The Long View 2008-12-07: The Components of Freedom; Mad Max in South Asia; Our Precious Bodily Fluids; Virtual Catacombs

This is a a great blog post. The linked Reason article about the “Libertarian moment of 2008” looks hilarious in retrospect. The last 14 years have if anything seen the acceleration of the trends the article mentions, but I doubt many people in Anglosphere countries feel much freer. The hyper-individualized hyper-expanded choice has all been in the service of existing wealth and power.

John also links to an article on endocrine disruptive chemicals in the environment. As I said in my intro to John’s book review of Our Stolen Future, this is a subject you can expect absolutely nothing important to happen. This is so because in order to actually do something about endocrine disrupters, you would need to eliminate their most prolific source: hormonal birth control. Since the current political and social order is built upon that foundation, you can expect nothing to happen in the current age. It is literally unthinkable by almost everyone.

The Components of Freedom; Mad Max in South Asia; Our Precious Bodily Fluids; Virtual Catacombs

Some people might think that the Libertarian project is due for a reassessment. This sentiment is not shared by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch at Reason magazine, who assure us that despite all leading indicators to the contrary, America is poised to enter a new age of freedom:

If someone looked you in the eye in 1971 and said “Man, you know what? We’re about to get a whole lot freer,” you might have reasonably concluded that he was nuts, driven mad by taking too much LSD and staring into the sun....Yet even during that dark night of the American soul, with all its eerie echoes of George W. Bush’s final miserable days in office, premonitions of liberty-loving life abounded for those who knew where to look. The contraceptive pill, which gave women unprecedented control over their sexual and reproductive lives, had been made legal for married women in 1965, and was on the verge of being legalized for unmarried women too...Free agency in sports, music, and film, triggered by a series of legal battles and economic developments, ushered in a wild new era of individualistic expression and artistic independence..[Today we] are in fact living at the cusp of what should be called the Libertarian Moment, the dawning not of some fabled, clichéd, and loosey-goosey Age of Aquarius but a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over every aspect of our lives, from 401(k)s to hot and cold running coffee drinks, from life-saving pharmaceuticals to online dating services.

Actually, my recollection of 1971 is that there was widespread sentiment at that time that the world was about to become more anarchic. The image of dystopia was shifting from the bureaucratic totalitarianism of 1984 to the neo-barbarian model that crystalized at the end of the decade in Mad Max.

As for the waxing and waning of freedom, I think that this analysis overlooks the fact that existential freedom includes both the absence of restraints and the capacity to act. The two elements vary inversely. A model of freedom that did not include liberty would be perverse. On the other hand, to be "free," for instance, of the requirement to take any difficult courses to get an engineering degree would not advance your freedom to be an engineer. Similarly, anyone who is free of the possibility of police interference would be living in a Hobbesian world with many choices but little power. Libertarianism for some people is the belief that the freedom to drive is increased by liberation from the duty to pay highway-maintenance taxes.

As for 401K Plans, the US senator chiefly responsible for making them America's principal retirement vehicle is seeking a new trial.

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Speaking of Mad Max, Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times surmises that Al Qaeda's grand strategy is to extend his kingdom to Pakistan:

[A]l-Qaeda is aware it doesn't have the following such as the Iranian revolution had in 1979 when the Shah was swept out of power. Al-Qaeda's strength in urban centers is estimated at not much more than a few thousand.

All the same, Abu Haris is confident. "Just a few steps would be enough to break the binding forces of the country, and then it will fall into our hands," he says. "For instance, there are two major [oil] refineries in the country. If we were to blow them, the country would face a severe energy crisis. Everything would come to a halt and riots would erupt. There are already so many divisions in the country that the riots would bring it to the verge of collapse.

"The Pakistani army would be incapable of containing this. The 1965 war [with India] is evidence. Pakistan opened up a front in Indian Kashmir and in retaliation the Indians went for large-scale war ... the fact is that the Pakistani army was demoralized and desertions were rampant.

"We assess that any large-scale operation would break the army and Pakistan, and this would be a blessing for us. Of course, the Indians would take advantage of the situation and that's why we have a plan to immediately spread this war to the whole region, including India and Afghanistan," Abu Haris explains, basing his arguments on information from al-Qaeda's intelligence and review committee.

I can think of only one occasion when a strategy like this worked. Elements of Serbian intelligence started a general war in Europe in 1914 with the hope that the Kingdom of Serbia might be able to expand if the Dual Monarchy were disrupted. The plan succeeded, but it was still a bad deal.

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But dystopia has moved on, as we see from the British paper, The Independent:

The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.

Backed by some of the world's leading scientists, who say that it "waves a red flag" for humanity and shows that evolution itself is being disrupted, the report comes out at a particularly sensitive time for ministers. On Wednesday, Britain will lead opposition to proposed new European controls on pesticides, many of which have been found to have "gender-bending" effects.

When I read Our Stolen Future twelve years ago, which made pretty much the same claims, I was convinced the whole thing was a cosmic racket-in-waiting. Perhaps the new research has advanced the question in the meantime. I would not bet on it, though.

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A Christmas Story: I was shopping over the weekend, and I bought a Wii game for someone on my list. The clerk recommended a promotional website to look at, said "God bless you, sir," and handed me the package. Could it be that Vox Day is only the tip of a clandestine iceberg of Christian Libertarian gamers?

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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