Book Review: Calculating The Cosmos

Calculating The Cosmos is a book about the history and current practice of physics, astronomy, and cosmology by British mathematics professor Ian Stewart. The book gives the reader an overview of many topics, including gravitation, the solar system, spacetime, extraterrestrial life, and quantum mechanics. The book is divided into nineteen chapters, as well as a short prologue and epilogue.

The prologue begins with the mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then gives a brief recounting of previous space missions. The role of mathematics in astronomy is discussed, followed by its role in cosmology. The first chapter takes us through the history of gravitational theories, from the ancient Greeks to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and onward to general relativity and quantum mechanics. More detail in the path toward relativity would have improved the book here. With the second chapter, Stewart begins discussing the solar system, starting with its formation. The nebular hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud that forms stars and planets is the main focus, along with previous theories and why they were rejected. These are used to illustrate the importance of physics concepts like momentum and angular momentum. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible futures for the solar system, some of which involve planetary collisions and ejections.

The third chapter is devoted to the theories for the formation of the Moon. These include the giant impact hypothesis, as well as several other ideas that fail to explain the Moon’s composition, tidal locking with Earth, and angular momentum. Much of the chapter concerns the nature of constructing simulations for events like an impact between Earth and a Mars-sized object, or the formation of a solar system. In the fourth chapter, Stewart examines the Titius-Bode law, then expands to power laws in general. Their use in discovering Uranus comes next, followed by the use of perturbation techniques to find Neptune. The chapter ends with the accidental correctness of perturbation techniques concerning Pluto and their failed prediction of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. Oddly, no mention is made here of the hypothetical Planet Nine, and Stewart does not note that Neptune is out of place by the Titius-Bode law.

The fifth chapter is called Celestial Police, in reference to a group of astronomers at the turn of the 19th century, though most pages have the chapter name “Number of Asteroids.” Stewart gives the history of discovery of the asteroids, then explains how resonances with Jupiter’s orbit explains gaps in the asteroid belt. This leads into a discussion of the 2½-body problem and the five Lagrange points of such a system. The chapter concludes with natural examples of objects in Lagrange point orbits, such as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Saturn’s moons Tethys, Telesto, and Calypso. The next two chapters concern the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. The discovery of Saturn’s rings and the path toward discovering their true nature comes first, then Stewart shows how resonances with Saturn’s moons explain both the gaps in its rings and how the F ring stays in place. Resonances appear once more in Chapter 7 to explain conjunctions between the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. The chapter ends with facts about some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s major moons.

Comets are the focus of the eighth chapter. The comet 67P and the effort to land a space probe on it are examined in greater detail. Better known comets, such as Halley’s Comet, are discussed to illustrate the predictive power of mathematics. The origin of comets leads to sections on the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, then the chapter concludes with the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. The ninth chapter gives a basic overview of chaos theory, and does a good job of clearing up common misconceptions in popular culture about the subject. After this, Stewart returns to the asteroid belt resonances to discuss a possible origin for the object that likely caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

The tenth chapter discusses various types of orbits and how they can be used to send spacecraft from one place to another with varying degrees of efficiency and travel time. In the eleventh chapter, Stewart brings optics into the discussion to write about stellar composition and classification, illustrated by the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The nuclear fusion reactions that power stars, as well as the ultimate fates of stars of various masses comes next. The role of stars in producing all of the heavier elements is explained, from supernovas to newer stars. The observation of sunspots is the subject of the next section, as well as a possible explanation for their cycles. The last subject of the chapter is the means of measuring cosmic distances, from the distance from Earth to the Sun to the distances of various stars. The chapter ends with a few pages of color illustrations, the only ones in the book.

Chapter 12 is devoted to galaxies. Stewart begins with the Milky Way, observed since antiquity but only explained relatively recently. Hubble’s empirical classification of galaxies is cited, then attempts to explain the various shapes are discussed. The failure of galactic rotational speeds to match predictions is left as a puzzle for a later chapter. In the thirteenth chapter, the methods for discovering exoplanets are examined, along with possibilities for extraterrestrial life both elsewhere in the solar system and elsewhere in the universe. The chapter concludes with Stewart’s inventive imagination concerning a hypothetical alien world. The fourteenth chapter begins with the historical steps toward current theories about black holes. The difference between a static black hole and a rotating black hole are explained, as well as their possible role as a link to other universes and hypothetical white holes, which function as expellers of matter and energy that cannot be entered. Alternative explanations for black hole geometry, such as gravastars, are considered at the end of the chapter. The Penrose diagrams here could use more explanation, as they can be quite confusing to a lay reader.

The fifteenth chapter is about the distribution of matter in the universe, as well as the topology of the universe. Stewart does as well as he can without resorting to complex mathematical equations, but doing so would greatly aid the reader’s understanding of the subjects involved. In the sixteenth chapter, the discoveries and interpretations leading to the Big Bang theory are discussed, as well as the various proposals for how the far future of the universe may play out. The next two chapters deal with inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, which are correctives to make the Big Bang theory agree with experimental results. Stewart criticizes this standard cosmological model for its large number of unobserved conjectures, then discusses some alternative theories. The final chapter waxes philosophical about the unlikely combination of physical constants that seem fine-tuned to produce life, then Stewart critiques some of the more outlandish claims regarding this. The epilogue recounts many subjects from the book and points out the difference in procedure between science and mathematics.

Overall, Stewart does a good job of both exploring past and present scientific theories while stressing that science is always tentative, subject to new theories and empirical evidence, unlike his native mathematics. He helpfully notes the scientific jargon so that the lay reader can look up the relevant topic to learn more. However, there is relatively little mathematics in the book, and this can be disappointing for people who cannot see physics without the mathematics. Even so, Calculating The Cosmos is a good read for an intelligent layperson who wants an introduction to cosmology.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Open To Debate

Open To Debate is a book about the life and work of William F. Buckley, Jr. by American film and media professor Heather Hendershot. The book examines the role of his television show Firing Line (1966-99) in shaping the American conservative movement in particular and the overall political scene more generally. The book is divided into six chapters, bookended by a lengthy preface and introduction as well as a short conclusion.

The preface deals with Buckley’s formative years, including his experience at a boarding school in England, his time in the US Army during World War II, and his reaction to his time at Yale. His success with God and Man at Yale (1951) led to his founding of National Review magazine in 1955. He participated in mediated debates with ideological opponents through the 1950s and 1960s, which eventually led to Firing Line. A particularly bad performance in a debate against James Baldwin demonstrates Buckley’s weaknesses, many of which he would improve upon over the years. The New York City mayoral campaign of 1965 in which Buckley ran as a third-party candidate shows the stark contrast between Buckley and a politician, which is all the more interesting because his brother, James Buckley, was a US Senator and federal judge. An example of the types of guests who fared well on Firing Line versus the types who did not comes next, then the preface ends with a comparison between the show and what has replaced it (or failed to) in the news and public affairs programming category.

The introductory segment discusses the beginnings of Firing Line in 1966, including the discussion format, production values, nature of guests, the time of airing, whether to have commercials, and whether to have a moderator. Much of this was a matter of trial-and-error in the first few years of the show, with the show taking on its iconic form after moving to PBS in 1971. Hendershot includes some of Buckley’s media experiences beyond his own show, which illustrate that he could fit in on other programs despite being a Hollywood outsider. Much of the rest of the chapter highlights several 1960s episodes.

The first chapter begins with the aftermath of Barry Goldwater’s defeat in the 1964 presidential election. Buckley’s quest was to make conservatism respectable, which meant trying to purge conspiracy theorists, violent racists, religious zealots, and extreme anticommunists from mainstream conservatism, with a partial exception for the less unhinged anticommunists. Hendershot details Buckley’s opposition to the John Birch Society across several episodes. As for the charges of extremism, Buckley invited Goldwater onto the show in 1966 to show him not to be the person that Democrats portrayed him as during the election.

The anticommunism of Buckley is the focus of the second chapter. Hendershot begins by giving the context of the time and of Buckley’s upbringing to help the reader understand the approach taken on Firing Line. Buckley debated socialists and progressives rather than outright communists, and did so from a position of defending McCarthyism in general but not the excesses of McCarthy himself. She provides excerpts from Buckley’s discussions with John Kenneth Galbraith and Noam Chomsky, two prominent leftist intellectuals of the time, then discusses the appearance of Theodore White, a repentant communist sympathizer, in 1978. Hendershot then turns to the episodes with Victor Navasky, Nation magazine editor and critic of McCarthyism and Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s senior counsel during the hearings to show the difference between Buckley and more ardent anticommunists.

The third chapter covers Buckley’s opposition to the Black Power and civil rights movements, though he supported many of the ideas advocated by those movements. Hendershot returns to the episode with Cohn and Mark Felt, the senior FBI agent who would later be revealed as the Watergate informant Deep Throat, to show Buckley’s opposition to lowbrow tactics in government opposition to Martin Luther King Jr. Next, the episodes with Floyd McKissick, Judge Leander Perez, Gov. George Wallace, and Sen. Strom Thurmond are used to show Buckley’s rejection of the ideas that the civil rights movement was a front for communism, that racism was conservative, and that states’ rights were synonymous with racist policies. McKissick’s appearance also highlights Buckley’s agreement with Black Power objectives, if not some of their tactics and leaders. Hendershot uses the shows with Eldridge Cleaver and Milton Henry, along with his refusal to host LeRoi Jones or H. Rap Brown, to show the limits of Buckley’s tolerance for extremists, which went quite far.

In the fourth chapter, Hendershot examines Buckley’s opposition to feminism and women’s liberation. Again, Buckley supported equal rights but not the equal rights movement due to its fringe characters and goals. Here, the Firing Line episodes with Phyllis Schlafly and Midge Decter demonstrate his lack of far-right extremism, while the episodes with Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and Harriet Pilpel show his opposition to the feminist movement and some of its more outlandish goals. Hendershot also includes Buckley’s interactions with Clare Boothe Luce as a sort of middle ground.

The fifth chapter is about how Buckley dealt with the Nixon administration. Hendershot covers Nixon’s 1967 appearance on Firing Line and several episodes dedicated to Nixon’s policies and legal troubles to show Buckley’s independence from Nixon. The episode with Woodward and Bernstein has Buckley almost defending Nixon and arguing that he should have destroyed the tapes, while the episodes on war crimes were quite critical of Nixon’s policies in Vietnam. Buckley’s darker impulses are also revealed in this chapter with regard to censorship and laws against victimless behaviors, along with an unwillingness to take much action upon them. The final part of the chapter has Buckley making the argument that Nixon’s downfall was caused by non-conservative behavior and that he was a deviation from the correct course for the right.

Chapter six takes us through the Reagan years and beyond to examine the results of Buckley’s efforts. Hendershot begins by discussing Reagan’s rightward shift and the growth in his ability to keep up with television hosts. She uses excerpts of Reagan’s 1967 and 1971 Firing Line appearances to demonstrate his improvement, but only writes about his 1980 appearance while campaigning and 1990 appearance to review his presidency. Reagan’s 1978 debate with Buckley over ownership of the Panama Canal shows Buckley’s dedication to realpolitik and unwillingness to abide conspiratorial thinking. Ron Paul’s 1988 appearance is used to show the limits of Buckley’s libertarian leanings. Next, Hendershot discusses Buckley’s rejection of the religious right, which was instrumental in electing Reagan, and the differing perspectives on the 1980s that come from left versus right. The chapter concludes with Reagan’s opposition to PBS (which aired Firing Line). References to Buckley’s final book, The Reagan I Knew (2008), are sprinkled throughout.

In the conclusion, Hendershot offers praise for Firing Line despite her leftist personal views, even recommending that a Firing Line 2.0 be created to attempt to replace the role of contemporary political discussion shows that frequently devolve into unintelligent partisan bickering. She laments that this is unlikely to happen, and that many of the far-right groups that Buckley sought to suppress are now enjoying a resurgent popularity.

The book offers a thorough examination of Buckley’s television program, if not Buckley as a whole. The book feels longer than it is, but the subject matter of a show that ran for 33 years demands length. Hendershot could do a bit less editorializing, but this is not overly disruptive. Overall, the book excels at its core objective and is worth reading.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Definition and Role of Degeneracy

The formation and maintenance of a stable social order requires widespread recognition and respect of the first principle of self-ownership, as well as its direct corollaries of non-aggression and private property rights. Although these three ideas are necessary, they are not sufficient for describing how people should behave in order to preserve such a social order against both internal decline and foreign conquest. It is in the discussion of proper behavior beyond the basics of libertarian theory that the right-libertarian in general and the libertarian reactionary in particular will use the term ‘degeneracy.’ This term and the concepts it represents are effective and powerful when utilized correctly, but many right-libertarians do not do this. Instead, they use the term as a snarl word to signal against and denounce particular behaviors, as well as insult the people who engage in those behaviors. Though this may have beneficial effects, it is not nearly as potent as a proper explanation and denunciation of harmful behaviors. Thus, it is necessary to synthesize a useful definition of degeneracy. Once this is done, we will explore the nuances of our definition and apply it to relevant situations and behaviors.

Defining Terms

Though dictionaries are rarely capable of providing the full understanding of a word, they are an excellent place to start. Merriam-Webster defines degeneracy as “sexual perversion” and degenerate as “having declined or become less specialized (as in nature, character, structure, or function) from an ancestral or former state,” “having sunk to a lower and usually corrupt and vicious state,” “one degraded from the normal moral standard,” and “having low moral standards; not honest, proper, or good.” From here, we get a sense of degeneracy as immorality, which entails corruption of good into evil, decline from greatness, lack of virtue, and loss of capability. Thus, the opposite of degeneracy encompasses the maintenance of good against evil, the restoration of greatness, the presence of virtue, and the growth of capability. These are the essential features of a stable social order, more simply known as civilization. Therefore, we may also define degeneracy as “that which is not conducive to civilization.”

Though the above definition is thought-provoking and superficially correct, it is lacking in nuance and depth. As such, it is necessary to unpack each part of the definition of degeneracy and define some of the terms used in the definition in order to better understand the concept. Let us do this now.

Sexual Immorality

Sexual perversion may appear to stand apart from the other aspects of degeneracy described above, but in many cases, it is at the root of all of them. Understanding degeneracy as “that which is not conducive to civilization” and strong family units as the building blocks of civilization, the role of sexual perversion becomes clear. Activities which prevent, replace, destroy, or otherwise interfere with healthy relationships between mating couples threaten the formation of new family units as well as the health of existing families. These include (but are not limited to) fornication, excessive masturbation, homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, spousal abuse, adultery, and no-fault divorce.

The former five behaviors prevent the intimate relationship between husband and wife by replacing it with something else; a premarital relationship, a self-indulgence, a same-sex relationship, a relationship with a child, and a relationship with a member of another species, respectively. The result of these behaviors is that less family units will form, which in turn leads to lesser quantity of offspring and a less healthy environment for the offspring that are produced. If these behaviors become sufficiently widespread, the next generation will be too small to replace the previous generation. Such a society cannot sustain itself and will either be demographically replaced or suffer a collapse. Furthermore, the acceptance of such behaviors in public presents a signalling hazard for heterosexuals, who need to be able to have close relationships with other people without being mistaken for the aforementioned deviants. The widespread acceptance of such deviancy weakens the bonds that are necessary for building a strong community.

The latter three behaviors destroy or otherwise interfere with a healthy bond between husband and wife. Spousal abuse does this by introducing physical harm, while adultery does this by introducing emotional harm and by weakening trust. Finally, no-fault divorce allows couples to dissolve their bonds too easily rather than keeping their commitments to each other and supporting each other during times of hardship. The result of these behaviors is that the family units that form will be less likely to survive, leaving children to deal with the damage, choose sides between their parents, and wonder if they are to blame for the misdeeds of their parents. The children raised in broken homes are more likely to commit crimes, be less productive, and engage in the degenerate behaviors that they witnessed while growing up.

Other Low Standards

The second aspect of degeneracy to consider is low moral standards beyond sexual immorality. This produces a lack of honesty, propriety, and goodness, which in turn produces corruption and viciousness. Dishonesty, when practiced against people who are not committing acts of aggression, usually constitutes fraud. Though some libertarians restrict their consideration of force to physical violence, there is no logical justification for this. In practice, widespread dishonesty will both overburden the dispute resolution mechanisms of a society as well as reduce the level of trust in those institutions to act impartially. Thus, interpersonal violence and other such vigilantism will increasingly become the preferred method of arbitration. The end result is a breakdown of social order.

A lack of goodness refers to a complete lack of concern for one’s fellow human beings for the purpose of this discussion. While a welfare state invariably devolves into its own form of degeneracy through the subsidization of bad behavior and inferior people, a free society may venture too far in the other direction, practicing complete selfishness and financial narcissism rather than a rational thought process for determining which people are worthy of assistance. It is precisely this lack of goodness, combined with the general unwillingness to physically remove problematic people, that creates the conditions for welfare statist demagogues to step in and seduce the masses with their lies. Though such demagogues may themselves be physically removed from a libertarian social order, one cannot physically remove an idea, and the idea of forced redistribution of property will linger in the minds of the disaffected until they act upon it. There is thus a stark choice between private charity, welfare statism, or bloodshed, and the maintenance of a libertarian social order requires that people make the correct choice.

In this case, impropriety refers to rude behavior that does not rise to the level of aggression, dishonesty, or selfishness. This includes everything from excessive profanity to the violation of cultural mores and taboos solely for the sake of doing so. When people use profanity excessively, it can turn off people who would otherwise be receptive to one’s message by conveying the appearance that one is uneducated, undignified, perpetually angry, and generally unfit to be considered as a worthy intellectual. Similarly, if people come to associate libertarianism or reaction with behavior which is transgressive without purpose, then they will recoil against them and turn toward their better-behaved political rivals. (And are not reactionaries supposed to be against such activism as a matter of principle?) Additionally, a successful social order requires the positive establishment and observance of good cultural norms more than revolt against bad ones. After all, those who have nothing to stand for can fall for almost anything.

Degeneracy As A Process

A third aspect of degeneracy is the corruption of good into evil. The above examples mostly describe end states, but degeneracy in practice is a process. One does not typically become degenerate overnight; instead, vices which may be fun or even beneficial in small amounts come to play an ever greater role in one’s life, such that they ruin one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. This occurs in several stages, which are generally described as introduction, experimentation, regular use, problem or risky use, dependence, and mental disease. The latter three categories may always be described as degenerate, as it is here that harm always outweighs benefit and widespread use would not be conducive to civilization. However, some behaviors have no benefit that outweighs their harm, so regular use, experimentation, and even introduction may be degenerate in some cases.

At this point, it is necessary to make an important observation. Due to the differences in genetics and life experiences between both individuals and population groups, there are some activities which are on the margins between degeneracy and benign behavior. For three examples, a person with an unpleasant family life is more likely to advance from occasional drug use to substance dependence. A person who is genetically predisposed to chase after losses rather than accept them is more likely to become a problem gambler. A population group that adapted to a long-term r-selective environment is less likely to suffer ill effects from weaker family units than a population group that adapted to a long-term K-selective environment. In sum, that which constitutes degeneracy for some may not constitute degeneracy for others. But there exist some behaviors which are degenerate for all, as there are some activities for which there is no safe or beneficial level of participation.

Economic Decline

Finally, degeneracy may be understood in a economic sense. The result of the above forms of degeneracy leaves people unable to function as well as they otherwise could. In an advanced society, the division of labor is necessary because no one can gain the amount of knowledge necessary to be a master of all trades. This means that a worker must become more skilled and more specialized than in a primitive society. The effects of degenerate behavior upon one’s health make one less capable of thinking at a high level and performing skilled labor. The longevity of a person’s working career will also be negatively impacted. As discussed earlier, children raised outside of traditional family structures are less likely to do well in school and work. Dishonesty manifests in the economy as fraud, whether by lying on resumes, misrepresenting one’s goods and services, or simply failing to perform the job that one is hired to do. Lack of goodness has a similar effect, as capitalism will degenerate into the service of greed if the people using capitalism have no motivation to use it to help others. Finally, impropriety leads to a lack of professional etiquette toward customers as well as needless tensions within the workplace. The practical result of widespread degenerate behavior on the economy is thus an overall economic decline.

Conclusion

The basics of self-ownership, non-aggression, and private property are necessary for the creation and maintenance of a libertarian social order, but they are not sufficient. The concept of degeneracy supplements these basics by providing an understanding of the behaviors which must be minimized in order to prevent the decay of a libertarian social order back into statism. Though a libertarian must recognize the right of a person to do oneself wrong, toleration should not equal acceptance or encouragement, and the failure to acknowledge group interests is a sign of political autism. Furthermore, even with the absence of public property, there will still be such a thing as “in public” because there will still be spaces that function as commons for the purpose of social interaction. The traditional solution of disallowing deviancy in these spaces will solve many of the problems that weaken the bonds between people, which are the building blocks of a stable social order.

A Critique of Libertarian Strategy

Lack of Action

Even the slightest familiarity with most libertarians will show the observer how much libertarians love to talk about the slightest philosophical disagreements, as well as how much time libertarians devote to libertarian literature and propagating the ideas of liberty on the Internet. However, even with that immense passion, most libertarians seem to be averse to actual economic and political action that would increase the amount of liberty in the world. In fairness, some move to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, some work on start-up societies, and there are gray market alternative products sold by libertarians. However, the amount of effort put into learning liberty does not seem to match up with the amount of effort actually spent on advancing liberty in the real world. Libertarian philosophy may win hearts and minds until the end of time, but if libertarians are not willing to go outside the statist quo, there can be no real world change.

Contrast this inactivity with the progressive movement that swept the United States in the early 20th century. The progressives opened public areas, worked on local communities, and did so in order to spread their progressive beliefs. It was a complete hands-on movement intent on creating actual change and composed of people who were willing to work, leave their houses, and participate in their community. If libertarians want to achieve any level of cultural advancement in a libertarian direction, there can be no expectation of it being created by arguing on social media about whether or not abortions or borders are libertarian, but rather by engaging in social activities in a voluntary manner to spread liberty. Recently, a man built a $100,000 dollar staircase for just over 500 dollars for his community, and this great act of voluntary improvement was removed by the state. There are examples over examples of how children have their lemonade stands shut down when they are trying to make some pocket money. There are constant news stories of how adults who do business on a very small scale without any harm and without selling illegal items get shut down due to the lack of a permit. Every time this happens it gets massive media traction. Imagine if all these people were devoted libertarians and used their platform as a way to spread libertarian ideas, how much more exposure libertarianism could get. If these people flew the black and yellow flag and wrote “taxation is theft” on the side of whatever they were making, they could spread the message of liberty. They may be censored or ridiculed, but it would demonstrate how the libertarian philosophy is practical and beneficial.

This does not mean organizing Libertarian Party caucuses or running for office. Rather, it means breaking laws and making sure that breaking those laws will improve the community in which the law-breaker resides. When there are attempts to combat the injustice of the state, there must be people willing to take risks, and some people must be willing to improve their own communities to make their own lives and the lives of their communities better. If there is no one willing to go against the state and no one willing to get arrested, fined, or subjected to other injustices, then mouthing off on the Internet becomes a waste of time. It is good to try to increase the presence of libertarian ideas virtually, in think tanks, or in politics, but real change comes from individuals acting locally to create a more libertarian society.

This need not be non-political; any libertarian could go out, talk to people, hand out fliers, and do whatever else is necessary for the principles of liberty to be spread in a physical manner. But if libertarians cannot organize a local club, cannot make and print out some fliers to hand out, and are thus unable to actually advance the principles of liberty, they will get nothing done. In fairness, there are libertarians in Cuba who build libraries and take action; there are libertarians in Europe who translate great libertarian texts into their own languages. There are many libertarians who already do such things, but nowhere near enough in comparison to the amount of people who are passive libertarian cyber-intellectuals.

Lack of Charisma

Many libertarians are abrasive, intense, and ill-suited for social interaction. This is a problem which tends to arise when any ideology is based on abstract economic and intellectual arguments rather than arguments which are more relatable to the layperson. This means that libertarians must try to become more charismatic if there is to be a chance for spreading the principles of liberty without forceful imposition. Advocates of these principles cannot stay within a bubble of abstract arguments. Libertarians must become more sociable in order to recruit more people to become libertarians. It is easy to see how this has worked every time it has happened; Ron Paul brought more people over to the liberty movement than perhaps anyone else in the history of libertarianism. The intellectuals who have spent a lot of time being sociable (Walter Block, Tom Woods, and Murray Rothbard immediately come to mind) have converted more people than anyone else who wrote some treatises but never personally taught anyone the principles of liberty.

Music and art are great tools when it comes to spreading the message of different philosophical positions, and it seems that everyone else, from communists to fascists, understands this. That is why Ayn Rand was so important to libertarianism and Objectivism; she made philosophy accessible through her works of fiction. Since libertarian philosophy can affect people deeply and show them truths that they never realized before, it is vital that libertarians focus on making free-market and property-based positions more presentable without corrupting the message. Having to read dozens of dry books and have hundreds of intellectual conversations in order to properly and fully understand libertarianism when some good works of fiction and a few bands could expose the philosophy to a much wider audience in a more effective manner is a travesty. Backwordz is one such exciting libertarian project, as they serve to make libertarianism more accessible, but libertarians cannot relegate an important task in spreading the message of the cause to a few projects. Libertarians should focus more on creating works that are accessible to large audiences. There are many people who lack artistic talents, but if one is blessed with these talents in even the smallest capacity, they could use their time more effectively by utilizing these mediums in order to create a more libertarian society and to make libertarianism more palatable.

This is also the case for the “meme war” that has been happening on the Internet. This is a tactic in which the far-right uses poignant viral images to create propaganda that spreads on its own. This can captivate people who might never be convinced by a logical argument. Libertarians have mostly failed at this and have not often demonstrated the humor necessary to make this tactic work. This is just one small factor of the whole picture, but when one considers the possibility of free viral marketing just by demonstrating a small bit of humor, it becomes very odd that there so little focus on this. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to have this one strategy of viral marketing. Libertarians tend to be individuals who are at least moderately wealthy, so it would be easy for them to buy billboards, put up posters, or purchase online ads that direct people to libertarian websites and beliefs that focus on property and justice. Most people have never been exposed to a true representation of what libertarians actually believe, seeing only the gross caricatures of the establishment press and other statist propagandists. Being able to make the movement and the cause more present and more public would greatly increase the number of people who identify as libertarians. One incredible example, simply for comparison, is that of the flat-earthers who put up a billboard. They are a much more fringe community with an obviously false message, and they still managed to generate enough money for a billboard that gained them at least a small amount of media traction. How libertarians have failed to engage in this method boggles the mind.

Ignorance of the Opposition

One more item of criticism for libertarians is how most fail to understand the arguments of their opponents. Many people may have memorized points and counter-arguments from reading Rothbard, Hoppe, and other libertarian theorists, but there is usually a base assumption that the opposition comes mainly from ignorance and not from differences in knowledge, ethics, and sources. All ideas come from somewhere and although most people with those ideas parrot them to others, this does not mean that we can combat these points properly without knowing their intellectual origins. What makes this even worse is that libertarians may have come from the cultural status quo where most people started and understand those arguments; some libertarians may even have had a phase of being socialist without knowing what that would actually imply. However, most libertarians are libertarians in their premises. It is not an intellectual decision to be a libertarian for most people; we all tend to have some degree of libertarianism within our basic assumptions.

It helps a great deal to know where the opponents of property and capitalism are coming from. It helps to be able to assume their perspective without prejudice and be able to dissect their premises and arguments. Of course, by some metric of self-satisfaction, libertarians are able to think that they did something productive by telling socialists that they need to learn basic economics while ignoring the hundreds of years of socialist economic studies. This argument may have worked when socialism was something that people adopted just to be edgy and to rebel against the capitalist status quo, but in the age of the modern intelligentsia, Austrian economic arguments are less prevalent than socialist ones. In essence, libertarians are the ones who need to learn what other people consider to be basic economics if they are to refute socialists.

Furthermore, libertarians assume that everyone who is pro-state would stop being so if the violence of the state was exposed for what it is. This is false, as many people are completely fine with the state being an institution of violence as long as it serves their own interests. No matter how much anyone talks about the state being immoral or violent and how much taxation is theft, there will be a great amount of people who think, in a Hobbesian manner, that without this violence human beings cannot have civilization. These moral arguments may be fine, but libertarians need to present more perspectives that are better suited for people who approach the world more pragmatically. This is especially true for many socialists and alt-righters; they know that the state is violence and a pure forceful institution. Their question about this is simply, “So what?”. Libertarians cannot always change the moral premises of others by trying to get people to understand the conclusions of the personal moral premises that libertarians tend to hold.

Lack of Virtue

No matter the intellectual caliber of particular libertarians, there are a few problems that need to be solved with the ideology if libertarianism is to go forward. There are strategies and perspectives on how to create a libertarian society and what libertarians can do to approach the type of people who are ready to be libertarians. However, the overwhelming majority of libertarian theory focuses on how great everything would be if everyone already lived in a world where there was virtue, without providing methods of how to cultivate this virtue within the population that is to be made libertarian. The other minority focuses on how bad everything is while everyone is in an oppressive statist society, and other areas of concern are seldom talked about. Only in the past few years has there been even a start of sociological inquiry of these issues on a sustained and continuous basis.

Stefan Molyneux advocates peaceful parenting as an actionable solution for making the world freer. Many libertarians say that education is the best solution. Some propose economic solutions to show people how property benefits them. Some advocate violent revolution. But cultivating the sort of virtue that is necessary to maintain a libertarian social order is not so simple. Anyone can parent peacefully, yet still it can turn out that there is no virtue cultivated in the children within a society. People can educate a person who is not virtuous himself and he may not become virtuous when he knows all the facts. Libertarians can show people how property rights may benefit them, but they may still try to undermine it, provided they are not individuals who have the virtue of respect for property rights.

This needs to be a strong point of libertarian tactics; not only how to make people more receptive to a society based on virtuous behavior, but rather how to make sure that the people are sufficiently virtuous to maintain a libertarian social order. Libertarianism needs to come out of the value-free lull where the focus on intellectualism has left it and delve deeper into the fields of sociology, psychology, and other areas where further research is needed for how to increase the virtue within populations. As it stands right now, libertarians may have good strategies for libertarianism and how to create a more libertarian world when libertarianism already has this support, but far less on how to cultivate libertarian virtues within society.

Lack of Breadth

Libertarianism has overwhelming amounts of substance, but the substance it has is very limited in content when it comes to anything other than economics and philosophy. Though this is by design, in that libertarianism itself is only an answer to the question of when the use of force is appropriate, this does not a complete worldview make. Economics is never enough to run a whole society; there must be values and character traits beyond the economic. There cannot be a healthy society in which the only relations are that of material exchange; this kind of society would certainly fall apart as soon as it was revealed as the husk it is. Even though the intellectual side of libertarianism may call for a value-free economic analysis, a pragmatic and objective political strategy, and a philosophy that can create values beyond what people would consider moral, this is inapplicable to many people. Everyone has values, most people have morals, and people want to see these morals reflected in their societies.

This writer has proposed abandoning political libertarianism as a strategy and focusing instead on advancing local autonomy as much as possible. It would serve to make libertarianism more relatable and to show people how libertarianism can serve to bring their values into the world. However, there is much work to be done on this. Only now are the first efforts being made of a very deep examination and expansive practical project.

Book Review: Closing The Courthouse Door

Closing The Courthouse Door is a book about role of the judiciary in the American system by law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. The book examines how Supreme Court decisions over the past few decades have greatly limited the ability of the courts to protect civil liberties, hold government accountable, and enforce the Constitution. The book is divided into seven chapters, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the problem of reduced access of the American people to the courts.

In the first chapter, Chemerinsky argues that if rights cannot be enforced and damages cannot be awarded by the courts, then the government and its agents may do as they please, as unenforceable limits are functionally equivalent to no limits. He views Marbury v. Madison as a cornerstone of American jurisprudence rather than a usurpation of power not granted by the Constitution, and views the Constitution as an effort to limit government rather than as an expansion of government beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed. Chemerinsky makes a case for the judicial branch being the most suitable branch for enforcing the Constitution, then addresses and rebuts several competing views of the role of the judiciary.

Sovereign immunity is the focus of the second chapter, and Chemerinsky shows how the idea that the state can do no wrong is at odds with many American values and constitutional principles, including federalism, due process, and government accountability. However, the Supreme Court has made numerous rulings expanding sovereign immunity since the time of the Eleventh Amendment‘s adoption, making it virtually impossible for a citizen to obtain a redress of grievances when victimized by the state. He tackles several arguments in favor of sovereign immunity, such as protecting government treasuries, separation of powers, and the existence of alternative remedies. Next, Chemerinsky examines how case law has granted effective immunity to local governments, even though they do not officially have it.

In the third chapter, Chemerinsky continues with the theme of immunity by discussing it at the level of government agents. He discusses the Bivens case, which allows federal agents to be sued for damages if they violate constitutional rights, and the subsequent hostility of the Court to that decision. Disallowing suits when Congress provides an alternative remedy, when Congress says they are disallowed, when military personnel are defendants, when judges find it undesirable to allow such claims, or when private prisons and their guards are defendants, has all but overruled Bivens. Furthermore, Chemerinsky argues that absolute immunity for certain government officials should be replaced by qualified immunity to give the officials room to work but hold them accountable.

The fourth chapter details how various Supreme Court decisions have narrowed the ability of citizens to bring matters before the courts. Chemerinsky explains how the doctrine of standing has been invented and used to keep actions which do not have particular identifiable victims from being adjudicated. He argues that the narrow interpretation of what constitutes an injury and the refusal to hear claims based on a generalized grievance that all Americans suffer mean that no one is able to challenge the government in court when it violates the Constitution. The second half of the chapter covers the political question doctrine, and Chemerinsky makes the case that it is essentially a punt by the judicial branch to the elected branches of government with the end result of trusting them to follow the law, which history shows to be an unrealistic option.

The gradual erosion of the writ of habeas corpus is discussed in the fifth chapter. Here, Chemerinsky shows how the Supreme Court has upheld vastly disproportionate prison sentences on technicalities, kept federal courts from enforcing the Fourth Amendment through habeas corpus, disallowed claims not made and evidence not presented in state courts from being heard in federal courts, barred arguments for novel rights that the Supreme Court has not yet recognized, and prevented prisoners from filing multiple habeas corpus petitions. He explains how the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has all but removed the right of habeas corpus at the federal level.

In the sixth chapter is called Opening the Federal Courthouse Doors, but the chapter actually shows even more examples of them being closed. For example, plaintiffs can now be required to show facts without being allowed to go through the discovery phase of a case that is required to learn those facts, setting up a catch-22. The abstention doctrine created in Younger v. Harris and is cited as a major barrier to the proper operation of federal courts as well as a means for state officials to abuse citizens. Chemerinsky then discusses the difficulties in using class action lawsuits that have been imposed in recent years as well as the rise in private arbitrations that favor corporations over individuals.

The final chapter begins with cases involving egregious human rights abuses by the CIA. These cases were dismissed on the grounds that state secrets might be revealed if the cases were tried, which is yet another way to keep courts from enforcing the Constitution. Chemerinsky concludes by addressing objections to the arguments made through the entire book.

The book is just over 200 pages, but feels as long as any 400-page book that I have read. To his credit, Chemerinsky’s left-wing political leanings do not appear any more than they must in order for him to make his arguments. Libertarians will undoubtedly think that the changes proposed in the book do not go nearly far enough, but Closing The Courthouse Door is still worth reading for those capable of handling the subject matter.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: The Science Of Selling

The Science of Selling is a book about how science can improve the field of sales by American sales trainer David Hoffeld. The book explains what research in psychology says about each aspect of the sales process, as well as how to sell in accordance with how the brain makes buying decisions. The book is divided into ten chapters, which comprise three sections that focus on different aspects of the business of sales.

Hoffeld begins by discussing some of his background and what made him decide to use science to improve his sales performance. He then explains why sales is not an obsolete profession and why science works to improve sales performance. The remainder of the introduction lays out the framework of the rest of the book.

The first chapter explores why salespeople are struggling. The suggested remedy is to adjust sales techniques to conform to the manner in which the human brain makes buying decisions. The second chapter covers the functionality of influence. The peripheral route is explained first, in terms of building trust and understanding the heuristics that most people use when making decisions. The central route is explained next, which involves the actual message of the salesperson. What this message should contain is the primary focus of the third chapter. Hoffeld uses a proprietary method called the Six Whys combined with attending to the buyer’s emotional state in order to address a buyer’s questions and get the buyer to feel like buying. These questions allow a salesperson to understand a buyer’s needs and convince a buyer to purchase a good or service now from a particular company. The fourth chapter focuses on the role of emotions in decision making and how salespeople can alter a buyer’s emotional state away from negativity.

The second section, composed of the next five chapters, begins with a study of questions. Many types of questions are analyzed, along with their role in the course of securing a sale. These are used to gain a basic understanding of a subject, then prompt potential buyers to think through an idea, then get potential buyers to disclose their dominant motives. The sixth chapter delves into primary buying motivators to explain why buyers buy from particular providers, then turns to buying requirements. Advice for dealing with decision makers and those who influence them come next, followed by how to learn a buyer’s decision criteria concerning what they need, how soon they need it, and how much they can pay for it.

Hoffeld deals with value creation and countering obstacles to making a sale in the seventh chapter. He uses social exchange theory to explain how a salesperson can help buyers to see value in the product being sold. Next, inoculation theory as a means of neutralizing competitors is discussed. After this, Hoffeld returns to the Six Whys and positive emotional states when considering how to address objections. In the eighth chapter, Hoffeld shares his approach to closing a deal. The Six Whys factor in again, as he views the close as a commitment that follows from a series of commitments throughout the sales process. This is supported by evidence from psychology that shows the power of the desire to be consistent. The use of trial closes to guide buyers into making a decision to purchase are covered next. Hoffeld suggests handling non-commitments by addressing objections and reinforcing the commitments that the potential customer has already made. With that done, the only thing left to do is to make a closing statement or ask a closing question to finish a deal.

The ninth chapter is about the design of sales presentations. The experiment Hoffeld mentions with jam selections in a grocery store to show that more choices can reduce sales is illuminating in the field of sales and far beyond. The strategies of setting anchors that portray one’s product as superior to an alternative, activating a customer’s mirror neurons by exhibiting their body language, using visuals instead of words only, and the use of stories and testimonials are recommended for effective sales presentations.

Hoffeld closes with a final section/chapter concerning the future of sales and what changes he believes will occur in the coming years. The prediction that a scientific approach will take over an anecdotal approach almost has to be correct, as all of the incentives mandate it. This necessarily validates his second prediction, that sales research will blossom. The final prediction that sales hiring practices will improve is probably true, but likely to take longer.

The Science of Selling is an excellent resource for salespeople, as the strategies therein are more effective than the trial-and-error and guesswork that is commonly practiced today. However, I must admit to reading this book at three levels in addition to face value: how a jobseeker may sell oneself to employers, how a philosopher may persuade the public of one’s ideas, and how a political activist may succeed in advancing one’s agendas. At the jobseeker level, this book explains why certain people fail to get job interviews and/or fail in job interviews. At the philosopher and political activist levels, this book explains why certain people are unpersuasive, why certain political systems are constructed as they are, and why logical fallacies seem to work in the real world. Thus, this book is useful not only to its intended audience, but far beyond it as well.

Rating: 5/5

A Perversion Of Service

Every year on Memorial Day, people visit cemeteries and go to parades in honor of those who died while serving in a government military. Those still serving in these militaries travel down roads normally reserved for civilian use, and the people that these military personnel ultimately oppress celebrate this fact. Meanwhile, politicians and the establishment press take the opportunity that a day devoted to deceased military personnel presents to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. The general structure of their propaganda narrative is as follows:

  1. We have freedom.
  2. Freedom and the rights associated with it are granted by the Constitution, the state, etc.
  3. Freedom is not free. This is because it is valuable, and valuables will be stolen by thieves and destroyed by conquerors if they are not defended.
  4. The state provides defense of freedom, and is the only means by which such defense can be provided.
  5. A society should revere its protectors, for they perform the functions that allow everyone else to do what they do in peace.
  6. Because of (4), government military personnel are those protectors.
  7. Because of (4), (5), and (6), people should revere the state in general and its military personnel in particular.
  8. Laying down one’s life to protect others is the highest cost that one can pay.
  9. Because of (4), (5), (6), and (8), those who die in military service should receive the highest honor.

Of course, like any effective propaganda, this narrative is a mixture of lies and truth. After all, a complete lie is easy to spot, while a lie wrapped in truth that has gone unchallenged by empirical examples for centuries is well camouflaged. The best way to counter this narrative is to challenge it on a point-by-point basis, examining each aspect and the connections between them for logical fallacies. Let us do this now.

Freedom

First, the statist asserts that we have freedom. Attempts to define freedom are rarely made by those who invoke it in this sense, for to do so would undermine their case irrevocably. However, we may proceed with the dictionary definitions of “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action,” “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants,” “absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government,” and “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.” In the presence of the state, none of these are possible. The state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. When people initiate the use of force, they are imposing necessity, coercion, and constraint in choice or action upon their victims. The laws that government agents create and enforce infringe upon the right to act, speak, or think as one wants by punishing behaviors which do not aggress against any person or property. Though the state does occasionally prevent foreign domination, it does this with less efficiency and effectiveness than could private defense forces, and states tend to become more despotic over time. The state imprisons and enslaves millions of people. Those who are left somewhat free are not in such a condition for their own benefit and flourishing, but because it produces superior results from the perspective of human livestock management. That we cannot have freedom under current conditions puts the entire narrative in jeopardy, but let us continue our examination.

Rights

The claim that rights are either a grant from a government or are protected by a government is the second step in the narrative. Leftists favor the former position and rightists favor the latter, but both can easily be shown to be in error. A right is defined as “something to which one has a just claim,” “a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something,” and “the sovereignty to act without the permission of others.” Whether or not a claim is just is independent of whether a government is present. Statists may contend that the absence of government means that there is no final arbiter of the justness of a claim, but there is no such thing as a final arbiter of disputes. Regardless, the truth value of a claim is independent of whether anyone recognizes its truth value, or even whether anyone exists to recognize its truth value. A moral entitlement to have or do something must be argued from first principles; it cannot be granted by a government. A legal entitlement may be granted by a government, but only because a government has forcefully suppressed any competing providers of law and order within its claimed territory. A state apparatus, by its very nature, infringes upon the sovereignty of its subjects to act without its permission through its legislation and enforcement mechanisms.

Moreover, the belief that rights must involve the state occurs because the state has corrupted the meaning of rights. Rights are supposed to be exercised through one’s own action without conferring any positive obligation onto someone else, but statists use the word to refer to a claim upon someone else’s life, property, and/or labor. These so-called “positive rights” are invalid because the state violates the negative rights of other people who are forced to provide for these positive rights.

Loss Prevention

That freedom is valuable, and thus vulnerable to destruction and theft if left undefended is true. But there is a non sequitur fallacy between this step and the belief that the state is necessary for the provision of such defense. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. Besides being the primary culprit behind the destruction of freedom, the state cannot possibly provide for the defense of freedom. As a compulsory monopolist of protection, the state charges what it wishes and uses force to prevent anyone from hiring a competing provider, going into business for oneself, or doing without. A threatening protector is a contradiction of terms, which in any context not involving the state would be appropriately recognized as a protection racket. Again, whatever benefit the state provides is done not to serve the people, but to serve itself. To whatever extent the state enjoys defense, its subjects are imperiled, for whatever means of defense the state has constitute potential means of offense against the people.

Reverence

That a society should revere its protectors is true. The problem comes with the belief that government personnel are the protectors of society. As shown previously, the state cannot provide defense for the people because it is a continuous threat against the people. Since the state is composed of people, it follows that those people cannot be responsible for defense in any absolute sense. They can only defend against other potential sources of exploitation so that the state may have a monopoly over the exploitation of the people. As such, reverence for the state in general and its military personnel in particular is misplaced unless it truly is the least of the evils. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Admittedly, there are no empirical examples of a free market of private military companies providing military defense services in lieu of a government military. A major reason for this is that governments will use as much force as necessary to keep such an idea from being tested, as its success would doom the state by depriving it of its most essential monopoly. Without a monopoly on military force, the state would cease to exist, as the response of the people to its taxes and laws would be to point military-grade weapons at its agents and tell them to stand down or be fired upon. That they are so fearful of such an attempt being successful indicates that even they believe it can work, and if anyone should have the deep knowledge necessary to make such an assessment at present, it should be them.

Without empirical examples, we must logically deduce our way through. The presence of a monopoly with involuntary customers necessarily leads to inferior quality of service and higher costs, as the monopolists need not provide superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service vis-à-vis a competitor. The opening of provision of military defense to a free market of competing service providers must therefore lead to an increase of efficiency, which in practice means superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service. There is no reason why the market should fail to provide a service that is strongly desired by everyone for everyone (except for a few criminals, who want it for themselves but not for their victims), to the point that most people will tolerate the oppressions of statism just to obtain a counterfeit version of it.

The most common criticisms of competing private defense companies are that they will fight each other, that they will lead to rule by warlords, and that they will become a new monopoly on force. Rule by warlords and monopoly on force describe the situation under statism, so if the worst-case scenario is that eliminating government militaries just gets us another government military, all other cases must turn out better than this, making these into powerful arguments in favor of privatizing military defense.

This leaves the concern that the private service providers will fight each other. We must recognize that the current service providers do fight each other, which caused roughly 100 million deaths in the 20th century. As such, the bar of service quality that private military defense providers must exceed is set quite low. Fortunately, private military defense providers would be limited in ways that government militaries are not. A private service provider must bear the cost of its own decisions, and engaging in aggressive wars is more expensive than defensive actions only. A company that sells war is thus at an economic disadvantage against a company that sells peace. Without the government monopoly on legal services granting immunity to private soldiers as it does to government soldiers, the private soldiers would be subject to the criminal punishments made prevalent by the private defense forces in the area in question in addition to vigilantism by individuals. The agencies that decide to fight also must take care not to damage or travel on ground held by customers of other agencies, as this would be considered trespassing, and a trespasser with an intent to murder others in a war is a trespasser who may be killed in self-defense. Thus one could expect to see every private property owner not involved with the warring agencies taking actions to destroy both sides of the conflict whenever they occupy land that is not owned by their customers. With no state to forbid ownership of certain types of weapons, the private property owners would be much more capable of stopping military hardware than they are now. There is no guarantee against such a fight, but there are enough incentives working against it to consider it a remote possibility.

Given the superiority of private defense markets compared to government militaries, the state is not the best option. Thus, we may put aside feelings of reverence for it and its military personnel.

Sacrifice and Honor

It is true that one’s life is the highest cost that one can pay, and that laying it down in defense of family and friends is the greatest sacrificial love that one can display. It does not follow that those who die while serving in a government military have done this. Many people volunteer for military service because they believe that this is what they are volunteering to do. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, this is not the true nature of their actions. Contrary to statist propaganda, the state does not work for the people, for if this were the case, then the people would be free to fire the state, cease paying for it, and either hire someone else, go into business for themselves, or try to do without. Because the state does not work for the people or, as shown previously, provide defense for the people, those who die in its service are not due the honor of those who lay down their lives to defend others.

It must be said here that just because fallen members of a government military are not due honor, it does not mean that they are due dishonor. Like most other people, they are propagandized to the point of saturation by government schools, churches, establishment media programming, and recruitment advertising. Recruitment personnel then do their best to sell them the military life while making light of the arguments discussed here, if they even acknowledge them at all. The majority of people in a government military are not intentionally evil, but are victims of fraud and lies. The proper response, then, is to attempt to educate living military personnel and those who would follow in their footsteps rather than to engage in displays of disrespect toward the dead (or, for that matter, toward the living).

Conclusion

The desire to protect and serve others is commendable, but a government military offers only a perversion of service. Authentic service of others must be accomplished not through a top-down, coercive, centralized, territorial monopolist like the state, but through the bottom-up, voluntary, decentralized, competition of the market economy. While the state makes defense impossible for its subjects in an absolute sense, there is every reason to believe that private service providers can accomplish this critical task.

Self-defense is one of the most fundamental rights, and the most important personal responsibility, as the abdication of this responsibility endangers all other rights and responsibilities. Of course, there is nothing immoral about hiring help for such a basic need, but the decay of the role of the militia in society has created a vacuum that has been filled by government militaries. The troops are ultimately in the position they are in because too few of us do what is necessary to provide for our own defense and counter statist propaganda. It is therefore because of the selfishness (in the form of risk aversion with respect to confronting aggressors) and irresponsibility of most of the people in the modern West that soldiers are joining government militaries and sacrificing their lives at the behest of politicians in the first place. Until the people right themselves, true defense and service will remain unknown to us.

Fashion As A Harbinger Of Revolution

There are many barometers for the health of a society, from economic prosperity to beliefs concerning social issues. One such barometer may be found in the fashion that is being promoted in that culture. The advocacy of modest clothing in good condition indicates a healthy society. Clothing that is deliberately ill-fitting, whether wasteful in material or skimpy in coverage, is a sign of degeneracy. A new clothing trend has developed in America that is symptomatic of the sort of cultural decay that foreshadows a revolution; that of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally.

Current Examples

There are many instances of this, but four examples will serve to illustrate the point. First, let us consider Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans. The product description calls them “Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.” These pants, available for $425, have fake mud and wear marks added to them. (They must be machine washed cold, lest these dubious decorations break off and leave one with an improved pair of pants.)

Another offering, the Damiana Splatter Paint Stretch Woven Jogger Pants, are described as “Slouchy, tapered-fit joggers crafted from extremely durable, destroyed stretch cotton appear as though they stepped straight out of the art studio, creating a disheveled style masterpiece that’s both one-of-a-kind and unafraid to play dirty.“ For $300, you can avoid the excruciating work of wielding a paintbrush and wear pants with fake paint splatters on them in order to pose as an artist or painter.

Third, there are the Maison Margiela Future Destroyed High Top Sneakers available at Neiman Marcus. The non-destroyed version is available for $995, but for the low, low price of $1425, you can have a pair that looks like they went through a car crusher. Multiple gashes, a mostly missing tongue, and inner layers hanging out are marketed as “deconstruction” and “heavy distressing.” As of this writing, they are on sale for $997, so perhaps there is hope in the fact that too few people were willing to pay so much more for an inferior product.

Finally, the fashion of intentional damage is not reserved for men only. Golden Goose offers women a multitude of sneaker designs, and one of them is designed to look like it has been through hundreds of miles of use. Scuff marks abound and the leather is crackled to simulate wear, though it looks more like it is covered in two paints which are incompatible. The $425 price tag is comparable to other offerings which do not always look new, but are not designed to look worn out.

Why It Matters

Some people may wonder why this is important. Why focus on fashion when there are so many greater problems in the world? It is true that fashion is a non-issue in and of itself when compared with the primary problems facing humanity. However, the concern is not with fashion in and of itself, but with what fashion says about the people who create, market, sell, and wear it. Moreover, there are fashion trends which indicate cultural trends, which in turn can serve as an early warning signal that the present system of governance has its days numbered.

Worse, some libertarians and conservatives might wonder why such fashions should not be celebrated. Is this not an instance of the market meeting a demand and freeing people from menial tasks to engage in other, greater labors? This view is misguided because the issue is not primarily one of economics, but of cultural attitudes concerning economic matters. A healthy culture has a strong correlation with liberty. A healthy culture celebrates work; an unhealthy culture mocks it and tries to avoid it whenever possible. A healthy culture values authenticity and living life; an unhealthy culture seeks a hollow and vicarious existence. A healthy culture venerates the ideal; an unhealthy culture worships the idol. The market is fundamentally amoral; its participants meet consumer demand as best they can in order to make profits. If that demand is degenerate in nature, then the goods and services produced will be as well. In other words, garbage in, garbage out. It is also worth noting that freeing people from having to wear a clothing item repeatedly and perform various activities in it so as to produce wear and tear naturally does not provide the increased utility that comes from labor-saving machines. One must still wear clothes to comply with societal norms, whereas one need not keep using older methods of performing tasks.

Mocking The Masses

The four products discussed above are designed to create the illusion of work. The prices of hundreds of dollars per pair of pants or shoes puts them outside the budget of most people who make a living in a trade that involves getting mud or paint on themselves. The end result is a class of products made for wealthier people that let them impersonate the masses beneath them while remaining oblivious as to why those who really engage in such dirty jobs might be angered. If this were done affectionately, then it might not be so bad, as imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. However, the implications are more of mockery.

The idea of the wealthy imitating the poor for fun is nothing new. A famous example is the Petit Hameau, a mock farm area built in the gardens of the Petit Trianon in 1783 for Marie Antoinette. While visiting this area, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would wear dresses of simple gauze tied with satin ribbons and pretend to care for farm animals. The farmhouse interior, of course, was fully equipped with the luxuries expected by royalty of the time. The Petit Hameau was a reflection of France’s culture and moral values, but its artificial nature and lack of necessity made it a mockery of the daily grind of many French people. The exorbitant cost of her amusements did not help her case with critics of the ancien regime, and the public sentiment stemming from her lavish expenditures contributed to her execution by guillotine in 1793.

Though we are probably far from the masses shedding the blood of their economic betters and using their obliviousness and mockery as a pretext, there is no a priori reason why circumstances in America cannot eventually deteriorate to that point. After all, Marie Antoinette likely had no conception of her eventual fate back in 1783. Even if those who wear the items discussed above never meet a nasty demise at the hands of an angry proletariat, the sort of mockery once conducted by Marie Antoinette and now conducted by certain fashion designers and their customers indicates the sort of cultural illness that prefigures a mass uprising.

Inauthenticity

That there is a demand for clothes that come purposefully damaged and covered in fake signs of use says that people have not only lost the sense of dignity that comes from a hard day’s work, but have lost respect for that sense of dignity as well. Instead, a significant number of people prefer the illusion of effort, believe that physical labor is beneath them, and see nothing wrong with taking credit for another’s work. The illusion of effort is troublesome because it can lead people to prefer laziness over diligence. Should this sentiment become widespread, important work will go undone and the infrastructure necessary for civilization will decay.

This leads into the second problem, the sense that physical labor is somehow undignified. For the wealthy, physical labors can be hired out to others. For the intelligent, there is more money to be made in fields which are only accessible to them. But for many people, physical labor is their method for doing honest work for honest wages so that they do not have to live parasitically at another’s expense. It is no shame to work in a blue-collar profession; some people just have more lucrative options. The proper response from elites, then, is not to sneer at blue-collar workers but to be thankful for and respectful of them. The alternative response leads to a widening cultural gap and greater alienation between rich and poor, which cannot continue forever.

This, in turn, leads to the third concern, that of taking credit for another person’s work. By wearing clothes which show the signs of work that one has not only not done, but has paid someone else to create the illusion of having done, this is the effective signal that one is sending. The state is partly to blame for this, as its intellectual monopoly laws have come to serve as the basis for enforcing norms of giving credit where it is due. But such laws attempt to apply the norms of property ownership to that which is not scarce, is not rivalrous, and has no particular form in physical reality. As people realize the nonsensical nature of patents and copyrights, they tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater and come to reject all notions of giving credit where it is due. This undermines the respect between persons that is necessary for a stable social order.

Inverted Class Incentives

In a healthy society, those who are on the lower rungs of the economic latter seek to imitate the appearance and emulate the virtues of those near the top, so as to engage in the behaviors that allowed those who are near the top to climb up there. Conversely, the clothing items discussed above serve as evidence that the opposite is occurring. Those near the top have been made to feel guilty about their station in life by social justice warriors who condemn them as being ‘privileged’ and tell them to check themselves. While these fashions are primarily, in the words of Mike Rowe, “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic rather than iconic,” the shaming of wealth has led many affluent people to signal lower economic status in order to avoid harassment by the moral busybodies of the progressive left. Wearing such clothes is one means of doing this. Thus, we have high imitating low, and if this goes on with sufficient magnitude for enough time, it will lead the rich to poverty while leaving the poor without a good example to follow.

Conclusion

Fashion may seem an innocent playground for leftist elites and detached from the harsh realities of life in middle America, but it can serve as a warning signal that something is deeply wrong with the culture that produces it. The four clothing items discussed above indicate many problems which, if left untreated, will lead to a revolution. These problems have been present for decades, and may persist for a decade or two longer before they provoke an uprising, but that which cannot continue will eventually stop.

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

Islamic Exceptionalism is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state by American author Shadi Hamid. The book explores the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, as well as the currently ongoing conflicts there. The book is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a different Muslim country or other aspect of the situation.

The first chapter begins with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the 2013 coup against Mohamed Morsi two years later, and the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian military. These are contrasted with the activities of the Islamic State. Hamid spends much of the chapter laying out the subject matter and structure of the rest of the book, which include the role of Islam in political affairs, the unique history and teachings of Islam, and the effects that this history and these teachings are likely to have. Hamid’s explorations of these questions leads him to question the mainstream liberal narrative of Whig historiography, democratic supremacy, and progressive determinism, though he never quite manages to reject this narrative. He contrasts Muslim countries which have experienced great political unrest, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria, with those that have not, such as Iran, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He then explains the differences between contemporary Muslim countries and European countries in the 1950s, suggesting that what worked in Europe will not work in the Middle East. Hamid ends the chapter by contemplating the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Hamid goes into a history lesson of Islam in the second chapter, as the present cannot be understood without knowledge of the past. The idea of glorious achievements threatened by internecine killings permeates Islamic history from the beginning, and this coupling continues to shape the Middle East today. The decline and fall of the Ottoman caliphate has left a longing for the return of a caliphate, and ISIS has been more than happy to try to meet this demand. He compares the founding of Islam to the founding of Christianity, as well as sharia law to halakhic law. The relative flexibility and adaptability of Islam compared to other religions is explored in order to explain the simultaneous perceptions of Islam as both modern and medieval. The chapter ends with a discussion of the Christian Reformation, which segues into the next chapter.

The Islamic Reformation is the subject of the third chapter. Contrary to popular belief, Hamid shows that such a reformation has already occurred, as Islam adapted to modernity in a way that Christianity failed to do. The line of thinkers that led to Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is discussed alongside the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Salafism. That Islamism only makes sense in a modern context is an important point that Hamid makes here, which is an example of the larger truth that a term which describes everything really describes nothing. The founding and principles of the Muslim Brotherhood are addressed next, with emphasis on the differences between Banna’s view of Islam and the less observant practices of Muslims in prior centuries. The second half of the chapter returns to the 2013 massacre in Egypt, then goes back to Banna’s time and moves forward through the Brotherhood’s history of being suppressed under Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat.

The fourth and longest chapter continues the story of the Muslim Brotherhood, detailing how its members have responded to the 2013 massacre. Here, Hamid turns to interviews with Brotherhood members, many of whom are now in exile to escape imprisonment by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The massacre changed the minds of many in the Brotherhood, whose stance on political change had always been to play the long game and make gradual gains over decades. While the leadership was largely unmoved by this, the younger rank-and-file became radicalized. The Brotherhood’s shift to nonviolence in the 1970s has always been doubted by some as merely a tactical move, and this shift may well be undone. Hamid presents the differing views on the nature of the state and political change of the Muslim Brotherhood versus the Islamic State, and most of those interviewed were not willing to support ISIS. The youths Hamid interviews have come to understand the need to break the Westphalian order, but Hamid cannot seem to grasp this idea.

The fifth chapter considers the case of Turkey, in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to take and solidify power after several cases of Islamist parties being banned. Here, the modern history of Turkey is covered, including the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate, the role of Ataturk in transforming Turkey into a modern nation-state, and the enforced secularism of that project which alienated Islamists. Once more, the localist nature of Islamic law came into conflict with the nationalism and globalism of the state. The role and path of Erdogan in changing the secular nature of the Turkish state is discussed. No mention of the failed coup attempt against Erdogan is made because it occurred after the time of publishing, and the significant changes since then somewhat date this chapter.

The example of Ennahda in Tunisia is the focus of the sixth chapter, and it presents a much different outcome for Islamists there. Seeing the bloodshed in Egypt, Islamists in Tunisia conceded their Islamism and allowed more secular interests to govern in their stead in order to keep peace and order. Hamid portrays Ennahda as being in an impossible predicament; if they moderate, they will lose their base to a more radical party, but they can never moderate enough to convince secularists to accept them.

The stark alternative presented by ISIS to the whole debate over Islam, democracy, and the modern nation-state is the subject of chapter seven. Hamid shares an interview with a man whose son left Tunisia to join Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and then ISIS, eventually dying in battle there. The discussion of Tunisia continues in this context because a disproportionate number of ISIS militants come from Tunisia. Hamid correctly recognizes ISIS as a state because it has a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area and provides the common functions of a state, even if the rest of the world refuses to accept this reality. He shares another important truth here: moderates tend to lose in civil wars and revolutions because they lack both the fervor and resolve to do what the extremists on all sides will do. Though Hamid predicts the eventual downfall of ISIS, it may take some time and the motivations that led to its formation can lead to other such efforts in the future.

The book concludes by summarizing the previous chapters. The last chapter begins with the attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s offices and the reaction to them, which was somewhat muted among hardline Muslims. Hamid discusses the rise of nativist sentiment around the world and the role that it plays for those who would restore older forms of governance in the Middle East. He presents another important insight: that there are no such things as universal values, at least in practice. The contradictions of imposing a democratic process by non-democratic means are explored, but in some cases Hamid finds restrictions on pure democracy to be a necessity to prevent collapse.

Hamid’s insights into the inner workings of the region are not to be missed. But the Western liberal democratic biases of the author are inescapable. Hamid is unable to process the possibility that democracy is inferior to the older pre-Westphalian order, especially for the Muslim world. This is especially irksome, given the amount of evidence that he himself finds for this possibility. That being said, Islamic Exceptionalism is a highly informative book, especially for those with only a passing knowledge of Islamic history or current events in the Middle East.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Level Up Your Life

Level Up Your Life is a book about self-improvement and adventure by American entrepreneur, fitness instructor, publisher, and writer Steve Kamb. The book shows people how to define goals and use a game setup of experience points and levels to accomplish those goals while avoiding various pitfalls along the way. The book is divided into six sections, each of which contains three to five chapters.

Kamb begins with a brief introduction, describing several of his most interesting adventures as well as the life he led before deciding to change his life. He talks about the online community he founded about changing one’s life to be more active and adventurous, then invites the reader to join.

The first section begins by going into greater detail about Kamb’s own experiences and backstory than did the introduction. The middle is a warning about getting stuck in the research and planning stages of an adventure without ever actually going on the adventure. The final chapter of this section is an exhortation to stop waiting and thinking you cannot live the life you want to live.

Getting started on a hero’s journey is the subject of the second section. Kamb begins by laying out the basic story arc that almost all heroic characters follow. Next, he asks the reader to describe one’s normal life and then create the superhero alter-ego that one wishes to become. The following chapter presents several common excuses that people use to justify not living a more interesting life and rebuts each of them. The sixth chapter contains advice on dealing with people who offer discouragement and resistance to one’s ambitions. Kamb ends this section by explaining how game mechanics such as experience points and leveling can be used in real life to help one learn skills and achieve goals.

In the third section, Kamb discusses how to set up one’s Game of Life. He lays out the rules that his group uses, but one can create one’s own list. The ninth chapter gives examples of character classes from role-playing games and how they might translate into real-world skill sets. The point of the chapter is to describe one’s ideal leveled-up character. The next chapter explores various quests that one could pursue in order to get from one’s current state to one’s ideal state. Kamb ends this section by sharing how he used the methods from the previous two chapters in his own quest.

The fourth section begins with more discussion of experience points and levels, then proceeds to discuss the need to self-impose both positive and negative reinforcement in order to cultivate discipline. An excellent bit of advice is given here: rewarding yourself should take the form of something that will aid in one’s quest, not something immediately pleasurable that will hinder one’s efforts going forward. In the fourteenth chapter, Kamb explains the importance of willpower. He suggests altering one’s environment to make pursuing one’s goals require less willpower and working against those goals require more. Following this, the need to create flow and momentum in one’s life is explained. The section concludes with a chapter about team-building that describes the roles of mentor, peer, trainee, and wildcard. Finding people to fill each of these roles helps make a quest more productive and interesting.

The fifth section uses the examples of four well-known fictional characters and how they overcame adversity in their stories to discuss how to prepare the body and mind for any adventure, nurture an adventurous spirit, and make necessary sacrifices in pursuit of success. The stories of Bruce Wayne, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, and Katniss Everdeen contain a multitude of lessons, making this the longest section of the book.

In the last section, Kamb reminds the reader that tomorrow is not guaranteed and whatever is worth doing should be started now. He encourages those who have completed their personal quests to share their stories and knowledge so that less experienced people can learn from them. The final chapter encourages those who have done great deeds to avoid resting on their laurels and move on to another adventure. The book concludes with a list of resources, acknowledgments, and a repetition of the offer to join Kamb’s online community.

Level Up Your Life is one of the better self-help books out there, and the online community is an added bonus. The greatest criticisms of the book would be that it is too much of an advertisement for the online community, and that while it is excellent for someone who is enduring life but not enjoying it, it is far less useful for someone who already uses similar methods with great success in some areas of life but is held back by failures in other areas. Even so, Kamb has created a book that is worth reading (and a website worth visiting).

Rating: 4/5