March 2009

Depression makes you more creative (we’re assuming for the moment that’s desirable).

As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m rather listless and without goals at the moment. The problem that looms largest in my consciousness is that I am underworked (yes, you read that right, it’s not a typo).

Tom Talbot’s own personal suggestion in the opening link got me thinking about how lately I’ve been listening to more energetic oi/punk/garage music, and less of the grunge, doom and sludge metal that I used to. Part of that is due to my harddrive crashing and taking my collection of music with it. I think another part is that because I feel less energetic I have been seeking out the musical equivalent of simple carbohydrates to give me a boost (at least in the short term). I also occasionally think about buying an instrument (I hear bass guitar has a good learning curve), but considering how poorly I’ve sustained interest in Kolko, du Berrier and the Online Stat Book I doubt I’ll stick to it. I can’t even sit through Bloggingheads diavlogs or EconTalks anymore without getting restless and opening up another tab to read something else, only to inevitably miss what’s being said and have to rewind.

RELATED UPDATE: Agnostic suggests we are evolving to become miserable. Sample quote: “maximizing long-term material well-being minimizes long-term hedonic well-being”.

Joseph W. Bendersky of Telos has an article up on Frankfurt School luminary Max Horkheimer and his defense of militant democracy against enemies of the fascist and communist variety, in that order. He documents Horkheimer’s history as staunch advocate of state power to expunge from society the remnants of (even potential) fascist thought and behavior during WW2, to the 1960s, when he similarly saw such a threat from the generically fascist tendencies of the student movement, and likewise supported the state in efforts to suppress its influence.

In the words of Horkheimer, which Bendersky also highlights:

Fighting Anti-Semitism requires a militant policy opposed to fascism in all its forms within and without, and in all ways of life. We know that the defense of France collapsed because its democratic government had not succeeded in extirpating the fascist sympathies within the army and civil service, not to speak of the press and other important branches of public life. One of the means for preparing public opinion to demand such measures [emphasis mine] is to teach them that a strong central government able and willing to take effective action against fascism is not incompatible with democracy.

An interesting (and honest) way of putting it, “preparing public opinion.” Bendersky makes a good point further on:

The political as well as practical implications of the demanded “militant policy” are naturally quite extensive and complex. Among other things, it assumes an ability to identify “fascist sympathies” among citizens in civil society and government. 

Philip Jenkins, writing at The American Conservative, details just how one may go about identifying such “fascist sympathies”: Seek the advice of professional anti-fascists. Critical of the alarmism surrounding the militia movement in the 90s, he fears such alarmism may be making a comeback with the new Democratic administration. The “expertise” of non-government affiliated organizations will be sought:

Private organizations also provide an institutional foundation for a war on domestic terror. Plenty of liberal pressure groups are only too willing to offer their services in identifying far-Right activists and painting them in the most damaging and alarming colors. Some of the most successful through the years have been the Anti-Defamation League, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), with its affiliated Intelligence Project (formerly Klanwatch). While there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of their convictions, such groups would gain immensely from a new political emphasis on militias or rightist groups[…]If a full-fledged right-wing terror network is not available, such pressure groups have every interest in hyping one into existence.

About as reliable as referring to the NRA for statistics on homicides involving legally obtained firearms.

It’s not particularly compelling evidence to rely on the activities of past Democratic administrations, and the voting record on H.R. 1955, or “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007,” reveals Republicans just as eager (given their share of the House) to employ the state in such a “politically correct” way. But it’s a reasonable assertion for a popular political magazine. 

He cites some of the books written in the 90s that attest to the climate of fear surrounding right-wing militias, obviously encouraged by the Oklahoma City bombing. One is Harvest of Rage, which Keith Preston has actually recommended due to its sympathetic tone. If any of the other books are like HOR, it may be misleading to use these writings as evidence of an irrational and exuberant “antifa” zeitgeist.

Getting back to Horkheimer; ironically, according to Paul Berman in Power and the Idealists, it was the student movement of the 1960s that can probably claim more allegiance to the anti-fascist cause than someone of Horkheimer’s ilk. In Phillip Hammond’s review of PATI, he writes:

Part of the fascination with the Nazi era was that, as Berman notes, the 1960s students were trying to live up to the generation who had fought the historic anti-fascist battles of the 1930s and 40s. Compared with the wartime résistant generation, the student radicals suspected that they might be ‘the generation of the second-rate… résistants with nothing to resist’.

Seen in this light, Horkheimer is more of an anti-totalitarian social democrat of the Hannah Arendt variety than a staunch anti-fascist, however much he may remain a “militant” devotee of democracy. Indeed, the biggest anti-fascists per se are die-hard (non-anarchist, perhaps?) communists, who rather inevitably end up taking on the generic fascist inclination toward authoritarianism, and the eradication of the bourgeois “civil liberties” which only serve to allow fascists to peddle their nonsense.

Unfortunately, as Bendersky makes clear, Horkheimer was all too willing to indulge in the sort of measures that attract the wrath of genuine liberals, i.e. those with no tolerance for the intolerance of surveilling police-states (or the threat thereof). Not that said genuine liberals believe there can never be such dreadful consequentialist calculations involving liberty vs. security, but that in every historical narrative of the necessity of such tradeoffs it’s been mostly or completely bullshit.

Rizzo defends “reasonable” ideology contra Obama’s assertion of centrism and pragmatism as the antidote to zealots. Jeffrey Friedman takes issue with this, though agreeing at an “abstract level.” Others weigh in, including my Critical Review Alumni pal Bogdan Enache of Romania.

Jeffrey Friedman has written much about ideology, mostly negative. He’s got an axe to grind with libertarians, and I don’t disagree (at a certain abstract level), but seeing him go round and round with the types of libertarians for whom his charge of Rothbardian dogma doesn’t apply makes me wonder if he is largely acting out of a “familiarity breeds contempt” inspired confrontational style combined with his affinity for political and social science as a whole, as opposed to merely economics and the narrow slough of libertarian thinkers. (He directs his wrath particularly at the Mises Institute, which I can say from experience really is a hotbed of an echo chamber of a choir if I’ve ever witnessed one – but their resurrection of Old Right voices is something I appreciate.)

I’d defend a “reasonable” ideology as well (who wouldn’t defend “reasonable”?). Although ideologues are prone to the dogma Friedman has discussed at length, they are also undeniably more knowledgeable than your lay citizen. Ideologues may be prone to a perceptual blindness that limits their ability to “reasonably” absorb all pertinent data, but at least they’ve got data.

And “Centrism” is an ideology too. If it’s no more than an attitudinal disposition that believes that whatever is “best,” by default, must be the split difference between two opposing sides, I suppose it doesn’t qualify. But there’s no way Obama is acting out of that kind of ignorance of history and political thought. He is no more anti-ideological than many in the Progressive movement, self described pragmatists who consciously and meticulously crafted, in the words of Philip Converse, “a configuration of ideas and attitudes in which the elements are bound together by some form of constraint or functional interdependence.” In other words, an ideology.

Btw, you can see videos from the 2008 APSA Critical Review seminar here.

Glenn Greenwald has a post that touches on a matter personal to him, though he tries to remain detached in his commentary. As a despicable troglodyte with no sympathy for gays or immigrants, I should be on the opposite of the issue. But inspired by Mark Kleiman, I’m willing to put on my consequentialist hat and say “let’s make a deal”: Allow family-unification for same-sex couples, get rid of it for everyone else. Gays are a small minority, so that means less people overall, and as a bonus they don’t have kids. For somewhat similar reasons I have advocated scrapping state recognition (and the benefits that go with it) for straight marriages in exchange for giving civil unions all the visitation rights and whatnot they ask for. The total number of people receiving state benefits will thus go down. Plus, as Robin Hanson points out, state support seems to cripple the little platoons of civil society. Having a free-market in religion not only resulted in a more religious America, but made the religious more favorable toward free-markets. Bryan Caplan has argued that state marriage law (especially regarding divorce) makes it less attractive to men. Snooty liberals like to point out the high divorce rate of red-states (neglecting to mention the low marriage rates of blue states) and ask why conservatives don’t focus on how divorce is undermining marriage rather than gays. As I’ve said before, a social reductio ad absurdum can also be viewed as a proof of necessity. It makes good sense for traditionalist conservatives to go after no-fault divorce. What prevents them for seeing the absolute reasonableness of my ideas is that their politics is really about raising and lowering the status of those they like vs dislike, and my plan would signal a raising of the status of gays and lowering that of traditional married couples.

In keeping with Bryan Caplan on Hillary’s gas-tax holiday and Tyler Cowen on the stimulus (or both of them on placebos), Scott Sumner supports inflation contra the Austrians/gold-bugs if only to distract the public from pushing for Paul Krugman’s solutions (though mostly just because he thinks his proposed policy is a good idea by itself that just happens to avoid the idea trap).

The Ruckus online music service was quite helpful in starting to rebuild my music collection after my harddrive crashed a while back. Unfortunately they have since gone defunct, my licenses have expired and cannot be renewed. Does anyone know a workaround?

On Celtic Frost’s No Questions Only Answers (a sort of anti-FAQ), Tom Gabriel Fischer says “There were a number of death grunts in rock and funk music in the 1970s (and I believe even earlier), but Paul DiAnno (circa) 1980/81 is indeed the reason why we in Hellhammer began to do the death grunt.” I’m one of those oddballs that prefers DiAnno (massive douchebag that he is) to Dickinson when it comes to Iron Maiden, but I don’t remember him using any sort of death grunt. Not even a brief punchy “UGH” like Fischer. I’m not a fan of cookie monster vocals, so perhaps this is another of DiAnno’s sins alongside kicking in one of his guitarists’ teeth and chasing his wife with an uzi while coked out of his mind. Was this something he only did live, or can anyone name an Iron Maiden recording with a death grunt?

Chas Freeman via James Fallows:

To deal effectively with China, Americans need to understand it in terms of its own complexities and authentic aspirations. This is unlikely to be achieved by officials engaged in writing narrowly focused and highly tendentious reports mandated by Congress to justify the single-issue agendas of our military-industrial complex or, for that matter, our humanitarian-industrial complex. Nor can it be accomplished by analysts stir-frying intelligence to suit the political appetites of those they work for….

Predictions about China based on a priori reasoning, ideologically induced delusions, hearsay, conjecture, or mirror-imaging have been frequent and numerous. They have racked up a remarkable record of unreliability. To cite a few relevant examples: contrary to repeated forecasts, the many imperfections of China’s legal system have neither prevented it from developing a vigorous market economy nor inhibited foreign investment — of which China continues to attract more than any other country, including our own. China’s failure to democratize and its continuing censorship of its media, including the Internet, have not stifled its economic progress or capacity to innovate, which are increasingly impressive. China’s perverse practices with respect to human rights have not cost China’s Communist Party or its government their legitimacy. On the contrary, polling data suggests that Chinese have a very much higher regard for their political leaders and government than Americans currently do for ours.

If Liu Binyan could get it wrong, who had any chance of getting it right?” I think some of that is due to the halo effect. We consider X to be good, and Y as well, so a lack of X will also hurt Y. I think we should try harder to keep our arguments for X and Y distinct. I think some of that applies to the “blowback” argument as well (though in the main I think it is accurate). We shouldn’t find it too surprising that “social liberalism” is not a main determinant of economic growth, and that’s part of the idea behind my favorite Catallarchy post. The tougher point would be the legal system, as rule of law is considered to be such a huge component of the “invisible capital” of nations. Greg Clark might argue that in the absence of a truly horrendous government like Mao’s, such institutions aren’t that big a determinant of the strength of markets.

A country that may be an even better poster-boy for economic success without liberalism is Singapore. Scott “I swear I’m not a monetarist” Sumner (who is like Will Wilkinson but with domain competence) compares it to his  favorite national model (Denmark) here. William Easterly (very glad he’s blogging) points to it as the exception to the rule of countries with individualist values outperforming those with collectivist values. I like the map the Inductivist presents here with survival values weighed against self-expression values.

On the subject of polities with little respect for individual liberty, I’ve recently been engaged in an exchange of emails with Kevin Gutzman, sparked by his post on the roots of Anglo-American democracy in Germanic tribes vs the ancient Greeks. I took the side of Benjamin Constant on their conception of freedom having a reasonable deal to do with democracy but (especially for Sparta) little to do with individual liberty. A site dedicated to range-voting has an interesting section explaining the Spartan system of government.

Finally, returning back to Freeman, a little while back (long enough for the comments to be closed) I defended his take on Tiananmen against the “politically correct — i.e. non Burkean conservative — view” at the Volokh Conspiracy. This evolved into a general defense for “formalism”. I have to admit that part of it was just playing Devil’s Advocate, as I tend to do situationally. By the time I got too bored to comment at Unqualified Reservations anymore I was mostly critiquing Mencius’ apologia for untrammeled power of the security forces.

Via Balko.