Saturday, February 19, 2011 video and thoughts

Gary Gunnels shares this video from - it sounds like an interesting project. Gene Callahan also shared thoughts on it here.

I don't follow the Reason blog, but I really should. I want to share something I really like about the group and something I don't like as much:

1. I like how positive the Reason pieces are for the most part. They do not denounce people the way a lot of libertarian outlets do. They do not have a negative view of their own libertarianism (i.e. - what libertarianism is not) - they have a very positive view of their libertarianism (what libertarianism is or could accomplish). That's extremely refreshing. It is a very creative group of people and a group of people with a constructive vision. That's all anyone can ask for, but it can be a rare thing in this world.

2. One thing I don't like, though, is how they manage to idolize libertarians, almost as some sort of "higher man". For example, this interview with James Fallon where he treats the claim that libertarians are more logical than non-libertarians as an actual working hypothesis. The interviewee here says this sort of thing too at 4:33 in this video. She talks about how much sense libertarianism makes the more you talk to people and "how it's really hard to deny" it after a while. Now, this is her opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but my reaction to this is "No it's not - it's really easy to deny libertarianism! Libertarianism is better than a lot of other philosophies, but the problems with it are glaringly obvious!". I guess what bugs me about the material is that these sort of self-congratulations seem to be in there a lot. Somewhat obnoxious and somewhat naive.


  1. It may be "easy" to disagree with libertarianism on subjective, non-normative grounds, but to deny it seems far more difficult. You may not like the preferences of libertarians, and libertarians may not like your preferences, but libertarians would never deny you your preferences.

  2. Right, but that's largely my point. Logical derivation plays a role in any system of ideas, but ultimately these things are preferential. They are not self-evident as this girl seems to suggest, and as I think a lot of the Reason videos suggest.

    It's just an interesting tendency. In many ways I like a lot better than a lot of other libertarian communities, but they do have this odd tendency to act like libertarianism is self-evident and libertarians are by their nature more logical and introspective. It's an odd claim that I think is natural to someone who is convinced by an argument, but conspicuous to anyone convinced otherwise. If you saw a website where people regularly said that left-liberalism was self-evident and that left-liberals were more logical than libertarians or conservatives you would be jarred that they would even make such a claim. I would too.

  3. This Free State project is a tragic, tragic idea.

    My sympathies would have been close enough to these people if they had stuck to a more Burkean "Do not create a kingdom of heaven on earth" plan, but they too have now pushed for organized society.

    It's exactly what Daniel said about libertarian social engineering. On grounds of not creating a kingdom of heaven earth, you can easily condemn social democracy, nationalism, etatism, and all such typical ideas of government, because they are all a substitute religion. Had the American libertarians simply chosen a style of, say, political atheism where they view all organized political action with skepticism, they would have been better established.

    When they push for this top-down attempt at a Free State, they have opened themselves up to as much criticism as could be levelled against social democracy. Interestingly, it's worth noting how in Austria there was once a time when people were a little segmented according to political beliefs - the socialists only kept to their own respective television stations, radio stations, schools, offices,.etc and there was a near universal allocation of jobs and favours based on political persuasion. The result was a very surreal society for a brief time.

    They stopped later, but it's a sign of politics becoming religion. It's akin to Pentecostals sticking to Pentecostal neighbourhoods, Ahmadiya Muslims in Ahmadiya neighbourhoods, and so on.

  4. My post on libertarian social engineering that Prateek refers to here:

    I've alluded to it elsewhere, but this is the main one.

    My plan when I start my phd (we'll see if this happens) is to stop blogging and start turning some of these posts into longer essays. This is one of the ones I want to turn into a longer essay.

  5. On grad school... lots of schools have been releasing notices in the last two days, but still no Maryland or Georgetown notices for me or for anyone else yet.

  6. One more point -
    I don't mind the top down arrangements that Prateek mentions because I'm not bashful in saying that humans cooperatively self-govern and that they oughta do it with constitutional republics founded on democratic principles.

    Granted, I keep in mind the risks. I'm all for social engineering, but not massive re-engineering based on some abstract plan. The key is gradualism, experimentalism, and in the United States - federalism as the laboratory of democracy. I have a view of what the "ideal society" looks like too. I'm not in favor of passing it in one session of Congress.

  7. It's a matter of what kind of top down arrangement. I too don't mind all of them.

    A legislation that ensures that inflammable liquids are not allowed in offices addresses a scientific problem. No inflammable liquids, no explosion. You pinpoint the problem and you solve it.

    A legislation that involves working with or changing human behaviour is much more complicated. Such as Obama's legislations to reduce medical care inflation. It has everything from not allowing firms to deny service to teenagers with already existing medical problems to bringing in mandatory insurance for employers and employees. There is so much scope for perverse incentive here, I am amazed that it didn't scare even Democrats.

    Even if you gradually experiment, I think what one does not know exceeds what one does know at any point of time. Gradual and regular experimentation also has ramifications in uncertainty that Amity Shlaes likes to talk about.

  8. Well, I gave up on electoral politics a long time ago. Breaking (peacefully) the monopoly the state has is the way to go. Seasteading, etc. Until that happens you're just fiddling at the edges. Plus a successful seasteading project will put pressure on states to, hmm, liberalize.

  9. Government as it exists today is fairly outdated technology coasting on inertia; it was a very useful upgrade (call it government 3.0) during the 18th century, but it is getting pretty long in the tooth (even if we are on government 3.8 after numerous patches, etc.). So bring on government 4.0; voluntary arrangements in their true sense of the term - voluntary.

  10. Voluntary arrangements how you're thinking of I think have obvious problems.

    I think government ought to move in two directions that seem paradoxical but ought not to be.

    First, sometime this century we need to create a world government and abolish absolute national sovereignty. That will go a long way towards phasing out war-making.

    But even in the context of global government, government needs to be decentralized. Federalism in the U.S. is in very bad shape and needs to be reinvigorated, but it's even worse in much of the rest of the world. You need the over-arching institutions to solve social problems and provide for social costs and benefits, but a decentralization through federalism allows you to parcel this out at different levels, whereever it's most appropriate. A robust federal system is going to make letting go of excessive centralized decision making that much easier. If the states actually played a bigger role in the health reform than the Obama-Democrat plan allowed for, we would have some states taking a less invasive role than others. And if we needed to move in a particular direction - single payer or more substantial deregulation - that would be an easier transition to make because we would see the operation of these options across different states. Institutions converge on institutional successes. If you don't allow for variation and experimentation you're not going to have the raw material for appropriate decision making on centralization.

    We need constitutional, democratic self-governance. We are not atomistic contracting robots. It oughta be global but highly decentralized. Bring on the bancor - that would be a good place to set the ball rolling.

  11. Hey Gary, I read your comment on Gene Callahan's blog.

    You...actually...have a colonize the verify libertarianism?

    And this will be your second pet project after seasteading?

    Gary, I have a hard time reading your posts without thinking, "Dude! Isn't that crazy?" I thought you were joking when you wrote "seasteading" here, but no.

    There is a thing called patriotism. No, not for the country. It could be for your neighbourhood or town. The point is that 10,000 years of human evolution expects a strong bond to people to whom you are close. Unconditional love is expected. One doesn't accept or reject close ones solely on grounds of differences in taste and opinion. You are supposed to love them, whether they are #1 or the worst people in the world. When you start loving people only when they are #1 or because they are #1 or expect them to work to be #1, you become a nationalist. Which is why Indian nationalists always leave the country and live in Dubai - eventually India is not good enough for them. That you would leave parents, friends, and family to build a sea-housing project is a sign that you have lost the part that calls you human. You'd have become akin to hippies who build communes to justify their way of life.

    I just don't get it. Why are European free market classical liberals so easygoing and straightforward and American equivalents so zany? The latter has lost all sense of proportion, scale, or priority. Daniel, you are too kind about these people.

  12. Gary's nuts - its a crazy plan. Don't pay attention to it, Prateek.

    Everybody knows we need to colonize Mars, not the Moon.

  13. "Gary, I have a hard time reading your posts without thinking, 'Dude! Isn't that crazy?'"

    Things always seem crazy until someone tries them, then we see whether they work or not.

    "The point is that 10,000 years of human evolution expects a strong bond to people to whom you are close."

    Or not. There is a strong minority of any population that thinks differently, just as there was a minority which were atheists but could not advocate their position until the corporate churches lost their power to dictate conscience.

    "That you would leave parents, friends, and family to build a sea-housing project is a sign that you have lost the part that calls you human."

    I kind of treat this as the psycho-babble that it, well, is. Human beings are individuals, and there are a myriad of personality types; indeed, that is the problem with government in a way - it treats different people the same and its up screwing over a lot of people in the process.

  14. Prateek,

    It reveals much that you are not even able to entertain the idea. Your world view is clearly rather parochial and pedestrian.

  15. Don't worry, Prateek, Gary's not serious. He's going to keep right on living where he is now.


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