Technocracy is Evil and Inhumane

The instant, simultaneous, total state takeover of the “civilized” world revealed how dire our situation is.

The battle of this generation is liberty against technocratic control; living, organic order vs. dead, clean chaos.

 

Order is natural, emergent, dynamic, unpredictable, useful, creative, and meaningful. It can’t be wholly contained, but it can be harnessed, guided, played with, adjusted to, and discovered in a continual dance. It is moving into the future. It is an infinite, positive-sum game.

Chaos is stripped down, unnatural, incapable of growth or change, dead or decaying, empty, and devoid of depth. Once natural order is made wholly legible and containable, it has been killed. Life and control are anathema. Chaos is the result of attempting total control. It freezes the present and reverts to stagnate snapshots of the past. It is a finite, zero-sum game.

Chaos is not the result of freedom or the state of nature, order is. Chaos is the result of efforts to defy the freedom of the state of nature. Chaos results when liberty and life are stripped from the world and all that remains are sanitized elements easily countable, reducible, and containable.

Architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander made a life’s work of studying the concept of “aliveness” in footpaths, windowsills, buildings, neighborhoods, and natural and designed systems of all kinds. His books offer many side-by-side photos of homes or other scenes, and ask the reader to, on a gut level, decide which is more “alive”. Every single person agrees easily and quickly. We know the more living from the more dead when we see it, but understanding why is difficult. Alexander made great progress. Living systems are in harmony with natural human tendency. For example, humans are phototropic. We also like to sit after more than a few minutes. So a chair placed near a window harmonizes with these subconscious patterns, while a chair facing a windowless wall does not.

Social architects (who dwell in brutalist buildings that suck all life from the ground where they stand) do not observe and contemplate life. They calculate and scheme control. They want legible, definable utility, based on static definitions and stale answers without questions. They kill the human spirit the way a giant parking lot kills the view.

The Great Sanitizer

The state and the obsessive, maladjusted, soul-dead busybodies who pull its levers are always seeking to remove impurity and unpredictability from the world. That is the same as removing life itself. This is what Ayn Rand meant when she called collectivist, command and control philosophies “anti-life”. That is the essence of what they are. To control is to kill.

The state wants to aggregate, categorize, sort, label, and track. James Scott describes in his several works the driving force of the state to make all persons and property “legible”. If they cannot be defined into conceptual submission and measured until all surprise is extinguished, how can they be controlled? So states set about to kill the creative, generative forces that make life worth living.

C.S. Lewis, in the final installment of his sci-fi space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, describes a scientific institution (called N.I.C.E.) with aims at global domination. The reason isn’t a lust for power per se, but a desire to make the world clean, free of germs and dirt and bugs and unpredictability, and all the shifting variables which make complete legibility impossible. In other words, they want to snuff out that pesky thing fueled by liberty that we call life.

Stranger Than Stories

These ideas used to seem a bit much to me.

Sure, some people are control freaks. Yeah, religious devotion to science is a contradiction to all reason and sometimes gets nasty. Yes, unspeakably awful ideas like eugenics have been a major part of every government in modern history (much as they might now deny it), but total rule by technicians whose greatest foe is unpredictability? Isn’t that the stuff of bad Bond villains?

No.

It is the outlook I see as the greatest present threat to all that is good and true and just and humane.

Total global lockdown – the literal imprisonment of entire populations without even the pretense of wrongdoing by the state’s own absurd and shifting standards – and introduction and embrace of oxymoronic phrases like, “Social distancing” came about not out of fear of some feigned foreign enemy or revolt against some unpopular dictator. They came about in an instant solely because the idea of planned chaos (to quote Ludwig von Mises) has so overcome the notion of spontaneous order.

Devotion to the fiction that men with guns and laws and stolen money can control microscopic pathogens we barely understand animated the acquiescence to complete boot-licking servitude. Anything – anything! – but unpredictable organic nature in all it’s life-giving danger and beauty. We must collectively pretend we can eradicate uncertainty, all physical and spiritual casualties be damned.

When Science Died

The oxymorons in the air are rooted in a deeper one.

“Belief in science”.

That’s a phrase people have been unironically uttering with increased frequency for at least a few decades.

“I believe in science” is a contradiction in concepts. It is meaningless, used only to signal superiority by unthinking people who are scared of unknowns.

Belief means to assume the truth of something and act on that assumption without fail. Science means to assume the fallibility of everything and never stop trying to prove it false. I would like to be charitable and say that people simply mean this in a tongue-in-cheek way, to say they are religiously devoted to questioning everything.

Except the complete opposite is true everywhere you see “belief in science” trotted out, or true skeptics called “deniers of science”. The scientific process is nothing if it is not a perpetual threat to the consensus view. Yet the word has come to mean nothing more than blind defense of the consensus view. Scientism is antithetical to science.

Similarly, those who question mainstream ideas (not merely ideas, but the violent imposition of those ideas) are called “believers”, and those who crouch and lick the hand that whips them are called “skeptics”. If Orwell never seemed relevant before, he surely does now.

A History of Inhumanity

Those with rabid, hateful, desperate, lurching faith in state agents to neatly destroy organic order and replace it with clean chaos are naive about the power of the state to do harm. Even granting stupidly charitable assumptions about the state’s goals being good to begin with, bureaucracies being capable of carrying them out perfectly, and no unintended consequences resulting, there is no instance in the history of the organized crime that calls itself government where states did not venture far beyond what the public knew or desired.

Did you know every single state in the United States had forced sterilization programs at one point? Health departments with an explicit goal of reducing the population of blacks, handicapped persons, poor people, and other “undesirable” individuals surreptitiously injected people to prevent them from procreating. The last state to finally end the practice was North Carolina, and it didn’t end until the 1980s.

Citizens are aghast at the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. We would’ve resisted such horrors! Except most of the time we don’t know they’re happening. Because we trust the scientific central planners.

Liberty is Life

We don’t understand reality.

Hayek famously said the “curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”.

Not just economics. The task of every thinking person is to discover the limits of our knowledge. To replace answers with questions, arrogance with curiosity, intellectual death with life.

One of the greatest casualties in rule by diktat is experimentation and discovery. We don’t know anything about the human body, virology, epidemiology, or any of the other specialized fields of human health. The absurdity of assuming one small body can accurately surmise and prescribe a single path for all people in all places and times is beyond the pale.

Millions of messy experiments. People with dramatically different risk tolerances, trying dramatically different approaches. Sharing their feedback. Profiting from effectiveness, losing from error. This dynamic churn is the source of all progress. To decree a single plan backed by the threat of murder (as every single government law is) is to destroy humanity’s best hope of flourishing.

Julian Simon famously shot down the doomsdayers who fear human life and liberty above all (excepting of course their own) by winning a bet about the availability of resources as population expands. But his bet was a gimmick compared to the profound insight of his masterful book, The Ultimate Resource. Simon points out that individual humans, free to explore and try and fail and succeed and compete, are the source of progress not only for the human race, but the entire natural world.

We are relentless problem solvers. But we do it in messy ways not fun to watch and even harder to catalog in textbooks. We teach and learn through experience and consequences. We progress when we do the most outlandish things all the smart people thought were pointless. Our glories and triumphs are utterly illegible. Historians and bureaucrats have no choice but to guess, fudge, lie, and misinform, because to accurately chart the true path and nature of progress is impossible.

We don’t know what ingredients matter most or what will work best. That is precisely why we need the free and open contest of liberty to discover it.

It is the same with ideas. John Milton said it is best to let truth and falsehood grapple, because truth is the stronger in the long run. The sycophantic obeisance by every major media outlet and online platform to moronic political power-seekers is the opposite of this dynamic discovery process. Labels and warnings about “fake news”, removing ideas that deviate from those spouted by humanity’s lowest lifeforms (politicians and bureaucrats), and propping up “official” ideas are bad for curiosity, bad for liberty, bad for progress, and bad for life.

The Renegades

Historian Thaddeus Russell (driven from academia by the mindless literatti) documents how the least reputable people tend to expand human freedom, and thereby progress, opportunity, happiness, and meaning. I don’t think you have to be a deviant or a scoundrel in order to enhance liberty, but I do think those who resist the drive for a sanitized world will be labelled as such, and those already labelled as such are less likely to cave to prestige and pressure.

The cold dead hand of Communism could no longer control Poland, not because respectable ideologues educated enough people on the virtues of freedom, but because the illegal underground market became bigger than the respectable above ground one.

Humanity needs gray markets, black markets, shady people, fringey people, all kinds of people running all kinds of experiments. Ideas bumping into ideas and exploding into new ideas. Bad ones. Good ones. Easy ones. Hard ones. Dangerous ones. Safe ones.

Unpredictability, unknowability, dynamism, the organic nature of emergent phenomena, entrepreneurship at the edges, opposition to expert consensus – that is human liberty. That is life.

We don’t need more experts. We don’t need more controls. We don’t need to eradicate variability. We need gritty, dirty, messy, imperfect, unpredictable, wild, untamed, dangerous, beautiful human freedom.

Fuck the cold metallic gloved dead hand of human chess playing technocratic ghouls who want to squelch and contain and document and track and sterilize it to death.

The man who knows freedom will find a way to be free.

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Curiosity: The Master Impulse

Curiosity is the master impulse behind all human progress and good things.

Every dominant belief and political structure are optimized as the antithesis of curiosity.

Curiosity is the greatest threat to concentrated power and prestige, so those who have power and prestige labor endlessly to create the mind-killing opposite of all curiosity. Consensus. Obedience. Being seen as “normal”, “in the know”, “respectable”.

Curiosity doesn’t care about reputations and rules. That’s why it’s the only impulse with the power to cut through the human bullshit matrix and create progress and discovery.

The least respectable ideas often have more curiosity behind them than the most respected. It doesn’t make the specific ideas any better or more true, but you can be sure that the curious impulse behind wacky ideas is more beneficial to humanity than the obedient prestige-seeking behind consensus.

It’s impossible to overestimate the unpredictable power of raw curiosity unencumbered by the need to be seen as serious.

Death and Awakening

Curiosity is the ultimate flame of progress, growth, and meaning. It’s what makes us most human, and pushes us closest to the divine.

Curiosity is what leads to breakthroughs.

If you look at the history of man you see a relentless curiosity. The same curiosity that turns people into martyrs and heretics brings humanity forward.

If there is a “great stagnation” as Peter Thiel, Tyler Cowen, and others believe, it is the stagnation of curiosity. The battle against curiosity has been waged since the beginning of time by tyrants, despots, authoritarians, and fear-mongers. And for the last 100 years or so, curiosity has been losing. The entire schooling system is one gigantic effort to contain curiosity. Credentialism, official bodies and bureaucrats, licenses, unified master plans, oustings and labelings are systematic battles against curiosity.

Obedience is the antithesis of curiosity. Curiosity is dangerous. Curiosity, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, is not safe, but it’s good.

You can see the dominant impulses today are the opposite of curiosity. Climate change fear and the idea of “consensus” is the enemy and opposite of all curiosity. It’s a mind killer. It’s a progress killer. It leads to death and stagnation. Unmitigated trust in scientific and medical professionals is a curiosity killer. There is a lot of dead curiosity lingering in the heart of every human on the planet.

Or maybe it’s just dormant. And maybe it’s awakening just a bit.

In fact, there is a lot of hope right now.

Curiosity has new vistas as wide ranging as a renewed interest in spirituality and Jordan Peterson to conspiracy theories that spread on 4chan and Reddit. These are good, whether or not they’re true. Forget the specifics of individual claims or beliefs. The fact that people are yearning for and exploring ideas considered wacky and out of bounds by the curiousless consensus is good.

Curiosity is good. Curiosity is ready to have a new dawn. And humanity is desperate for its master impulse to awaken again.

Ancient aliens. The flat earth. Political conspiracy. Religious resurgence. Jung. Archetypes. Alchemy. Astrology. Myths. UFOs. The “Invisible College”. The Mandela Effect. Time travel. Simulation theory. Planetary colonization.

What do they have in common?

They live only in a world where curiosity is not dead. Even as the cost of exploration outside the curiosity killing norms grows, so too do the number of people playing around with heretical ideas.

Again I emphasize, it’s not important what percentage of these ideas are “correct”. What’s important is the courage to play with the ideas. Those who play with crazy ideas are the R&D arm for humanity. They move us forward not only with their discoveries, but with their attitude. Nothing is more deeply human than relentless curiosity.

Anti-Science?

Unbridled curiosity is the root of all breakthroughs. Slavish repetition and rule-following kills it. Typically a few generations after a breakthrough by a curious tinkerer, a school of soul-dead followers canonize the details and fear deviation. The spirit through which disciplines are born are smothered by the formalization of the disciples.

If you think wild, crazy, weird, mystical, politically, socially, and philosophically dangerous ideas aren’t behind the progress of humanity, think again.

Here is a passage on the heroes of science, and their obsession with forbidden knowledge, secret societies, and mysticism:

WHEN WE PEER INTO THE HIDDEN LIVES of the heroes of science, the people who forged the mechanical world-view and made the great leaps forward in technology that have made our lives so much safer, easier and more pleasant, we often find they are deeply immersed in esoteric thought – particularly alchemy.

We might also consider the lesser but related paradox that many of the world’s most notorious occultists and outlandish visionaries were also in their own way practically minded men, often responsible for smaller but nevertheless significant inventions.

Looking at both groups together, it is difficult to see a clear distinction between scientists and occultists, even as we move into modern times. Rather there is a spectrum in which the individual is a bit of both, albeit to varying degrees.

Paracelsus, perhaps the most revered of occultists, revolutionized medicine by introducing the experimental method. He was also the first to isolate and name zinc, made great breakthroughs in the importance to medicine of hygiene and also was the first to formulate principles which would come to underlie homeopathy.

Giordano Bruno is a great hero of science because he was burned at the stake in 1600 for insisting that the solar system is heliocentric. But as we have already seen, this was because he believed fervently in the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians. He believed that the earth goes round the sun because, in the first instance, so too did the initiate priests of the ancient world.

Robert Fludd, the occult author and defender of the Rosicrucians, also invented the barometer.

Jan Baptiste van Helmont, the Flemish alchemist, was important in the secret societies for reintroducing into Western esotericism ideas of reincarnation – which he called ‘the revolution of humane souls’. He also separated gases in the course of his alchemical experiments, coined the word ‘gas’, and in the course of experiments on the healing powers of magnets, coined the word ‘electricity’.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German mathematician, was Newton’s rival in the devising of the calculus. In Leibniz’s case his discoveries arose out of fascination with cabalistic number mysticism which he shared with his close friend, the Jesuit scholar of the occult Athanasius Kircher. In 1687 Kircher, an alchemical student of the properties of the vegetable dimension, resurrected a rose from its ashes in front of the Queen of Sweden. Leibniz himself has also provided us with the most detailed and credible account of the alchemical transformation of base metals into gold.

The Royal Society was the great intellectual engine of modern science and technological invention. Among Newton’s contemporaries, Sir Robert Moray published the world’s first ever scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions – and was a fervent researcher into Rosicrucian teaching. The strange monk-like figure of Robert Boyle, whose law of thermodynamics paved the way for the internal combustion engine, was a practising alchemist. In his youth he wrote of having been initiated into an ‘invisible college’. Also practising alchemists were Robert Hooke, inventor of the microscope, and William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood.

Descartes, who fathered rationalism in the mid-seventeenth century, spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down the Rosicrucians and in researching their philosophy. He rediscovered the ancient, esoteric idea of the pineal gland as the gateway to consciousness, the inner eye, and his philosophical breakthrough came to him all of a piece while in a visionary state. His most famous dictum may be seen as a recasting of the Rosicrucian teaching intended to help foster the evolution of an independent, intellectual faculty: I must think in order to be.

Frontispiece, designed by John Evelyn, to the official history of the Royal Society, published in 1667. Francis Bacon is depicted as the founding father. He sits under the wing of an angel in a way that echoes the closing phrase of the Fama Fraternitatis of the Rosicrucians.

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Blaise Pascal, one of the great mathematicians of his day and an eminent philosopher, was discovered after his death to have sewn into his cloak a piece of paper on which was written: ‘The year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, day of St Clement, Pope and Martyr. From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve at night, FIRE.’ Pascal achieved the illumination that the monks of Mount Athos sought.

In 1726 Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels predicted the existence and orbital periods of the two moons of Mars, which were not discovered by astronomers using telescopes until 1877. The astronomer, who then saw how accurate Swift had been, named the moons Phobos and Deimos – fear and terror – so awestruck was he by Swift’s evident supernatural powers.

Emmanuel Swedenborg, the great eighteenth-century Swedish visionary, wrote detailed accounts of his journeys into the spirit worlds. His reports of what the disembodied beings he met there told him inspired the esoteric Freemasonry of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was also the first to discover the cerebral cortex and the ductless glands, and also engineered what is still the largest dry dock in the world.

As we have already seen, Charles Darwin attended séances. He may have had the opportunity to learn the esoteric doctrine of the evolution from fish to amphibian to land animal to human from his close association with Max Müller, early translator of sacred Sanskrit texts.

Nicholas Tesla, recently described by a historian of science as ‘the ultimate visionary crank’, was a Serbian Croat who became a naturalized American. There he patented some seven hundred inventions including fluorescent lights and the Tesla coil that generates an alternating current. Like Newton’s most important breakthroughs, this last arose out of his belief in an etheric dimension between the mental and physical planes.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many leading scientists thought it worthwhile to pursue a scientific approach to occult phenomena, believing that it would ultimately be possible to measure and predict occult forces such as etheric currents that seemed only a shade more elusive than electromagnetism, sound waves or x-rays. Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph and therefore the godfather of all recorded sound, and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, both supposed that psychic phenomena were perfectly respectable areas of research for science, involving themselves in esoteric Freemasonry and theosophy. Edison tried to make a radio that would tune into the spirit worlds. Their great scientific discoveries arose out of this research into the supernatural. Even the television was invented as a result of trying to capture psychic influences on gases fluctuating in front of a cathode ray tube.

(From chapter 23 of, A Secret History of the World, by Mark Booth.)

This is not accident or coincidence. Curious people follow the white rabbit down strange paths. Because their desire for answers is stronger than their desire to fit in.

Fitting in is a shackle on the mind.

The Enemies

You are the enemy of curiosity.

Your desire to gain prestige and status from others. Your desire to “win” the games created by others. Career games. Education games. Title games. Awards games. Fame games. Money games.

The only game worth playing is the game of chasing down your questions and desires. But it’s easy to forget that. We want to feel alive, and a quick hit of respectability from strangers does the trick. For a minute. Then we need more. And the more we prioritize it the deeper enslaved we become.

When pursuing prestige, our mind becomes our enemy. We must restrain it and bend and form it to the collective blob of drooling thoughtless belief in “What we all know”.

No! Every theory deserves questioning. Every assumption deserves scrutiny. Nothing is out of bounds.

The enemies of curiosity never tell you why pursuing magic or faith healing or inter-dimensional travel or religion or moon landing conspiracies is a waste of time. They don’t make arguments about the ideas themselves. They only appeal to prestige. They tell you people who chase those rabbits are dumb. They tell you of the social cost you’ll endure. They tell you it’s a waste of time because “they” have already settled these things. Why repeat the work of getting answers “we” already have?

The enemies of curiosity think the only things worth pursuing are new additions to the body of accepted knowledge. Examining the foundations is silly. But the foundations are always wrong. Questioning everything, all that is established, known, sacred, and solid; that is the role of curiosity.

It doesn’t help to blame others. The enemy within who desires respectability over truth is the one you need to defeat.

Stoke the Flame

Crazy ideas reveal thought processes.

Most people shut down crazy questions because it would be too much work to refute them point-by-point. Not because they cannot be refuted – most can, because few crazy ideas turn out to be true – but because most of us have never done the work necessary to justify the beliefs we hold.

“Prove to me the earth isn’t flat” is the question of a curious mind. It is a good question. It’s good because it forces us to think through how we know what we know. It exposes our direct experience as the pathetic sliver it is. If you can’t prove it through direct observation, how can you? What if appealing to experts or second-hand accounts doesn’t count? Can you reason to it? These questions stimulate real thought.

Embracing such questions brings humility. It reveals how silly absolute thinking is in most cases. It uncovers incentives and probabilities. You begin to analyze the likelihood that person X is correct, or why person Y might benefit by exaggerating. It shows complexity and uncertainty and the amount of knowledge that is guesswork.

The kinds of questions small children ask are pure curiosity. “Why is the sky blue?” How many adults still ask that? Did they stop asking because they completely understand the answer, or because they stopped being curious? Because it would be “weird” to ask such questions?

Kids want to know why all the myths and stories and movies are full of super powers, but they don’t see anyone leaping buildings or reading minds around them. Do you know why? Are you fully satisfied with your answers? Why? Because it seems like a waste of time to think about it, or because you have a thorough understanding of what’s possible? Did answers come, or did curiosity leave?

We Don’t Know Anything

Take archaeology. Archaeologists have no idea what to make of their field.

There are thousands of ancient structures that no one knows anything about.

From elaborate underground cities to buried megaliths, there are countless pieces of the past that no one knows who created, when, why, or how. We are utterly stumped. Hundreds of times over.

And that’s just with the stuff that’s been found.

New amazing things are discovered all the time. Not just little things that add detail to notions of the past. Things that make previous theories impossible.

Only twenty years ago, an entire Egyptian city declared by all the academic experts to be a myth, was found at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Much like the city of Troy, it was found not by a “professional”, but a hobbyist who was more dedicated than any tenure-seeking conservative with little curiosity. A businessman from France raised the funds and spent years combing the seafloor while the academics sat on their asses. He found temples, statues, jewelry, pottery, canals, docks, and hundreds of ships. The find proved that Egyptians were seafaring and robust trade with Greece was ongoing.

A few decades ago in Turkey a site was found 50 times larger than Stonehenge. It’s still 95% buried, but what has been uncovered is a complete knockdown of all previous textbook history. It looks to be nearly 12,000 years old and way more sophisticated than anything that age is supposed to be. Nobody really understands it.

Also recently discovered was the largest yet crater from an apparent asteroid strike under the ice in Greenland. This thing was bigger than the one thought to have killed off the dinosaurs, but appears to have occurred much more recently.

This is just scratching the surface. How many places under the ocean or buried in earth are there? Whale bones have been found in the Sahara. Virtually none of the Sahara has ever been explored or excavated. What else could be there?

We know so little about our own history, let alone the history of plants, animals, and the climate of this planet. Accepted history covers a laughable sliver and does a laughable job even of that.

Accuracy is Impossible

I’ll never forget when I worked in the Michigan state capitol and would see various events and protests. The next day I’d read coverage in the newspaper. More often than not, the coverage described (and sometimes even depicted with fudged photos) events that were nothing at all like what I witnessed firsthand. That was one day later, from a source of the same language with a shared culture in an age of internet access. And still, what was printed was accepted by the majority of Michiganders yet it was woefully inaccurate.

Remove any ability for counter-narratives. Throw in different, even dead languages. Throw in radically different cultural contexts and ways of describing things. Oh, and add not a few days or weeks or even years, but centuries or millennia.

The idea that history paints an accurate picture or that archaeology can map out the details of the past is beyond ludicrous.

Of course we must try! But we should be humble enough to see these as best guesses given current information, never as “consensus” (a word that does not belong in a serious and ongoing intellectual discipline, but to religions and dead lines of thought).

A curious mind should rejoice at all this mystery. Somehow the most credentialed are almost without exception threatened by it. They gave up the journey of discovery when they got on the road to status and tenure.

So Much More

That’s just a glimpse into one discipline.

We don’t know what gravity is, why the moon orbits like it does, what the billions of bacteria in our bodies do, how viruses work or whether they are living, or why we experience time as flowing forward.

No question or theory is out of bounds. Explore them all. Ask why old theories got dropped and what made current “consensus” win. (The answers are unflattering to the consensus peddlers.) Ask what would happen if we scrapped all our assumptions. Ask.

Curiosity doesn’t just lead to knowledge for humanity. It leads to being fully alive on the individual level.

Stay curious.

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Reflections on the Krikorian-Caplan Soho Forum Debate

Thanks again to Gene Epstein and Reason for sponsoring last week’s immigration debate between myself and Mark Krikorian.  Thanks to Mark, too, for debating before an unsympathetic audience.  The resolution, you may recall, was: The current pandemic makes it all the more necessary for the federal government to tighten restrictions on immigration.

Here are my extra thoughts on the exchange.

1. I was stunned that Mark did not think we should limit immigration to help fight contagious disease.  While this position is deeply flawed, it has great surface appeal.  I have to think that most of his supporters would endorse it enthusiastically.  Hopefully he’ll strive set them straight, though I doubt it.  (Prove me wrong, Mark, prove me wrong).

2. Instead, Mark dusted off the classic populist argument that we should limit immigration to fight high unemployment.  Since he never argued in favor of immigration a few months ago when unemployment was at a 50-year low, one can’t take him too seriously.  As I keep saying, immigration restriction is a solution in search of a problem.

In any case, this is a textbook example of misguided recession policy.  Yes, deliberately restricting production during a recession can help some workers, but only at the expense of consumers (most of whom are workers in other industries).   When Roosevelt ordered the destruction of food during the Great Depression, he helped farmers, but only by depriving the rest of the population of affordable calories.  Excluding immigrants, similarly, helps competing native workers, but only by depriving the rest of the population of the goods and services immigrants produce.  Wise recession policy focuses on reviving production, not destructive redistribution.

3. Curiously, Mark granted that during this crisis, we should not exclude foreign agricultural workers.  His logic is hazy.  Today offers a prime opportunity to help native farm workers at the expense of native food consumers.  If you think that’s good policy in general, why not here and now?  The real story, I suspect, is that slashing the food supply during a crisis would be highly visible – and Mark wants to keep the costs of immigration restriction hidden.  I’d be amazed if Mark thought now was a good time to let in more foreign agricultural workers; if the existing number is temporarily good during this emergency, though, why stop there?

4. Mark combines this concession on immigrant farm workers with a bizarre long-run plan to wean U.S. agriculture off its “addiction” to cheap foreign labor.  Yes, a large fall in labor supply would induce mechanization.  But as long as human labor is cheaper, what’s good about switching?  Mark’s central argument is aesthetic; in this modern age, people shouldn’t be digging around in the Earth like “serfs.”  (His word).  This is economically absurd.  As long as the low-tech approach is cheaper than the high-tech approach, the low-tech approach is better.  Sure, we could force-feed mechanization.  If we taxed human-powered lawn-mowers, we’d switch sooner to robotic mowers.  The wise course, though, is to wait until upgrading actually makes us better off.

(Mark did vaguely allude to a technological path-dependence argument, but those are a dime a dozen even when fully fleshed-out).

5. Toward the end of our debate, Mark claimed that our fundamental difference is that he takes our obligations to fellow Americans seriously, while I think our obligation is to all mankind.  I agree that this is a difference, but it’s not fundamental.  Why not?  Because if I were an American nationalist, I would still favor open borders in order to maximize Americans’ standard of living.

6. What then is our fundamental difference?  I say it comes down to misanthropy.  Mark hears about a human being who wants to immigrate here – and presumes he’s going to make our lives worse.  Sure, he’s glad that we got Albert Einstein on our team, but negativity is Mark’s default.  My default is exactly the opposite.  When I hear about a human being who wants to immigrate here, I presume he’s going to make our lives better.  Yes, he could be the next Hitler, but the odds are astronomically against it.  The vast majority of human beings make valuable contributions to the world, even though some of us contribute far more than others.  That’s what the history of the U.S. shows, and what our future history is going to show.

7. Is Mark really a misanthrope?  Notice how he responds when an audience member asks him about government regulation of natives’ child-bearing.  He doesn’t try to argue that native babies grow up to be better people than immigrants.  He explicitly disavows the idea that we’re “superior” to people from other lands.  The concrete social effects of an extra native or an extra immigrant should therefore be comparable.  And since he deems the typical immigrant to be a negative, he should think the same about the typical native as well.  While Mark opposes government regulation of natives’ child-bearing, his rationale is not about consequences, but our “social contract.”  Americans are entitled to have as many kids as they want, even if they’re a burden on society.  Would-be immigrants, in contrast, are only entitled to burden their own societies.  So while we’re obligated to put up with burdensome Americans, we can and should refuse all those burdensome foreigners.

By the way, the misanthropy is palpable if you peruse the main page for the Center for Immigration Studies.  See for yourself; it really is monomaniacal collection of complaints about immigrants.  Assembling an analogous collection of ceaseless negativity about any human group – or humanity in general – would be child’s play.  Just let your inner pessimist fly.

8. The most intellectually solid case for immigration restriction is that natives are civilized, while immigrants are awful barbarians.  (Remember “rapefugees”?)  Why doesn’t Mark defend this position?  The charitable story is that he knows it’s false.  But if so, why doesn’t he try harder to disabuse his fellow restrictionists of their xenophobic pessimism?  The better story, I’m afraid, is Social Desirability Bias.  Calling immigrants “awful barbarians” makes you sound like a mean person, so Mark won’t endorse this position – or even engage it.  Social Desirability Bias elegantly explains why his organization puts the nonsensical “low immigration, pro-immigrant” motto on its masthead instead of a more honest slogan like, “Savages are at our gates!”

9. Suppose we accept Mark’s view that we have special obligations to our fellow Americans, just as parents have special obligations to their own children.  If you take this analogy seriously, you should still be very nervous that the United States is callously violating the rights of foreigners.  After all, parents’ sense of love and obligation for their children often leads them to mistreat strangers for their children’s benefit.  (Remember the quaint “College-gate” scandal of 2019?)  Shouldn’t we similarly expect nations’ sense of love and obligation for their citizens to lead them to mistreat foreigners for their citizens’ benefit?  It would be amazing if it didn’t.

10. Mark casually dismisses estimates of the massive economic gains of open borders.  It’s only a model; and the problem with models, as faulty coronavirus projections show, is: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The real story, though, is that economists who work with trade models are well-aware of their potential limitations.  If immigration leads to bad economic policies, for example, simple models are overly optimistic.  However, that realization is only the first step.  The next step is to look at the data and measure how much immigration is likely to degrade the quality of economic policy.  That’s what I do in Open Borders, and I conclude that the effect if any is tiny.  The same goes for the other major challenges to the simple model.  And while we’re checking the model for excessive optimism, it’s also worth checking it for excessive pessimism; most notably, the standard Clemens model completely ignores the effect of immigration on innovation.

Further point: Even if Mark were right to reject predictions about the economic effects of extreme liberalization, he has no reason to dismiss predictions about the economic effects of moderate liberalization.  Maybe letting in a billion foreigners would destroy our institutions, but letting in ten million won’t.  Frankly, it seems like he’s more interesting in categorically dismissing a model with uncomfortable results than in figuring out the extent to which the model is true.

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What We Would Now Know, If Demagogues Didn’t Rule Every Country on Earth

About six months after the rise of COVID-19, humanity still doesn’t know the answers to a long list of critical questions.  Questions like:

1. What is the true Infection Fatality Rate (IFR)?

2. What fraction of the population has COVID-19 now?

3. What fraction of the population has already had it?

4. How does the IFR really vary by age, gender, and prior health status?

5. How much immunity to COVID-19 do recovered patients acquire?

6. What are the odds of contracting the disease indoors versus outdoors?  From asymptomatic carriers?

7. How much does infection probability falls as social distance rises from 3 feet to 20 feet?

8. What are the odds of fomite transmission?

9. How much does viral load affect infection severity?

Yet amazingly, we have a straightforward and ethically unimpeachable way to decisively answer all of these questions – and countless more.  The method is: paid voluntary human experimentation.

Experimentation is vital because it is the core of the scientific method.

Human experimentation is vital because we want to know the effects of COVID-19 on humans.

Voluntary human experimentation is vital because we are not comic-book villains.

Paid voluntary human experimentation is vital because there is a massive supply of people willing to risk their lives for large cash payments, but relatively few heroes willing to risk their lives for free.

How would paid voluntary human experimentation work?  To find the true IFR, you recruit a thousand volunteers, test them for coronavirus and coronavirus antibodies, deliberately infect half of the never-infected subjects, and then compare the death rates for the two groups.  Morbid?  Callous?  No more morbid or callous than paying people to fight in a war, mine coal, or cut down trees.   The social value of the knowledge is immense, they knowingly accepted the risk, and they were paid for their efforts.  Deaths along the way are unfortunate, but in no way blameworthy.

To find the risk of fomite infection, similarly, first measure fomite levels in, say, eleven grocery stores.  Then recruit a thousand volunteers, randomly send half of them to the median store to shop for an hour, quarantine all of them for two weeks, then compare the infection rate for the two groups.

Finding the true infection rate isn’t quite as clean, admittedly.  But you can still randomly offer citizens a lot of money to participate in the study, until you get 90 or 95% participation.  Then measure prevalence.  Way better than even Iceland has done so far.

You get the idea.  So why isn’t paid voluntary human experimentation already a reality?  You could claim that none of the preceding questions matter for policy, but that is madness itself.  The value of accurately measuring disease parameters is rationally unassailable.

You could say, “Well, it’s just not ethical.”  This, too, is madness itself.  Life entails risk of death.  We routinely let people voluntarily risk their lives for trivial gain, like the pleasure of climbing Mount Everest.  So it is crazy to forbid people to assume risks with astronomical social value.

You could say, “Well, our government is too messed up to do the right thing.”  But that still doesn’t explain why no country is going full-speed ahead with paid voluntary human experimentation.  Even poor, backwards countries could have scrounged up the money for paid voluntary human experimentation, perhaps outsourcing the analysis to a richer country.

So how come no one has done as I advise?  Because every country on Earth is ruled by demagoguespower-lusters who would rather watch hundreds of thousands die rather than defy popular but absurd scruples.  Don’t tell me, “Leaders’ hands are tied.”  Leaders around the world have figured out how to legally rationalize a long list of absurd power grabs.  But they can’t figure out how to legally rationalize something that makes perfect sense?!

Back in 2015, Trump, speaking in the third person, said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”  Neither he nor any other world leader is serious about figuring out what the hell is going on with coronavirus.  If they were, paid voluntary human experimentation would have started months ago on a massive scale – and we’d have the answers we need today.

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What Motivates a Billionaire?

Is money the only possible motivation for a politician or politically active individual? Of course not. It can be the main motivation for those who aren’t rich yet, but once someone is rich they still have to be motivated to use the political means against their fellow humans.

Otherwise they wouldn’t.

To pretend that a billionaire only has your best interests in mind since he doesn’t need more money is to ignore all the other factors which could be motivating him. It is also ignoring the fact that being a billionaire doesn’t automatically satisfy the hunger for money.

He might want even more money.

He might want power.

He may have delusions of godhood.

He might actually want to make people suffer.

He might be insane.

He might honestly believe his ideas are good, but be frustrated that people don’t willingly comply, so he cheats and uses politics to force compliance with his idea that’s so great he has to force people to go along.

To imagine that the only explanation is that he’s a wonderful, caring person who only wants to ensure the flourishing of humanity is to ignore that he is using the political means instead of the economic means. That means, no matter what he is motivated by, or what good he believes he is doing, he’s carrying out his plans in the most evil way possible. Even if you like what he’s doing and support him.

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The Other Great Shutdown

Here’s my opening statement for last night’s Soho Forum debate with Mark Krikorian.


I’ve debated Mark Krikorian on immigration many times before, but today’s crisis provides a new and gripping argument against immigration.  Almost anyone can see the force of it: Coronavirus originated in China, migration brought it here, and suddenly life is terrible.  Dogmatic libertarians can keep droning on about “liberty,” but everyone else now plainly sees that strict immigration controls could have stopped this plague – and only strict immigration controls can stop the plagues of the future.

This argument sounds so right.  What could possibly be wrong with it?

Let’s start by backing up.  Before the coronavirus, did we have anything close to open borders?  Of course not; Mark himself has conceded this point in prior debates.  Under open borders, the U.S. could easily have tens of millions of immigrants annually.  A conservative estimate says that our borders are normally 95% closed.  I say it’s more like 98% closed.

So what?  Even with our borders 98% closed, the virus had no trouble spreading here on a massive scale.  Once a few sick people enter your country, it spreads far and wide.  The same is true all over the world.  The United Kingdom is an island nation, but it has the second-highest body count on Earth.   So it seems like we couldn’t have solved our problem with moderate further restrictions; we’d need to virtually end immigration altogether.  But would that be enough?  No way.  You would also have to virtually end international tourism, too.  That doesn’t just mean keeping foreign tourists out; it also means keeping domestic tourists in.  Or at least tell your own citizens, “If you leave, you can’t come back.”

The upshot: Even cutting immigration down to Japanese levels would do very little about contagion.  Instead, it looks like you would have to approach North Korea’s policy of “no-one-gets-in-or-out-alive.”

At this point, you might be wondering, “Well, couldn’t we allow tourism, but simply require a strict supervised two-week quarantine for all international travelers?”  Indeed you could.  Sadly, this is so burdensome it would practically eliminate international tourism.  Perhaps people would take one or two international trips per lifetime, spending two weeks in quarantine on arrival and return.  But that’s about it.  The benefit of tourism is too modest to offset weeks of confinement.

Now we reach the trillion-dollar question: What would be enough to offset weeks of confinement?  The indubitable answer is: the opportunity to permanently immigrate!  If you’re already willing to leave your country of birth to build a new life for yourself, two weeks of quarantine only modestly increases the cost.  Even seasonal migrants would endure quarantine; they might lose a month of time on a round-trip, but U.S. agricultural wages are about five times as high as Mexico’s.  The punchline, then, is that if you are mortally afraid of contagion, what you need to stop is not immigration but tourism.

Which is, by the way, the opposite of what is likely to happen, because we have long been ruled by innumerate, hysterical demagogues.

An immigration policy of open borders combined with a two-week quarantine would, in my view, be an immense improvement over the status quo.  I’d say that would move the border from 98% closed to 95% open.  If contagion were your sole objection to immigration, this is the policy you should favor.

I know, of course, that people have a long list of other objections to immigration.  Indeed, as far as I recall, this is my first debate with Mark where he even mentioned contagion.  Instead, he’s primarily relied on cultural objections, while downplaying immigration’s economic benefits.

Which makes me wonder: Has the present crisis shed any new light on our earlier disagreements?  The answer: Yes on both counts.

Culturally, the crisis has shown that Americans have a lot to learn from other cultures.  Our way of handling contagion has been clumsy at best.  Maybe we should have learned from Singapore and South Korea, maybe we should have learned from Iceland and Sweden.  What Americans definitely shouldn’t do is look in the mirror and admire our wonderfully functional culture.  We’re not the worst on Earth, but now is a fine time to embrace a curious cosmopolitan perspective.

The economic lesson of the crisis is truly clear-cut.  Since mid-March, the greatest economy in human history has been in “shutdown” or “lockdown.”  Our standard of living has crashed, and unemployment is near the level of the Great Depression.  Why?  Because we have temporarily annulled the right of free migration within the United States. Let me repeat that: Our standard of living has crashed because we have temporarily annulled the right of free migration within the United States. Americans are no longer able to work and shop where they like.  The result is not a minor inconvenience, but disaster.  We are suddenly stuck in a post-apocalyptic movie.  I detest hyperbole.  But this, my friends, is no hyperbole.

What would we think, however, if this economic shutdown had existed for all of living memory?  We’d probably be content with the only life we’ve ever known.  We only know what we’re missing because – until very recently – we had it.  And we all look forward to a future where we can restore free migration within the United States and regain its immense benefits.

What does this have to do with immigration?  To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “More than you possibly can imagine.”  In normal times, current immigration law keeps the whole world on permanent lockdown.  While people can usually move freely within their countries of birth, governments strictly regulate international mobility.  This regulation traps billions of people in unproductive backwaters of the global economy.  Current policies don’t just needlessly impoverish all the would-be migrants eager to build better lives for themselves.  They also impoverish their billions of customers.  The secret of mass consumption is mass production.  This is most fundamental lesson of economics.  When you shut down the restaurant industry, you don’t just hurt waiters and chefs; you hurt diners.  When you shut down immigration, you don’t just hurt immigrants; you hurt all the natives who would have purchased the fruits of immigrant labor.

Is the harm of ongoing immigration restriction really comparable to the harm of the coronavirus lockdown?  Definitely.  The highest estimates of the fall in U.S. GDP are about 50%, and that combines the effects of the virus and the policy response.  Estimates of the total damage of immigration restrictions, in contrast, are typically around 50% of global GDP.   In both cases, draconian restrictions on freedom of movement strangle production.

Even the most ardent fans of the coronavirus lockdown do not deny how much their policies have depressed our standard of living and our quality of life.  Even the fans of immigration, in contrast, rarely realize how much the immigration lockdown deprives humanity year after year.  How come almost everyone sees the former cost yet almost no one sees the latter?  Because it’s much easier for human beings to miss wonderful things they used to have than it is to miss wonderful things they’ve yet to experience.

Can we really compare the coronavirus lockdown to the ongoing immigration lockdown?  We can and we should.

The coronavirus lockdown is only temporary and delivers a semi-plausible benefit.  I’m against this lockdown.  But maybe I’m wrong.

The ongoing immigration lockdown, in contrast, has gone on for about a century and delivers benefits so dubious even their fans struggle to articulate or quantify them.  And when we sympathetically examine economic, fiscal, cultural, and political objections to immigration, they turn out to be either flat wrong or greatly overstated.  If you want details, try my new Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration.  But here’s the quick version.

1. Economic objections to immigration are totally wrong-headed.  To repeat, the secret of mass consumption is mass production, and immigration restrictions strangle production by trapping human talent in low-productivity countries.  A Mexican farmer grows far more food here than he can grow back in Mexico.  Not convinced?  How productive would you be in Mexico?

2. Fiscal objections are flimsy.  Despite the existence of the welfare state, boring apolitical number-crunchers conclude that even low-skilled immigrants are a net fiscal positive for natives, as long as they arrive when they’re young.  You don’t have to take my word for it; if you like looking at numbers, try chapter 7 of the 2017 report from the National Academy of Sciences.

3. Cultural objections are weak, insofar as we can even measure them.  Almost all second-generation immigrants speak fluent English.  Immigrants’ crime rates are lower than natives’.  And advanced statistical work on the effects of nations’ ancestry and average IQ still imply massive gains of immigration.  In a previous debate, I asked Mark Krikorian why he chooses to live in the Capital area, one of the highest-immigration regions of America.  I kind of expected him to say something like, “It’s hell, but I’m sacrificing my well-being so the rest of America doesn’t have to endure the same fate.”  But if I recall correctly, he just shrugged, “It’s complicated.”  I suppose it is complicated, but I can’t understand why you would lead a political crusade against anything “complicated” when the world is still packed with stuff that’s blatantly bad.

4. Political objections, finally, look minor at best.  In the U.S., the foreign-born are, unfortunately, more socially conservative and economically liberal.  But the difference is modest, even immigrants eligible to vote have low turnout, and their descendants assimilate to mainstream American political culture.  It’s not a big deal.  Even if you disagree, why not welcome immigrants to live and work, but not to vote?

I know this is a lot of information in a short space.  I’m happy to expand on any of these topics in the Q&A.  But I predictably stand by the conclusion of Open Borders: Immigration restriction is a solution in search of a problem.  People don’t really know why they want to restrict immigration; they just know that they do.

Even if my book is thoroughly wrong, though, the current crisis provides no bonus argument in favor of immigration restriction.  Tourism – including American travel abroad – may be a problem, but we can safely admit all willing immigrants with a suitable quarantine.  And such a quarantine would do little to discourage immigration, because the gains are astronomical.

Last point: If you fear a world where American citizens, in the name of disease prevention, lose their basic freedom to travel abroad, I share your fear.  But when you cherish this freedom, please remember that the vast majority of the world’s population has lacked this freedom for about a century.  Even the world’s poorest people can scrape together the money to get here; what most will never get is the government paperwork that allows them to live and work in peace.  Our shutdown will end in the foreseeable future.  The world’s shutdown will endure until we see it for needless cruelty it is.

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