Government Should Follow Rules Too

People seem confused about what role — if any — government plays in our lives. This misunderstanding causes problems.

Government was never intended to be the master, but the servant. Your servant doesn’t tell you what you are allowed to do, nor punish you for not obeying him. The servant isn’t allowed to do things in secret with the master’s money, nor to keep any job-related secrets from the master. Your servant is accountable to you; never the other way around.

If someone takes a government job, they either accept their subservient position in society, or they can take a job — without such strings attached — in the productive sector. Forgetting their place should result in immediate unemployment with no chance of ever holding another government job.

Government wrongly claims to have the right to track everyone, spy on everything we do, collect all our information, and punish us for doing things we have the natural human right to do, but which government forbids. Nothing can trump natural human rights, not even the opinions of the vocal majority legislated and enforced by government employees.

Police across New Mexico object to a requirement to wear body cameras, which help them be held accountable to their bosses — the people of the community. If they can’t do their job under this condition, they are free to find other jobs. No one is forcing them to be police.

Locally, people are begging government for permission to re-open their restaurants, when government never had the legitimate authority to shut businesses in the first place. This illustrates the danger of allowing the servant to require business licenses. It’s none of their business who opens what kind of business, and nothing can make it their business. Not even if “this is how we’ve always done it,” which isn’t true anyway.

Local government is even pretending it should have the power to dictate whether someone will be allowed to use their own property as a subdivision.

This is crazy!

If we are to continue to fund government and give it our occasional obedience there must be rules for it to follow. Since the Constitution has been ignored for the past century and a half or so, what do you suggest be tried next?

Those who want to keep political government around are the ones responsible for keeping it out of the lives of everyone else. If you won’t rein in your troublesome servant, his misbehavior is on your head.

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Social Salvation vs. Individual Salvation

From one era to another of human history, human energies seem to be dedicated either to social salvation – think “progress” – or individual salvation – think “enlightenment” or “sanctification”. Sometimes this takes religious guises, other times more secular ones.

We live in a time that, despite its frequent pandering to individual *lusts* and frequent spastic efforts to find “enlightenment” (yoga, New Age, etc), does not really have a structure that encourages individual salvation.

The social structure trains us to want *progress* for our society – whether it’s political and moral (in the way we think about gender, race, etc) or economic (we want more stuff for more people) or technological (we want more power over our natural world). We pursue social progress whether or not that means individual improvement in virtue, heroism, etc.

On the other hand, I would be interested to know whether more traditional and hierarchical societies like those of medieval Europe, despite not having an explicit ideology of individualism, did more to encourage individuals to seek sanctification.

In the relative technological, religious, and artistic stability of more traditional societies, the individual was just about the only actor that *could* change. Time would have been viewed more circularly and less linearly, with each generation restarting the hero’s journey and finding a fleshed-out and tested set of rituals for going from stage to stage. You either progressed as a person, or you didn’t.

This is speculation, but it seems fair speculation to say that more traditional societies at least had stronger ritual support for individual transformation.

It is not speculation to say that as we have become more concerned with technological/social progress, we have managed to make it harder for individuals to become heroic, holy, fully realized beings. Yes, we wield more potential power than ever in the form of computers and data, but we also buy that power with the need for sedentary lifestyles (sitting at desks) and greater economic centralization (corporations), not to mention all the mischief that computers tend to create from pornography to internet trolling.

It probably is not the case that social progress (in the sense of linear change over time) and individual progress are opposed. I think social progress tends to come out of individual progress. But I think it’s much more important that individuals – the only beings who can *experience* change – get priority. And if that means tamping down on the rate of supposed social innovations, so be it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Starlink and “Pollution”

I saw someone complaining about how their long-exposure photograph of comet “Neowise” was ruined by the passage of Starlink satellites.

If you are unfamiliar with comet “Neowise”, well, it’s a comet. And if you are unfamiliar with Starlink, it’s Elon Musk’s swarm of internet-providing satellites.

The various voices chiming in about the horrors of the ruined photograph sympathized with the harm done to the photographer, and the evils of polluting the world for profit. I’m more upset that Elon takes government subsidies and launches government payloads, but whatever.

But “pollution”? I HATE pollution, including litter.

Pollution damages property; without the damage, there is no pollution. I can’t think of a way these satellites damage anyone’s property. One of the dissenters told me that “damages property” was a strange way to define pollution, so I asked for his definition. He said he’d include harming people. I asked him who is being harmed. Silence. Strangely, I find most of my questions to those on the other side keep going unanswered– some of them seem to have blocked me.

Sure, people are “forced” to see something they don’t want to see, in specific circumstances. Or, perhaps they are forced to accidentally photograph something they didn’t intend to photograph. A photobomb of sorts (but one you can avoid with a little prior planning— at least for the time being). The newer Starlink satellites are getting harder and harder to see, even right after launch. Musk has been trying to make them less reflective to keep ground-based astronomers happy, so perhaps it is working.

Someone said the pollution is the damage done by ruining a little of the beauty of nature for everyone. That’s too subjective.

I want to go outside and look at the horizon without seeing any man-made structures or invasive/exotic trees blocking the natural view. Am I being harmed that this isn’t possible where I live?

I hate to hear dogs bark. I don’t like seeing boys hobbling around with their pants below their butts. Is this pollution?

If I see my neighbor walk to the end of their driveway and they aren’t attractive enough for me to want to see them, am I being harmed? I don’t think so. A better case for pollution could be made if they were smoking and I caught a whiff of their smoke. Yet I’m not petty enough to make an issue about that. They can smoke cigars as they walk out to the street naked and I can’t think of a way this actually harms me.

Yes, “astronomy” pictures taken with a long exposure can be “ruined” by the multiple streaks from Starlink satellites. How many satellite tracks does it take to ruin a photo? One? Three? A dozen? Do planes also ruin photos? Do meteors?

It takes a long exposure– specialty photography– to really have a problem with Starlink streaks. I could complain if I use infrared photography to take photos of my neighbor’s house and I see them inside doing things I don’t want to see, but who has the problem here?

Starlink is intended to fund Musk’s Mars missions and Martian colony. I am in favor of getting humans to Mars and to seeing if they can live there sustainably. It takes a lot of money– profit– to fund these kinds of things. Either direct profit spent willingly by those who earned it, or profit confiscated from the rightful owner by government through “taxation”– guess which one I like better.

One of the detractors said satellites are too expensive and it would be cheaper to run wires out to all the remote areas to provide high-speed internet. I think this shows a lack of understanding of how remote some remote areas actually are, and the economics of running wires out there and the people in remote areas being able to actually afford to use such a service. Plus, this only shifts the property damage to actual property. Would these people like to have a path bulldozed for this line– either underground or hanging on poles– through their property so they don’t have to see (if they look hard) something they don’t want to see in the dusky sky?

I have gone out at night and watched Starlink satellites pass overhead. Most of the time they were too dim for me to see. A few times I was able to see the “train”– a string of satellites following one another across the sky– with some success. It’s rather interesting to see and even beautiful in a way. But, even though I really like antique stuff made of brass, bone, wood, leather, and glass, I’m not a Luddite.

I get it, though. If I had my choice I’d turn the clock back to the Pleistocene or something and wear animal skins and live in a cave. I don’t care to see plastic everywhere I look– I’d rather see mammoths. But I can’t pretend someone is harming me just because the world isn’t the same as it used to be or as I might wish it still were. There are more important things to fix.

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Don’t Put Too Much Faith in the Experts

Between 2 million and 3 million Americans will die!

That was the prediction from “experts” at London’s Imperial College when COVID-19 began. They did also say if there was “social distancing of the whole population,” the death toll could be cut in half, but 1.1 million to 1.46 million Americans would still die by this summer.

Our actual death toll has been about one-tenth of that.

Nevertheless, Imperial College’s model was extremely influential.

Politicians issued stay-at-home orders. They said we must trust the “experts.”

“Follow the science. Listen to the experts. Do what they tell you,” said Joe Biden, laughing at what he considered an obvious truth.

But “there is no such thing as ‘the science!'” replies science reporter Matt Ridley in my new video about “expert” predictions. “Science consists of people disagreeing with each other!”

The lockdowns, he adds, were “quite dangerously wrong.”

Because Imperial’s model predicted that COVID-19 would overwhelm hospitals, patients were moved to nursing homes. The coronavirus then spread in nursing homes.

Ordering almost every worker to stay home led to an economic collapse that may have killed people, too.

“The main interventions that helped prevent people dying were stopping large gatherings, people washing their hands and wearing face masks, general social distancing—not forcing people to stay home,” says Ridley.

Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now admits: “We all failed at that business. All the early national experts: ‘Here’s my projection model.’ They were all wrong.”

If he and other politicians had just done just a little research, then they would have known that Imperial College researchers repeatedly predict great disasters that don’t happen. Their model predicted 65,000 deaths from swine flu, 136,000 from mad cow disease, and 200 million from bird flu.

The real numbers were in the hundreds.

After such predictions were repeatedly wrong, why did politicians boss us around based on those same “experts” models?

“If you say something really pessimistic about how many people are going to die,” explains Ridley, “the media want to believe you. The politicians daren’t not believe you.”

This bias towards pessimism applies to fear of climate change, too.

Thirty-two years ago, climate “experts” said rising seas would “completely cover” the islands of the Maldives “in the next 30 years.” But now, 32 years later, the islands are not only still there, they’re doing better than ever. They’re even building new airports.

“Climate change is real,” says Ridley, “but it’s not happening nearly as fast as models predicted.”

Models repeatedly overpredict disaster because that’s “a very good way of attracting attention to your science and getting rewarded for it,” says Ridley.

One more example: For years, “experts” predicted an oil shortage. President Jimmy Carter warned, “The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are simply running out.” All the “experts” agreed.

But as the demand for oil grew, oil prices rose. That inspired entrepreneurs to invent new ways of getting more oil and gas out of the same rocks. They succeeded so well that America now has so much oil and gas that we sell some to other countries.

Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works, shows how innovators prove “experts” wrong all the time.

He points out that the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation once said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Microsoft’s CEO confidently said: “There’s no chance the iPhone is going to get significant market share.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that because “most people have nothing to say to each other…the Internet’s impact on the economy (will be) no greater than the fax machine’s.”

Of course, not all experts are wrong. Useful experts do exist. I want a trained civil engineer to design any bridge I cross.

But Ridley points out: “There is no such thing as expertise on the future. It’s dangerous to rely too much on models (which lead politicians to) lock down society and destroy people’s livelihood. Danger lies both ways.”

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Firing and the Left

Firing a worker is usually a serious harm.  Sometimes it’s devastating.  But we can still wonder, “Is firing someone morally wrong – and if so, how morally wrong?”

If this puzzles you, ponder this: Ending a romantic relationship, too, is usually a serious harm.  Sometimes that, too, is devastating.  Yet few moderns attach much moral blame to someone who dumps their romantic partner.  Even if you’re married, we rarely claim anything like, “If you break up, your ex-partner will wallow in misery for years, so you have a moral obligation to stay.”  (Close family members might privately maintain otherwise if you have kids together, but even then…)

In my view, firing is morally comparable to ending a romantic relationship.  In the absence of a formal agreement to the contrary, both kinds of relationships are – and should be – “at will.”  Yes, informed observers might have some grounds to morally criticize the termination.  Ultimately, however, close relationships – whether professional or personal – are complicated, riddled with misunderstandings.  Hence, outsiders should not only affirm that people have a right to unilaterally break up; they should practice the virtue of the tolerance by remaining impartial in thought as well as in action.

To repeat, that’s my view.  The normal view, in contrast, is that romantic and professional relationships should be governed by diametrically opposed standards.  In matters of love, the heart wants what the heart wants.  On the job, in contrast, governments should protect workers from employer abuse.  And even if the law says otherwise, firing someone who’s performing their job adequately is morally suspect.

While this “normal view” is now widely-shared, it’s still closely associated with the left.  Back when “freedom of contract” had more appeal, the left strongly argued that employers’ “freedom to fire” was tantamount to “the freedom to oppress workers.”  Back in high school, my social science teachers often philosophized, “Sure, physical coercion is bad; but so is economic coercion.  If your employer can fire you whenever he likes, you’re not free.”  This outlook naturally inspired the left to advocate a wide range of employment regulations, especially anti-firing rules.  While most non-leftists also favor such regulation, the left has long been more intense about it.  Their attitude is more radical – and so are the regulations they seek.

Which makes sense.  If you earnestly believe that firing a worker is a kind of economic violence, you’re going to firmly support stringent legal scrutiny of this violence.

From this perspective, the rise of “cancel culture” is deeply surprising.  Over the last decade, many leftists have not just moderated their former stance against firing.  They have become enthusiastic advocates of firing people they dislike.  “He’s performing his job adequately, so you have no right to fire him” has strangely morphed into a right-wing view.  If you don’t believe me, just start making insensitive remarks about race, gender, and sexuality on social media and see how your career goes.  “I was perfectly civil at work; I only offended on my own time” is now a frail defense.  Even if your boss and co-workers adore you, plenty left-wing activists will still pressure them to sack you.

Again, I have no principled objection to firing workers for their political views.  Indeed, I’ve long defended the blacklist of Hollywood’s Communists; while I tolerate a wide range of opinion, totalitarians are beyond the pale.  While we have no right to jail them, they don’t belong in polite society.  But if, like most people, you embrace the view that firing a worker is “economic coercion,” the left’s newfound love of firing their enemies should disturb you.  Consider: Their revised stance amounts to something like, “Firing a worker who’s performing his job adequately is a form of violence.  And if anyone crosses us, we advocate – nay, demand! – that this violence be done.”

To be fair, many leftists have yet to revise their stance.  Perhaps because they’re afraid of experiencing economic violence at the hands of the many other leftists who have.

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Creativity Is Needed Now More Than Ever

In a world that is problem-free and satisfaction guaranteed, you don’t need to be creative.

In a world where desires are fulfilled and goals are achieved without effort, you don’t need to be creative.

In a world where our dreams are instantaneously realized by merely wishing things into existence, you don’t need to be creative.

In a world where you can throw a party, make art, laugh with friends, or simply get through a day without having to negotiate a single element that’s unpredictable, unwanted, or uncooperative, you don’t need to be creative.

We don’t live in any of those worlds.

We live in a world where time and space often feel like stubborn gatekeepers separating us from the things we want and need.

We live in a world where our goals are constantly challenged by the realities of inertia and inconvenience.

We live in a world where success and satisfaction depend on imagination and innovation.

We live in a world that requires creativity.

Creativity brings us pleasure, but it’s made necessary by the things that delay, decrease, or deny our pleasure.

When we feel disappointed with the world, that is not a reason to give up on creativity. That is a reminder for why we need it.

People ask me “Why should I strive to live creatively when things are going bad?”

Because that’s really the main reason for being creative. Challenges are not an argument against being creative. Challenges are the reason why we need to get creative in the first place.

If things were naturally going your way, what use would there be for creativity? If your desires could be fulfilled without tradeoffs and opportunity costs, why would you ever need to be creative? No single work of art or act of good has ever arisen from a completely effortless state devoid of the need to deal with some form of resistance or difficulty.

Creativity isn’t just about playing theatre games or putting paint on your face. It’s about having goals, encountering obstacles, and bearing the burden of having to come up with counter-intuitive strategies for getting around those obstacles.

It doesn’t take any creativity to lay back and passively hope that good things will happen on their own. We need creativity precisely for those moments when the way forward seems unclear or impossible.

Creativity isn’t just for the good times. It’s for the challenges that get in our way when we’re busy trying to enjoy or pursue the good times.

Creativity may exist for the purpose of having fun, but it’s made necessary by the fact that having fun can’t be done without the ability to innovate and improvise around the unwelcome and unexpected.

If we’re having more problems than ever before, then I can’t think of a better time to be creative.

At least that’s the way I see it.

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