Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Does politics matter?

I gave up on elections a while ago. More recently, I've increasingly been discouraged by the prospects of effecting change via engagement with the political culture (e.g. ideological debate). Both of those seem to be ineffective ways to shape the future of our society. Increasingly, I get the feeling that the future is held by small groups who invent new technologies that will be embraced for their short-term benefits.

Case in point, a proposed "chemputer" that will allow at-home synthesis of various drugs. As suggested by Tyler Cowen, this type of device would upend the enforcement of drug prohibition. If the basic materials for these devices are widely available for "legitimate" uses, then drug laws would become irrelevant. There are assorted other technologies that could have similar disruptive effects on systems of domination. At the moment, my favorite (being the most inclusive and having the most direct benefits alongside profound social cosequences) is the Diaspora project.

If you want to change the world, don't become a cog in the electoral system.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Patriotism is for scoundrels

Aggressive nationalist demagoguery has found a new outlet in America -- in a vapid "debate" over the Olympic Committee's purchase of ceremonial uniforms that were made in China. Of course, there was no debate because the only people with real skin in this issue (USOC and Ralph Lauren) rationally rolled over before the rabble-rousing display of pride and protectionism from Congress. Among high-profile politicians, Mitt Romney had the most reasonable response to all this, dismissing it as a non-issue and a distraction. It seems that the athletes, being close to all this on a day-to-day level, were likely to see it as no big deal... no different than buying any other imported good or training alongside a foreign athlete or under a foreign coach.

Which really shows what this is about. It is pure symbolism with no practical impact. It is about feeding the flames of competitive nationalism. It is about drawing a line at the border, and saying that the people on the other side are "outside" and that the people inside have special moral claims on the wealth created by others inside the borders -- mediated by the state, of course. This is about the nation-state desparately reasserting its relevance in our post-national world.

Nationality is not quite obsolete; tt would be foolish to ignore that there are differences among communities around the world, and a relatively small set of those communities would make appropriate homes for each of us. But it is likewise foolish to pretend that these communities are intrinsically in competition with each other and that the borders are not permeable and in flux. History has shown us that the later is not only foolish, but dangerous.

Yet this is the attitude that Harry Reid, John Boehner and their type are encouraging.

Gun control: the failure of government

With the recent movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, we are once again hearing discussion about America's gun control laws, along with a bunch of hand-wringing by pragmatists about the failure of government to establish "sensible" gun laws. They point their fingers at the NRA, but overlook the more fundamental problem: how can a fairly small group of single-issue fanatics completely dominate this aspect of our political discourse.

The answer is that all aspects of government are dominated by small groups with a strong interest in establishing a specific (often extreme) policy. Government is incapable of achieving any middle ground, or securing the general welfare. In the gun control battle, "sensible" policies never have a chance. Instead, policy oscillates between being fully pro-gun and fully anti-gun; either guns are prohibited or everyone is packing heat.

Both sides of this argument (at least, those with any motivation) are driven more by symbolism than by rational policy design. They are seeking a victory in the culture war, not seeking to build safe public spaces. This has nothing to do with the influence of libertarianism or any anti-government sentiment-- pro-gun conservatives are fully pro-government.

So before signing up with the anti-gun crowd and wasting our efforts on a massive ideological and electoral battle over guns, those of us who want safe communities should step back and consider this: maybe government isn't the solution.