Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Article At Strike the Root

I've got a new article, entitled The Art of Libertarian Persuasion, up at Strike the Root. It continues some the ideas I've been writing about here at The Superfluous Man.
I'd like to thank Roderick Long of Austro-Athenian Empire and the Mises Institute and Kevin Carson of Mutalist Blog, whose work was highly influential on me while writing this article. If you found my article interesting, give them a look.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Where's V when you need him?

I'd call this an example of reductio creep, but to the best of my knowledge no one has even jokingly predicted this. British police are calling for for new powers to prevent people from saying offensive things at political protests. Some things are beyond parody. Now, it's not as if Great Britain or Europe in general have been great champions of free speech anyway, but this is pretty blatant even for them. Hopefully the police won't get their way.

Anyone want to start taking bets on when this starts getting seriously proposed in the United States? American liberals are always saying we should be more like Europe, and people on both sides of mainstream opinion are endlessly complaining about "divisive" politics...

Hat tip to Hit and Run.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Thomas Sowell shreds the neocons

"That Thomas Sowell?' You may be wondering. The Thomas Sowell I've previously castigated for being a relentless shill for American militarism in the Middle East and expansion of government power at home?

The very same. From the man himself:

Today, the confusion between freedom and democracy leads far too many Americans, including those in high places, to seek to spread democracy around the world- in complete disregard of the circumstances of the particular countries. In some respects, we may be more dangerous to our friends than to our enemies…

Both freedom and democracy have prerequisites. When those prerequisites do not exist, democracy especially can be a house of cards.

When was this ringing denunciation of the neoconservative project published? In 1999, on page 90 of Sowell's essay collection Barbarians Inside the Gates: And Other Controversial Essays. I hate to speak ill of the man, because he was an enormous positive influence on me, but when I read those lines in my copy of the book just a few minutes ago the contrast was too much to let go without comment. Sadly, like so many others, Sowell was apparently replaced by an evil parallel universe duplicate in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and the sharp critical thinking skills and pro-freedom principles I admired him for are no longer in evidence.

I sure miss the old Thomas Sowell right about now.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006 needs some help

If you haven't done so, I encourage you to consider a donation to so they can meet their quarterly fundraising goal. It really is an excellent resource, and I'd hate to see them have to cut back on what they provide..

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Man's Quest for Knowledge, Part II

I always enjoy seeing what searches have brought people to my site. The past week or so, I've had five hits from people searching Google for the term "commie-Nazis." I'm hoping they're Simpsons fans, though at this point I wouldn't be all that shocked if that turned out to be an actual ideology.

My personal favorite, though, is the visitor who came here by searching for the phrase "tortured muscle man." It goes to show how convenient the internet has made things. Just think- in the days before the internet, you would probably have to drive down to a bookstore or library if you wanted to see muscle men being tortured. I love technology.

Also, I'm switching over to the new version of Blogger. Please bear with me while I figure out the new features and such

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Finding new libertarians

There has been some dispute among libertarians, especially lately, as to whether our best prospects for winning people over to libertarianism come mostly from the left or the right. I myself came from the right, so I'm certainly not going to suggest that trying to persuade conservatives is futile. My suspicion, though, is that by this point, most of the low-hanging fruit on that side of the spectrum has already been picked; I think that most people who still consider themselves loyal Republicans after six years of Bush, the war, the domestic spending increases, etc. are probably not going to be readily converted at this point, even if they agree with us on a few issues like guns. Paleoconservatives and other conservative dissidents are a better prospect, but they don't appear to be very numerous compared to all the Bush fans on the right.

I don't hold out much hope for winning over moderates; they have generally fully absorbed the consensus "vital center" big government view of the political system and of American history, and usually approach seem to approach politics with no strong principles other than a general willingness to use state compulsion for some vaguely defined "public interest" or the latest trendy cause. These people are often the most statist- they have a tendency to support the bad parts of the left and the right in one giant potluck dinner of evil. That's what makes them so reasonable and non-ideological and pragmatic, after all.

I think the left may become a more fertile recruiting ground because, for the last few years, they've learned a hard lesson: sometimes your foes will be in control. Government abuses like Waco under the Clinton administration turned my old Republican self into a libertarian, by showing me how nasty the state can be; I'm hoping Bush will have a similar effect on some people on the left. My observation is that the human ability to learn from experience is not terribly high when applied to politics, but there's a chance.

How likely is it that a significant number of leftists can be won over? That's hard to answer, because the answer depends on precisely what the attitude of the majority of leftists is. I think there are some leftists who are reachable, and some who aren't. There are leftists who value liberty and prosperity for the people but pursue them in a mistaken way, and then there are leftists who are basically throne and altar reactionaries in modern drag- there's a different God on the altar and a different ass on the throne, but the basis of their philosophy remains a belief that the brutish masses need to be dominated by an elite (democratically legitimated or otherwise) for their own good.

Most of the second group can be written off as a lost cause; the first group has potential. I'm less optimistic about our prospects than some, because I think the second group comprises a pretty big percentage of the whole (though I admit the possibility that their noisiness is out of proportion to their size), but I still think there's some potential there. Whether that potential can be successfully tapped will depend on adoption of the proper tactics of persuasion. I'll get into that next time.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, R.I.P.

I found out just moments ago at Reason that Milton Friedman has passed on. Though my own introduction to libertarianism came via Friedrich Hayek and other Austrians rather than Friedman or the Chicago School, I respect Friedman tremendously for the work he he did bringing libertarian ideas to the public. Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blog status update

After reading my comments section and getting feedback from various people, I've come to a conclusion about the state and future contents of this blog. At some point in the future, I am going to open a separate site for science fiction. Most of the science fiction commentary I've been working on will go there, and only there. However, due to the positive comments (okay, comment) about the reviews, I am going to cross-post book reviews on both sites, as well as any science fiction commentary that has political or ideological relevance. I will also give periodic updates here about what's going on at the other site.

I'm not starting it just yet, partly because I want to get more written and partly because I'm still trying to think of a name, but it should be up soon. Stay tuned.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Basil Poledouris, R.I.P.

OK, this sucks. While metal is my first and foremost love, I also like to listen to film scores. I was listening to my Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, which I have found to be good writing music, and deiced to find out more about the composer, Basil Poledouris. So I run a Google search to learn more, and immediately discover that he died five days ago! Only 61 years old, too. What a shame. Two of my all-time favorite scores- Conan the Barbarian and The Hunt for Red October- were his work. Rest in peace.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

A question for everyone

So, I've got plans to start writing a lot more science fiction commentary that's been percolating in my brain for a while, which raises a question: Do you want to see that on this blog? My concern is that those who come here for the political content (both of you!) may not want to wade through a bunch of posts about British space opera to get to the libertarian writing; likewise, if I manage to attract an audience for the science fiction stuff, most of them probably won't want to read my lunatic fringe political rants.

Therefore, I'm considering starting a separate site for that stuff, with a link to itand occasional updates about it on this site, but I'd like to hear from anyone reading this before I attempt such a project.

All feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

George Bush loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so...

In an article I did a while back, I argued that many modern right-wingers have a love for the state and its symbols that is tantamount to idol worship. This post by Lew Rockwell, which remarks on a quote I've seen all over the internet, brings that to mind again. The quote is:

"Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: 1. Jesus Christ; and 2. The American G.I. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom."

I'm not even a Christian, and I still find that incredibly inappropriate. Even if I really thought what's happening in Iraq had something to do with my freedom, I'd still be disturbed by it. The most outrageous thing is that most of the people who consider this a great line probably are Christians, and see no contradiction between that fact and their idolatrous adoration of the state and its employees. This fits right in with almost messianic status Bush seems to have for some people. If this were the age of ancient Rome, when Christians were being martyred for their refusal to worship the head of state, these folks would probably be lining up in droves to burn sacrifices to Caesar.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get some rest so I can go to the mall in the morning. I want to get my Bushmas shopping done early this year, so I don't have to fight the crowds.

Found this fitting, in a grim sort of way: It's gone now, but when I first put this post up and went to view the blog to make sure it went up properly, the first ad listed on the Google Ads bar was for a site selling body bags. I kid you not. Getting smarter every day, these computers...

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Poul Anderson news

Election time is a depressing time of year for a libertarian like me, butnot everything in life is doom and gloom. On the science fiction front, there's very good news on the Baen Books publishing schedule: March 2007 will see the release of another Poul Anderson collection, To Outlive Eternity and Other Stories. The site doesn't say what the contents are, aside from the title story. I don't know if I'll be buying one for myself- it's probably superfluous in my case, thanks to my voluminous Poul Anderson collection- but I definitely expect to be buying a copy or two for the other geeks in my life, who are woefully ignorant of the classics. Hopefully there will be more to come.

In other Poul Anderson news, the Wikipedia entry for Poul Anderson has been greatly expanded and improved since the last time I saw it. If you're not familiar with his work, check it out. He's a truly great and underrated author, and a lot of his work is of particular interest to libertarians.

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The elections contain potassium benzoate! (That's bad.)

Some quick election thoughts:

Santorum was voted out. That good. Big-government conservatives like him are the reason I gave up being a Republican (and eventually, a conservative), and it's always nice to see one of his ilk go. It's worth noting that Santorum didn't even try to hide behind the quasi-libertarian rhetoric many Republicans use: He came out quite explicitly against the idea of small government. I don't know if I should be pleased by his honesty, or disturbed that vice no longer feels any need to pay tribute to virtue.

Joe Lieberman was reelected as an independent, no doubt thanks in part to the fact that the Republican Party seemed to favor him over their own candidate. That's bad. Lieberman is the worst of all possible worlds: in favor of war, in favor of economic statism, and in favor of moralistic intrusions on personal freedoms and free expression. So I suppose it's no wonder that the Republicans are in love with him.

Ron Paul got reelected. That's good. There's an old Jewish legend that if the number of righteous men alive on Earth ever drops below a certain threshold, God will destroy the world. I'm hoping something similar applies to Congress, but I doubt the universe is that kind.

As a whole, I feel pretty much indifferent to the result, for reasons outlined below. I still don't think the Democrats will be any better than the Republicans, but it's hard to imagine them being worse. Of course, I've been surprised before…

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Your Sacred Duty to Vote: A Parable

A most curious thing happened the other day. I was reading the paper one morning when I heard a knock on the door. I hadn't been expecting a visitor, but I quickly got up and opened the door. On my front step, to my surprise, was my next-door neighbor, holding a baseball bat in his hands.

"Uh… Can I help you?" I asked.

He nodded eagerly, and said, "I'm in the mood for a game. You'll flip a coin. If it comes up heads, I'll break both of your legs. If it comes up tails, I'll break your arms. I play this game with all the neighbors every few years. Sounds pretty fun, don't you think? You're lucky; in some places people don't get to play my game." He smiled, clearly quite pleased with himself.

"This is absurd!" I exclaimed. "I'm not playing your game. Get off my property!"

He sighed, looking very hurt. "Fine," he said. "I'll flip the coin." He produced a quarter from his pocket and tossed it into the air. It landed on the concrete path in front of my house, heads facing up. "Well, the coin has spoken." Before I could react, he swung the bat, hitting me in the leg. I gasped and sank to one knee. He swung again and again at my shins, leaving me sprawled on the ground.

Through the pain, I cried out, "You broke my legs!"

"Well, yes," he replied. "The coin came up heads. What are you so upset about, anyway?"

Incredulous, I yelled, "You have no right to go around beating people up!"

He seemed baffled at this. "Sure I do. You consented to this when you chose to live on the same block as me. Besides, you refused to exercise your right to flip the coin, like I offered. If you won't participate in my game, you have no right to complain about the outcome."

His reasoning seemed a bit off to me, but I was in too much pain for any deep logical analysis. "Well," he continued, "It's been a pleasure serving you, but I've got to get going. Lots of houses left to visit today. See you in two years!" With that he smiled, gave a polite nod, and was on his way.
Okay, I'm being a bit silly here. But the "If you don't vote, you can't complain" argument has always annoyed me, and my natural habit is to think in analogies and metaphors.

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Where the real trouble lies

Kevin Carson articulates something I've been thinking but hadn't been able to put in words very well:

What are the most important issues in American politics? The ones you never hear about because the two major parties agree on them.

This points to something related that I've been thinking about: The real threat to liberty, at the moment, isn't right-wing religious fanatics who want to impose the Christian equivalent of sharia, or left-wing nutjobs who want to nationalize the economy; it's the so-called "vital center." Life under Christian reconstructionists or communists would be awful, but the chances of them taking over any time soon are slim. Most of the things I find most offensive, oppressive, and destructive about the state's current activities- the drug war is the big one here, but economic interventionism and public education rank highly too- are, indeed, the things that are simply taken for granted by both mainstream parties.

This seems to lend some credence to the increasingly popular notion that libertarians should try to recruit from leftists- however dreadful their proposed solutions may be, people on the far left are at least aware of the fact there is something terribly wrong with the narrow range of options permitted by "respectable" political opinion. They're less likely to be slaves to what "everyone knows" is acceptable, which creates an opportunity for libertarians. I'm less optimistic on this subject than the left-libertarians are, mostly due to observations made when debating with leftists on mailing lists during my my younger days, but I still think it's worth pursuing.

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Like Alien Vs. Predator, but scarier

I'm torn on how to feel about the upcoming election. On the one hand, I hate the thought of Democrats winning; on the other hand, I hate the thought of the Republicans not losing. It's a quandary. I find it hard to imagine that the Democrats would be worse than the Republicans, but my predictive record isn't good in that regard: I never thought Bush would be worse than Clinton, either. Just thinking out loud here, lots of wishy-washy indecision ahead:

1. When our Iraqi adventure goes down in flames, I think it would be good to have Republicans in full control. Not because the Republicans would handle it better, but so that they take full blame. Ten years down the line, I don't want to see the Republicans justifying some new intervention by saying, "Well, Iraq was going fine until the Democrats screwed it up." This seems like a cynical political calculation, but it could save lives in the decades to come.

2. I'm not convinced that the Democrats would be any less violent abroad. My concern here is that, since they are often perceived as the weaker party on foreign affairs, they might find it necessary to throw American military strength around to prove they're not the pack of wimps the Republicans say they are.

3. I think the Democrats are worse in regards to nanny statism. It seems like it's usually them behind smoking bans, attempts at food restrictions, etc. Republicans are worse on things like sexual freedom, but here's the thing: I don't think a Republican regime would be very likely to succeed in carrying out any significant restrictions on sexual freedom, whereas I think a Democratic administration would actually have a pretty good chance of getting their preferred forms of oppression passed and left intact by the courts. So, regardless of who is objectively more malevolent, I think Democrats are the greater menace in regard to personal freedoms.

4. On the other hand, I would also like to see the Republicans punished at the polls, to discourage them from future warmongering. This is a big consideration, potentially enough to outweigh the others. It is also, of course, incompatible with point #1.

5. It might be good for civil liberties in an indirect way if the Democrats win. More power for the Democrats might make the Republicans a little more cautious in embracing new police state measures, since it would serve as a reminder to conservatives that those powers could be wielded just as easily by some future Democratic administration. I may be giving Republican foresight too much credit, though.

So, who to root for? For the first time in my life, I honestly don't care. In every other election I've followed, I always preferred (or at least hated less) one side over the other, however slightly. My lingering preference for the Republicans has been beaten out of me by the last six years, but I don't find myself loathing the Democrats any less than I used to.

And you want to know what really sucks? The elections fall on my birthday this year, as they did in 2000. So, once again, I'm getting whichever bastards will be screwing my country over for the next few years as my present. Happy birthday to me.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Well, we're doomed

Yeah, this self-replicating robot may seem neat now. But in a hundred years, when they've consumed us all and disassembled the planet to make more of themselves and spread across the galaxy, don't say I didn't warn you.

Hat tip to Samizdata.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Man's quest for knowledge

The best thing about Sitemeter is being able to see what Google searches have brought people to the site. The day before last, someone arrived via a search for "woman grabbing man's ass." I'd be appalled, if I didn't routinely search for things far more offensive. I hope you found what you're looking for, my friend.

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