Categotry Archives: Culture

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Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem – Article by Camilo Gómez

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The New Renaissance HatCamilo Gómez
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With the recent rise to prominence of right-wing populist parties across Europe, it’s refreshing that Iceland has remained largely immune to such nationalistic rhetoric. On the continent, figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are capitalizing on what political scientists are calling a third wave of European populism that began after the international financial crisis of 2008. These parties are characterized by their anti-immigrant, and specifically, anti-Muslim sentiments. They fashion themselves the “protectors” of their homelands’ traditional culture against cosmopolitan globalism.

Yet, tiny Iceland has resisted this dirty brand of politics because of the rise of social movements that challenged the power structure of the Icelandic political establishment after the financial crisis of 2008. Unlike in other European countries, these social movements transformed themselves into a political movements, filling the vacuum of traditional center-right and center-left political parties, while also preventing far-right political projects from succeeding.

For starters, Iceland is a relatively young country that only became independent in 1944. It is a parliamentary democracy, based on coalitions because the Althing (parliament) has 63 members but a single party rarely has a clear majority. Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland has been governed by the right for most of its history, either from the liberal conservative Independence Party or the center-right agrarian Progressive Party.

This changed after the international financial crisis of 2008, which led all three Icelandic commercial banks to default. The crisis generated massive anger as Icelanders didn’t know what was going to happen with their savings. This led to massive protests that culminated in the resignation of the Prime Minister who was a member of the Independence Party.  Consequently, in April 2009, a left-wing coalition by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement formed a government together for the first time in the country’s history.

This grassroots activism led to the appearance of outsider political projects like the now defunct Best Party, which started as political satire but ended with its leader Jón Gnarr winning the mayoral election in Reykjavík in 2010. More importantly, grassroots activism was further encouraged by the Panama Papers, which revealed that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party and his wife, had an undisclosed account in an offshore tax haven. The ensuing protests became the largest in Iceland’s history, and made the Prime Minister resign. This led the way for the Pirate Party — a loose collection of anarchists, hackers and libertarians — to rise in prominence. Because of the Pirates, the national discussion shifted to a more socially tolerant narrative of a society willing to be open to the world.

Thus, Iceland’s 2016 elections presented very different options from the relatively traditional Independence Party and Progressive Party or the Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green Movement. In addition to the Pirate Party,  voters could also choose from the Bright Party, an eclectic socially liberal party, and the Reform Party, a new liberal party formed by defectors of the Independence Party. The elections led to a center-right coalition between the Independence Party, the Reform Party and the Bright Party.

Rather than blaming immigrants for their problems, Icelanders confronted the political class and created new parties that didn’t resemble the wave of far-right populism. Now even the government realizes that Iceland needs immigrants, skilled and unskilled, to fulfill the demand in different aspects of the Icelandic economy. Contrary to other countries in Europe, and despite its size, Iceland had been willing to receive refugees, and the number of immigrants in Iceland keeps growing year by year. In times of demagoguery, Iceland remains friendly to foreigners. One can only hope that the world learn from this small country that foreigners bring prosperity.

Camilo Gómez is a blogger at The Mitrailleuse and the host of Late Night Anarchy podcast. He can be found in Twitter at @camilomgn. He is a Young Voices Advocate.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Jews As the Enemies of the Enemies of Liberty – Article by Steven Horwitz

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The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz
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Anti-Semitism, it’s often said, is the oldest prejudice. The hatred of Jews has waxed and waned over the centuries, but appears to be back with something of a vengeance over the last few years, and especially the last few months.

For example, on Monday, February 27, over two dozen Jewish institutions across the country received bomb threats by anonymous phone calls. These included Jewish Community Centers, synagogues, retirement homes, day care centers, and Jewish educational institutions. These threats are part of a pattern of such threats, including multiple cemetery desecrations, that has been ongoing over the last few months. There have been 100 such threats to Jewish institutions just since the beginning of 2017.

Every time such a threat is called in, these institutions have to clear the building to determine if it is just a hoax. This means rounding up children, infants, the elderly, the infirm, and the developmentally disabled, getting them out of the building and, often, out in the cold, for the hour or two it takes to confirm all is clear. Although, thankfully, these have all turned out to be hoaxes, they still are taking a real toll on the Jewish community and the non-Jews who make use of these institutions. They are, I would argue, a form of terrorism.

The Why of Anti-Semitism

There has been much debate over why these threats have increased in recent months, and it seems plausible that the increased brazenness of the “politically incorrect,” including the rise of the alt-right, in the wake of the Trump campaign is probably one key factor. But anti-Semitism is not solely a problem on the Right. The political Left has had its own history of hatred for Jews, manifested in the present by the increased anti-Semitism of the radical Left in the context of criticism of Israel, especially through the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The sources of anti-Semitism on both Right and Left are complicated, but one element on both sides is that Jews have historically been associated with important liberal ideas such as capitalism, entrepreneurship, cosmopolitanism, and free migration. These institutions have enabled massive social, cultural, and economic change, empowering the previously powerless all over the world, and threatening the old order.

The enemies of liberalism have problems with all of these, though the Right and Left differ on which bothers them the most. But for both, Jews can be easily seen as the enemies of those who find deep flaws with the classical liberal social order. When Jews are being threatened, it is usually a good sign that the foundations of liberalism are as well.

Jewish Anti-Capitalism

One point to note up front is that Jews themselves have a history of opposition to classical liberalism. Jewish intellectuals have had a long-standing attraction to socialism, starting of course with Marx himself. In particular, a number of the architects of the Russian Revolution were Jews or of Jewish heritage.

I raise this because I am not arguing that Jews were somehow reliably classically liberal over the last few centuries. And the fact that a good number of Jews were socialist, or that a good number of socialists were Jews, certainly doesn’t justify anti-Semitism by critics of socialism.

I do think that part of the attraction of socialism to Jews was its universalist aspiration in the form of the trans-national cosmopolitan vision of classical socialism along with its desire to “heal the world” and its strong ethic of concern for the least well-off. Those aspirations were shared by 19th-century classical liberals and were also part of Jewish practice. This universalism made Jews the target of the critics of classical liberalism from the Right, as well as the right-wing critics of socialism.

Jewish Pro-Capitalism

The association of Jews with capitalism, trade, and entrepreneurship is well known. The negative stereotypes of acquisitiveness, materialism, and selfishness that have long been part of anti-Semitism grew out of the truth that Jews were more likely to be traders and financiers than were other groups. Part of this was that as a nomadic people, Jews invested in their human capital rather than the physical capital they would have had to schlep around while getting kicked out of country after country.

(This might also explain why Jews have also been disproportionately entertainers and intellectuals. The skills for telling jokes, writing stories, making music, or working in the realm of ideas are ones that don’t require much in the way of physical capital in order to be successful.)

Jews were also often middlemen as a result of their nomadic existence and familiarity with so many parts of the world. Middlemen have always been suspect to the economically ignorant as far back as Aristotle, as they appear to profit by creating nothing tangible. This is particularly true when the middlemen are in financial markets, where they are not even trading something physical.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that hatred of capitalism has been accompanied by hatred of the Jews

Right-wing anti-Semitism, however, often draws upon these capitalist tropes as part of its hatred. But in this context, Jews are not so much seen as representative of capitalist exploitation that can be ended by socialism, but rather as an example of people who place love of money and their universalist aspirations above the love of their country and its citizens.

German anti-Semitism in the 20th century had roots in the argument that Jews had been “war profiteers” in World War I and had benefitted from the economic destruction that characterized the Weimar Republic period leading up to Hitler’s ascension to power. The Nazis, and other fascist movements, saw the Jews as the sort of rootless cosmopolitans who were unable to grasp the importance of blood and soil.

The modern version of this point, and one that is also found on the Left, is the “dual loyalty” charge laid upon pro-Israel Jews: they are beholden to Israel in ways that cause them to work against the interests of the United States.

The Why of Nationalism

One way to see the “national socialism” of various fascist movements is that they objected not to socialism per se, but to socialism’s attempt to put class ahead of race or ethnicity or nationality. To the fascists, German or Italian workers shared much more with German or Italian capitalists than they did with Russian or American workers. Marxian socialism drew the wrong battle lines.

And so it is today, as “economic nationalism” is on the rise globally and Jews have again become the most obvious target for an invigorated Right. Jews have always been the symbol of the cosmopolitan, the migrant, and the “rootless” trader. If you reject market-driven globalization, whether because you dislike markets or because you are a nationalist, you are going to have reasons to see Jews as symbols of what you reject. That opposition to immigration and global trade, and the market system that is at the root of both, would go hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism is hardly surprising.

The economic nationalism of Trump and a variety of European leaders is not inherently anti-Semitic, nor does it require that the leaders of such movements be anti-Semites, but the arguments of economic nationalism can easily empower the anti-Semitism of both the Right and Left. The leaders build in plausible deniability, knowing full well the nature of the forces they are unleashing but in ways that avoid direct responsibility.

How could they not know? We have centuries of experience to draw on, back to the ancient world through the Middle Ages all the way to the ghastly slaughter of the 20th century during which anti-Semitism nearly destroyed the whole of Europe itself. The costs have been unspeakable, and hence the vow to never forget. And yet, despite this history, the tendency to forget remains. To remember would require that we think more clearly about ideology and philosophy, human rights and dignity. Many people do not want to do that. It remains easier to scapegoat than to remember.

Admittedly, we liberals have a special grudge against anti-Semitism. It broke up the greatest intellectual society of the 20th century, shattering Viennese intellectual life, flinging even Ludwig von Mises out of his home and into the abyss. His books were banned, and those of many others too. He and so many fled for their lives but bravely rebuilt them in the new world that offered protection.

A Warning Sign

It has been said that Jews are the canaries in the coal mine of a liberal society: when they are under threat, it is a warning sign. The ongoing and increasing threats to Jewish communities here in the US, as well as similar trends across Europe, should have all of us worried. A world where Jews sing out in joy together and are unafraid to fly free is one far more safe from tyranny than one in which we Jews worry about dying in our own cages, as many of us are doing as the threats to our institutions have become more frequent and more brazen in recent months.

Watch how a society treats Jews and you’ll have an indicator of its degree of openness and respect for liberty. When Jews are being threatened, so are the deepest of our liberal values. The poisonous air from coal mining that killed canaries was invisible. The threats to Jews and to liberalism are not. Citizens of liberal societies dismiss or downplay those threats at our own peril.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions. He is spending the 2016-17 academic year as a Visiting Scholar at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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P.G. Wodehouse Knew the Way: Fight Fascism with Humor – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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One of my favorite characters from 20th century pop fiction is Roderick Spode, also known as Lord Sidcup, from the 1930s series Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse, and hilariously portrayed in the 1990s TV adaptation starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. He perfectly captures the bluster, blather, and preposterous intellectual conceit of the interwar aspiring dictator.
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Back in the day, these people were all the same, whether George Lincoln Rockwell in the US, Oswald Mosley in the UK, or more well-known statesmen in interwar Europe. They were nativists, protectionists, longed for dictatorship, and believed that science had their back.
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Rather than a tedious denunciation, Wodehouse gives us something more effective. He created a composite and caricature of all of them and turned it to hilarity.
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Books about Nothing

Like Seinfeld, Jeeves and Wooster was “about nothing” but managed compelling cultural commentary that shaped the way a generation saw the world around them. It chronicled the amusing superficial lives of third-generation English upper class, lovable people with declining financial resources but too much dignity to take on the task of actually earning a living. There is a strong liberal spirit running through the whole series.

Roderick Spode is a character who makes appearances at odd times, making speeches to his couple dozen followers, blabbing on in the park and bamboozling naïve passersby, blowing up at people, practicing his demagogic delivery style. A handful of people take him seriously but mostly he and his “brownshort” followers are merely a source of amusement and annoyance to the London scene.

Why shorts? It seems that by the time he started ordering uniforms for his followers, there were no more shirts left. Red, brown, and black were already taken. Plus the company he contacted only had affordable shorts, so brown shorts it would be. So the required eugenic theory of his group naturally surrounded knees. He wanted everyone’s knees compulsorily measured:

Not for the true-born Englishman the bony angular knee of the so-called intellectual, not for him the puffy knee of the criminal classes. The British knee is firm, the British knee is muscular, the British knee is on the march!

The television series made him less British than German in aspiration. Here is his first speech in the television series, in which proclaims the “right, nay the duty” of every Briton to grow his own potatoes.

And here he is proposing mandatory bicycles and umbrellas for all free-born Britons. A fellow standing around says, “I say, I’ve never quite thought of it that way.”

Spode is also secretly a coward. In his other life, he is the owner, by virtue of family inheritance, of a shop that designs intimate clothing for women. He is desperate to keep this a secret, believing this profession to be incompatible with the career ambitions of an aspiring dictator. Anyone who knows this secret about his life has deep control over his psyche, with only the threat of revelation keeping him under control.

They Are Ridiculous

The entire caricature was a humiliation for the fascists of the period because it spoke truth. Their plans for economic life are ridiculous. Their eugenic theories are pseudo-science. Their pretensions to command a massive following are completely wrong. And in their private lives, they are just like everyone else: they aren’t demigods or elites or superior in any sense. They are just dudes who are exploiting public curiosity and fear to gain attention and power. They are trolls.

Humor is a great method for dealing with clowns like these, as Saturday Night Live has recently rediscovered. At the same time, we are mistaken to think they are not a threat to civilized life. In real life, Mosley in the UK and Rockwell in the US were a serious menace, as much as the establishments they opposed.

The statist Left and the statist Right play off each other, creating a false binary that draws people into their squabble. People need to understand, as F.A. Hayek emphasized in Road to Serfdom, that the fascists and communists are really two sides of a split within the same movement, each of which aspires to control the population with a version of a central plan.

It’s a question of how best to deal with them. Ideally clowns like this would be ignored, left to sit alone at the bar or at the park with their handful of deluded acolytes. That’s how Wodehouse presented his fascist – just as a silly distraction whose only value is a good joke. However, this is not typically how people do deal with them. They are so offensive to people’s ideals that they inspire massive opposition, and that opposition in turn creates public scenes that gain a greater following for the demagogue. This cycle continues to the point that the entire political landscape becomes deeply poisoned with hate and acts of vengeance.

When thinking of how genuine lovers of human liberty should deal with such settings, I always fall back on Ludwig von Mises from 1927.

It is often maintained that what divides present-day political parties is a basic opposition in their ultimate philosophical commitments that cannot be settled by rational argument. The discussion of these antagonisms must therefore necessarily prove fruitless … Nothing is more absurd than this belief … Rhetorical bombast, music and song resound, banners wave, flowers and colors serve as symbols, and the leaders seek to attach their followers to their own person. Liberalism has nothing to do with all this. It has no party flower and no party color, no party song and no party idols, no symbols and no slogans. It has the substance and the arguments. These must lead it to victory.

It can be the hardest thing in the world to remember this in the midst of political upheaval and antagonisms. People tend to believe they must join the Left to defeat the Right or join the Right to defeat the Left, forgetting that there is a third option: rule by no party and no one, but rather by universal self-rule and the society of freedom first and always.

It’s the tragedy of real-world politics that we keep moving through these phases, trading one style of central plan for another, one type of despot for another, without understanding that none are necessary. True defenders of liberty get it. That should inspire us to smile from time to time.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Banning Refugees Is Cowardice, Not Vigilance – Article by Sean J. Rosenthal

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Categories: Culture, Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatSean J. Rosenthal
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Donald Trump’s ban on people of certain nationalities entering the United States – now buffeted about by court orders, clarifications, and defiance – is a systematic rejection of the principle of Freedom of Movement with no impetus other than unacceptable, widespread cowardice.

The September 11 terrorist attacks cannot excuse such a grievous violation of rights. Terrorism is domestically a statistically trivial threat. The countries banned by Trump had little relation to 9/11, and the people denied entry to the United States are just as harmless (if not more so) than the average American. Neither reasons nor sudden trauma justify Trump’s actions – only cowardice.

In opposition to courageous principles like Freedom of Movement, discretion is courage’s institutional nemesis. Fear-induced discretion splits principles like scientists split atoms, producing explosively dangerous results.

Except to the extent courts stop him, Trump has undermined Freedom of Movement through an order to keep out people from Middle Eastern countries designated as countries of concern by the Obama administration.

Refugees already thoroughly vetted as safe, including business owners and participants in the Iraq war who have lived for years in the United States – all denied entry, all forced to beg for the government to wisely exercise its discretion in the face of an arbitrary burden.

Trump’s immigration policies are unwise and unjust. More tellingly, Trump’s restrictions on movement suffer more fully from another sin – a lack of courage.

Individual or Systemic Courage

At an individual level, it’s true that courage tends to be an overrated virtue. The image of “courageous” people often looks like warriors courting danger guns-blazing because they lacked the patience and ingenuity to find better solutions. Thus, courage is for the warrior fighting to the death.

Among non-violent “courageous” acts, contrarians who “stand up for what they believe in” often get courage points for being edgy or brutalist, as if people deserve praise for offering unconvincing evidence against social pressure. Generally, courage tends to be praised relative to the inactions of other people, forgetting that people often avoid doing certain things because they should not be done.

Moreover, fear is often unreasonable in ways immune to argument, making courage a weak appeal. For instance, traveling by planes is much safer than traveling by cars, but planes paralyze people in ways that statistics cannot cure because the fear of flying is a feeling, not a fact.

Similarly, terrorism is a statistically trivial cause of death in the United States, even including 9/11 and especially excluding that outlier, but terrorism causes widespread fears orders of magnitudes more crippling than the actual violence. To give a personal example, I have a totally unreasonable aversion to walking over storm drains and similar parts of sidewalks that leads me to walk around them.

Condemning fear rarely assuages it, and demanding courage rarely emboldens, because personality, ingrained perceptions and idiosyncrasies matter more than reasons for explaining fear and courage.

The Courage to be Free

Nevertheless, good institutions require courage.

For example, Freedom of Speech is a courageous principle. Freedom of Speech allows people to profess the wise and unwise, just and unjust, beautiful and vulgar. The dangers of the government deciding which speech falls into which categories justifies overriding particularized fears because of the courageous belief that free people can generally promote a better, more beautiful world through discourse. The courage required to permit others to speak, not knowing what they may say, far exceeds the courage of merely saying something unpopular.

Historically, fear commonly led to censorship. The Athenians sinned against philosophy by executing Socrates for corrupting the young, a fear of the influence of discourse. Similarly, the Pope compiled an Index of banned books and sought to censor them, fearful of the influential power of written words. Fear governed the world’s old order.

After weighing the liberating potential and corrupting dangers of pamphlets, America rejected the old order and institutionalized courage as common sense. Freedom of speech is the courage of a brave new world.

(To digress briefly into unimportant news stories, you should not punch Nazis merely for expressing their views. Only cowards without such faith in discourse and alternative peaceful methods would do so – and the cowardly types who have forgotten Ruby Ridge.)

Similarly, the Bill of Rights institutionalizes one courageous principle after another. The Bill of Rights trusts people with guns, protects potential criminals through warrants and other procedures, and generally imposes substantial burdens on the government before it can override individual freedoms, all because of the courageous general faith in free people.

The Freedom of Movement

Along with the above principles, the United States has a long history of embracing the courageous principle of Freedom of Movement.

America was formed by immigrants who courageously journeyed thousands of miles to leave European persecution and seek wealth and freedom. Without passports or other border restrictions, America promoted friendship and growth across state boundaries by allowing Freedom of Movement. Though the Constitution does not explicitly include such a right, the Supreme Court has correctly recognized that people have the right to travel freely between states.

Freedom of Movement between states is such a strong principle that nobody even considers imposing border restrictions. People from St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, and other American cities that rank among the world’s most dangerous can freely traverse anywhere else in America without legal barriers, even as national borders prevent the impoverished immigrants of safer foreign cities from doing the same.

Internationally, America also used to embrace such a broad principle. From the late 1700s until the late 1800s, though citizenship was unconscionably selective, the federal government allowed all foreigners to enter the United States – and, with the understanding that the naturalization clause only gave Congress control over citizenship, had no choice but to do so. To celebrate a century of such Freedom of Movement, France gifted America the statue of liberty with a famous poem dedicated to such American courage.

Unfortunately, around the same time, the federal government’s fear of the Chinese led it to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Supreme Court mistakenly upheld it. Thus, Freedom of Movement split from a courageous principle to a discretionary privilege, literally allowing fear to determine the borders of freedom.

Outside the context of the Chinese, such discretion remained largely unexercised for decades. Unencumbered by national borders, by World War I, two million Jews successfully fled Russia’s pogroms to freedom and safety in America.

However, by the 1920s, the dangers of discretionary power took hold, and the United States severely reduced legal immigration with its national origin quota systems. By World War II, the United States and the whole world had rejected immigrants.

The greatest victims of Freedom of Movement’s demise were the Jews that the world rejected at the Evian Conference and thereafter. Americans widely opposed Jewish refugees out of fear that some of them may secretly be communists or Nazis.

Unlike the millions saved by a courageous embrace of Freedom of Movement through World War I, fear undermined this principle and led to the death of millions during the Holocaust in World War II.

Refugees and Skittles

Without the courageous principle of Freedom of Movement, people’s fears determine and limit how many refugees can escape despotism and warfare. Just as fear trapped Jewish refugees during World War II, such fear traps Syrian refugees now.

Emphasizing the underlying fear, a thought experiment that opponents of Syrian refugees commonly ask goes something like: imagine you have a bowl of 1,000 skittles, only ten of which are poisonous. Would you eat the skittles? If not, then you understand why Syrian refugees must be so carefully restricted. Most alleged refugees might not be dangerous, but the government cannot know which ones are harmless and must prevent them all from entering to stop poison from seeping over our borders.

In reply to this thought experiment, most defenders of refugees argue over the numbers. Statistically, as mentioned above, refugees are vetted carefully and virtually all harmless, and almost none have been murderers or terrorists. Moreover, basically all studies on immigrants (legal, illegal, refugees, etc.) show that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than typical Americans. So, if you increase the bowl size to like 3,200,000 skittles with 20 poisonous, then yeah, the chance is justified.

In contrast to this response, I do not think the exact proportion matters much because of the agreement that almost all the refugees should ideally be allowed to enter. The skittles thought experiment is the coward’s game for people lacking the courage to accept Freedom of Movement as a principle.

Courageous principles sometimes allow bad outcomes. Freedom of speech allows for some noxious ideas to spread. Gun rights allow for some bad people to more easily engage in violence. Requirements for warrants allow for some criminals to hide their crimes. And freedom of movement allows for some bad people to travel where they can do harm.

Such courageous principles do not create perfect worlds. They create structures in which people have the freedom to shape the world, for better or worse – with better usually winning. Depriving the vast majority of people’s freedom to prevent a small minority from spreading evil impoverishes and threatens everybody.

Courageous Americans who embrace the existing dangers of speech, guns, and warrants should also similarly embrace the dangers of movement. Fear-induced discretionary restrictions on freedom of movement mean 99 ash-ridden Syrian children suffering from poverty, warfare, and death for the chance of maybe keeping out one bad person.

In sum, to paraphrase Shakespeare, cowards kill many times before their deaths; the valiant’s tastes let others live.

Thus, cowards ask how many poisonous skittles might sneak in with a broad rainbow and fear the tiny shadows that enter with the radiant light. In contrast, the valiant ask how many Anne Franks will die if we fear these tiny shadows and instead courageously opens the golden door for the rainbow, realizing today’s Anne Franks are in Syria.

Sean J. Rosenthal is attorney in New York.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Must We Pick a Side? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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Categories: Culture, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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The wildly contentious election of 2016 seems to have inculcated certain habits of mind. We are tempted to believe that our role as citizens is like that of a sports fan. We need to choose a team and stick with it, no matter what. Our team needs us.If we lend our voices in support of the other guy, we are betraying our team. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. My friend is imperfect, but to admit this publicly is to weaken our side. It’s a test of loyalty. Therefore bring out the face paint, the jerseys, and the Vuvuzelas, and let’s fight, fight, fight!

Every day, the media exploits this model, giving us combat spectacles of left vs. right, party vs. party, this person vs. that person. This drives ratings, which is evidence that people find it intriguing. It allows spectators to participate by shouting at the TV, yelling at the radio, posting angrily on social media, having sub-tweet wars, and so on. We mimic what we see in these venues and even begin to talk like the vituperative and viral voices that fill up our feeds.

Go Team!

That turned on a light for me. I realized that there is something insidious about any approach that requires you to shut off the critical capacity of your intellect. The truth is not embodied in any political faction. If I expected to think with integrity, I had to go my own way. Realizing this was a hinge in my life, I never looked back.

The Friend/Enemy Model

To be sure, putting your brain on the shelf for political advantage has a long philosophical tradition behind it. There are of course the Marxists, who tag people as exploiters or the oppressed based on class identity – and their modern successors who apply these designations, to the point of absurdity, to a huge range of characteristics of race, sex, religion, physical ability, and gender identity. To them, life can be nothing but conflict.

But it’s not just a left-wing problem. Have a look at the work of Carl Schmitt – a right-wing Hegelian/Nietzschean – and his 1932 essay “The Concept of the Political.” (If you already know something about the situation in German academia in 1932, you can guess the rest.)

To Schmitt, to be political is the highest calling of the human person, and this always means separating people according to friends or enemies. He despises classical liberalism and economics precisely for the reason that they attempt to obliterate the friend/enemy distinction, replacing it with trade, cooperation, and forms of competition in which every competitor wins.

On what basis does politics make the friend/enemy distinction? Schmitt says it has nothing to do with norms or even high theory. “In its entirety,” he writes, “the state as an organized political entity decides for itself the friend-enemy distinction.”

But what does it mean to be an enemy? It refers to “the real possibility of physical killing.” Without bloodshed, it means nothing, which is why “war is the existential negation of the enemy. It is the most extreme consequence of enmity.”

So let’s review. To be political is the essence of life, according to Schmitt. The core of the political means to be willing to kill enemies. Therefore, we might conclude from his writings, death itself is the essence of life. Thus did Carl Schmitt become the leading philosopher of National Socialism and the intellectual font of what became the Holocaust.

Elections and Warfare Sociology

It’s true that the friend/enemy model makes sense to many people during the election season. We are all empowered with the vote. We feel a great sense of responsibility for how we use it, despite overwhelming evidence that your one vote will not swing an election. It’s mostly symbolic, but it matters, because people like participating in the democratic process, gaining power for friends and obliterating the enemy.

But the election is over. Why does this attitude persist even though no one in politics and government will be asking for our presidential vote for another four years? It’s a kind of addiction, a mental habit that gives us considerable pleasure. Maybe it’s primal, an instinctual form of low-grade violence that Freud suggests we need to overcome to have civilization.

In practice, what does blindly cheering for one team over another in politics achieve? Nothing good, in my view. It becomes psychologically debilitating to expend so much time and energy on it. Indeed, politics pursued in this fashion is poison to the human spirit. It relies on sustaining a level of hate that is toxic for anyone who wants to live a full life.

The Problem of Trumpism

The problem is compounded by the lack of intellectual coherence at the top of the ruling party. It’s not exactly a new problem, but it is unusually poignant in the case of Donald Trump. We haven’t seen this level of nationalist rhetoric in my lifetime, and it pertains to the core functioning of American economic life. The lack of appreciation for the intellectual and political achievements of free trade is palpable. Adding to that, he seems to be pushing for expensive infrastructure spending, more military pork, and an immigration policy that would certainly require extensive surveillance of American businesses.

At the same time, he has said some wonderful things about deregulation, tax cuts, bureaucracy downsizing, education, and health care, proposals dear to any liberty lover’s heart.

At best, then, the agenda is confused. So people are weighing the relative benefits and costs. Will the benefits of tax cuts be so great as to make up for the downside of new tariffs? How bad will the immigration controls be compared with the supposed benefits to national security? And so on.

This is not just an intellectual exercise. The end game here is to answer the critical question: should we favor this team or oppose it?

Think for Yourself

I suggest that this is the wrong way to think about the matter. We should not obsess over the question of whether we should cheer Trump or condemn him, become his fans or swing into opposition, defend him against enemies or become his enemies.

There is another approach. It is not easy in a hugely partisan political environment, but it is the right one. Stay independent, think clearly, watch carefully, adhere to principle, speak fearlessly, praise when good things happen and oppose when bad things happen, tell the truth as you see it, and otherwise be ever vigilant in defense of rights and liberties, yours and everyone’s. To be steadfast and honest in these times is the height of political virtue.

“At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare,” says Lord Acton, “and its triumphs have been due to minorities.”

So, yes, by maintaining your objectivity and principles in these times, you will be in the minority. But you will be a friend of freedom, and you could make all the difference.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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What Are the Chances That a Muslim Is a Terrorist? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

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Categories: Culture, Mathematics, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatSanford Ikeda
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It’s flu season and for the past two days you’ve had a headache and sore throat. You learn that 90% of people who actually have the flu also have those symptoms, which makes you worry.  Does that mean the chances of your having the flu is 90%?  In other words, if there’s a 90% chance of having a headache and sore throat given that you have the flu, does that mean there’s a 90% chance having the flu given that you have a headache and sore throat?We can use symbols to express this question as follows: Pr(Flu | Symptoms) = Pr(Symptoms | Flu) = 90%?

The answer is no. Why?

If you think about it you’ll realize that there are other things besides the flu that can give you a combination of a headache and sore throat, such as a cold or an allergy, so that having those symptoms is certainly not the same thing as having the flu.  Similarly, while fire produces smoke, the old saying that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” is wrong because it’s quite possible to produce smoke without fire.

Fortunately, there’s a nice way to account for this.

How Bayes’ Theorem Works

Suppose you learn that, in addition to Pr(Symptoms | Flu) = 90%, that the probability of a randomly chosen person having a headache and sore throat this season, regardless of the cause, is 10% – i.e. Pr(Symptoms) = 10% – and that only one person in 100 will get the flu this season – i.e. Pr(Flu) = 1%.  How does this information help?

Again, what we want to know are the chances of having the flu, given these symptoms Pr(Flu | Symptom).  To find that we’ll need to know first the probability of having those symptoms if we have the flu (90%) times the probability of having the flu (1%).  In other words, there’s a 90% chance of having those symptoms if in fact we do have the flu, and the chances of having the flu is only 1%. That means Pr(Symptoms | Flu) x Pr(Flu) = 0.90 x 0.01 = 0.009 or 0.9% or a bit less than one chance in 100.

Finally, we need to divide that result by the probability of having a headache and sore throat regardless of the cause Pr(Symptoms), which is 10% or 0.10, because we need to know if your headache and sore throat are flu Symptoms out of all headache-and-sore symptoms that have occurred.

So, putting it all together, the answer to the question, “What is the probability that your Symptoms are caused by the Flu?” is as follows:

Pr(Flu | Symptoms) = [Pr(Symptoms | Flu) x Pr(Flu)] ÷ Pr(Symptoms) = 0.90 x 0.01 ÷ 0.10 = 0.09 or 9%.

So if you have a headache and sore throat there’s only a 9% chance, not 90%, that you have the flu, which I’m sure will come as a relief!

This particular approach to calculating “conditional probabilities” is called Bayes’ Theorem, after Thomas Bayes, the 18th century Presbyterian minister who came up with it. The example above is one that I got out this wonderful little book.

Muslims and Terrorism

Now, according to some sources (here and here), 10% of Terrorists are Muslim. Does this mean that there’s a 10% chance that a Muslim person you meet at random is a terrorist?  Again, the answer is emphatically no.

To see why, let’s apply Bayes’ theorem to the question, “What is the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist?” Or, stated more formally, “What is the probability that a person is a Terrorist, given that she is a Muslim?” or Pr(Terrorist | Muslim)?

Let’s calculate this the same way we did for the flu using some sources that I Googled and that appeared to be reliable.  I haven’t done a thorough search, however, so I won’t claim my result here to be anything but a ballpark figure.

So I want to find Pr(Terrorist | Muslim), which according to Bayes’ Theorem is equal to…

1) Pr(Muslim | Terrorist):  The probability that a person is a Muslim given that she’s a Terrorist is about 10% according to the sources I cited above, which report that around 90% of Terrorists are Non-Muslims.

Multiplied by…

2) Pr(Terrorist):  The probability that someone in the United States is a Terrorist of any kind, which I calculated first by taking the total number of known terrorist incidents in the U.S. back through 2000 which I tallied as 121 from this source  and as 49 from this source. At the risk of over-stating the incidence of terrorism, I took the higher figure and rounded it to 120.  Next, I multiplied this times 10 under the assumption that on average 10 persons lent material support for each terrorist act (which may be high), and then multiplied that result by 5 under the assumption that only one-in-five planned attacks are actually carried out (which may be low).  (I just made up these multipliers because the data are hard to find and these numbers seem to be at the higher and lower ends of what is likely the case and I’m trying to make the connection as strong as I can; but I’m certainly willing to entertain evidence showing different numbers.)  This equals 6,000 Terrorists in America between 2000 and 2016, which assumes that no person participated in more than one terrorist attempt (not likely) and that all these persons were active terrorists in the U.S. during those 17 years (not likely), all of which means 6,000 is probably an over-estimate of the number of Terrorists.

If we then divide 6,000 by 300 million people in the U.S. during this period (again, I’ll over-state the probability by not counting tourists and visitors) that gives us a Pr(Terrorist) = 0.00002 or 0.002% or 2 chances out of a hundred-thousand.

Now, divide this by…

3) The probability that someone in the U.S. is a Muslim, which is about 1%.

Putting it all together gives the following:

Pr(Terrorist | Muslim) = [Pr(Muslim | Terrorist) x Pr(Terrorist)] ÷ Pr(Muslim) = 10% x 0.002% ÷ 1% = 0.0002 or 0.02%.

One interpretation of this result is that the probability that a Muslim person, whom you encounter at random in the U.S., is a terrorist is about 1/50th of one-percent. In other words, around one in 5,000 Muslim persons you meet at random is a terrorist.  And keep in mind that the values I chose to make this calculation deliberately over-state, probably by a lot, that probability, so that the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist is likely much lower than 0.02%.

Moreover, the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist (0.002%) is 500 times lower than the probability that a Terrorist is a Muslim (10%).

(William Easterly of New York University applies Bayes’ theorem to the same question, using estimates that don’t over-state as much as mine do, and calculates the difference not at 500 times but 13,000 times lower!)

Other Considerations

As low as the probability of a Muslim person being a Terrorist is, the same data do indicate that a Non-Muslim person is much less likely to be a Terrorist.  By substituting values where appropriate – Pr(Non-Muslim | Terrorist) = 90% and Pr(Non-Muslim) = 99% – Bayes’ theorem gives us the following:

Pr(Terrorist | Non-Muslim) = [Pr(Non-Muslim | Terrorist) x Pr(Terrorist) ÷ Pr(Non-Muslim) = 90% x 0.002% ÷ 99% = 0.00002 or 0.002%.

So one interpretation of this is that a randomly chosen Non-Muslim person is around one-tenth as likely to be a Terrorist than a Muslim person (i.e. 0.2%/0.002%).  Naturally, the probabilities will be higher or lower if you’re at a terrorist convention or at an anti-terrorist peace rally; or if you have additional data that further differentiates among various groups – such as Wahhabi Sunni Muslims versus Salafist Muslim or Tamil Buddhists versus Tibetan Buddhists – the results again will be more accurate.

But whether you’re trying to educate yourself about the flu or terrorism, common sense suggests using relevant information as best you can. Bayes’ theorem is a good way to do that.

(I wish to thank Roger Koppl for helping me with an earlier version of this essay. Any remaining errors, however, are mine, alone.)

Sanford (Sandy) Ikeda is a professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

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The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
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Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century. Most people have a vague feeling that factory farms aren’t quite ethical. But few people are willing to give up meat, so such feelings are suppressed because acknowledging them would only make one feel guilty. Once the costs of giving up meat fall, however, vegetarianism will spread like a prairie wildfire, changing eating habits, the use of farmland, and the science and economics of climate change.

Lab-grown or cultured meat is improving, but so is the science of veggie burgers. Beyond Meat has sold a very successful frozen “chicken” strip since 2013, and their non-frozen burger patties are just now seeing widespread distribution in the meat aisle at Whole Foods. Beyond Meat extracts protein from peas and then combines it with other vegetable elements under heating, cooling, and pressure to realign the proteins in a way that simulates the architecture of beef.

I picked up a two-pack on the weekend. Beyond Meat burgers look and cook like meat. But what about the taste?

The taste is excellent. The burger has a slightly smokey taste, not exactly like beef, but like meat. If you had never tasted a buffalo burger before, and I told you that this was a buffalo burger, you would have no reason to doubt me. A little sauce and salt and pepper, and this is a very good-tasting burger, not a sacrifice for morality.

The price is currently more than beef, $6 for two patties, but that’s Whole-Foods expensive, not out-of-reach expensive. I will buy more.

The revolution has begun.

The second picture is the BuzzFeed version. My burger wasn’t quite so artfully arranged but was still delicious, and I attest to the overall accuracy.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.

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In Defense of My Participation Trophy – Article by Tricia Beck-Peter

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The New Renaissance HatTricia Beck-Peter
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I have one participation trophy, from a youth soccer league I joined when I was five. I joined the league, not because I aspired to a career of professional athleticism, but because my mother wanted me to try a sport.

I was awful at soccer. The coach called me “flower child,” because I would grab my teammates by the hand when we ran drills. The coach imagined my motives to be peace and love and friendship, when in reality I was just trying to pull the slower kids forward. My motives were not derived from the hippie upbringing he imagined had shaped me, but out of compassion for those even less athletically inclined than myself.

Too Much Reward?

My participation trophy is the target of ridicule by smug baby-boomers who spout an “up by the bootstraps” ideology. For them, it is a symbol of mollification and complacency. They think it makes me too soft to handle the pressure of this world. This five-inch-tall piece of cheap, gold-painted plastic threatens their entire worldview.

Do they think that children don’t understand participation trophies? Do they think they don’t notice that the better players get bigger, shinier pieces of cheap gold plastic? They do. Even at five I knew my trophy did not mean I was destined to be a famous soccer player.

The trophy meant that I tried. The trophy meant that every Saturday morning, despite the skinned knee earned in that week’s practice that was still healing, I showed up to play. It meant that despite the heat and the way the grass made me itch and the fact that I had never scored a single goal, I kept going to practice. It meant I kept trying to help the slow kids run faster. It meant I kept trying.

Is it so evil to encourage a child to try by offering them a reward? Those who decry participation trophies will say that trying matters less than succeeding, but I disagree. Trying is a requirement for succeeding. To have a fulfilled life, you must try many more things than you succeed in. To accomplish anything, you must try. That trophy is not a pat on the back and a grudging “good enough.” It is a reminder of the time you spent trying.

Trying Is Good

It’s easy to pick on millennials. We enjoy a higher quality of life than any previous generation. The draft is over, there’s a vaccine for polio, and we can watch color TV on the tiny computers that live in our pockets and let us make phone calls. To the outside observer, we are soft, entitled, and complacent.

Yet Forbes calls us “the true entrepreneur generation.” Our smartphones are loaded with more than Netflix and Buzzfeed, they’re loaded with investment apps like Acorns and business software like Square. One study showed that 63% of 20-somethings want to start a business. While they may not be currently starting their businesses, 90% of millennials recognize entrepreneurship as a mentality, meaning they’re entrepreneurial about their work in settings outside the old “entrepreneurs start businesses” model of generations prior.

Maybe this mindset is not in spite of participation trophies, but in part inspired by them. Entrepreneurs fail. They fail all the time, and they keep trying. They keep trying the same way they did when they were children in grass-stained soccer jerseys, in leagues where they earned participation trophies.


Tricia Beck-Peter is a development intern at FEE, and a graduate of Flagler College.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Culture and the Snare of Group Identity – Article by John Glenn

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The New Renaissance HatJohn Glenn

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D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy joins the ranks of several works that explore many of the challenges facing today’s white working class. The book shines a light on Vance’s Scots-Irish hillbilly heritage in Greater Appalachia, one of the most forlorn economic regions in the country.

Vance not only offers readers a timely, first-person perspective on Rust Belt America, but he also brings the cultural politics of an important segment of white America to the forefront. For many minorities, white culture itself has been historically presented as the standard bearer of privilege, but Vance tells a fuller story. One part of that story is that white mainstream culture shouldn’t be conflated with the trailer parks of southeastern Ohio.

It wasn’t long before I realized that some of the traditions and vices Vance grew up with would seem very familiar to other minorities, whether on the southside of Chicago, the Pine Ridge Reservation in Nebraska, or South Boston. But his story doesn’t succeed because it exposes the detrimental norms foisted on many who live in ethnic enclaves. Instead, it takes aim at something more injurious: the tremendous burden of upholding group identity.

The Narcotic Pleasure of Being the Underdog

In his article “Revolt of the Masses,” David Brooks highlighted Vance’s honest and blunt portrayal of hillbilly life. Brooks describes it as a loyalty culture: “Families might be messed up in a million ways, but any act of disloyalty – like sharing personal secrets with outsiders – is felt acutely.”

This is a twisted situation where, by virtue of constructs like class, race, or colloquial street name, fidelity to the group is demanded and freedom of thought curtailed. John McWhorter has remarked that there is a “narcotic pleasure” in the underdog-ism and victimology that plagues groups who see individual effort to pull oneself out of dismal circumstances as betrayal. In this context, social stagnation and failure become legitimate options. McWhorther’s views are similar to Vance’s own convictions that hillbilly culture might be its own worst enemy when it comes to socioeconomic progress.

Over 20 years ago, Thomas Sowell articulated the costs of being beholden to group identity. “Among its more serious social consequences are (1) putting a dangerous leverage in the hands of extremist fringes within each group, and (2) stifling the cultural advancement of lagging groups by sealing them off from the cultural advantages of the larger society around them,” Sowell said.

This is why cultural advancement should be a mainstay in conversations about Americans who have been sidelined economically and nearly hollowed out socially.

But advancement needn’t be about moralizing or federal intervention. In fact, its best incarnation is practical guidance. It’s about helping people recognize existing opportunities, about speaking to the greater capacities people have beyond alcoholism, criminality, family disintegration, and other self-destructive tendencies. On the one hand, some people sense that mobility is possible even within the lowest social strata. On the other hand, in a group context, convenient excuses are abundant (the system, the elites, outsiders, disadvantage) and need to be unveiled for what they are.

The point is that until the stranglehold of group identity can be broken, a paradigm shift, enabling people to get beyond the very real and perceived obstacles, can’t happen.

Even as Vance expresses his love for the Appalachian experience that shaped and molded him – for the family, friends, and homesteads that make up his fondest memories – he doesn’t paper over the domestic chaos. Instead, Vance acknowledges the intense sense of parochialism that’s rife in Appalachia. And he takes a bold step in placing the burden of resolving a myriad of problems on the shoulders of “the broad community of hillbillies.”

This is laudable because it means that Vance isn’t acting in the service of group protectionism. But, why not? Why not completely slime public policy and corporate greed? Why not cite job loss as the culprit? The truth is there’s something more important at stake than the misplaced pride that leaves people self-conscious about being culturally authentic and loyal.

Curtail Liberty to Help the Worse-Off?

Even though authenticity is an age-old sham, there are status points and street cred to be earned by adhering to the neglected group script. Mostly the concept of authenticity rests on the specious notion that some groups experience America as a monolith, without variation. Oddly, there is also the tacit acknowledgment that certain groups, over time, have simply come to demonstrate particular mores – many of which are embraced and celebrated in-group.

This contradiction is what leads so-called underdog groups to brazenly demand acceptance and intervention at the same time.

For example, Linda Tirado, who is well-known for “explaining” to America what it means to be poor and make questionable decisions, offered this opinion: “Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive.” In the article, Tirado cataloged several unhelpful habits and then ended by saying that sympathy wasn’t the goal and that she merely wanted to explain.

But the message that everything from healthcare to decent food to condoms is inaccessible to people because they are not rich prioritizes a false group narrative (in this case about working-class people) over individual experience. The implication is that society should act collectively to meet the needs of this segment of the population rather than hold intact a free society for all. This is the fallacious thinking that cuts across far too many demographics.

Americans everywhere should reject burdensome group identities. Some identities are unfortunately shaped by demanding more accountability from those outside the group than those within it. Others may be even worse because they are overly nationalist and represent what Benedict Anderson called imagined communities.

Let’s hope that one day when the specter of group restraint dissipates and the individual is front and center, Americans will gain not only more liberty, but also clarity about the challenges we face as a nation.

John Glenn is an Assistant Professor of English at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, and his writings have appeared in The Federalist, The Birmingham News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Library Journal, and elsewhere.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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A Transhumanist Opinion on Privacy – Article by Ryan Starr

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The New Renaissance HatRyan Starr

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Privacy is a favorite topic of mine. Maintaining individual privacy is a crucial element in free society. Yet there are many who want to invade it for personal or political gain. As our digital fingerprint becomes a part of our notion of self, how do we maintain our personal privacy on an inherently impersonal network of data? Where do we draw that line on what is private, and how do we enforce it? These are questions that are difficult to answer when looking at a short-term perspective. However, if we look further into the probable future, we can create a plan that helps protect the privacy of citizens today and for generations to come. By taking into account the almost certain physical merger of human biology and technology, the answer becomes clear. Our electronic data should be treated as part of our bodily autonomy.

The explosive success of social media has shown that we already view ourselves as partly digital entities. Where we go, what we eat, and who we are with is proudly displayed in cyberspace for eternity. But beyond that we store unique data about ourselves “securely” on the internet. Bank accounts, tax returns, even medical information are filed away on a server somewhere and specifically identified as us. It’s no longer solely what we chose to let people see. We are physical and digital beings, and it is time we view these two sides as one before we take the next step into enhanced humanity.

Subdermal storage of electronic data is here, and its storage capabilities will expand rapidly. Soon we will be able to store a lot more than just access codes for our doors. It is hard to speculate exactly what people will chose to keep stored this way, and there may even come a time when what we see and hear is automatically stored this way. But before we go too far into what will be stored, we must understand how this information is accessed in present time. These implants are currently based in NFC technology. Near-Field Communication is a method of storing and transmitting data wirelessly within a very short distance. Yes, “wireless” is the key word. It means that if I can connect my NFC tag to my smart phone by just waiving my hand close to it (usually within an inch or so), then technically someone else can, too. While current antenna limitations and the discreetness of where a person’s tag is implanted create a highly secure method of storage, advances in technology will eventually make it easier to access the individual. This is why it is urgent we develop a streamlined policy for privacy.

The current Transhumanist position is that personally collected intellectual property, whether stored digitally or organically, is the property of the individual. As such, it should be protected from unauthorized search and download. The current platform also states that each individual has the freedom to enhance their own body as they like so long as it doesn’t negatively impact others. However, it does not specify what qualifies as a negative impact or how to prevent it. Morphological freedom is a double-edged sword. A person can a person enhance their ability to access information on themselves, but they can also use it to access others. It is entirely feasible enhancements will be created that allow a person to hack another. And collecting personal data isn’t the only risk with that. What if the hacking victim has an artificial heart or an implanted insulin pump? The hacker could potentially access the code the medical device is operating with and change or delete it, ultimately leading to death. Another scenario might be hacking into someone’s enhanced sensory abilities. Much like in the novel Ender’s Game, a person can access another to see what they see. This ability can be abused countless ways ranging from government surveillance to sexual voyeurism. While this is still firmly within the realm of science fiction, a transhuman society will need to create laws to protect against these person-to-person invasions of privacy.

Now let’s consider mass data collection. Proximity beacons could easily and cheaply be scattered across stores and cities to function as passive collection points much like overhead cameras are today. Retail stands to gain significantly from this technology, especially if they are allowed access to intimate knowledge about customers. Government intelligence gathering also stands to benefit from this capability. Levels of adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin stored for personal health analysis could be taken and paired with location data to put together an invasive picture of how people are feeling in a certain situation. Far more can be learned and exploited when discreetly collected biodata is merged with publicly observable activity.

In my mind, these are concerns that should be addressed sooner than later. If we take the appropriate steps to preserve personal privacy in all domains, we can make a positive impact that will last into the 22nd century.
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Ryan Starr is the leader of the Transhumanist Party of Colorado. This article was originally published on his blog, and has been republished here with his permission.
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