20 July, 2005

Can you get there from here?

I posted the following on R.J. Rummel's Democratic Peace website today. To be honest I'm still thinking this through, in large part becasue I don't like the answers I keep coming up with.

[I want to] talk about two things at once--the general "freedomist" principles, and the War in Iraq--and how one can support the first without necessarily supporting the other.

I think Kenneth got the gist of what I meant by the "liberation from above" remark. I'm trying to draw the distinction between *formal* rights and institutions and the practice of everyday life. It's important to remove impediments, and outsiders can contribute a lot to that. But removing the chains from a slave doesn't necessarily make him free--if he has adopted the mindset of a slave. Education helps, institutions help, law helps. We can encourage people to be free, but people have to want to be free, and to believe freedom is a real possibilty for themselves, and to be willing to tolerate the freedom of others.

As for Iraq, I opposed the war not because I thought Iraq wasn't deserving, but because in a world with finite American resources the U.S. has to pick its battles, and I concluded that this particular battle was too costly in terms of the probable results. It was a judgement call, and I understand how others could disagree.

I hope I was wrong.

The Iraq case also raises another point, which is that whatever the practical arguments for and against an American invasion of Iraq, it was (without a Security Council resolution) clearly a violation of international law.

Now, that might not bother some people. I think most of us would agree that international law is wrong to place national sovereignty over the rights and lives of individuals. Before WWII individuals had the relation to the state under international law that is similar to the relationship between a pet and its owner, and the law (made by states for purposes of state) has been very slow to improve. Any new, better set of rules will require a degree of consensus (or hegemony) that doesn't exist.

Some kind of international law is required, if there are to be relationships across borders. The current system of international law is far from what I (and I think most of us) think it should be. Improving the present system is at best a long-term project. (A global cataclysm or war would probably speed things up, but at a terrible cost, and not necessarily for the better.) So what do we do now?

18 July, 2005

Another reason to get off this rock

"Earth is a crumb in a supermarket full of resources."
Peter Diamandis, originator of the X-prize, at this year's TED conference.

From the people who brought you the oil for food program

...the UN is debating what to do about the administration of the Internet. Please excuse me if I have little faith in any UN involvement in this. There are too many UN member governments who perceive freedom of speech as a threat to their continued rule (in many cases, because it IS a threat). The best outcome for this would be if the organization, as usual, fails to accomplish anything. The status quo is almost certainly better than anything these people might agree on.

14 July, 2005

Austrian versus Public Choice (Bi)Cyclists

This is short and captures much of the essence of a critical debate in social sciences.

A radical idea

If the powers-that-be can look past their nose (and budgets), this makes a whole lot of sense. It's interesting to me that on 9/11 the only plane to be brought down was by civilians. The death toll at the WTC would have been much higher if not for the courage and creative thinking of so-called "average" people.

Perhaps in an age where "super-empowered" terrorists can threaten so much damage, it makes a lot of sense to "super-empower" the average citizen.

It's something like the old NRA bumper sticker: when citizens are discouraged from thinking and acting for themselves, only the terrorists will be powerful.

Not a good day for Karl Rove

Somtimes the most important thing is what is not being said.

Update: On the other hand, it all depends on what "is" means.

Child-killers in Baghdad

Some acts taken in the name of the US are evil and stupid (see next post), but nothing like this. The people responsible for this deserve to die. The Washington Post reports

A woman whose son had been wounded and taken to the hospital said responsibility lay solely with the insurgents and their leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi. "I swear to God," said the woman, who identified herself as Umm Salam, "if my son dies, I will drink from Zarqawi's blood."

That sounds about right.


It's disappointing to learn how widespread was (is?) the use of humiliating and terrifying techniques to interrogate prisoners at Gitmo, even before Abu Graib. I suspect these methods had more to do with the unprofesionalism and emotion of senior leaders, who wanted to inflict as much pain as they thought they could get away with, than with local personnel. This is a case where where morality and pragmatism lead to the same conclusions. Evil, ineffective, stupid.

More to the point, it's amazing how many leaders seem to take pride in posturing as "tough guys." It sometimes seems that having a criminal record (in Iran-Contra, for example) is a prerequisite for key positions.

02 July, 2005