Jan 03

Through a mirror, darkly

Today the New York Times is carrying a story on Chinese fears of “cultural encirclement”.

“We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration,” Mr. Hu said. “We should deeply understand the seriousness and complexity of the ideological struggle, always sound the alarms and remain vigilant and take forceful measures to be on guard and respond,” he added.

This quote reminds us of something too easily forgotten, which is that Communists have always taken ideological struggle seriously. Communist theory teaches them to believe that the most effective way to break the will of the opposition is to de-legitimize its ruling class, degrade its culture, destroy its confidence in its own institutions and its own way of life.

Hu Jintao believes that the West is waging a conscious memetic war against Communist China – because he knows that Communists including himself have been waging a conscious memetic war against Western civilization since the 1840s. Sadly, this is not yesterday’s news.

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Dec 29

The Varieties of Anti-Intellectualism

One of the recurring features of American intellectual life is hand-wringing over “anti-intellectualism” by, of course, intellectuals.

One of my regular commenters has pointed out that the term and concept of anti-intellectualism are used to describe several distinct phenomena that are relatively easily confused. He’s right, and I think it could bring some clarity to the murkier corners of the culture wars to develop the point.

Note: The term “intellectual” is not infrequently applied to me. By the end of this essay it should be clear why, though I recognize the justice in that application, I’m not completely happy with it.

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Dec 03

Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there

In a discussion thread that wandered to the subject of Walmart and its enemies, I said “Scratch a Walmart-basher and you’ll find a snotty elitist, a person who hates capitalism and consumption and deep down thinks the Wrong People have Too Much Stuff.”

The commenter replied: “You know, I don’t think you need to be an anti-capitalist in order to disdain over-consumption and its enablers.”

No, certainly not. My own preference is to live simply, getting and spending little and putting my energy into creative work. Much of what we think of as “normal” behavior in a consumer society strikes me as wasteful and vulgar. But it’s a disdain I tend to keep quiet about, for at least two reasons:

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Nov 27

Seven Eight Warning Signs of Junk Science

I’ve written before about scientific error cascades and the pernicious things that happen when junk science becomes the focus or rationale of a political crusade.

The worst example of this sort of thing in my lifetime, and arguably in the entire history of science, has been the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) panic. Now that the wheels are falling off that juggernaut, I’m starting to hear ordinary people around me wonder how I knew it was bullshit and hot air so much in advance…

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Sep 24

Community versus collectivism

Community and collectivism are opposites. Community is valuable and powerful; it is individuals freely choosing to cooperate and identify with each other to achieve more than they can individually, as we do in the open-source community.

Collectivism is a fraud. It pretends to be about community, but it is actually about the use of force. Collectivists want us not only to bow to their desire for power over others, but to thank them for coercing us and praise them as our moral superiors.

Compassion is a duty of every individual. Groups of people organizing voluntarily to achieve compassionate ends are deserve admiration and support. Collectivists pervert compassion, speaking the language of caring but committing the actions of criminals.

It is a crime to rob your neighbor. It is a crime to use your neighbor for your own ends without allowing him or her a choice in the matter. It is a crime to deprive your neighbor of his liberty when he or she has committed no aggression against you.

These crimes are no less crimes when a sociopath (or a politician – but, I repeat myself) justifies them by chanting “for the poor” or “for the children” or “for the environment”. They do not cease to be crimes just because a majority has been conned into voting for them. The violence is just as violent, the victims just as injured, the harm done just as grave.

Valid ethical propositions do not contain proper names. What is criminal for an individual to do is criminal for a community to do. Collectivists are not the builders of community, as they pretend, but its deadliest enemies – its corrupters and betrayers. When we fail to understand these simple truths, we board a train to genocide and the gulags.

(This was originally a comment I left on Google+)

Sep 19

Living in Euro-Cloud-Cuckoo land

I often tell people that I think The Economist is the best news magazine in the English language – and not because they make a relatively frequent habit of quoting me, either. The house style is intelligent, often penetrating, witty, and sober about important things.

It is very rare that The Economist indulges in wishful thinking to the point of doomed fantasy. But that is exactly where their lead editorial, How To Save The Euro, goes this week. Save the Euro? Really? One wonders what they’re smoking over there.

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Jul 18

Brin on Heinlein on guns is dead wrong

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about Robert Heinlein, but not to their own facts. In a blog post on Heinlein’s novel Beyond This Horizon, David Brin advances a number of claims which are disputable, and one that is utterly bizarre. He alleges that the thought behind Heinlein’s famous quote “An armed society is a polite society” was not Heinlein’s but issued from John W. Campbell, the editor who with Heinlein invented science fiction as we know it.

This claim is not merely wrong, it attempts to traduce a core belief which Heinlein expressed in his fiction and his nonfiction and his personal letters throughout his life. We do not have to speculate about this; as I shall show, it is so amply documented that Brin’s claim passes from being merely tendentious to outright bizarre.

Brin’s error matters to me personally because, as much as I am anything else, I am one of Heinlein’s children. I have closely studied his works and his life, and that study has shaped me. What I have given to the world through my advocacy of open source is directly tied back to what the Old Man taught me about liberty, transparency, and moral courage. And I am never more Heinlein’s child than when I advocate for an armed (and polite) society.

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Jun 27

Why the political class needs a Greek bailout

There’s been a lot of ink spilled lately on the likelihood that the nation of Greece will default on its public debt, and why it is utterly necessary for the European Union and the U.S. must ride the the rescue with some sort of fiddle involving a combination of (a) massive taxpayer-funded loans, (b) cramming changes in the terms of Greek government bonds down bondholders’ throats, and (c) stern finger-wagging at the Greeks.

Lost in the eye-glazing babble about maturity extensions, haircuts, and which acronymic organization is going to funnel the money into place is the real magnitude of the stakes here. It’s not just the Greeks’ opera-bouffé parody of the modern redistributionist state that is circling the structural-insolvency drain; what really terrifies our political class is the prospect that, very soon, the investors simply won’t buy government bonds anymore – and massive borrowing through bond issues is the only thing keeping the redistributionist state afloat.

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Mar 13

Politics as usual is over

A number of my regulars have asked me why I don’t blog about politics as much as I used to.

Fundamentally, it’s because I think the value of political persuasion is decreasing fast. Political persuasion matters most when when policy options are relatively open and unconstrained by objective conditions that politics cannot alter. It matters less when policy options are more constrained, and not at all when there are no choices left.

The political system I have been criticizing all my adult life is fast approaching the point of “no choices left”. And not just in the U.S., either; the same problems of political overcommitment and structural insolvency are playing out in advanced nations all over the planet.

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Mar 06

Rape statistics: a case study in public flim-flam

A commenter on a recent thread claimed “the lifetime risk of rape for a woman [in the U.S.] is one in six…Almost everyone who deals with the issue considers that wildly too low to be realistic. But one in six is indisputable.”

No incidence of rape above zero is acceptable to me. I teach women pistol self-defense at no charge. You may correctly infer my motives from the fact that the first time a female student of mine shoots a good tight center-of-mass group, my normal mode of expressing approval is to say “That’s one dead rapist!”

Accordingly, I found this claim so disturbing that I decided to research it. What I found appears to be a classic case of unreliable statistics being oversimplified through rumor, hysteria, the telephone effect, and self-serving inflation.

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Feb 03

Heavy weather and bad juju

Many primitive societies believe that maleficient spirits cause all sorts of human misfortune that in the modern West we have learned to attribute to natural causes – cattle dying, crops failing, disease, drought, that sort of thing. A few societies have developed a more peculiar form of supernaturalism, in which evil spirits recede into the background and all misfortune is caused by the action of maleficient human sorcerers who must be found and rooted out to end the harm.

A society like that may be a grim, paranoid place with everyone constantly on the hunt for sorcerers – but a sorcerer can be punished or killed more easily than a spirit or a blind force of nature. Therein lies the perverse appeal of this sort of belief system, what I’ll call “sorcerism” – you may not be able to stop your cattle from dying, but at least you can find the bastard who did it and hurt him until you feel better. Maybe you can even prevent the next cattle-death. You are not powerless.

English needs, I think, a word for “beliefs which are motivated by the terror of being powerless against large threats”. I think I tripped over this in an odd place today, and it makes me wonder if our society may be talking itself into a belief system not essentially different from sorcerism.

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Dec 10

Examples and consequences

SF author and civil-rights activist Joel Rosenberg has been unjustly arrested. Good coverage at PopeHat; essentially this is harassment following a Nov 5th assault on Joel by a cop while he was pursuing a FOIA request related to his first arrest, on bogus charges that prosecutors subsequently dropped.

I have very mixed feelings about this one, because I suspect I may, in a manner of speaking, have helped get Joel in trouble.

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Oct 03

Indistinguishable from malice

I believe it was the historian Robert Conquest who said that every organization eventually behaves as though it is run by a secret cabal of its enemies. I have seldom seen any more convincing evidence of this than the “No Pressure” video released by the anti-global-warming activist campaign 10:10.

Watch it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You might have to Google for “no pressure video”, as there seems to have been a concerted attempt by 10:10 and its allies to scrub this thing off the public Internet when they realized what a colossal blunder it was. It’s not pleasant viewing – children being blown up and rivulets of gore spattering in all directions – but you have to actually see it to grasp how callous, awful, and anti-humane it actually is.

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Sep 15

Pessimistic anarchism

I received email recently asking me to respond to an article in the Huffington Post, No Safe Harbor on Gulf Coast; Human Blood Tests Show Dangerous Levels of Toxic Exposure. Questioner’s English wasn’t very good, but the question he was trying to pose was how market anarchists like myself can oppose government action to mitigate disasters like the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and what we have to say about the charge that corporate money is suppressing news of the full toll of the disaster.

What I had to say to him about that follows, slightly edited and expanded. It’s as good an individual case as any to explain why my free-market anarchism is a result not of optimism about the perfectibility of markets but of profound pessimism about the limits of any sort of collective action by human beings.

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Sep 12

Engineering history

On a mailing list I frequent, a regular expressed doubt about the possibility that very small subgroups of a society (less than 5% of its population) can cause large changes in the overall direction of its evolution without long historical timespans to work in. But I know from experience that this can happen, because I’ve lived it. My explanation (lightly edited and expanded) follows.

Of particular note is my explanation of how engineering design can shape history.

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