yahoo who you absolutely disagree with has been selected to exercise power over you, power that offends you but you have to accept? Yeah, well I feel that after every Presidential election. Every. Single. One. At some point we need to stop treating these politicians as royalty and instead treat them as dangerous threats whose power needs to be circumscribed in every way we can find.

Trump and libertarian concerns

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Peter Suderman can only come up with nine reasons for libertarians to be worried about Il Donalduce‘s new regime:

Here are nine reasons why libertarians should be very concerned about a Trump presidency:

1) He has repeatedly promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants upon taking office, relying on a “special deportation force” to carry out the task. And even in the occasional moments in which he has seemed to recognize that this task would be logistically impossible, he has continued to insist that he will deport several million people right away, and that other undocumented immigrants who are in the country will not have a path to citizenship unless they leave the country first.

2) More generally, Trump’s attitude toward immigrants and outsiders ranges from disdain to outright hostility. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and the closure of mosques, and he opened his primary campaign by declaring that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. were rapists and criminals.

3) Trump has also promised to build a massive, expensive wall along the southern border, and has insisted that Mexico will pay for its construction, an absurd notion that is already crumbling, as the incoming administration has asked Congress, not Mexico, to pay for the wall.

4) Trump has made clear that his administration will take a much more aggressive stance on trade as well. During the campaign, he floated the idea of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, which would be deeply harmful to consumers and the U.S. economy. Since winning the election, his administration has raised the possibility of a 10 percent tariff on all imports, a policy that could spark a global recession. After winning in November, he said he would pull the nation out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on day one of his presidency.

On the other hand, Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy are a bit more upbeat about libertarian causes in Trump’s America:

Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a libertarian but his presidency provides a tremendous opportunity to advance libertarian policies, outcomes, and aspirations in our politics and broader culture. Those of us who believe in reducing the size, scope, and spending of the federal government and expanding the autonomy, opportunities, and ability of people to live however they choose should welcome the Trump era. That’s not because of the new president’s agenda but because he enters office as the man who will inevitably close out a failing 20th-century model of governance.

Liberal, conservative, libertarian: We all understand that whatever the merits of the great political, economic, and cultural institutions of the last 70 years — the welfare state built on unsustainable entitlement spending; a military that spends more and more and succeeds less and less; the giant corporations (ATT, IBM, General Motors) that were “beyond” market forces until they weren’t; rigid social conventions that sorted people into stultifying binaries (black and white, male and female, straight and mentally ill) — these are everywhere in ruins or retreat.

The taxi cab — a paradigmatic blending of private enterprise and state power in a system that increasingly serves no one well — is replaced by ride-sharing services that are endlessly innovative, safer, and self-regulating. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign slogan — Uber everything — was the one self-evident truth uttered throughout the 2016 campaign. All aspects of our lives are being remade according to a new, inherently libertarian operating system that empowers individuals and groups to pursue whatever experiments in living they want. As one of us (Nick Gillespie) wrote with Matt Welch in The Declaration of Independents, the loosening of controls in our commercial, cultural, and personal lives has consistently enriched our world. The sharing economy, 3D printing and instantaneous global communication means businesses grow, flourish, adapt, and die in ways that perfectly fulfill Schumpeterian creative destruction. We live in a world where consuming art, music, video, text, and other forms of creative expression is its own form or production and allows us to connect in lateral rather than hierarchical ways. Pernicious racial and ethnic categories persist but they have been mostly supplanted by a tolerance and a level of lived pluralism that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, when less than [50%] of Americans approved of interracial marriages. Politics, Welch and Gillespie wrote, is a lagging indicator of where America is already heading and in many cases has already arrived.

January 20, 2017

QotD: Freedom versus equality

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.

Milton Friedman

January 15, 2017

QotD: Like the Bourbons, the Guardian learns nothing and forgets nothing

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Bourbons, said Talleyrand, learned nothing and forgot nothing. Sometimes it seems as if our modern liberals are just like the Bourbons. Here, for example, is a headline from the U.K.’s hard-line liberal newspaper, the Guardian:

FAR-RIGHT PARTY STILL LEADING IN DUTCH POLLS, DESPITE LEADER’S CRIMINAL GUILT.

What was the crime of which the far-right leader — Geert Wilders — was guilty? It was incitement to discrimination; in other words, not even discrimination itself. He had discriminated against no one, but made a speech in which he called for “fewer Moroccans.” Significantly, the Guardian gave no further details of what Wilders meant by this — whether, for example, he proposed that fewer Moroccan immigrants should be allowed into the Netherlands, that the illegal Moroccan immigrants should be deported, or that Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent should be deprived of their citizenship and forcibly repatriated. For the Guardian, it hardly seemed to matter.

More significant still was the Guardian’s inability, even after the victory of Donald Trump in the United States—which must, in part, have been attributable to a revolt against political correctness — to see that the conviction of Wilders on a charge so patently designed to silence the fears of a considerable part of the population couldn’t possibly reduce his popularity. By illustrating the moral arrogance of the political class against which Wilders’s movement is a reaction, the charge might actually make him more popular.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Incitement to Hypocrisy: The Netherlands unevenly applies a law forbidding provocation”, City Journal, 2016-12-28.

January 14, 2017

Mad Max for PM!

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier gets an unusually even-handed profile from the CBC:

Bernier’s life is a moveable banquet of rubber chicken, and shaking grimy, anonymous hands, and pretending great interest in everyone, trying all the while to turn the discussion to Maxime Bernier. And perhaps asking for some money while he’s at it.

Actually, that’s unfair. What Bernier mostly turns the discussion to is his ideas.

He’s libertarian, to the extent that it’s possible to be a libertarian and seek high office in a country that was built on protectionism and entitlement and government being the answer to everything.

He advocates the end of quotas and supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs. Oh, and maple syrup. Most Canadian politicians — let alone MPs representing rural Canada like Bernier — prefer to leave such topics undiscussed.

He wants to abolish interprovincial trade barriers. Stopping companies from growing into other Canadian jurisdictions, or stopping workers from travelling between provinces, he characterizes as “foolish,” “doubly foolish” and “ridiculous.”

Go ahead and argue with that.

Bernier wants an end to what he calls “corporate welfare,” his term for governments using tax money to pick winners, such as Bombardier and General Motors, and letting losers struggle with market forces.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, it’ll come as no surprise that Bernier is far and away my preferred choice for Tory leader.

January 11, 2017

QotD: Seasteading

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s an enticing idea though hardly an uplifting one, a pricer version of the escapist Free State Project. Yet the underlying rationale behind those fleeing to New Hampshire, or trying to establish civilization in the middle of the ocean is the same: We’ve lost the battle for freedom at home.

This defeatist mentality is common among refugees. It is also understandable among those whose countries have fallen into dictatorship and civil strife. America is neither a dictatorship nor on the verge of a second civil war. Adam Smith observed that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. It will take more than eight years of Barack Obama to fell the most powerful nation on earth.

There’s a strange irony with projects like Seasteading and the Free Staters. The type of people naturally attracted to these movements are hardly weak willed or easily deterred. A list of advocates for setting up some small piece of libertarian paradise reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Men and women who feel confident enough to creatively destroy entire industries but, somehow, feel incapable of winning a political argument against those often less intelligent and accomplished than themselves. There is more than a whiff of nerds being intimidated by the cool kids.

The dream of running away and creating a perfect society, or at least a better one, is hardly new. It must have been in the minds those early colonists who spread across the Mediterranean in the wake of the Greek Dark Age. It was, of course, the impetus for British settlers to establish their colonies in North America and the Antipodes. There are times when the only sensible thing to do is leave.

The cost, however, is enormous. Creating a new society, even while carrying the best of Western Civilization, is a dangerous and incredibly complex undertaking. It took the thirteen American colonies more than a century and half to reach anything like a critical economic and political mass. This is the basic flaw in Seasteading, even leaving aside the enormous cost of building the infrastructure. Societies are not computer software, they cannot be programmed or adjusted at will. They must evolve organically over time if they are to survive. This is why many Seasteading proposals come off as pitches for high-end hotels and conference centers. The social element is missing.

Richard Anderson, “A Billionaire’s Utopia or How To Run Away From Your Problems”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-05-28.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: