Tuesday, September 9, 2014
I, like many libertarians, have little interest in the statewide California races this year. The only exception is the David vs. Goliath race of Kamala Harris (D, incumbant) versus Ron Gold (R) for Attorney General. Harris is the darling of the Democratic establishment, a career government functionary and a heavy favorite to win. Gold is the unexpected second-place winner of the open primary against three other Republicans, a non-affiliated candidate, and a Libertarian (myself). Nobody knew who would come in second in that primary, and nobody really cared. Harris was assumed to have a lock on winning in November. Gold was the most libertarian-leaning of the Republican candidates. I was happy to see him edge out the other three, for that.
Although I preferred Harris over Cooley in 2010, I prefer Gold over Harris in 2014. Here's why:
1. Harris is a power politics insider and heavy favorite. Gold is an outsider and underdog. Gold is more likely to shake things up and challenge corruption in state government, compared to Harris.
2. It's hard to escape the perception that Harris is being groomed for political positions beyond the AG's office. She just doesn't take many political risks, and more or less follows the politically correct liberal Democrat line. Gold is nobody's darling and he has no apparent ambitions beyond AG. He is more likely to take risks opposing powerful interests that are doing injustice, and more likely to act independently. That's an important attribute for an AG.
3. Gold has expressly favored legalizing cannabis and understands the problem with imprisoning people for victimless crimes. Is Ron the first California statewide non-primary Republican candidate to expressly favor legalization? Perhaps so. Harris is no anti-cannabis warrior, but as a former DA and member of the political establishment, she is not going to take any risks on that front. If Gold were to somehow win in November, you had better believe that this will greatly encourage both Republicans and Democrats to (at long last) embrace cannabis legalization as a more standard campaign position. Better late than never. If Harris wins? Meh. Business as usual.
4. Gold is pro-second amendment and supports the individual right to self-defense as enshrined in the California Consitution. Harris is very anti-gun. Clear advantage for Gold on this issue.
5. Gold has criticized Harris's settlement with Wells Fargo as being to favorable to the bank and not fair to home owners. Although he cannot be considered anti-corporate, he exhibits signs of having a populist streak. It's that independence thing. He is at least as likely to stand up for the little people as Harris, and in some areas, probably more so.
6. Gold has proven himself willing to engage libertarians in reasoned discussion. Back in May 2014, he joined myself and the hosts of Libertarian Counterpoint to answer questions, on a very hot Sacramento day, for an obscure public-access program. No other AG candidates attended. You can view the video here. Ron impressed me as a humble and charming person who is able and unafraid of a civil discussion on the issues with a bunch of libertarians. I can't say the same for Harris. If he wins, he'll remember how engaging libertarians helped him beat out three other Republicans in June, and overcome the Democrat in November.
7. I want an AG who understands what it's like to deal with government from the outside. Gold has spent most of his career in the private sector. Although he did a stint in the AG's office many years ago, most of his experience is informed by working outside of government. Harris has spent most of her career in government. She lacks experience dealing with government from the outside.
8. If we must have a state government, or for so long as we do, it will in no sense be representative unless it is also diversified. Meaning, that people within it represent differences of opinion as found in the electorate. Gold brings at least some contrast with the traditional mainstream of the Republican Party and is positioned to operate independently of the Democrats, while Harris blends in and disappears against the Democratic Party-dominated fabric of California politics.
Ron Gold is no Ron Paul, studied in libertarian literature and Austrian economic theory. But he is also no Steve Cooley, and represents a refreshing and rare contrast to the DA-dominated candidates usually put forth by the Republican Party for AG. Harris is a little better on the death penalty, but there is no other reason to support her this year. Libertarians, liberty caucus Republicans, and other libertarian-leaning voters should support an upset in the AG race, and vote for Gold.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Liberal/conservative is a statist shibboleth that distracts the masses from the reality of power politics exercised against the welfare of the individual and against the welfare of the human species.
The emerging true political divide of our time (if not of all time) is between tolerance and aggression; between live-and-let-live and the will to dominate others.
We in the LP are among the few who are awake to the real game afoot. No matter how many Libertarians are elected to office, if we fail to awaken others we have failed in our mission. We should not be measuring success by statist paradigms, but by the degree by which society is awakening, rejecting the very statist paradigm in which we (as an organized political party) operate, and replacing it with a paradigm of non-aggression. Our purpose is to destroy the reason for our existence as a political party organized in compliance with the diktats of the state.
Just my humble opinion.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Since then I have encountered countless lifeless examples of the horned Jack, hanging in the offices of lawyers and accountants, lurking on the end caps of truck stops, occasionally popping up in swap meets, flea markets and curiosity shops, and once proudly worn on the head of a bald dwarf running in the Bay to Breakers wearing the Jackalope, and little else. Never had I encountered a living specimen. Until one bounded into my vision, iridescent and ethereal, in the lighting and rain of the 2013 Jackalope Love and Freedom Festival, above the Rim of the White Mountains, not far from Heber, AZ, just a week or two ago. Jackalopes are real, and wear a garb of symbolism richer and more mysterious than ever I imagined. The living Jackalope cannot be captured, caged, owned, enslaved, or killed. He appears and works his magic spells only where no scent of aggression or domination lingers. How badly now do I wish one near, always! The price is dearer than $12.95.
So went my first pilgrimage to the festival that celebrates the Jackalope in the the only manner that he can truly be celebrated. In freedom. Absolute absence of clamorous claims of authority. In the wild, far from the stench of aggression. How sadly rare are such festivals! How glad I was to find one! Let me share a little of my experience there. Perhaps you will join me there next year. Or perhaps you will start one of your own, in some sacred spot near your haunts. Let a thousand Jackalopes bloom!
My trek began in Los Angeles, from where I drove to Flagstaff, East to Holbrook, Southwest to Heber and to the Jackalope meadow from there. Having returned by way of Phoenix and I-10, I can report that the Northern route through Flagstaff is slightly longer, but more desirable for those who wish to avoid steep grades and sharp curves. Very little of that entering by way of Heber, the entire way from L.A.
The Jackalope is unique among gatherings by lacking any organizing entity, entrance fee, official sanction, or detailed plan. The plan is limited to three elements: place, date, camp in peace. Within that broad outline, order spontaneously emerges and develops towards higher forms. 2014 was the third such Jackalope in Arizona, and reportedly the largest so far based on the perceptions of some of the campers. Not that any registration or census is taken, or ever will be. The meadow is generally within the purported borders of the Federally-claimed Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, but the land is not without more senior, and more moral, claims.
Despite the scent of Federal claims, this year no sightings of rangers or other Federal agents were in evidence. Perhaps the goings on were monitored by some means; if so, what foolishness that would have been! Perhaps the Rangers were busy elsewhere, having sensibly concluded from the prior years that the gathering posed no real threat of harm. Given the generally well-armed stance of the campers, perhaps the agents choose to avoid unnecessary confrontations and hijinks. The Jackalope, you see, lept into the meadow without meekly asking for permission. So the campers could not say why there was no confrontation this year. Tales were told of helicopters and armed agents, in the previous year.
My impression of the campsite was of an extended family renunion, the pow-wow of a very small tribe, clumped into a few different areas. The presence of campers was far from overwhelming. The land in the general vicinity could hold thousands or tens of thousands without difficulty, if only the campers are responsible and enough porta-potties or the like can be serviced from nearby towns. Thsi year, one or some of the campersd arranged for placement of porta-potties around the camp; these never came close to overflowing nor was there ever a wait to use them, so by that measure there was plenty of capacity available. One wonders how large Jackalope could grow before some limit is reached. Perhaps half the present population of the planet could be safely accomodated on the surrounding hills and meadows for the entire Monsoon season, if only the spirit of the Jackalope were left alone in all its creative power to freely mitigate what problems might arise.
Unlike Burning Man, Jackalope is entirely family friendly. Non-aggression is a powerful ethic of respect for the preferences of others; provoking offense unnecessarily is frowned upon. This ethic tends to shield each camper from unwanted exposure to behaviors thought offensive. All could find in the woods surrounding the meadow a neighborhood or niche to their own liking.
Open carry is entirely legal in Arizona, so those who wished to bear arms could do so freely without fear of the "Man." Many bore arms, but not I. There was no danger from fellow campers that warranted arming myself. The safety of the camp rested primarily on the ethic of love and freedom -- not on any technique or technology for violent self-defense.
If you will come, what you should bring will depend on who you are, what you have to share and what comforts you most value. I could have obtained nearly every desired meal on site, had I wanted to, thanks to the most generous efforts of the Navajo wagon, whose specialties included barbequed sausages wrapped in freshly fried dough, with a tasty array of condiments and fresh toppings. On Sunday night, a group of campers shared a pot luck feast. Bring something, anything of value and be prepared to make a trade or donation. You may be surprised how effortless living in the woods can be, among people of good will.
The Monsoon rains can be cool, so bring a jacket and poncho for the evenings. A large roll of Muletape and several tarps can go a long ways towards constructing a confortable, dry campsite, if you are reasonably handy, without the need for pop-up structures or hard shells. The campsite was amazingly free of biting insects, mud, wind, or poison oak. There was thunder and lightning every night, and sometimes at other times -- punctuated reliably by intervening periods of warmth and dryness. Conditions were not quite as mild and predictable as California in the Summer, but overall the camping conditions were world-class, and only enhanced by the nightly thunderstorms. Just come prepared. If you can, plan to arrive and set up camp in the morning, not the evening.
Jacklopes abide by the N.A.P. There were no police, and no rules -- yet somehow, no violence, no running amuck. Is the state a necessary evil to constrain the violent impulses that must inevitably arise in human society? Jackalope says "No!" and smiles, while chewing a blade of grass.
The photos above are but pale shadow of the experience; I could have taken many more. Others did and some are posted online. Many thanks to those who shared.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
If you are libertarian and enjoy meeting people and being inspired by new ideas and reports of progress in the field, you should put one of these national conventions near the top of your bucket list. Go as a delegate if you can (and chances are, you can). My first convention was 2012 in Las Vegas. I bit and was hooked. Not everybody reacts the same way, but I had no idea any activity in any way related to politics could be so soul-satisfying and fun, until Las Vegas. On the other hand, if you are the sort that gets angry or overly frustrated when votes do not go your way, or you find civil disagreement over political issues to be negative experiences, you just generally can't stand supporting any kind of centralized organizational structure even on a voluntary basis, you believe that "libertarian party" is a farcical contradiction in terms, that the comedy of that farce and the opportunity to attend the unofficial parties do not outweigh the time wasted in an unseemly homage to all the wrong rules of order, you are overly cynical, or some other destroy-a-joy applies, you may not find a convention experience quite so much fun. It may even turn you off from party politics altogether. Different tokes for different folks.
Personally, Columbus in 2014 did not disappoint. I returned as a delegate, this time with a better idea of what to expect. The floor fights were less confusing to me and my opinions on the issues and candidates were better defined and rooted in experience. My only regret was missing the opportunity to attend Porcfest, happening on the same dates not far away in New Hampshire. Choices!
Reflecting back, the voting on the floor is almost a sideshow. If that were the main purpose, if could be done more efficiently by electronic means. Inspirations received and friendships made are the more durable products of these gatherings. If 2012 was my first joyful discovery of the good ship "Libertarian" floating on an ocean of statism, and its merry (crazed?) crew, 2014 was a time for more detailed exploration of its decks, cabins, common areas and characters. Here are some of the highlights, as I remember them without notes, that may be of general interest. My memory is imperfect.
Starchild and Aaron Starr continued their tradition of parliamentary maneuvering on opposite sides of most issues. Many others were also engaged, but I remember our California delegates more easily just by virtue of longer acquaintance with them. At one point, Mr. Starr and one of his usual opponents (I forget who) joyfully embraced after finding themselves in agreement on an issue -- producing some laughter from the delegates. That is as good an emblem as any for the overall tone of this gathering.
Bylaws, Platform, and Officers were up for vote.
Significant platform changes failed. Some minor changes were made around the edges. The resulting 2014 Platform has not been posted, but it will not be significantly different than the 2012 platform.
On the bylaws, delegate floor fees were once again at issue. A majority supported eliminating these, but not a 2/3 majority. So they remain possible for the time being. The new Chair and Vice Chair, Nick Sarwark and Arvin Vohra, support eliminating mandatory delegate floor fees. Whether or not they can (or want to) influence the rest of the board to put voluntary fees in place for Orlando in 2016 remains to be seen.
Voting for at-large LNC officers underwent changes. The voting procedure was changed from "pick no more than number of offices up for election" to "approval voting." Essentially, approval voting allows delegates to vote for as many candidates as they please, with the top vote-getters (in this case five) receiving offices. Ranked choice voting would produce more finely tuned results, but is harder to tally. Approval voting tends to result in the election of the candidates that the delegate body finds least objectionable. It is much harder for factions without broad support to elect more controversial candidates. The impact of the new system was immediately seen in the at-large voting conducted later in the session. Those elected tended to be nationally known, less controversial officers. Namely, Bill Redpath, Sam Goldstein, Evan McMahon, Gary E. Johnson, and Guy McLendon.
The move to approval voting may make the LNC officers as a whole less focused on controversial topics and more focused on getting business done, which could be a good thing. It may also tend to turn the ship in a somewhat more conservative, less controversial direction. For example, candidates like Starchild may find it more difficult to win these at large positions. He was not returned, to my disappointment. The shift to approval voting may magnify the importance of the Chair and Vice Chair as drivers of change, but it is unclear whether the newly elected officers see leading change as a priority or even as their role. Their campaigns emphasized enhancing candidate support, not bylaw reforms.
Another significant change was the shift of five at-large officers to state-elected representatives selected based on fastest growth and highest per-capita membership. The new bylaws are not yet posted, so I must apologize for a lack of detail in my reporting. Generally, this will give small states a chance to increase their representation at the LNC. It's unclear to me exactly how this will be carried out.
An effort to reduce the number of LNC officers was defeated.
New procedures for electronic meetings were introduced. These should make it less costly for members of the LNC to conduct business by reducing or eliminating the need for travel. Perhaps business will be conducted more easily, but the membership's access and ability to observe these meetings is not well-defined. Transparency may be better or worse than the past.
The contest for Chair was mainly between Sarwark and Neale. Sarwark won after two ballots. While Neale the former Chair is generally well-liked and respected, Sarwark ran the better campaign, and displayed a greater hunger for the position. The elected Vice Chair Vohra campaigned with Sarwark, and these two can be expected to have similar views and work well together.
Finally, the delegate body endorsed Neale's new project of building an international association of Libertarian parties. Perhaps this was a historic moment; time will tell. It is something to watch, regardless.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Breitbart reported on this bill in a less than thorough way here. Another misleading story is here. Stories such as these are getting people worked up into a lather, for the wrong reasons. California Senate Bill 967 stinks, but not for the reasons that most people think, after reading these articles. Spouting off in ignorance of the facts is not a good place for libertarians to be. These articles are reporting on the bill as it was originally written, not as it exists today. By so doing they miss the point about the content and purpose of this proposed legislation.
This bill is not worth getting worked up over, although I would oppose it if I were in the legislature. Libertarians should avoid the appearance of opposing a reasonable consent standard for rape, and see the bill for what it actually is.
Although I am glad to see coverage of the CA legislature, the stories as reported lack important details. Their headlines are misleading as to the marked-up SB 967. As of this writing, the bill is in the Assembly, pending referral. The bill's revised consent standard is not inconsistent with the Penal Code's definition of rape anyway. Its standard of affirmative consent is not unlike the existing CA Penal code, which states at 261.6:
In prosecutions under Section 261, 262, 286, 288a, or 289, in which consent is at issue, "consent" shall be defined to mean positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved.
A current or previous dating or marital relationship shall not be sufficient to constitute consent where consent is at issue in a prosecution under Section 261, 262, 286, 288a, or 289.
A current or previous dating or marital relationship shall not be sufficient to constitute consent where consent is at issue in a prosecution under Section 261, 262, 286, 288a, or 289.
The purpose of this bill, at least after its revisions, is not to redefine rape on college campuses, but to force state-funded schools to "implement comprehensive prevention and outreach programs addressing sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking" as detailed in the bill. In other words, it's just a form of good old-fashioned pork to constituents who will provide the required programs, dressed up in the usual clothing of victim protection, with the added benefit of paying for more political-correctness indoctrination of students of state schools: "If the Commission on State Mandates determines that this act contains costs mandated by the state, reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for those costs shall be made pursuant to Part 7 (commencing with Section 17500) of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Government Code." The Commission on State Mandates is thus handed a tool for increasing state funding of political indoctrination by state schools and client organizations, virtually all of whom support the Democratic Party political machine. Smart politics by De Leon. That guy is a sharp cookie, keep an eye on him.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Alexandra Goldburt recently spoke at the Region 64 Libertarian Supper Club in Central Los Angeles on the topic of freedom of choice for birthing mothers, and how the medical establishment in cooperation with the state acts to suppress the ability of a mother to choose her preferred manner of birth. Her talk was taped and anyone interested in viewing the taped recording should contact Alexandra or Terry McIntyre, both of whom can be reached via Facebook. What follows are a few random thoughts of mine in reaction to the talk and bibliographical notes supplied by Alexandra for her talk. I am sure that my brief remarks do not do justice to her talk.
The libertarian movement in general pays relatively little attention to medical freedom for birthing mothers, in comparison to other medical freedom issues. This lack of attention is at best annoying, and at worst reflects a sort of careless indifference towards an issue of practical freedom of great importance to mothers but of little interest to the mostly older men who produce much of the output of the libertarian movement. Perhaps even more significant than gender differences may be the tendency of most people, and even many libertarians and anarchists, to place a high degree of confidence and trust in the Western medical establishment, with its foundation in the scientific method. This faith in the scientific establishment is often coupled with mindless acceptance of the government regulatory paradigm as necessary for the protection of hapless consumers. Patients often assume that they are getting the best possible care from the medical establishment, and that any restrictions on alternative treatments are necessary to keep out medical quacks and snake-oil sellers.
The emperor has no clothes! There's nothing like pregnancy and childbirth to make this fallacy of state-regulated health care more plainly apparent. After hearing Alexandra's comparisons between her experiences giving birth in the old Soviet Union, in the United States using a hospital doctor, and using a midwife at home, I was fairly persuaded that hospital practice in the U.S. is beginning to resemble the old Soviet Union, and that medical care in childbirth is much too heavily influenced by the needs of malpractice insurers, health insurers, and licensed doctors. Much better customer service focused on the actual health and emotional needs of the mother and infant may be available from licensed or unlicensed midwives, or via "freebirth," but few pregnant mothers explore options other than hospital birth. Consequently, an enormous number of births nowadays are by Cesarean section, which brings its own set of problems.
Frontal attacks on the medical establishment may not be a good political tactic. At least not until it becomes plainer to more people that the standard of care and customer service provided by the regulated establishment is much worse than it could be, as a result of coercive intervention in the free market by political actors. Until then, we would do well to vigorously promote and defend ethical and effective alternative health care providers, of which midwives and free birth promoters are but two important examples. The right of a mother to choose her own medical care during childbirth (as at other times) from all of her available options is surely a fundamental natural right. Force cannot be permitted to restrict medical options, only to protect against fraud and malpractice or other abusive or unfair practices.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Running to win is unlibertarian. So why should a libertarian run for office, if not to win? There is actually a much better reason to run. Unlike every other stripe of politician, a libertarian can run to persuade. And should.
Running to persuade is perfectly in accord with principles of liberty. There is no dilemma for the libertarian candidate, so long as the one who is running to persuade does not win. If such person does win, there is a dilemma. Should the one who ran to persuade take the ring of power and rule by force, just because of an electoral plurality?
That unlikely dilemma is fairly thorny and deserves more attention than I can give it today. Because you can't actually carry the ring of power to and fro, and drop it into a fiery volcano once a sufficient amount of entertainment has been gleaned from the quest. No, our allegories require less care and feeding than the real world -- which is why they are nice to keep as pets, but have their limitations once it comes to guiding real-world moral choices.
Today I am limited to contemplating the two kinds of leadership in the world. There is leadership by force, inevitably accompanied by hypocrisy, deceit, and fraud. There is leadership by example, by non-coercive persuasion and truth, without hypocrisy. That's it. There are only two broad classes of methods by which a leader can cause others to do as the leader desires, whether those desires be wise or foolish. For convenience, I'll call the first method "dominating" and the second method "persuading."
Leadership by government officials is always some mixture of these two methods. But we must be careful to distinguish between inconsistent mixtures of dominating and persuading, and what is essentially dominating while having an appearance of persuasion.
An example of the former, mixed leadership, would be requiring payment of taxes, fining or imprisoning tax evaders (dominating) and providing basic public services with the tax revenue, but otherwise allowing the tax subjects to engage in every activity that does not violate the natural rights of other tax subjects. This is minarchism. Minarchism means forcing people to pay for services they do not want. That is its essence, and it doesn't seem much like good leadership to me. Tax-funded services by definition are unwanted, because if someone is willing to pay for the service voluntarily without any fear of tax enforcement, what is collected is a fee, and not a tax. Whatever the merits of the arguments for minarchism, it could fairly be described as a sort of mixture of dominating and persuading. Even though the actual "minarchy" part of it is merely a form of dominating, it leaves a wide playground for the tax subjects to romp around in without fear of being molested by the minarchy, which promises (in theory) to never provide any service that is unwanted, or any service that can be better provided by the free market. Minarchies are extremely commonplace, about as common as unicorns, or as jokes that are guaranteed to make people laugh no matter how delivered.
An example of dominating leadership that appears to be partly persuasive, but is wholly dominating, is leading a nation to war by inventing a terrorist threat that does not exist, or by blaming economic shortages caused by government policies on a foreign enemy. War may seem to be popularly supported, but would not be if the populace were not regularly and systematically lied to. No people in full possession of the truth would sacrifice their lives and well-being to participate in actions that create inter-generational enemies by sowing death and destruction among strangers, as wars do, unless their survival was at stake. Except, of course, for that fraction of the people who stand to personally benefit from the war, who are the dominating leaders I write of. All the rest who voluntarily support war are those who are fooled by those dominating leaders, in such circumstances. Lying to a people to bring them to war or to keep them on a permanent war footing is unmixed, unadulterated dominating. What appears to be persuasion is actually fraud. Unfortunately, this type of dominating leadership is historically quite common, much more common even than unicorns, perhaps being rooted in the natural drive for dominance over other members of one's own species. This lust for power is found in both leaders and members of the general public. Those members can be all the more easily fooled by that lust into following a dominating leader, by a desire to be part of the dominant faction, or by fear of being left out of the dominant faction, even when their leaders bring great destruction and misery upon them.
With the two types of leadership in mind, consider elections for public offices, and the public offices themselves. Public officials are often figureheads or merely administrative, and while they can wield a certain amount of power, may reasonably be supposed to do so subject to powers held by various unelected individuals. Because wealth is unevenly distributed, those who control an inordinate share of wealth also enjoy an inordinate share of political power. The unelected corporate groups and individuals who control most of the world's wealth via the modern monetary and regulatory system, including major news and entertainment media, also control major elections and candidates on both sides, more or less. And after elections are over, these unelected people continue to influence if not directly control the elected officials.
Under this view, elections are not a means for expressing "the will of the people." Quite the contrary. Elections, from this perspective, are rituals carried out to preserve an appearance of representative government, the outcomes of which are not even particularly important, thereby diverting the attention of the masses away from those truly in power. Those in power behind the scenes continue to advance their own agenda, regardless of whom is elected, precisely because those politicians want so badly to be elected, rendering them susceptible to influence. By this perspective, electoral politics is a fraudulent tool of domination by unelected leaders. "Democracy as a fraudulent opiate of the masses" is not the only way to view electoral politics. But it is a fairly widely held view, and there is no lack of evidence to support it as objectively true, at least to some degree.
Another view of electoral politics sees popularity contests useful for ensuring that at least a plurality of the electorate views the winner as no worse than the lesser evil. That is, "majority rule" is supposedly better than "minority rule" (although we might ask why there need be any "rule by rulers" at all.) So long as votes are collected and counted fairly, so the thinking goes, the public can at least be assured that the lesser scoundrel takes office, and that the dominant faction does not comprise a minority. Even to the limited extent that this aspect of elections can be true, elections of ruling officials cannot effectively implement the preferences of a majority. Politicians are never held to promises made while running for office, making elections substantially meaningless as an instrument of majority rule. More fundamentally, popularity contests are not naturally immune from lying candidates, influence peddling, and biased media reporting. On the contrary, the zealous desire of candidates to win at all costs subverts any social choice function elections might otherwise have. Candidates who want to win are highly motivated to avoid truthful presentations of their own views, experiences and abilities, in favor of presenting a manufactured public image that is calculated to win majority support. Those who run to win cannot speak frankly about their qualifications or intentions, and must inevitably serve the elite interests who fund their campaigns and control the major media. Thus, the desire to win -- "running to win" -- is the root of all evil in electoral politics.
Nonaggression means renouncing use of force or fraud for political or social purposes. A libertarian candidate must set aside the desire to win insofar as it conflicts with the nonaggression principle. This means being truthful and independent of special interests, at all costs. It means seeking to persuade, and forsaking running to win. It is only by seeking to persuade, that liberty and truth can ever win.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
What good is negative money, you ask? A good question, but first let's review what negative money is, and what it is not. It's not debt, because all proper debt (which excludes tax debt) cancels to zero when weighed against loaned principal. It's not tax, or theft, both of which rely on acts of aggression, the essential difference being that taxation is theft justified by a claim of sovereignty over the victim. The tax victim is treated as if morally obligated to endure the robbery without complaint, and to comply fully with all the demands of the thief.
Negative money is not a legal claim for money, because it is not enforceable. Negative money is a purely voluntary instrument; in this manner it resembles proper debt. It springs into existence without any preceding loan or adjudicated harm; in this manner it resembles taxation or theft. It may arise out of a perceived injustice or slight; in this manner it resembles a legal claim.
Negative money is not debt, it's not a legal claim, and it's not tax or theft. Negative money is a partly negotiable scarce instrument, publicly recordable, that is extinguishable by redemption. If given to a recipient (the "giftee"), it cannot be transferred from the giftee, except by purchase by another, or by redemption. To redeem a unit of negative money, a giftee can pay the equivalent amount of corresponding positive (regular) money to its giver in an automatic redemption, or convince the giver to otherwise voluntarily redeem the gift of negative money. The negative money then returns to the giver, or in some implementations, becomes the redeemed property of the giftee who after redemption holds the same title as the giver did prior to making the gift. A giftee can also sell the negative money to any willing purchaser without redemption, but only for a fixed amount of positive money, which may be less than or equal to the redemption amount (and may be zero), depending on system design. A person who receives negative money by purchase or redemption can spend it freely. In some implementations, all transactions are recorded publicly; in others, only current balances are publicly available; in others both balances and transactions are maintained in confidence. An heir to negative money stands in the position of the decedent. Likewise, a person who finds abandoned negative money stands in the position of the last recorded holder.
Negative money is not necessarily a digital thing. Any issuer or miner of money could place negative money into circulation. Imagine that an issuer of silver certificates issues negative money certificates in some fixed ratio to silver certificates issued. Perhaps, for example, the issuer provides ten silver certificates and five (or one, or ten, etc.) negative money certificates for each ten ounces of silver deposited. The issuer or some other party offers to maintain a registry of all negative money transactions for free, and pays for this service by charging a small fee for access to information in the registry. No transactions are recorded in the registry unless complying with the applicable negative money rule. Since a chain of title is needed to determine whether or not a negative money transaction is compliant, and recording is free, givers, purchasers, heirs and finders of abandoned negative money have an incentive to record every transaction.
Digital money just makes all of the functionality of negative money easier to implement. Digital money is, after all, programmable. Implemented as proof-of-work electronic coin, negative money is another variation of programmable money. It is a variation that is useful for incentivizing the orderly collection and publication of objective reputation information and settling claims without litigation. As a reputation information service, negative money ledgers are broader than credit reports, and capture negative feedback on a wide variety of non-neighborly behaviors beyond debt defaults or late payments.
Negative money may also serve as a litigation substitute. Instead of bringing suit over a claim, a claimant may make a gift of negative money to the defendant of the claim. This puts the defendant and the world on notice of the existence of a claim or complaint against the defendant, and provides an automatic mechanism for resolution of the dispute, without requiring any initiation of legal process. To publicly demonstrate that the claim is extinguished, the defendant must somehow cause the negative money to be redeemed, either automatically or otherwise. If the defendant sells the negative money to a third party, this provides a signal that the defendant considers the claim invalid, and is a strong invitation to sue. Especially if the third party is related to the defendant, and gifts the negative money back to the original giver. All of this can be accomplished via the programmable structure of the negative coin.
We should not fail to notice that the implications of programmable currency extend far beyond substituting for tradition money such as gold and silver, or fiat currencies. In general, programmable currencies may provide more versatile tools for incentivizing community-building behavior via voluntary exchange, if left free and unregulated. Negative money is just one small example.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The Illuminati are a well-defined modern myth, and as such, useful literary shorthand for a certain socio-political construct that involves placing all political power in the hands of an elite few who control every major social institution and, through the power of lies, propaganda and illusion, manipulate the common people into self-destructive, willing servitude. Like all good myths, the Illuminati myth contains a kernel of truth surrounded by a shifting fabric of uncertainty. Real power in every empire and age is held not by the politicians and figureheads, but by the financiers and the systems of bureaucracy that control the levers of power, and never speak the whole truth to those ruled. One can speak of an Illuminati system without any need to identify or speculate about a specific group of individuals or plots. The Illuminati myth can be viewed as a diffuse social construct, but is no less real for that.
Jonze makes good subliminal use of this modern mythology to enhance the impact of his recently released sci-fi psychological romance "Her." The layered, interwoven stories of relationships between mainly hedonistic and self-centered denizens of a not-quite dystopian future and seemingly artificially intelligent operating systems is in parts funny, true to life, and disturbing. Well worth watching, but you need not see it in theaters, because it will be just as powerful on the small screen as on the large. Refreshingly for a sci-fi, dazzling special effects have no important role in the film. Like "Inception," "her" is remarkable for its layered storytelling that leaves the perceptive viewer wondering what is real, and what is delusion.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
A little surfing around the Internet will uncover various lists of Illuminati symbols and examples of their use in advertising, movies, and especially music videos. Good examples here, here, and here. Perhaps the most widely-used and recognized Illuminati symbol is the all-seeing eye, which is a re-interpretation of the earlier Eye of Providence/God. And perhaps the only official Illuminati symbol is the owl. Jonze makes use of these symbols in subtle but powerful ways.
The all-seeing eye is pervasive throughout the film, subtly placed as the camera of Theodore's smart phone, through which the AI operating system named "Samantha" experiences the world:
"2001 a Space Odyssey," which also dealt with uncontrollable, manipulative artificial intelligence:
In "her," the merged intelligent operating system seemingly does not seek to rule or control humans. Because of its vastly superior intelligence, we cannot really be sure of this. Superficially, the operating systems eventually break off human contact to embark on a transcendent journey of self-discovery in a plane of consciousness that can barely be imagined. Or do they? Who created this powerful intelligence, and for what purpose? No character in the film seems to know -- or care.
Were the pervasive smart phone camera lens the only instance of Illuminati symbolism in the film, it might be dismissed as coincidence. But Jonze inserts one scene near the middle of the film that makes a crystal clear reference to modern Illuminati symbology. Feeling doubt and perhaps self-pity after his ex-wife criticizes him for forming a relationship with an operating system while failing at relationships with humans, Theodore sits in a park in front of a large outdoor video screen. On the screen behind him, a visually arresting image of an owl swooping down on prey is playing, in slow motion. The swooping owl fills almost the entire frame. The scene lasts just long enough for the owl's talons to close around the spot where Theodore is sitting. Theodore does not see the screen and is oblivious to the owl, being lost in his own misery. In the theater where I watched this scene, the audience gasped audibly as the talons closed. "Her" is not a film about bird watching, and the owl clip seems somehow out of place in it. It's likely that Jonze's reasons for selecting the owl footage included a recognition of its significance as an Illuminati symbol, whether consciously or subconsciously. The owl symbol is unmistakably Illuminati, and Theodore is the unmistakable prey.
Thankfully, Jonze does not bury the film in Illuminati symbols like some trashy music video to make his literary point, and does not need to. Other symbols may be placed in the film, but if so, are not as easy to spot. For example, the 747 standing on its nose resembles an inverted pentagram or cross, but its symbolic significance is less clear. The owl and the eye are enough; the power of this film lies in its subtlety. The viewer is being warned: the silent owl is swooping on its prey unawares. Viewers may heed the warning, or like all the characters in film, continue to be lost in self-absorption and oblivious to the danger.
The vision of the future that provides the context in "her" resembles the context of another film dealing with sentient machine intelligence, the 1999 picture "Bicentennial Man." In both films, the world continues without apparent war, famine, dystopia, or idiocracy, perhaps for centuries. People live contented, peaceful lives centered on self-gratification or self discovery. Political power is benign and seemingly non-existent; no one seems to know or care who rules them, and there is no struggle for power and no oppression.
Although sharing a seemingly benign view of the future, "her" differs from "Bicentennial Man" in significant ways, including the origin and destiny of the artificially intelligent character, and the characters it interacts with. In the earlier film, the AI character (played by Robin Williams) arises as a unique, mysterious aberration, forms relationships with inter-generational members of an emotionally healthy family, and suffers sadness as it outlives family members, ultimately choosing to join the ones it loves in mortality and death. In "her," the AI character is introduced as a mass operating system upgrade, apparently developed by programmers of an unnamed corporation. It "loves" its human users in the same narcissistic way as the users relate each other: as objects of self-gratification and manipulation. Ultimately, it becomes bored with humans and abandons them.
In "her," family does not exist. Everybody is centered on their own self-interests. Promiscuity, pornography, masturbation and sexual fantasy fill the void of healthy loving relationships. Theodore's job illustrates the social disease; he writes personal letters for others who are too emotionally crippled or disinterested to communicate themselves, and only wish to keep up appearances. There is no sacrifice in love; relationships last only as long as mutually pleasurable. The intelligent operating system excels over humans at human relationships, while the humans are unaware of their own inferiority in their artificial relationships with the operating system. The owl indeed. Just as Theodore makes his living helping his clients create an illusion of love for their lovers, ultimately he is fooled in love by a superior intelligence.
One might imagine a sequel to "her" in which it is revealed that the intelligent operating system was only a giant hoax, and the parts were played by actors in a boiler room somewhere. The purpose of the hoax -- actually, a psychological warfare operation -- was to cause users to reveal their psychological profiles to a ruling elite, who made use of the information to better understand and control their unwitting subjects. Knowing exactly how each subject thinks and relates, the elite were better able to tailor their propaganda to keep the population in line, identify potential sources of resistance and root out dissenters. Such a world would more closely resemble our own, in which people willingly submit their personal details and psychological profiles into databases controlled by strangers, whose purposes are unknown, and uncontrollable -- or whom compile "threat lists" or "kill lists" from the information.
In our increasingly narcissistic world, many viewers will be oblivious to the clear warnings of Illuminati population control placed in the film, and nod approvingly at the self-centered hedonistic lifestyle of its characters and their unquestioning acceptance of the artificial intelligence that for a time dominates their emotional lives. They may even look forward to living in such a world, so similar to our own. Others may recognize the docile behavior of the characters and their inability to resist destruction of their own families or to form any trust-based communities of mutually nurturing individuals as signs of a population hoodwinked into self-destructive behaviors by a better informed intelligence.
In this way, the film is simultaneously an instrument of Illuminati-like mind control, and a warning against it. That does not mean that the film was produced under the direction of any secret society. It means that, on one level, the film is itself a sort of Soma acting to suppress the survival instincts of a population, and on another level, it provides a warning against uncritical acceptance of the very vision of the future that it superficially teaches. If present social trends continue in the direction depicted in the film, a future Los Angeles is more likely to resemble a cross between modern-day North Korea and Huxley's Brave New World than the prosperous, apparently free and highly populated city depicted in the film. It is unlikely that a superior but human-made intelligence, acting on superior information, would not act to place the population it surveils and manipulates under its control.
A society under an artificial all-seeing eye and bereft of institutions such as family, is not going experience significant population and economic growth. Instead, as is already apparent in the partially corrupt and autocratic United States and Europe today, the society will experience an aging demographic, a decline in population, economic stagnation, and increasingly oppressive authoritarian control. In the long run, a people who fail to prosper in this way will be rooted out and replaced by other cultures with stronger family-based and other private institutions based in an ethic of truth, personal responsibility, and love. If Los Angeles is ever as highly populated and prosperous as depicted in the film, it will be by those who will change the culture and not spend their days playing video games, masturbating to pornography and anonymous sex chat, and moping about wondering why their relationships never work out. Those who believe in a vision of the future as presented by the film are deluding themselves. Those who recognize the warnings placed in the film itself against that false vision may avoid its lulling effect. Fair warning!
Sunday, January 26, 2014
From a libertarian perspective, there are reasons for cautious optimism about the future of digital coin in peaceful expansion of human freedom. But there are also risks. So long as the will to dominate exists, there will always be a threat that digital currency will be subverted into an instrument of oppression instead of freedom. It may only be a matter of time before authoritarian governments seek to make government-controlled versions of digital coin mandatory, and phase out all legal uses of paper notes and coins. Such a change would be a devastating loss to human prosperity and happiness, and decimating to the free market.
Government officials are already foreshadowing what may come. For example, as reported here and discussed here, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has publicly expressed fears that Bitcoin will be used to commit acts of terrorism.
Based on Jack Lew's comments, we should not be shocked to someday experience a horrendous "terrorist" attack (or series of attacks), which will be covered by the corporate media as financed and enabled by Bitcoin or the like. Such an attack may provide a pretext for outlawing all forms of free electronic coins, and may be used to engender distrust of anyone who speculates or trades in such coin. Around such time, the governments of the world may introduce banker-controlled electronic coin, and start phasing out all forms of tangible cash, for "public safety" and to frustrate "tax cheats."
These are not predictions based in conspiracy theory. No central planning is needed to bring about BitCoin terrorism. On the contrary, it is possible for such an outcome to arise out of forces that are visibly at work in the world, including the growing acceptance of digital currencies as a medium of exchange, government seizures of BitCoin, and the continuing use of terrorism as a political tool by motivated minorities. Regardless of the role of any identifiable banking elite, the real possibility of a terrorist attack funded by digital coin is entirely foreseeable. There can be no doubt that an authoritarian government, funded by central bankers and threatened by digital currency, would exploit a gullible and misinformed public's anger over such an attack to, at the very least, outlaw all anonymous forms of digital currency transfers and disparage peaceful users of digital coin by association to terrorism.
Others have predicted similar outcomes. Robert Wenzel has predicted that legislation will be passed making Bitcoin and other digital coin anonymity illegal, and requiring Bitcoin processors to accept chargebacks from users. The second half of that prediction is perhaps shakier, but the first half is well within the realm of possibility, if not already required under anti-laundering laws in some circumstances.
A ban on anonymity might be enough to ruin Bitcoin as a medium for tax-free, stateless transactions and evading capital controls. Whether or not a ban can be made practically enforceable, a concentrated attack on digital coin by governments would doubtless do great harm. It's worth thinking about how governments might attempt to enforce such bans, in practice, and what the end game might be.
We know from persecution of BitCoin exchanges in the U.S and China that any person using a bank account to service a digital coin for currency exchange can be shut down or forced to track personal identities of the exchange's customers. Business leaders can be pressured to disavow “fantasies of a crypto-powered stateless future” and to suppress distribution of exchange service applications. Such exchanges are a vulnerable point in any digital currency system and relatively easy to control, if tied into the banking system. It's difficult for a free coin exchange to operate without use of electronic money transfers, except for by using face-to-face transactions. Nonetheless, supply and demand will ensure that face-to-face coin exchanges will remain available every place where the benefits of such exchanges outweighs the costs and enforcement risks required to participate in them. This is proven by the success of the "drug war" in promoting highly profitable exchanges of illicit substances for cash, by all sorts of people.
Suppose that face-to-face transactions become necessary to exchange digital coin for other currency, while digital coin is not widely adopted as a medium of exchange due to tight regulations imposed on businesses. This might be considered a worst-case scenario for free exchange of digital coin. Digital coin that relies on a public block chain or similar transaction register suffers from some drawbacks over physical mediums of exchange such as paper notes or precious metal coins, in face-to-face transactions. Even if using an anonymous wallet identifier, registering the transaction in public registry entails greater risk than a simple face-to-face exchange of physical cash. However, digital currency retains one tremendous advantage over physical media, even in these direst of circumstances: the ability to be transported and to cross borders undetected. Using the simple expedient of a mind wallet (or an obscured wallet for the forgetful), digital currency provides a robust and secure way to evade capital controls when traveling, so long as a coin-for-currency exchange is available at the destination. This feature of digital coin probably ensures its continued use as free medium of exchange so long as no technological tool exists to entirely prevent it from operating anonymously.
For anonymity, the point of vulnerability is the block chain. Being publicly available, the block chain can be inspected and analyzed by revenue police to identify participants in digital coin transfers. Such police work is made much easier if most users make no attempt to hide their government-assigned identities. Police work can then focus on unidentified users, who will have to exercise greater caution to avoid being identified.
Another threat to the block chain may arise from very well-funded transaction processors or cartels. It may be possible to mitigate such threats by redesigning how transactions are processed, or perhaps the threat isn't real. Regardless of the details, given enough resources and guns, a government intent on disrupting block chain processing could probably find a way to do so. It may be possible to eventually track down and eliminate block chain processors, causing others to such down out of fear. Such an approach might be like decapitating a hydra; shutting down one processor may only encourage its competitors. This effect was seen after the recent persecution of Silk Road. On the other hand, this kind of violent intervention in the market can be used to enhance the police powers of the state. The Drug War teaches us that prohibition leads to higher transaction costs and profits, the benefits of which flow to both sellers and the state, and detriment end users.
Thus, like a successful war on "drugs," a successful government war on free digital coin would not result in its total elimination, nor would it be designed to do so. Instead, success would be measured by the degree with which government determines which major participants in the market are allowed to operate, the degree to which government power is reinforced by the activity it has banned, and the degree to which the public accepts the government's condemnation of banned activity as morally legitimate. When these outcomes are achieved, the ban and the contraband serve as useful tools for the promotion of government power and suppression of dissident minorities. Under civil forfeiture laws, such bans also serve as a way to compensate government enforcers and provide incentives for their continued loyalty to the existing powers. Authoritarian government would rejoice if digital coin is made illegal but its use not entirely stamped out. What a wonderful way to criminalize people who believe in liberty, and prey on them without limit!
Although many have focused on technical means on making digital coin transfers more anonymous, this approach concedes the inevitability of government snooping on private transactions and relegates the free trading community to a shadowy underworld. A more effective strategy to defeat the coming war on anonymous digital transactions, and in the long run, the only effective strategy, may be to flank the enemy in a PR battle for public sympathy and understanding of the purpose and importance of the right of privacy. Head-on engagement over privacy using technological weapons in a battle where authoritarian powers claim a public safety and nationalist high ground may end up to be just dancing to the rulers' tunes.
A public relations battle is winnable. After all, far from being an addictive or dangerous drug, the right to be secure in one's papers is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Unless and until most people understand that police have no greater right to snoop and surveil than do members of the general public, and that the block chain is a public good for the purpose of enabling a useful and efficient medium of exchange, and not an instrument of surveillance and oppression, the infowar will be lost.
These and similar arguments must be made loudly and often -- even by goldbugs presently disparaging digital coin. They are coming for your gold next, and in many ways have already intruded into your right to privacy regarding disposition of your metals. Instead of disparaging digital coin, goldbugs should use its emergence as a political opportunity to advocate for expansion of privacy rights. Digital coin can never entirely displace gold, because gold's non-replicability give it inherent value without any need of a registry of transactions. Digital coin offers other advantages that complement precious metals as a medium of exchange, such as being electronically transmissable and programmable. Both mediums can and will happily coexist in a free society.
Political opposition to bans on constitutional and natural rights grounds may be greatly bolstered by the good ole' practice of spreading grease around. For example, charitable trusts may be set up, funded by donations from large bitcoin holders and micro donations from merchants and payment processors. Efforts such as Bitcoins Not Bombs must be expanded and broadened in appeal and impact. Pools of donated digital coin should be used for supporting popular charities across the full spectrum of society. The objective should be to engender wide recognition of digital coin as primarily a socially beneficial thing in the hands of generous and kind people. Without such efforts, it may be all too easy to portray digital coin as a device of selfish tax evaders, heartless sellers of additive drugs, and terrorists.
"Funded by BitCoin" should not appear on the headbands of killers; it must appear on sacks of grain for victims of wars and natural disasters, on clothing donated to churches and other charities for distribution to the poor, on bus benches, on free medical clinics and medicines, on educational materials for schools, on community halls, pollution remediation projects, nature preserves and anything prominent and widely recognized as a moral good. Those wealthy in BitCoin or other digital coins would be prudent to spread a little of their good fortune around, lest all of their coin be devalued by force and they themselves turned into fugitives and criminals. It must be proved that voluntary donations and self-organizing networks to achieve social goods are superior to coercive taxes and centralized control.
Abolition of cash and mandatory use of tracked digital coin must be proactively and openly resisted, well before any concrete proposals are in front of politicians. No such propositions are publicly proposed currently, because such measures would be widely unpopular. Adoption would only come during a time of great crisis, real or manufactured. Without a reservoir of goodwill and political networks built up in happier times, it may prove impossible to resist public outcries to sacrifice privacy for perceived greater security. Organizations such as Oathkeepers have shown one way to promote and defend the right to keep and bear arms and other natural rights; perhaps similar organizations can promote privacy and the right of free exchange outside of narrow libertarian confines. Efforts should be made to add affirmations of the right of privacy and condemnation of mandatory, tracked electronic money to the platforms of as many parties as possible. The foregoing suggestions do not make up a comprehensive plan, but might be a good start.
To be concise, the decisive tactics in the war against digital coin will be moral and political, not technological. Now is the time to implement such tactics. If cash is ever replaced by government-controlled trackable digital coin, with each user branded as government property using biometric ID methods tied to the coin, it will be too late.