Defund, Dismantle, and Disavow

Minneapolis is “threatening” to defund its police department? It’s a good first step… if they are serious. I have my doubts.

Abolish the police!

Isn’t it odd how an idea which has been around less than 200 years is now imagined by so many people to be essential for civilization. Especially when that institution is utterly antithetical to civilization and society. This societal cancer (or is it a virus?) is said to have begun in London, England in 1829 and spread from there. It should have been smothered in its crib.

Abolish the police!

But, yes, defund the police. Not only in Minneapolis but everywhere. And then refund the money to the victims of theft (“taxation“) so they can provide for their own security if they so choose.

Abolishing the police would get rid of the police union, too. A valuable bonus. Government employee unions are a lie anyway.

Dismantle the whole institution until not one stone remains stacked on another. And don’t replace it with anything. You have to disavow the whole concept of government police. Otherwise, someone might try to establish a new legislation enforcement gang later.

Abolish the police!

If people want to hire security– and pay for it without the ability to force those who don’t want to chip in to pay anyway– that’s their right. They don’t have the right to hire enforcers and force everyone to pay for them– they never did.

Government-supremacists are terrified of abolishing the police. They are afraid of what would happen next. Sure, some are probably afraid of rampant crime, but I’ll bet more of them are even more afraid of people finding out they never really needed the Blue Line Gang in the first place. Once you figure this out it’s not that far to realize you don’t need politicians, either.

Abolish the police! It will be OK. I promise.

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Commentary on State Capacity and State Priorities

Two EconLog readers’ comments on yesterday’s post struck me:

Phil H.:

Caplan’s point is a good and striking one. His conclusion is fairly extraordinary, though: He is apparently claiming that all (or a plurality) of the major decision makers in the American government are power-hungry demagogues who deliberately decided to channel money into stimulus rather than research because they are bad people.

I like a powerful contrarian claim, but this one is a little too far for me.

Fair question, Phil.  I doubt many politicians are explicitly thinking, “Research is better for society, but stimulus is better for  my career.  I don’t care what happens to human lives or the economy as long I can be king of the ashes.”  Instead, I doubt politicians are doing much thinking at all.  They go with the herd – and their own arrogance.

However, as I’ve previously argued, anything less than Vulcan rationality in a major leader is extremely morally wrong, because with great power comes great responsibility.  Normal backroom observers would probably say, “Well, these politicians are just playing the game.”  I puritanically reject such excuses.

The problem lies in the failure to acknowledge the importance of institutions and structures, and to assign everything to individual actions. Do we really believe that all of the leaders of China are “good” people, and that’s why they responded more effectively to the crisis? Is New Zealand’s good record a reflection of Ahern’s moral excellence?

I have an extremely overall negative view of the Chinese Communist Party’s behavior, and remain suspicious that they are hiding severe pandemic-related failures and crimes.  But if I knew nothing except the standard coronavirus narrative, I would consider them better people.  On the other hand, I suspect that the leaders of New Zealand are morally a cut above what Americans are used to, though of course as remote islands they have major advantages in disease containment.

My broader point, though, is that we should compare leaders to standards of common sense and common decency, and almost all fall woefully short.

There does seem to be a good case to make that the leadership of the USA has become paralysed by partisan infighting. The problem is that it’s now ingrained into the systems and institutions. Even if a Mr Smith went to Washington, that wouldn’t sort out the problem.

How does “partisan infighting” prevent such obvious measures as wide-scale voluntary paid human experimentation?  I just don’t see it.  If the parties can agree to fritter away trillions of dollars, they can agree to suspend pseudo-ethical rules that keep policymakers in the dark.

Rob:

Hey Bryan — I had always read state capacity to include the capacity to make intelligent decisions. So a state with a big military or lots of spending power, but without wise politicians or experienced bureaucrats to know how to sensibly use them, it still lacks capacity in some sense. It lacks the capacity to achieve its goals.

The whole point of distinguishing between achievements and capabilities is that achievements normally fall short of capabilities.  This is true for individuals and organizations alike.  My achievements fall short of my capabilities; don’t yours?

So you can imagine a government that has the capacity to shut down its entire economy, but not the research ability to figure out whether it should — or decide on the right specific actions that are needed in order to stop a pandemic spreading. Such a state lacks essential capacities.

This might be an unhelpfully broad concept, but I think that’s how others use the term too.

Once you define “state capacity” this broadly, blaming failure on  “lack of state capacity” is virtually meaningless.  You might as well declare that “good government causes success” and “bad government causes failure.”

The real story, I think, is that state capacity researchers are willfully equivocating – yet another case of the motte-and-bailey fallacy.

When the audience is sympathetic, “high state capacity” means collecting lots of taxes, building a strong military, constructing roads, having universal public education, and so on.

When the audience is skeptical, “high state capacity” simply means being a government that rules over a rich, modern civilization.

The trick is to use the latter definition to legitimize the concept, then use the former definition to justify more resources and power for the government.

Or so it seems to me.

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The Ongoing History of Civilizational Change

When pre-civilizations become too small for their liveliness, they give way to civilizations. When civilizations become too pleased with their greatness, they give way to anti-civilizations. When anti-civilizations become too exhausted with their wickedness, they give way to pseudo-civilizations. When pseudo-civilizations become too saturated with their smugness, they give way to bygone civilizations. And since history does not repeat itself, God only knows what happens next.

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Keep Healthy Habits, Help Others

How will you spend your time now that civilization has been canceled by executive command? Is it time to brush up on your stone-age skills?

This would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the edible wild plants growing in your yard and to learn the natural substitutes for toilet paper.

Learn to make and use an atlatl and stone-tipped spears in case you need to bring down a mammoth. Pool cues might be a good raw material for this sort of thing. Of course, the recent scarcity of mammoths could put a kink in this plan.

A bonfire in the backyard for roasting your kill would probably attract the wrong kind of attention anyway. This should be a last resort.

Perhaps you could choose to go to the opposite extreme and retreat to a virtual world for a fortnight or two, where your biggest dangers are ransom-ware and scammers promising eternal love in exchange for airfare to America.

Or will you ignore the hoopla?

I’m always in favor of taking precautions against unnecessary risks, but people can go overboard. There are times precaution gets replaced by panic. Politicians love taking advantage of panic since they rarely pay a price for being wrong. They claim the credit if people believe they got it right, but you pay the price every time they are wrong.

I’m going to hope you’re a regular reader of this column and as such you’ve listened to my frequent suggestions to be a “prepper” and stock up on essential supplies in case of unforeseen circumstances. This means you were already prepared and didn’t get caught up in the last-minute scramble for essentials … or for the luxuries some people consider essential.

Aren’t you glad you listened?

The phrase “May you live in interesting times” is said to be a curse. I’m not certain it is. Would you rather be bored to death? Times can be interesting, but — when you’re ready for whatever life throws at you — not cursed.

This too will pass. You’ll be fine when all is said and done. There are lessons in all this. Smart people will learn and remember these lessons; others will stay clueless.

Don’t let the hand-wringers and fear-mongers upset you. Do things you already know will help you stay healthy. Healthy habits haven’t suddenly become dangerous. Lend a hand to those who, due to age or health conditions, may be more at risk. Together, but maybe not within coughing distance, we will get through this.

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Do Intellectuals Make Life Any Better?

There’s a path my life could have taken – could still take – toward the life of an intellectual.

I’ve just about always been interested in one or more of the favorite intellectual subjects of philosophy, history, politics, theology, economics, psychology, and sociology (whatever that is). I’ve always liked to have big opinions on things. And I’ve always preferred toying with ideas to toying with numbers or machines.

But I’m beginning to think this is an aptitude worth resisting. It’s not obvious to me that intellectuals as such bring a whole lot of benefit to the world.

Obviously this will be controversial to say.

For the sake of this post, I’ll be using a Wikipedia-derived definition:

An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking and reading, research, and human self-reflection about society; they may propose solutions for its problems and gain authority as a public figure.”

Let me be clear that I think everyone ought to engage in critical thinking. It’s in the rest of the definition that the problems start to emerge.

Every intellectual is a person who not only has a pet theory about what’s wrong with the world – but who makes it their job to reflect/research on that problem and write about that problem.

When you think about these intellectuals, what do you think of?

My mind wanders to the endless number of think-pieces, essays, and books with takes what’s wrong with humans, what’s wrong with society, or what’s wrong with intellectuals (that’s right – I’m currently writing a think-piece. Shit.) The history of this produce of intellectualism is an a stream of lazy, simplified pontifications from individuals about things vast and complex, like “society,” “America,” “the working classes,” “the female psyche,” etc. in relation to something even more vast and complex: “human life.”

It’s not that thinking about these things are wrong: it’s that most of the ink spilled about them is probably wasteful. Why?

Because core to the definition of intellectualism defined above is its divorce from action. Intellectuals engage in “reading, research, and human self-reflection,” “propose solutions,” and “gain authority as public figures,” but none of these acts require them to get their hands dirty to test their hypotheses or solve their proposed problems.

The whole “ivory tower” criticism isn’t new, so I won’t belabor the point. But I will point out two consequences of intellectualism’s separation from practical reality.

First, intellectuals don’t often tend to be great people. Morally, I mean. Tolstoy left his wife in a lurch when he gave up his wealth. Marx knocked up one of his servants and then kicked her out of his house. Rousseau abandoned his children. Even Ayn Rand (whom I love) could be accused of being cultlike in her control of her intellectual circle. Those are just the notable ones – it’s fair to say that most of the mediocre “public intellectuals” we have aren’t exactly action heroes. While they may not be especially bad, they aren’t especially good on the whole.

There seems to be some link between a career which rewards abstract thought (without regard for action) and the mediocre or downright bad lifestyle choices of our most famous intellectuals.

The second major problem with intellectuals springs from the fact that nearly everything the intellectual does is intensely self-conscious. Whether it’s a philosopher reflecting on his inability to find love and theorizing about the universe accordingly or an American sociologist writing about the decline of American civilization, the intellectual is reflecting back upon what’s wrong with himself or his culture or his situation constantly, usually in a way that creates a strong sense of mental unease or even anguish.

Have you ever seen an intellectual coming from an obvious place of joy? The social commentators are almost always operating from malaise and malcontent, which almost always arise from a deep self-consciousness.

Of course it’s anyone’s right to start overthinking what’s the matter with the world, and to feel bad as a result. The real problem is that the intellectual insists on making it his job to convince everyone else to share in his self-conscious state of misery, too.

How many Americans would know, believe, or care that “America” or “Western Civilization” was declining if some intellectual hadn’t said so? How many working class people, or women, or men would believe they are “oppressed”? How many humans would be staying up at night asking themselves whether reality is real? Both are utterly foreign to the daily experience of real, commonsense human life. And while the intellectual may draw on real examples in his theories, he’s usually not content to allow for the exceptions and exemptions which are inevitable in a complex world: his intellectual theory trumps experience. The people must *believe* they are oppressed, or unfulfilled, or unenlightened, or ignorant of the “true forms” of this, that, or the other.

I’m wary of big intellectual theories for this reason, and increasingly partial to the view that wisdom comes less from thinking in a dark corner and more from living in the sunshine and the dirt. The real measure of many of these theories is how quickly they are forgotten or dismantled when brought out into daily life.

People who use their intellects to act? The best in the world. But intellectuals who traffic solely in ideas-about-what’s-wrong for their careers? More often than not, they are more miserable and not-very-admirable entertainers than they are net benefactors to the world.

The ability to think philosophically is important. But that skill must be used in the arena. Produce art. Produce inventions. Be kind. Action is the redemption of intellectualism.

Disclaimers

*By “intellectuals,” I don’t mean scientists. On the humanities side, I don’t even mean artists. The problem isn’t artists: it’s art critics. It’s not scientists: it’s people who write about the “state of science.”

There are exceptions to the bad shows among intellectuals, but usually these are the intellectuals who are busy fighting the bad, ideas of other intellectuals: people like Ludwig von Mises fighting the ideas of classical socialism, or . The best ideas to come from people like this are ideas which don’t require people to believe in them.*

And don’t get me wrong: this is as much a mea culpa as a criticism of others. I’ve spent much of my life headed down the path of being an intellectual. I’m starting to realize that it’s a big mistake.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Pan[ic]demic is a Rahm-portunity

As usual, I will assume my readers were not caught with their pants down when this coronavirus cold pan[ic]demic erupted. You’re smarter than most people.

It isn’t my intention to add to the panic with my previous posts on the local effects (link and link), but just to observe that being prepared for the unknown is always smarter than being unprepared. It’s also my pat on the back to you for not being caught up in the panic.

Most of the people I see pushing the pan[ic]demic narrative are government-supremacists. They want government to save them in some way. They want government to do more and crack down on liberty a little harder to save us from this virus. Some of them want to punish you if you don’t go along with whatever “plan” comes out of this Rahm-portunity.

If you don’t panic you foil their scheme. If you were prepared all along so that this doesn’t even require a change to your routine you’ve probably spoiled their whole day. They need you to be afraid so you’ll clamor to be rescued.

I notice Scott Adams– famous government-supremacist– is getting angry over anyone who calls this a panic, saying it’s “preparedness”, not panic. Wrong-o.

Preparedness is what you do BEFORE the crisis happens. Months or years before you even know it’s a possibility. Panic is when you try to “prepare” as the shelves are being emptied by everyone else who failed to prepare. This is panic.

As long as you prepare, there’s no reason to panic. This may turn out to be a giant nothing. Or, it may become everything disastrous you are being told it will be. It will probably end up being somewhere in between the extremes, closer to “nothing” than to disaster. In any of those cases, being prepared is still going to make your life better. So why not do it? Make it a lifestyle or a hobby.

And, if I missed my guess and you weren’t ready for this, remember this experience as soon as shelves are restocked and don’t ever let yourself be caught short again. “Prepper” is not a dirty word. Preppers are the barrier between civilization and panic– in some cases, the last stand of civilization.

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