Suis-je #CharlieHebdo?

kissing_hebdoMy basic feeling about Charlie Hebdo: The crime was committed by a clique of criminals who self-identify as Muslims and identify this crime as being part of a holy war. But the crime is not holy, it’s murder of people for offending with cartoons, which is about as pathetic an excuse to commit murder as can be imagined. So the murderers deserve to be caught and shown only the mercy inherent in the criminal justice system in France and no more. That should be the scope of the discussions around this crime.

Instead, we are being treated to the spectacle–the same-idiotic-old-shit of a spectacle–of incensed white people, mostly, wanting to spread the blame for this murder away from the murderers and all over Islam and believers in Islam. To me, the idiocy of Islam is another discussion, and this red herring of Islam’s “blame” for this murder is just an excuse for incensed white people to behave badly and give full vent to their worst, most bigoted impulses. It’s all beside the point. It accomplishes nothing but spleen venting. It’s tiresome to have to fight it, but I just can’t stand stupidity from any quarter.

I just wonder, what am *I* missing? I have a knee-jerk need to fight the prevailing idiocy. What makes me so smart that I’m immune to it all, though? What am I missing? I don’t know…

I don’t listen to talking heads. I just want the basic facts, not all the bullshit that always comes with them, all the gas spewing out of idiots’ gas holes on TV about them. Of course I found this story irresistible, like everyone else in the world. I was also curious how Twitter was talking about it, so I saw that #killallMuslims had been trending worldwide. Then I saw what the general feel for the story was on Twitter, and it was basically ultramorons over here wanting to #killallMuslims, Muslims and bleeding hearts over here claiming the killers weren’t “true” Muslims because “Islam is a religion of peace” (with a bunch of both types criticizing CH for “provoking” the attacks), and atheists over here jumping on the Bill Maher/Christopher Hitchens (praise be to his name) bandwagon using this as an excuse to piss all over their favorite most-hated sky pixie worshippers of the moment. All so predictable and beside the point.

It’s not that I have any great love for Islam. It’s that I have low tolerance for snap judgments about the meaning of news events. I mean, what is the justice issue here for me? It’s not that innocent Muslims are being smeared by careless Westerners. It’s that careless Westerners are smearing the discourse with irrelevancies. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Dawkinses and Mahers and Harrises, by pointing  their fingers at Islam are contributing to a global intellectual environment in which ultimately fewer adults will choose Islam as an ideology, which would be a good thing. On the other hand, maybe they’re contributing to a global intellectual environment in which borderline Muslims get knee-jerked back to Islam because Islam’s enemies say it’s bad so it must be good.
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#FreeWillies

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Last week, in the wake of the People’s Climate March and the #FloodWallStreet protests that followed it, I was tweebating folks of the “voluntarist” persuasion of libertarianism about the alleged hypocrisy (or irony, at least) of environmentalists using the fruits of capitalism to communicate their presumably anti-capitalist ideas. This was something we used to hear a lot in the beginning of the #Occupy movement from Wall Street’s apologist-propagandists in the media and the grandstands they played to. The argument seemed to be, if you use it, you can’t complain about it. Interesting to me, those who take this argument seriously (and assuming anyone really does, it must be these people), they don’t seem able to see that they could be accused of a similar hypocrisy for criticizing the government when they benefit from government infrastructure, public safety and defense.

But that is not my problem with the voluntarists. My problem is with their fundamental stance, which was exemplified for me in a tweet from one “Jack”:

Jack ‏@oaaselect Sep 23

Did you get tricked into buying your device [meaning what I was using to Tweet with] or did you buy it voluntarily? @ChristofPierson @scooterpie61

via Twitter / Notifications.

On its face, this seems like a good question. The problem is, if you dig just a little under the face, the question falls apart. Do we really buy things “voluntarily”–of our own free will? Is it as simple as that? Consider the millions of people who broke records dumping their current phones for the iPhone 6 recently. Did all of those people need a new phone? Did they need the iPhone 6 in particular? Considering they were surviving fine without it until it went on sale, It’s hard to believe they did.. But the question is not did they need it, but did they want it? Did they buy it of their own free will?

Philosophically, free will is still controversial, of course. It’s a popular belief for obvious reasons, but the jury is still out on whether or not it’s fact. The very unpopular determinist position is that we are restricted to a very limited range of behaviors, based on any given stimulus, and the range shrinks the more habituated to these stimuli we become–unless we are insane, in which case, our behaviors can be frighteningly free-ranging and considered dangerous to society. Of course, just because this is an unpopular (because unflattering) point of view doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I think it’s prudent to wonder, then, if the millions who ran out to buy the iPhone 6 all really “wanted” the phone or were responding as expected to a stimulus (“new Apple product,” or just,” latest gadget”) they’ve become habituated to reacting to in a specific way. There is no easy way of knowing, except maybe by comparing one’s own responses to these kinds of stimuli. Do we always buy what we want? Do we always take the job, or marry the spouse, or buy the house or car or gadget we want?  If I were a voluntarist–I mean, if voluntarism were something I thought I wanted to believe in–wouldn’t it be important to know if free will were something more than a wish or hope–in other words, a self-flattering illusion? Wouldn’t it be important to know if it were something more like an objective fact?

If it is more like fact, it certainly is not a simple one. But my conversation with these voluntarists was unsatisfying not just because of Twitter’s limitations as a forum for complex discussion. These voluntarists were not interested in complexities in the least. They were quite content with their received opinions about free will, the nature of “real capitalism’ (which according to them is something, unironically to them,  not of this world), or the right (or justice, if you will) of those who critique capitalism partaking in the gadgets the system produces. I have to wonder, who’s less liberated: the person within a system who sees its faults and says what those faults are, or the person whose ideology doesn’t permit more than a shallow understanding of the very thing they think they believe in.

Gary Wills: GOP Tactics Echo Antebellum South’s Secessionism

Gary Wills has a very enlightening new piece in the New York Review of Books about the debt-ceiling/shutdown crisis manufactured by the Tea Party wing of the GOP. I can’t add anything to it, Please just go and read it. It’s an opinion of the American present deeply informed by the American past.

Here’s a taste:

Republican leaders in Congress are too cowardly to say that the voting restrictions being enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures are racially motivated. They accept the blatant lie that they are aimed only at non-existent “fraud.” They will not crack the open code by which their partners claim to object to Obama because he is a “foreign-born Muslim” when they really mean “a black man.” They will not admit that the many procedural laws adopted to prevent abortion are in violation of the law as defined by the Supreme Court. They go along with the pretence that all the new rules are “for women’s health.” De facto acts of secession are given a pseudo-legal cover.

Thus we get people who say they do not want the government in control of women’s health under Obamacare—just after they order doctors to give women vaginal probes the doctors do not consider medically necessary. Or that they do not want the government telling Americans what they should do about their health—just before they prohibit “navigators” from even discussing choices about their health. The same people who oppose background checks for gun purchases now want background checks for anyone the government authorizes to explain the law to people. This is a gag rule to rank with antebellum bans on the discussion of slavery.

So we have one condition that resembles the pre-Civil War virtual secessionism—the holding of a whole party hostage to its most extreme members. We also have the other antebellum condition—the disproportionate representation of the extreme faction. In state after state in the 2012 election, there was a large vote for President Obama, but a majority of House seats went to Republicans. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, but Republicans got over twice as many seats (13 to 5), thanks to carefully planned gerrymandering of districts by Republican state legislatures. This advantage will be set in stone if all the voter restriction laws now being advanced block voters who might upset the disproportion.

The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.

(My only comment on all this I said a little over two years ago,)

Copyright Keeps Books Out of Print

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Copyright advocates have long (and successfully) argued that keeping books copyrighted assures that owners can make a profit off their intellectual property, and that that profit incentive will “assure [the books’] availability and adequate distribution.” The evidence, it appears, says otherwise.

Rebecca J. Rosen outlines that evidence in an article at the Atlantic, “The Hole in Our Collective Memory: How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish.”  It’s always worth asking ourselves just what use present copyright law is for anyone but the massive copyright hoarders like publishers and entertainment retailers. It certainly doesn’t benefit the public and now it’s even clear that it doesn’t even benefit the author whose “intellectual property’ it’s alleged to protect and promote.

Copyright law does, in any case, provide a good lesson in American civics. It demonstrates loudly and clearly whose interests our government has nearest and dearest to its heart.  It’s not the people, of course, but always the intellectual property barons. We can rely on our faithful public servants in government, when given a choice between liberalizing the law (which would have the effect of enriching the creative atmosphere for all) and making it more and more constipated, to always choose the path of most constipation. Call it the trickle out theory of American culture.

Rolling Stone Has a Right to Put Whoever They Want On Their Cover

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Big, stinking heap of phony outrage story of the day: Rolling Stone is printing a cover story about Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev and they have the nerve and lack of good taste (which is always the very first phrase we think of when we think American media, isn’t it?) to put a photo of the subject of that cover story on their cover. Shame, shame, Rolling Stone, now every body knows your name (which was probably the point to begin with, wasn’t it?).

Obvious point millions of “concerned” media members and other nervous nellies are blithely missing while falling all over themselves to feel outrage on behalf of poor, weak, innocent, defenseless, little Boston (Shame on you, Dropkick Murphys!): Rolling Stone has the same right to put on their cover whoever or whatever they want to put on their cover as all of those magazines that chose to give Osama bin Laden his celebrity treatment in the aftermath of September 11th did. What part of First Amendment right do you hypocrites not understand?

(Hey, Boston Herald, why don’t you show Rolling Stone the way and just say no to using the Tsarnaevs’ mugs to sell your cheap rag, huh?)

Grow up, America. The world is a hard place. The news media have a right (and responsibility) to make that unpleasant fact known to us.m

No use spending any more time on this ridiculous waste of a non-story. But if you want to defend the “defenders of decency” and attack Rolling Stone‘s “poor taste” and “bad judgment” in the comments, I will be more than happy to kick your ass down there.

Noam Chomsky: “It’s institutional structures that block change.”

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-20...

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-2011 Photo Credit: Josh Lopez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If yesterday’s post of Lawrence Lessig‘s TED talk on corruption gives you reason for optimism, you may want to check that after you read this from perennial thorn in the side of the powers that be Noam Chomsky, who writes of a peculiar distinction between the most “advanced” societies in the world today and those  least touched by technological “progress” as far as the threat of climate change goes:

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something.  Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.  It’s not because the population doesn’t want it.  Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming.  It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

This seems to be a pretty important point, but it’s very difficult to know how seriously it’s being taken: The United States government does not have the species’ or the world’s best interests at heart. And it’s not just the Republicans, who are an easy target for American liberals,  that we have to blame. The fact is the Republicans are pretty much brain-dead and useless at this point. But are the Democrats really all that much better on this issue in particular? Continue reading

Ron Paul’s Principle of Personal Responsibility: A Critique

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5. Individuals are responsible for their own actions; government cannot and should not protect us from ourselves.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Part of the reason I began critiquing Ron Paul’s Ten Principles of a Free Society a couple of years ago was my curiosity about whether they really were essential to any free society or just Ron Paul’s vision of one. I think I can use the fifth principle to show why they are all uniquely Paulian/Libertarian and not, in fact, essential to all notions of a free society. To do that, I just need to show you an example of a free society where government or an authority can and should protect us “from ourselves.” Continue reading