On Police Brutality II

Society needs antitrust enforcement against the police and their bosses, the state. At some point this monopoly goes too far and ends up shooting itself in the foot, but make no mistake, the police are not your friend, nor are they your protector. Even their courts agree that the police have no duty to be anyone’s friend or protector. Their number one duty is law enforcement. And who writes the laws? Not you or the class to which you belong, the plebeian class. They, the ruling class, write the laws and hire criminal gangs to enforce them. Legal mafias are what they are, and it’s what they do. Providing quality customer service isn’t even in their manual of priorities, because they don’t have customers. They have targets of expropriation. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Laughter Killed the Devil

There’s a story about the theologian Smith Wigglesworth awakened in the middle of the night to see a dark hideous creature in the corner of his room.

“Who are you?”, he asked.

“The Devil”, it replied.

“Oh, just you?”, he said as he rolled over and went back to sleep.

The Soviet Union had a major problem. Lawbreakers were everywhere. They were spreading pamphlets, posters, and graffiti of the most threatening variety to the ruling class. Satire. The most difficult part for the bureaucrats and armed thugs trying to stop it was they didn’t always recognize it. Artists forced to create art for the party would lace it with inside jokes and mockery the average person would spot, but the self-serious government would not.

The government of New York wants you to know they will not tolerate freedom. Every citizen is a prisoner, condemned to their home and allowed brief outdoor excursions as long as they are alone. They want to enlist you to enforce this slavery. So they setup a special number. “Text this number if you see anyone violating our oppression.” And people did text it. A lot. They texted dick pics in such a volume the government was forced to shut down the hotline.

Evil is self-serious. Oppressors and statists can only live by fear. Fear is the only thing they have. If they are not feared, they are nothing. They are a threat only to the extent people fear them as such. There is nothing – nothing – done by the state and the dictators who run it that can be done if people do not fear them.

Courage appears to be the antidote to fear. In a way it is, but courage is such an equal and opposite force that when it meets tyranny the resulting spectacle can spread more fear. A courageous martyr sometimes inspires mass revolt, but often makes an example that sends people deeper into hiding.

Pure ideals and clear arguments can offer some resistance to tyranny. But the stronger those ideas, the more danger that they morph into tyranny themselves. Violent ideological revolutions devolve into a new form of tyranny.

But laughter cannot be defeated. It does not confront head on. It does not play the game evil wants to play, on familiar turf. It plays its own game, speaks its own language, a game and language the devil doesn’t understand. It’s confounding and unstoppable. It undermines the foundation of fear evil relies on.

The degenerate, unserious, self-interested rabble who don’t respect anything enough to not mock it are a greater protection from tyranny than well-meaning high-minded intellectuals.

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Too Terrified to Talk About It

I recently compared the fear of contracting coronavirus to the fear of sexual harassment accusations:

Am I really comparing the risk of contracting coronavirus with the risk of being accused of sexual harassment?  Verily, because the parallels are loud and strong.

In both cases, people use social distancing for risk reduction.  In both cases, the risk of most specific interactions is low.  At the same time, however, people encounter an endless succession of risky situations – and the bad outcomes are very bad.  Many (most?) men would rather endure sickness than public accusation.

When I said “many,” I was picturing 10-20%, but I felt genuinely uncertain.  So I decided to run some Twitter polls to get a better handle on the situation.  The results suggest that I was much too cautious; almost 90% of all respondents (not just men) would rather endure sickness than public accusation.  About two-thirds of respondents “definitely” prefer coronavirus.

The results are only slightly milder if you specify a social media scandal rather than a work scandal:

The implied terror made me wonder: If coronavirus pales before sexual harassment accusations, what doesn’t?  So I tried something extreme: work accusation versus a lifetime of celibacy.

Even here, about 25% of respondents prefer celibacy.  While I’m tempted to disbelieve, I guess I can accept that 25% of people fall into at least one of the following categories: (a) highly risk-averse people; (b) people who are no longer very interested in sex; (c) people who think their mating options are very poor.  More strikingly, just over one-third of respondents definitely prefer to endure an accusation.  Notice, moreover, that accusation need not imply the harsh consequences of firing or ostracism.  Celibacy, in contrast, is a life sentence by construction.

At this point, I decided to flip the survey around.  Sure, being accused of sexual harassment is bad; but perhaps it’s comparable to the badness of being sexually harassed.  The result?  Only about a third of my respondents deem workplace sexual harassment worse than coronavirus:

Kahneman’s work on focusing illusion reminds us that, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you’re thinking about it.”  Inspired by this insight, I maintain that people are overly worried about coronavirus, sexual harassment, and sexual harassment accusations.  Why?  Because society keeps reminding us to think about these specific traumatic experiences.  Still, I see little reason to doubt the relative importance that people assign to these dangers.  In absolute terms, most people remain terrified of coronavirus, so it’s hardly surprising that sexual harassment worries them less.  The fact that sexual harassment accusations actually worry the average respondent even more than coronavirus, however, suggests that most workers really are living in fear during normal times.

Why then don’t we hear more about their terror?  Because people – especially men – are too terrified to talk about it!  At risk of hyperbole, the situation brings to mind the Twilight Zone classic, “It’s a Good Life,” where the whole world lives in mortal fear of omnipotent child-tyrant Anthony Fremont… including his father, Mr. Fremont.

Anthony Fremont No kids came over to play with me today, not a single one, and I wanted someone to play with!

Mr. Fremont Well, Anthony, you remember the last time some kids came over to play. The little Fredricks boy and his sister.

Anthony Fremont I had a real good time.

Mr. Fremont Oh, sure you did, you had a real good time, and it’s good that you had a good time, it’s real good. It’s, uh, just that…

Anthony Fremont Just that what?

Mr. Fremont Well, Anthony, you, uh, you wished them away into the cornfield.

Catching coronavirus is bad, but apparently not as bad as the cornfield.

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On Stoicism III

A thought occurred to me recently that I attribute to my study and practice of Stoicism. I drive all around a small metro downtown area (Salt Lake City) for six hours a day delivering food. I am often stopped at a green light by a homeless person walking more or less swiftly across my path. I could get angry and honk and flip them off or yell an obscenity, but I don’t. In fact, I don’t even feel the slightest urge to. Rather, I see their lot in life, quickly compare it to my own, and immediately feel sympathy for them. I don’t feel angry, or even annoyed that they are crossing in front of me while I have a green light and am in a hurry to reach my destination. Their life is a complete dumpster fire compared to mine. How can I get angry at someone not minding this sort of convention when I am so much better off than they? It’s the little things like this that make Stoicism a very useful endeavor, and that’s today’s two cents.

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Market Needs Freedom to Flourish

The world’s economy is being damaged by this pandemic, or, more accurately, it’s being damaged by government reactions to the pandemic.

The damage is adding up; getting worse with time. The only questions are: How bad is the damage going to be? And how long will it take to recover?

I don’t know the answers; no one does.

The economy will show scars of this time for years to come. Maybe forever. There are businesses that were forcibly closed and are never coming back. Whole sectors of the economy may die off from the damage. Sure, deadwood and weak branches were pruned away by the event, but there are some previously healthy limbs being torn off as well.

The authoritarian shut-down was just more than some businesses could survive.

The shutdown may turn out to be an economic extinction event, like an asteroid wiping out the dinosaurs, and, if so, there will be lots of vacant economic niches waiting to be filled. Perhaps they are waiting for you to fill them.

So it’s not all bad news.

The automobile may have killed off the buggy-whip market, but look at all the new markets it created. We wouldn’t have rear-view mirror pine tree air fresheners and thousands of other products if cars hadn’t reshaped the market.

Things change. We will recover. We will be different; stronger.

Some economic barriers have fallen away during this pandemic. Mostly bureaucratic nonsense like licensing and such — one example is letting doctors practice across state lines.

Government may try to put the barriers up again when this is over. Don’t let them. Anything that gets in the way during a pandemic also gets in the way during normal times, although it may not be as obvious.

Use your new knowledge to oppose those barriers being restored and notice other barriers that should be removed.

Those who can adapt will do better than those who can’t. Some people may be surprised to discover whether or not they are good at adapting.

There are always opportunities around you. Learn to spot them, and find ways to act on them.

This is something I’m not especially good at — my hope is that you are better at it than I am and that I can learn to do better.

The market will prevail if allowed to flourish in freedom. Only political parasites would try to hold it back. Watch carefully to see which side those with political power choose.

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Is It Better To Be Public or Private In an Age of Surveillance?

Like it or not, we now live in an age of surveillance.

If the state isn’t actually surveilling you, a corporation or business is gathering data about your location, your browsing history, your interests, your employment, and more. You’re also probably subscribing yourself to a system of (voluntary) surveillance from friends, family, and colleagues via social media.

Whether or not any of this is good for humans on net, it’s clear that there are new risks to deal with in a surveillance-oriented world. There’s the growing risk of social engineering attacks (people pretending to be you to get your stuff or hurt you), scaled-up libel due to “cancel culture,” doxxing, and actual physical attacks.

So, what is the best way to protect yourself and people you love from the consequences of the surveillance state? Beyond personal cybersecurity (that could be its own blog post *series* from a better techie), there are two possible approaches.

The argument for privacy

Being public in the way many folks are can open you and your loved ones to attack. Every time you post something on social media about yourself or your family, you might be opening yourself up to attack via that vector. So just don’t do it.

You can resist the surveillance society is to disappear – relatively speaking. While it may not be possible to get fully off the radar and off the grid, if you ditch your cell phone, run a privacy-friendly OS, use a VPN, delete your social media accounts, and use cash, you can get pretty hard to track.

There are still millions of unknown folks all over the world who live blissfully free of Facebook and its ilk. They don’t have to worry about their digital “permanent record” because they aren’t really known to begin with.

The argument for publicity

On the other hand, if it is impossible for you to go off the grid, being as public as possible – building a brand/reputation, developing a following, and documenting much of your life online – may be your best defense.

Criminals and even states like to work in secret and attack the marginalized. If you have a clean public reputation and supporters who have your back, it will be harder for bad actors to use the outcomes of surveillance to harm you. If you do go down, bad folks can be pretty sure that they will be found out.

If you are in the public eye, attempts on you will certainly increase, but your access to deterrents and protection will also increase.

I don’t know which is the right answer, but I have considered (and lived) both approaches in my own small way. Right now I lean toward privacy – before I leaned toward publicity. But whatever the case, I hope to maintain the freedom to choose either.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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