The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: June 2013 Page 1 of 2

Start from common humanity

The basic political principle is that we all share our humanity.  Compassion starts from imaging ourselves in other people’s skin, in feeling that pain and indignities to them, are injuries to our common humanity.  An injury, an injustice, to one of us, is an injury and injustice to all of us.  In this sense, we acknowledge differences, such as gender, skin color, age, health, and our individual experience, and we take them in to account, but we do not let them obscure our common humanity.

When you think this way, when you feel this way, right action, right law, becomes much more clear.

The author Lois McMaster Bujold once had one of her characters asked if she loved someone.  Her reply was, “when he is cut, I bleed.”

Injustice to any of us, hurts us all.  I could explain the connections in technocratic terms, I could talk about how loss of liberty for one is eventually loss of liberty for all, how inequality hurts even those at the top, but at the end it is as simple as injustice to one, is injustice to all.

On Islam, Religion and Love

As with many things, I’m no expert on Islam.  Nonetheless, within the limitations of my language skills, I’ve done the reading.

One of the things which seems clear from the life of the Prophet, is that he made things better for women and slaves. Zakat is meant to be used, among other things to free slaves.

Mohammed’s first followers were mostly women and poorer men.

Mohammed made things better for them.

But the strength of scripture is also its weakness: what was written is always there.  Absent interpretation from the spirit of what was written, absent living script, it can be used to ossify change.  God’s law in any good teaching, is love.  When we  use scripture, and this is true of secular scripture like the US constitution, against love, against kindness, we do a disservice to the scripture and to the intentions of those who originally preached it.

Interpretation can be used for good or evil.  It can be used to make religious social beliefs not intrinsic to the religion, like female genital mutilation or the divine right of kings.  But it can also be used in the spirit of God’s law of love, to nurture kinder people, and kinder societies.

While intention doesn’t always work out, it is best to start from good intentions and in dealing with religious and spiritual traditions it is best to interpret in line with intention.  For America, this might be a further movement towards freedom and the pursuit of happiness.  For Islam, submission to God, and good works aiding those who need it most.

The comment thread you should read

Is this one.  It’s one of the reasons why I have no time for Iraq war pushers.  It’s one of the reasons why one of my friends used to say that the person who will wipe a major US city off the face of the planet has probably been born.

Read it.  Feel the hatred.

I’m not against all war.  But the bar is VERY high. This is why.

The entire Iraq war was one large war crime.  Everyone who voted for it in Congress is a war criminal. It is the exact same crime Nazis were hung for at Nuremberg. The exact same one.

Weep bloody tears, and pray that you don’t reap as you have sowed.  And understand that this is one reason you have to live in a surveillance state. It is, in part, a desperate attempt to manage “blowback.”

Michael Hastings

died in a car accident.  He was most famous for reporting on General McChrystal’s attitude towards civilian authority, and ending his career.

Buzzfeed has a good reminiscence.

There is only one rule of writing which matters: tell your readers the truth as you know it.  Michael understood that rule.

It is interesting to me that the best reporting today is found in magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, not in publications which are ostensibly actually about the news.

The Syrian Civil War

To put it simply, Assad is most likely going to win this.  Hizbollah has clearly turned the facts on the ground for him, and Syrian public opinion appears to have decisively turned against the rebels.  10% support is too low, it can keep them going low-grade, but it’s not sufficient to win it.  This is why you hear calls for a no-fly zone, and for bombing (not because of the very dubious chemical weapon use claim.)

At this point, if the West wants the rebels to win, it’s going to have to use direct military force.

Hizbollah may, today, on a man for man basis, have the best soldiers in the world. They don’t have as much heavy equipment as many militaries, but they are skilled, seasoned and they have very high morale.  They believe in what they’re doing in a way that virtually no other military does.

The Logic of the Surveillance State

I don’t have a lot to say about Prism, it’s nothing that I find surprising at all.  I would have been surprised if they weren’t doing this.  That does not, of course, mean that they should be doing it.  Basically, assume you’re being watched at all times. That does not mean a human being is watching you, but assume that an algorithim is watching your behaviour, and will flag you if your pattern of contacts seems suspicious.  Once you are tagged, assume that everything you’ve done online, and most of what you’ve done in the real world if you’re in most major metropolitan centers, can be back traced.  As pattern recognition becomes better, this will become even easier to do, and, indeed, automatic.  The online and the offline will be linked together.

Again, this is nothing I didn’t believe was already happening, which isn’t to say that proof isn’t a nice thing to have, for all the dullards with their heads in the sand, who refuse to believe the obvious till it becomes as obvious as a boot stomping their face, over and over again.

This feeds directly in to the nature of our society, both domestically in Western countries and internationally.  Our society is fundamentally unjust, as the charts in the Failure of Liberalism post make clear.  It is fundamentally unfair internationally, and much of the so-called progress of the last few decades has been a mirage (for example, Indians now live on less calories a day than they did 40 years ago.) The women being raped, and the men and women being butchered in the Congo are killed because of how we structure the international economy, and the people who die in factory fires, likewise.

Surveillance states aren’t uncommon at all.  Chinese and Japanese history are full of curfews, and people having to carry papers at all times, and restrictions on travel, and so on.  The late Roman empire was, in certain respects, a surveillance state.  Of course the USSR was, East Germany was, and indeed, many European countries, even today, require citizens to carry and show papers.


The problem with surveillance states, and with oppression in general, is the cost.  This cost is both direct, in the resources that are required, and indirect in the lost productivity and creativity caused by constant surveillance.  Surveillance states, oppressive states, are not creative places, they are not fecund economically.  They can be efficient and productive, for as long as they last, which is until the system of control is subverted, as it was in the USSR. We forget, in light of the late USSR’s problems, that it did create an economic miracle in the early years, and tremendously boost production. Mancur Olson’s “Power and Prosperity” gives a good account of why it worked, and why it stopped working.

Liberalism, in its classic form, is, among other things, the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them well.  Conservatism is the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them badly.

Post war Liberalism was a giant experiment in “treat people well”.  The Reagan/Thatcher counter-revolution was a giant experiment in “treat people worse”.  The empirical result is this: the rich are richer and more powerful in a society that treats people like shit, but a society which treats people well has a stronger economy, all other things being equal, than one that treats them badly.  This was, also, the result of the USSR/West competition.  (Treating people well or badly isn’t just about equality.)

Liberalism, classic and modern, believes that a properly functioning “freer” society is a more powerful society, all other things being equal.  This was, explicitly, Adam Smith’s argument.  Build a strong peacetime economy, and in wartime you will crush despotic nations into the dirt.

If you want despotism, as elites, if you want to treat everyone badly, so you personally become more powerful and rich, then, you’ve got two problems: an internal one (revolt) and an external one: war and being outcompeted by other nations elites, who will come and take away your power, one way or the other (this isn’t always violently, though it can be.)

The solution is a transnational elite, in broad agreement on the issues, who do not believe in nationalism, and who play by the same rules and ideology. If you’re all the same, if nations are just flags, if you feel more kinship for your fellow oligarchs, well then, you’re safe.  There’s still competition, to be sure, but as a class, you’re secure.

That leaves the internal problem, of revolt.  The worse you treat people, the more you’re scared of them.  The more you clamp down.  This is really, really expensive and it breaks down over generations, causing internal rot, till you can’t get the system to do anything, no matter how many levers you push.

What is being run right now is a vast experiment to see if modern technology has fixed these problems with surveillance and oppressive states.  Is it cheap enough to go full Stasi, and with that level of surveillance can you keep control over the economy, keep the levers working, make people do what you want, and not all slack off and resist passively, by only going through the motions?

The oligarchs are betting that the technology has made that change.  With the end of serious war between primary nations (enforced by nukes, among other things), with the creation of a transnational ruling class, and with the ability to scale surveillance, it may be possible to take and keep control indefinitely, and bypass the well understood problems of oligarchy and police and surveillance states.

Rudeness to Politicians

In the early days of the political blogosphere, we said fuck rather a lot.  We were making a point: that rudeness is not as great a sin as many others.  It is not so great a sin as lying. It is not so great a sin as killing people in the Iraq war.  And today, it is not so great a sin as denying people their rights.

To step back to Michele Obama, and her being heckled by an activist.  Mrs. Obama was raising money for the Democratic party.  She has her profile because of her husband, whose adjunct she was acting as.  The idea that you shouldn’t be rude to her because she’s the “first lady” is ludicrous: she’s not some nice, uninvolved lady, she is a participant in the political process, and one who will be very rich for the rest of her life because she married Barack Obama.

I believe that politeness is a good thing, but on the list of virtues it is ranks up there with flossing regularly. Give me a rude motherfucking asshole president, and his wife who is just as rude, if that President doesn’t spy on everyone, kill people without due process and deny people their rights.

And understand this, Michele Obama is NOT a bystander.  She does not get a free pass when she actively works on behalf of her husband, and actively benefits from his actions.

Modern elites, as a group, and Obama is a member, respond only to incentives: pain and gain.  That is how they have been trained.  The LGBT lobby has gotten what it got from Obama because of pressure.

Thinking that being rude to Mrs. Obama is ethically equivalent to Barack Obama denying people his rights is ethically abominable.

on edit: let me be more explicit.  If Mrs. Obama knows she can’t fundraise without being heckled, that costs Obama and the Democratic party money, and is unpleasant.  That’s something they’re willing to pay (legislatively or administratively) to make go away.

Yeah, rape < Hacking to out rapists

Maybe the backwards data shows rapists getting longer sentences than hackers, but I doubt that’ll be the case in 10 years, just as for a long time we thought America had the most social mobility in the West, when that hasn’t been true for a couple decades, at least.

This is your justice system. This is what they think of women.  Remember, Prosecutors have discretion, even in the face of bad laws.  Let’s see what this prosecutor does.  Lostutter is the hacker who outed the Steubenville rapists.

If convicted of hacking-related crimes, Lostutter could face up to 10 years behind bars—far more than the one- and two-year sentences doled out to the Steubenville rapists.


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