Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Environmental Anarchism

Pollution is a bodily assault. Releasing a puff of smoke in a person's face is comparable to shoving a person aside while walking down the sidewalk. These are the types of behaviors that result in fights--possibly escalating to wars--and governing these interactions is one of the rationalizations for the state. As described in the Economist (A scourge of the EPA takes over at the EPA), the Trump administration has made it painfully clear that they plan to abandon environmental governance, even at a time when the majority of Americans believe that greater governance is needed (and it's not just greenhouse gases). According to that article, the demand for environmental governance really took off in the post-WWII era as a number of high-profile environmental disasters produced a bipartisan consensus is favor of the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. Even in recent years, there have been a several high-profile environmental disasters*, so how will people respond if the state abandons this realm of governance?

Some people will try to shoulder the burden themselves, treating pollution prevention as a civic duty even as profiteers exploit the opportunity to shed their waste on everyone else. But there is also a history of people enforcing their own sense of justice. However, I don't think we've ever had a situation where a large fraction of the population has desperately felt the absence of state involvement with environmental governance -- possibly leading to a form of environmental vigilantism unlike anything we've seen.

Of course, pollution is different from other forms of impositions -- the consequences are diffuse, and we all claim the right to engage in "reasonable" amounts of pollution. It is hard for vigilantees to establish a consensus on what amounts to excessive pollution, and then identify the people who create excessive pollution. 

It'll be interesting to see how this develops.

* I couldn't find a list, but here are some I can think of:
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Several other oil spills
  • Several drinking water problems (though the immediate cause is infrastructure maintenance)
  • Elk River Chemical spill of 2014
  • Fukoshima

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Nolan Chart of cynicism

I used to think that I had a cynical attitude towards major American institutions --primarily the government and big business. I even remember a survey that placed me into a "disenfranchised" group (or something like that) -- basically identifying me as a lower income white guy (which is not quite accurate). Occasionally I would run into other libertarians who were more cynical, but outside of that bubble, my impression was that most people were pretty satisfied with how our country operates. But these days, I feel like I've been outflanked, and am running into lots of people from across the political spectrum who are even more cynical than me -- even people of greater socio-economic status than me.

So, I need to rethink the political spectrum.

I used to think mainly in terms of the Nolan Chart, and derivatives of it. Basically you have the "left" (defined by Dems as the center-left) and "right" (defined by Repubs as the center-right), with a second libertarian/authoritarian axis. On such charts, I typically landed as left-libertarian, which seemed correct to me. However, these charts are very much tuned for a pro-establishment polity. They define things in term of the policy disagreements between the two big parties. How would you capture the fact that people would happily abandon those parties?

So, I imagine a coordinate system based on cynicism. One axis is cynicism towards major institutions, the other is cynicism towards regular people. The four extremes would be:
1. Authoritarian. Trusting institutions; distrusting people.
2. Anarchist. Distrusting institutions; trusting people
3. Anti-social. Trusting nobody.
4. Pangloss. Everyone is as good as can be expected.

Of course, this is a gross simplification -- trust in institutions could be broken down between trust in the state and trust in big business (to give the conventional left/right divide among liberals). Similarly, "trust in people" often means trust is a specific subset of the American population -- whether just trusting one's own race, one's own religion, or one's own political coalition.

But still, I think there's something to this. On this scale, I think I'd be in the center-Anarchist region (perhaps with public figures like Glenn Greenwald). Establishment politicians tend produce propaganda in the Pangloss corner, spouting platitudes towards the American people and the benevolence of govenment and business (at least when they are in charge). I think in reality, they are a bit more authoritarian than that, and that faith in the state is often built of distrust of regular people. A lot of libertarian propagandists are near the anarchist corner, but I think most real libertarians are a bit more suspicious of some of their neighbors (at least suspecting that their neighbors are authoritarians), so would shift up towards anti-social. I'm not sure where to put the Trumpists -- before the election, a lot of them were probably in the anti-social corner, trusting only a small portion of the American population. With Trump in office, there's the risk that they'd drift towards authoritarianism... or maybe they just supported Trump the wrecker, and don't care for Trump the Leader.

Anyway, this puts some of my recent thoughts in perspective. A few years back, I said that the the big contribution of left-libertarianism is to expose the elitism of the state (thereby creating more cynicism towards institutions), however, with the rise of the Trump movement, it seems that the problem may be that there is not enough trust among the people, and it's time to put more effort into building a cohesive civic culture for our country -- and world.

p.s. I think this all has something to do with conspiracy theories too -- with trump being the biggest proponent right now.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I never thought this day would come

Back in my geolibertarian days, I thought the most important political issues were to establish a citizen's dividend (or basic income) funded by land rent, pollution fees, and resource extraction fees. I learned to despair that our political system ever producing such an elegant and fair policy, and thought the mainstream politicians could never support such things, except in special circumstances (such as the Alaska permanent fund). The Obama administration's cap-n-trade proposal just emphasized that even acknowledging the supremacy of the plutocrats was not sufficient to get urgent anti-pollution legislation through. Yet this week, I head that some Republican grandees are proposing more-or-less my ideal system -- a carbon tax that funds a citizen's dividend.

Not only are they keeping the issue of greenhouse gas pollution on the table, but they are doing it in a sensible and transparent manner. Wow! So, I'll publicize it and ask my Congresscritters to support it...but I won't hold my breath.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Holocaust statement

I'd heard the fuss over the fact that Trump did not mention Jews on Holocaust remembrance day (while simultaneously blocking refugee entry to the US), but only looked at his statement now. Perhaps just as disturbing is how he frames the Holocaust as an issue of the relative military strength between "good" and "evil".

Here it is (I underline the major quotes):
“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.
“Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest.‎ As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”
This contrasts with with the more conventional calls for self-reflection, presenting the Holocaust as the consequence of German cultural/moral collapse (and the failure of other nations to provide refuge). Obama emphasized this strongly in 2015 (the only other statement I looked at):

On the tenth International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the American people pay tribute to the six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazi regime. We also honor those who survived the Shoah, while recognizing the scars and burdens that many have carried ever since.
Honoring the victims and survivors begins with our renewed recognition of the value and dignity of each person. It demands from us the courage to protect the persecuted and speak out against bigotry and hatred. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms, including the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust.
This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made confronting this terrible chapter in human history and on our continuing efforts to end genocide. I have sent a Presidential delegation to join Polish President Komorowski, the Polish people, official delegations from scores of nations, and many survivors, at today’s official commemoration in Poland.
As a founding member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the United States joins the Alliance’s thirty other member nations and partners in reiterating its solemn responsibility to uphold the commitments of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration. We commemorate all of the victims of the Holocaust, pledging never to forget, and recalling the cautionary words of the author and survivor of Auschwitz Primo Levi, “It happened, therefore it can happen again. . . . It can happen anywhere.” Today we come together and commit, to the millions of murdered souls and all survivors, that it must never happen again.