On the Supply Objection to the Gold Standard

Since the gold standard was abandoned in 1971, many people have sought to return to such a standard in order to combat inflation and rein in central banks. Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking present several criticisms of this approach. One of these criticisms is particularly nonsensical, but occurs with increasing frequency: that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. Let us address this question from a scientific standpoint, return to economic matters, and address the claimed effects.

Physical Limits

Let us begin by finding the absolute limit of what gold can do for a monetary system. As the United States dollar is the world reserve currency at the time of this writing, it makes sense to use it as the currency to peg to gold. The smallest unit of gold is the atom, and the smallest unit of dollars is the penny. The most extreme possible case would be to set one penny equal to one atom of gold. What would this look like in practice? Any basic text on chemistry can lead us to the answer. The only stable isotope of gold is Au-197, and its molar mass is 196.967. This means that in about 197 grams of gold, or 6⅓ troy ounce coins of the type minted by many governments and private mints, there will be Avogadro’s constant of atoms, which is 6.022140857×10^23. Setting one penny equal to one atom of gold, this is $6.022×10^21 or $6.022 sextillion easily fitting in one’s hand.

This amount of money is so large that people cannot truly understand it due to the lack of a frame of reference for it. Few people will handle anything beyond millions of dollars at any point in their lives. Large businesses may deal with billions of dollars. The most powerful governments have budgets in the trillions of dollars. According to a History Channel documentary, the dollar value of the entire planet is in the quadrillions of dollars, checking in at $6,873,951,620,979,800, and subtracting Earth’s gold content leaves $6,862,465,304,321,880. As the limit of one penny per atom allows one to hold the current market value of a million Earths in one’s hand, it is clear that science imposes no physical limit to make a gold standard infeasible.

Another useful exercise is to try setting the value of all available gold equal to the value of the rest of the planet. The total available gold content at present amounts to 186,700 metric tons. Defining this amount of gold to be worth the above figure of $6,862,465,304,321,880 gives a gold price of $36,756.64 per gram or $1,143,259.40 per troy ounce. This is very expensive by current standards, but current standards do not come close to economizing the entire planet. The actual price would therefore be far lower than this, but this exercise is useful for setting an upper bound.

Current Prices

Perhaps critics of restoring sound money mean to say that the gold standard could not be reintroduced at current gold prices. In this, they are correct; at the time of this writing, gold trades at $1,284 per troy ounce. Multiplied by the 186,700 metric tons of gold available, this gives $7.707 trillion of gold-backed currency, which is not enough for the United States economy, let alone the entire world. The solution, then, is to devalue fiat currencies to fit the available gold supply. According to the CIA World Factbook, the gross world product in 2015 was $75.73 trillion. Covering this with the available gold gives a gold price of $12,616.75 per troy ounce, which is an order of magnitude above current prices, but not outlandish.

Possible Effects

Gold has gained several practical applications in recent times, particularly in medicine and technology. Critics claim that returning gold to monetary use would devastate these industries, along with the jewelry industry. In each case, critics are overreacting. Research toward creating substitutes which work nearly as well in electronics is promising. Gold salts in medicine have numerous side effects, monitoring requirements, limited efficacy, and very slow onset of action. Finally, there is no particular reason why we should care about an industry that produces impractical novelties to the extent of protecting it through fiat currency. It would be better to free up jewelers to do something more productive and helpful to others.

The other major criticism is that returning to a gold standard will cause a harmful episode of deflation. Paul Krugman writes,

“[W]hen people expect falling prices, they become less willing to spend, and in particular less willing to borrow. After all, when prices are falling, just sitting on cash becomes an investment with a positive real yield – Japanese bank deposits are a really good deal compared with those in America — and anyone considering borrowing, even for a productive investment, has to take account of the fact that the loan will have to repaid in dollars that are worth more than the dollars you borrowed.”

But those who are less willing to spend or borrow are necessarily more willing to save, which will allow them to spend more later or fund new businesses and investments. There is also the matter that one cannot hold out forever; one must eventually purchase goods and services. That the technology industry thrives despite producing the most deflationary goods shows that there is nothing harmful about this. It turns out that the value of using a current computer over the next year is worth more than holding out for a more powerful computer next year. It is also true that holding out for more food next month does not work if one cannot survive until then without food now. One may object that this would concentrate wealth in the hands of those who can hold out, but this is a feature rather than a bug because it redistributes resources to those who have been good stewards of resources.

Those who have already borrowed face a larger debt burden in a deflationary environment, and though creditors experience an equal gain, creditors are unlikely to increase their spending to offset the reduced spending of debtors. But again, this is a feature rather than a bug because it incentivizes saving over borrowing while pushing some debtors into default, thus punishing unwise lenders with loss of principal and unwise borrowers with bad credit ratings.

With falling prices, profits and wages usually have to fall as well. But profits are a function of prices and costs, which are also prices. This leaves profits largely unaffected on a percentage basis. Wages are prices as well, and the need to cut nominal wages in a deflationary environment could both incentivize firms to release their worst employees and provide pushback against minimum wage laws.

Finally, there is the belief that the sort of deflation that may be caused by returning to gold would cause a recession. But the above rebuttals deprive this problem of any mechanism by which it might occur. In fact, the empirical evidence suggests that deflation is linked to economic expansion, as occurred in the United States during the 19th century. The only period in which a correlation between deflation and depression does appear is the Great Depression (1929-34), and this may be linked to the central bank policies of the 1920s, which fraudulently inflated the money supply beyond the set gold exchange rates of the time.

Conclusion

While a free market in money would be the most desirable condition from a libertarian perspective, returning to a gold standard is a superior option to that of allowing fiat currency and central banking to continue as they are. The concerns about a lack of gold supply for returning to a gold standard are without merit, and the fears of deflation and devastation to industry are unfounded.

Fourteen Observations on Events in Syria

On April 4, a chemical weapon attack occurred in Khan Shiekhoun, Idlib, Syria, killing at least 69 people. Western governments and media outlets have almost universally blamed the Bashar al-Assad regime for the attacks, while Russia and the Syrian government have blamed Syrian rebel forces. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated on April 5 that the US may take action against Assad in response. On April 6, President Donald Trump ordered a strike of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Shayrat Military Airport in Homs province, the place that US intelligence alleges as the point of origin for the chemical weapon attack. Fourteen observations on these events follow.

1. How people die is apparently more important than how many die. A person who dies convulsing and gasping for air following a sarin gas attack is just as dead as a person who is killed with bullets, conventional bombs, fire, or any other weapon of war. But the former looks more horrifying and thus causes more of an emotional response in empathic people than videos of bombed-out buildings or machine-gunned corpses.

2. The lügenpresse is fully aware of this tendency. This is why both sensationalist journalists and propagandists for Western military intervention would rather show videos of this sort than videos of more conventional warfare and its results. This allows them to short-circuit the reason centers of the American people and appeal to their moral outrage in a selective fashion, as Western countries tend to restrict their chemical weapons usage to less lethal levels, such as using tear gas against protesters.

3. It makes no sense for Assad to have used chemical weapons and every bit of sense for the rebels. In a speech on the night of April 6, Trump claimed that “[t]here can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.” Military intelligence reports seem to confirm this. But this may be disputed on the grounds that both the United States government and the intelligence community have a long history of both incompetence and of lying to the American people. Furthermore, Assad was already holding his ground and gaining territory from the rebels, including the capture of the long-besieged city of Aleppo in December 2016. The use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces could only invite intervention against their cause, and the rebels must know this, giving them the incentive to perpetrate a false flag operation.

Of course, this does not mean that Assad or one of his generals is not ultimately responsible, as assuming rational actors would be a fatal flaw in any analysis of events in the Middle East. But the incentives run counter to that scenario and favor a rebel use of chemical weapons.

4. There is a stronger national security interest in not intervening. In his speech, Trump said, “It is in this vital, national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” This is debatable, but even if true, larger concerns loom. On April 7, Vladimir Safronkov, Russia’s deputy UN envoy, said to the UN Security Council, “We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the US. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the US strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military. Russia’s Defense Ministry responded to the attack by closing a communications line used to avoid accidental hostilities between American and Russian forces when US warplanes attack ISIS forces that are in close proximity to Russian forces. A Russian missile frigate was deployed to the area from which the two US destroyers fired missiles into Syria. None of this is beneficial for the fight against Islamic terrorism, and it makes a shooting war between nuclear-armed states far more likely.

5. Attacking Assad helps the Islamic State. Following the cruise missile strike against Shayrat, ISIS forces in Homs launched an offensive, storming the Syrian Arab Army checkpoints near Al-Furqalas. The destruction of Shayrat will temporarily prevent Assad’s forces from providing air support in the area, which could lead to ISIS gains there as well as on the Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor fronts. This is to be expected; a black swan event that negatively affects one side in a war necessarily has a positive effect on that side’s enemies, and ISIS has enough sense to seize upon this opportunity.

6. Actions like this make it difficult to take the War on Terrorism seriously. Attacking people who are at war with a terrorist state is counterproductive to winning the War on Terrorism. In fact, it raises concerns that defeating terrorism is not the true purpose of the War on Terrorism. Note that if the War on Terrorism were won, then the rationale for police statism and massive military spending would vanish. If the War on Terrorism were lost, then the state would fail at the one job that it is supposedly solely capable of performing, namely keeping its people safe. The ideology of Islamic terrorists disallows a draw, so the only other option is an endless war. An endless war allows politicians to continually expand state power and siphon money into the hands of the defense contractors who fund their campaigns. The idea that politicians care more about this than about the human lives lost on both sides of the conflict is the most cynical explanation, so it is the most likely to be correct.

7. The damage from the cruise missile strike can be easily repaired. Repairing a runway is a simple matter of bulldozing the affected areas and repaving it, which can be done in a few days. The buildings must be demolished and rebuilt, which could be done in a matter of weeks. Replacing the 20+ aircraft that were destroyed is the hard part, but Russia can solve that problem for Assad. In short, this one strike will be quite ineffective in the long term.

8. Trump’s moral outrage is inconsistent at best. The very strike that was supposed to stop civilian deaths actually contributed to them. Errant missiles missed the air base, hitting nearby villages. Five adults and four children were killed in Al-Hamrat, and another seven people were wounded in Al-Manzul. A few weeks earlier, an air strike aimed at ISIS in Mosul, Iraq killed 200 civilians. It makes no sense for Trump to be outraged about chemical weapons use in Syria but not about these atrocities carried out by the US military under his own orders.

9. Given the previous six observations, the strike makes more sense as a cynical political move than as an effort to help the Syrian people or punish Assad. As tensions escalate with North Korea, a targeted strike against Syria makes the threat of a targeted strike against North Korea more credible. This may alter the calculus of Kim Jong-un as well as the Chinese government, leading North Korea to be less aggressive and China to be more cooperative. At home, Trump faces continued allegations of links between his campaign and Russian government officials in addition to difficulties in accomplishing his legislative agenda. Acting against Syria while Russia is assisting them helps to rebut such allegations and give the appearance that he is not completely hamstrung by Congress. Trump may calculate that the number of isolationist supporters he would lose through such an act would be outweighed by the number of neoconservative and neoliberal war hawks he would win over. This combination of effects makes more sense as a motive than any humanitarian concerns.

As for future action against Syria, removing Assad would further destabilize the region and create a power vacuum which would be filled by jihadists. This would distract Trump from the aspects of his agenda that run counter to the globalist deep state. Backing down and patching over relations with Russia in a timely manner would bolster the leftist narrative of Trump as a Russian puppet. We may therefore expect more targeted strikes which leave Assad in power and do not really accomplish much.

10. Statecraft requires rational psychopathy. The unpleasant truth that no one wishes to acknowledge is that allowing third-world dictators to massacre their own citizens is the best thing we can do. As shocking as that may sound, there are only two alternatives, both of which have been tried and shown to be even worse. One alternative is to intervene decisively to help an oppressed people overthrow their ruler. This was tried in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011. The end result in both cases was sectarian violence that killed people at a faster rate than did the deposed dictators, and the same sorts of human rights abuses continued under new leadership. The other alternative is to intervene indecisively to keep a civil war raging. This was tried in Iraq and Syria in and after 2011. The end result has been the weakening of social order, the marginalization of moderate rebel groups, the growth of jihadist terror groups, and the ultimate transfer of arms to al-Qa’ida, Islamic State, and their affiliates.

The President of the United States, so long as there is going to be one, should be a person completely lacking in empathy. One should instead govern as a perfectly rational psychopath, thinking completely with the head and not at all with the heart, looking out for the interests of Americans and not for the interests of foreigners. One must be able to look at overseas atrocities and say, “This is not our problem. We are not the policemen of the world.”

11. This situation is the result of Western meddling. Syria was a colony of France from 1920 to 1946. At the beginning of this time, Mandatory Syria was divided into six states: Greater Lebanon (now Lebanon), Sanjak of Alexandretta (now part of Turkey), the State of Aleppo, the State of Damascus, the Alawite State, and the Jabal al-Druze State. This arrangement kept opposing factions in their own territories, but France had combined the latter four by the end of 1936. These factions fought for control, resulting in a large number of military coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1970, ending only when Hafez al-Assad was able to rule strongly enough to suppress dissent. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him. In the Arab Spring protests of 2011, Assad’s rule was challenged by various factions which sought to remove him from power, leading to the Syrian Civil War.

12. Syria must balkanize. If France had not tried to combine disparate peoples under one state and had instead left the four Syrian states separate, this bloody conflict could have been prevented. Bashar al-Assad, if he had come to power at all in this alternate timeline, would only be the ruler of a small part of western Syria. The rest of the country would have been ruled more locally and probably less oppressively by governments of their own people. This, rather than the removal of Assad followed by yet another wasteful failure of nation-building, should be the end goal of any intervention that might occur in Syria.

13. Trump has betrayed the raison d’être of his campaign. A major factor that caused people who normally do not vote for anyone to come out to vote for Trump was his “America First” rhetoric. Part of putting America first is to avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements by implementing a non-interventionist foreign policy. Many people supported Barack Obama in the hopes that he would do less damage overseas than George W. Bush. After being disappointed in Obama and seeing no difference in Mitt Romney, they gravitated toward Trump because his rhetoric was in stark contrast to that of establishment politicians from both major parties. Now he has also disappointed them, and hopefully they will come to realize that…

14. Peace can only be obtained by anti-political means. Peace is the status of being free from violence. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. Initiatory force involves the use of violence. Thus, the very presence of a state is a guarantee of war, both abroad and against the domestic population at home. Therefore, the only possibility for peace is to have no state. The elimination of the state cannot be accomplished by political means, as political processes perpetuate the state by design. Thus, anti-political means are required.

Nine Observations on the Westminster Attack

On March 22 at 14:40 GMT, Khalid Masood, 52, drove a Hyundai Tucson vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing three and wounding over 40 others. The vehicle then crashed into the railings outside the Houses of Parliament. Masood exited the vehicle, entered the grounds of New Palace Yard, and fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer. Armed police warned Masood, then fatally shot him. In response, Parliament was placed on lockdown and later closed for the day. The National Assemblies in Scotland and Wales suspended proceedings. Nine observations on this event follow.

1. Security personnel should not be unarmed. Matters of violence are generally decided by who is more able and willing to use force. As it was, the attacker brought a knife to a fight without guns, giving him a strong advantage that he used to terrible effect. If Officer Keith Palmer had been carrying a firearm, he could have stopped Masood before he got close enough to use his knife, as the armed police who arrived later did.

2. Citizens should not be unarmed. In the United Kingdom, access to firearms by private citizens is regulated by strict gun control laws. But criminals are defined by the fact that they disregard laws. As such, the only people who would have a gun in a legally disarmed society would be government agents and criminals (but I repeat myself). Had someone on the bridge been armed, they could have stopped Masood at some point before he reached the railings outside of the Houses of Parliament. Gun control did nothing to prevent the Westminster attack, nor will it do anything to stop the next attack. The politicians prefer it this way, of course; a well-armed populace has little need for the state to protect them and is much harder for the state to victimize.

3. Government prison systems do a poor job of rehabilitation. Masood had a lengthy criminal record, beginning with an arrest for criminal damage in 1983 and ending with knife possession in 2003. His convictions include assault with grevious bodily harm, possessing offensive weaponry, and public order offenses. A better criminal justice system may have been able to reform him, but the government penal institutions certainly failed to do so. In fact, the opposite occurred, as it was reported that Masood converted to Islam while in prison. Spread of Islamic radicalism in prisons is a known problem.

4. ISIS may be lying. In a tweet, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency said, “A soldier for the Islamic State carried out the operation in answer to calls to target the people of coalition states.” But it is in their interest to claim responsibility regardless of whether Masood had any connection to or drew any inspiration from ISIS, as doing so helps them to maintain relevance and prestige. Home Secretary Amber Rudd cast doubt over whether Masood was affiliated with ISIS, and analysts monitoring ISIS point to the lack of biographical information and operational specifics in the ISIS statement suggest a lack of direct involvement.

5. Islam is incompatible with Western civilization. Contemporary Western values include separation of church and state, equality before the law, and rational skepticism. All of these values are largely absent in the Islamic world. The reason that the West has these values is that a great amount of blood was spilled over their recognizance and defense. The Islamic world has yet to undergo the sort of reformation that Western society underwent, and the Quran is particularly hostile to the aforementioned innovations of the West.

Whereas immigrants from Eastern Europe to Western Europe or from Central America to the United States have different customs and traditions, they do have similar (though corrupted) legal and political systems. This makes those immigrants functional within the established systems, even if not as functional as the current populations. Muslim immigration, on the other hand, involves people who support a competing and adversarial worldview. Note that large percentages of Muslims wish to live under Sharia instead of Western common or civil law systems.

6. Preventing vehicle attacks before they start is likely impossible. There have been several incidents in which terrorists have driven vehicles into crowds of people, such as Nantes in 2014, and Nice and Berlin in 2016. Carrying out such an attack is far easier than other methods, in that there is no need to manufacture explosives, acquire arms and ammunition, or engage in multi-stage plots such as hijacking airplanes and crashing them into targets. Given that a terrorist could stay out of sight of the authorities, as Masood did after leaving prison in 2009

7. Successful attacks inspire copycats. One day after the Westminster attack, a French national of North African origin attempted a similar attack in Antwerp, Belgium. The vehicle was intercepted before it could hit anyone. Inside, police found bladed weapons, a riot gun, and a container filled with an unidentified liquid. The Westminster attack was itself carried out on the one-year anniversary of the Brussels bombings. As many attacks are attempted on anniversaries of previous successful attacks, it would be wise to increase security measures on those days.

8. Terrorist attacks make sense in a democracy. A system which does not grant the public a political voice, such as absolute monarchism or anarcho-capitalism, gives terrorists far less reason to kill members of the public, as there is little need for the monarch or the private landowners to listen to whatever calls for action that such an attack may prompt from the public. Conversely, a democratic system politicizes the masses like no other. It explicitly codifies the idea that everyone who is allowed to vote has some degree of political power. This means that targeting civilians becomes useful for promoting political change, both in the form of denying the vote to those who are killed and in the form of coercing the survivors toward a terrorist’s desired political changes. Furthermore, the voters are viewed by the victims of a state’s foreign policy as bearing responsibility for the crimes committed against them by agents of that state, thus causing terrorists who are motivated by vengeance to target civilians. For fringe elements of a society, voting will probably never get them what they want, as they simply lack the numbers to accomplish anything. But terrorism allows them to compensate for this by voting for their extremist causes multiple times over all of the elections that their victims would have otherwise lived through and voted in. While we cannot abolish terrorism by abolishing democracy, it would be a step in the right direction.

9. We should not expect anything to change unless we make it change. Through terrorist attacks in Orlando, Brussels, Paris, and Beirut, the response has generally been for people around the world to hashtag “Pray for Wherever” on Twitter, change their Facebook profile pictures to incorporate the flag of the attacked nation, and do little else. Meanwhile, governments do not change the policies that both encourage terrorists to strike and give them access to their victims. Thus, the terrorists win, which may be exactly what the politicians want. Until the people of Western nations demand real solutions under threat of taking matters into their own hands otherwise, citizens will continue to live with the fear and uncertainty of Islamic terrorism.

The State Is Negan, Part II

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. The character Negan, who appears in the Season 6 finale and is the primary antagonist in Season 7, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the second part of his character arc to see the extent to which his behavior mimics those of historical dictators, and how his underlings and subjects react to him. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned not only for those who would wield state power, but for those who seek its abolition. This part of the article series will cover the time period immediately following Rick’s introduction to Negan (Episode 702) up to Rick’s decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).

A New Community

In Episode 702, we meet another community that is plagued by Savior rule to a somewhat lesser extent. The men that found Carol and Morgan belong to a place called the Kingdom, ruled over by an eccentric former zookeeper who has a pet tiger. They all go back there so Carol can recover. When Carol is well enough to meet King Ezekiel, she feigns awe but tells Morgan later that it is a circus and vows to leave.

A team of Kingdomers leave to hunt pigs, corralling them into a building where a zombie awaits. The Kingdomers feed zombies to pigs, then slaughter the pigs and give the meat to the Saviors. A Kingdomer tells Morgan that he wants their bellies full of rot. Ezekiel is impressed by Morgan’s skill with a staff and asks him to train Benjamin, which he does. When the Saviors come, they are pleased to find the pigs larger than last time, but antagonize Richard, a Kingdomer. The Saviors say that next week is produce week and threaten to kill Richard if the shipment is too small.

Back in the Kingdom, Benjamin explains that Ezekiel deals with the Saviors because although many in the Kingdom would want to fight, they lack the means to defeat them in battle. Morgan was once against killing people, but says, “Sometimes we change our minds.”

Ezekiel catches Carol trying to sneak away, and they have a meeting of the minds. Ezekiel confesses his true background; he puts on an act because people wanted a larger-than-life figure to follow because it makes them feel safer. Carol still wants to leave, but Ezekiel convinces her to stay in a house just outside the Kingdom.

* * * * *

There is an important lesson for those who practice statecraft in the scenes about the pigs. While the Kingdomers do work under the coercion of the Saviors, they do so in a contemptuous manner. Just like the Chinese shipbuilders who were forced to work for the Mongols, they did a poor job on purpose in an effort to sabotage the efforts of their conquerors. In the Mongols’ case, it resulted in massive losses when they tried to cross the sea to invade Japan. In the Saviors’ case, the effect of eating pigs that are fed with zombies and all of the disease and decay inherent in them remains to be seen, but one must imagine that it would be hazardous to one’s health. The lesson is that it is far better to hire people to work voluntarily than to force them.

In some ways, Ezekiel is the good counterpart to Negan. While Negan exploits the desire to be led, Ezekiel tries to use it to help people. While Negan’s cult of personality is based on fear and violence, Ezekiel’s is built on love and respect. While Negan demands half of what everyone produces and offers far less value in return, Ezekiel only demands that one “replenish the well” if one “drinks from the well.” If one understands the state as a perversion of beneficial impulses in people, this makes perfect sense.

Inside The Beast I

Episode 703 gives us a look at many of the internal dynamics of the Savior compound. The entire Savior social order is one of the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must. Because Dwight is a high-ranking subordinate of Negan, he can cut in line and grab a large amount of food. Meanwhile, a low-ranking Savior is beaten to death. Dwight then raids his room to steal food as his son and pregnant widow watch helplessly. After getting more food elsewhere, Dwight and others kneel as Negan walks by. Dwight makes a sandwich with everything he has gathered while watching two workers chain a walker to the compound’s outer fence.

Since the confrontation in Episode 701, Daryl has been naked and locked in a dark, empty cell where music plays to keep him from sleeping. Dwight regularly feeds him sandwiches with dog food in them. Finally, Dwight gives him some clothes and takes him to Dr. Carson’s office. The doctor examines Daryl’s shoulder injury from Episode 615 and says that Negan will take care of him. Dwight then shows Daryl the fence with walkers and says that Daryl will have to work out there if he makes wrong choices. Back in his cell, Daryl says he will never kneel for Negan, but Dwight says that he once said the same thing. The cell is shut and the loud music resumes.

Negan commends Dwight for his efforts with Daryl, then offers him sex with one of the women in his harem, including Sherry, Dwight’s wife. Dwight declines, which angers Negan. A voice on Dwight’s walkie mentions a runaway worker. Negan tells Dwight to send a subordinate, but Dwight goes to take care of it himself. Dwight finds the runaway worker, who begs Dwight to shoot him. He wonders why no one will overthrow Negan and initially refuses to return, but agrees to come back after Dwight threatens his relatives. Dwight kills him and brings his remains back, and his zombified corpse is added to the fence.

Joey brings a sandwich to Daryl, but leaves his door unlocked. Daryl escapes, but is warned by Sherry to go back. He ignores her and ends up getting stopped by a group of Saviors led by Negan, including Joey. Negan asks his followers who they are, and all respond, “Negan.” Negan tells Daryl he has failed to prove himself, and presents him with three options: die and be a zombie on their fence, work in their points system to survive, or serve under Negan and live like a king. Negan tries to intimidate Daryl with Lucille, which does not work, then leaves his followers to beat Daryl.

Dwight and Sherry have a moment alone to smoke and talk. “We did the right thing,” he tells her, “it’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.” Back in Daryl’s cell, Sherry apologizes for stealing his motorcycle and crossbow back in Episode 606. Dwight brings him food, but he refuses to eat. Dwight then gives him a photo of Glenn’s dead body, which reduces Daryl to tears. Dwight smiles slightly and leaves.

Later, Dwight leads Daryl to an apartment where Negan awaits. Negan tells Daryl the story of Dwight, Sherry, and Tina. They used to work for points, but Tina fell behind, so Negan asked her to join the harem. In response, the three of them ran away. Tina died, then they returned. Negan agreed to let Dwight and Sherry live in exchange for Sherry joining the harem and Dwight getting burned on the face with a hot iron, a common punishment for serious offenses under Negan’s rule. Dwight has been a top lieutenant ever since. Negan says Daryl can be a top man and live in the apartment, but only if Daryl says that he is Negan. Daryl responds to Negan’s query of “Who are you?” with his own name.

Back in Daryl’s cell, Dwight yells at him for his choice, but Daryl replies, “I get why you did it, why you took it. You were thinking about someone else. That’s why I can’t.”

* * * * *

With the torturing of Daryl, we see the lengths to which an authoritarian regime will go in order to break the will of dissidents. The tactics of sleep deprivation, malnourishment, physical abuse, threats of extreme punishment, reminders of past injustices committed by the regime, and promises of great rewards just for surrendering one’s will to the state are all used against Daryl. Whether Joey leaving the door unlocked was an oversight or a test is unclear, but Negan uses it as a test.

The conversation between Dwight and Negan, as well as the scene where all of Negan’s followers declare that they are him, demonstrates several important lessons. As discussed in Part I, Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. The tactic of training people to identify themselves as Negan is used to protect the real Negan and create a sense of collective identity. This sense is so strong that Negan’s underlings come to behave as he would have them behave without him needing to be present, which is what every dictator wants from his administrators. Another tactic that Negan uses is the mastery of body language. When he converses with someone, he makes consistent eye contact, staring down the other person. He also makes a point to invade that person’s personal space unless that person is a trusted direct subordinate. The other person is not allowed to do this back to Negan, under pain of the various punishments he uses. Third, Negan can read people very well, and he uses this toward psychopathic ends. It is likely that Negan gave Dwight the idea to give Daryl a picture of Glenn’s battered remains, knowing that reminding Daryl of the murder of one of his best friends would be one of the most devastating means of torturing Daryl.

Negan makes the rules clear in his regime, so that everyone knows for certain what will get them punished and what will get them rewarded. These rules are kept as simple as possible so that almost anyone can abide by them in theory if not in practice. Like most dictators, Negan has a clear circle of top lieutenants who serve the purposes of carrying out his will and projecting his power farther than he could himself. Negan takes good care of these lieutenants, for it is their loyalty that ultimately allows him to stay in power and govern his state.

The runaway worker incident shows that running away from the state is ultimately a fool’s errand. The state will eventually catch up to those who attempt to evade its grasp and punish them harshly. The only effective means of resistance are to undermine the system from within or destroy the system from without.

Finally, we learn what happened to Dwight between Episodes 606 and 615, including the explanation for his disfigurement. As occurs in many criminal gangs and more corrupt states, female members have an additional avenue of gaining entry or righting wrongs that male members do not have in the form of sexually servicing the dominant males of the power structure. Negan demonstrates this twice; first with Tina for going into debt, and then with Sherry for fleeing. The hot iron punishment serves as a powerful deterrent to disobedience, particularly because it is performed for public consumption and is excessively cruel. But needlessly cruel punishments also breed resentment, and the earlier refusal of Negan’s gift along with his decision to kill his friend rather than return him alive to face Negan’s punishment indicates that Dwight may not be fully loyal.

Tax Collection, Part I

Episode 704 is about Negan’s collection of his first tribute from Alexandria. Before this, Michonne leaves with a hidden sniper rifle, sensing that Negan may come and want to take it. Rosita and Spencer prepare to leave for a supply run and Eugene repairs an audio system to give to the Saviors. Negan arrives with a large group of Saviors, and Daryl is with them. Negan demands to be let in, and Spencer asks who he is after Negan enters because Spencer was absent from the meeting with the Saviors. Negan says Spencer must be joking, then Rick meets them and notes that Negan is early. Negan makes Rick hold Lucille.

Rick sees Daryl and tries to check in with him, but Negan forbids it. Rick says they have set aside half of their supplies, but Negan says he will decide what is half. Arat, one of Negan’s lieutenants, orders the Saviors to search the houses. Dwight takes Rosita and Spencer’s guns, then taunts Rosita by taking her hat and pouring out her water. He orders them to bring back Daryl’s motorcycle, then they leave.

The Saviors steal furniture from the houses in Alexandria. A lieutenant finds the video of Rick from when he first arrived in Alexandria. Negan watches it and says that “he would not have messed with that guy,” but Rick is not that man anymore. Negan asks about Maggie, and Gabriel lies to Negan, saying that Maggie is dead when she is really in Hilltop. Negan says he planned to make Maggie one of his wives, which makes Rick angry. He clutches Lucille, then relaxes.

They hear a gunshot in the infirmary. Carl holds a Savior at gunpoint and orders him to return some medicine he took. Rick begs Carl to stand down. Negan jokes about Carl’s fearlessness, then uses the incident as a pretext to confiscate all guns in Alexandria. Olivia is made to lead the Saviors to the armory. Negan decides not to take any food so the Alexandrians can keep themselves alive to collect for him. Negan commands Rick to thank him, but he will not. Negan says that Rick forced his hand, and that is why he should thank him. Negan asks if anyone keeps guns outside the armory, and Rick says no.

Arat informs Negan that two guns are missing from the armory. Negan threatens to kill Olivia if the guns are not found. Rick calls a meeting of Alexandria about the guns. Eric asks Rick how they will get out of the situation with the Saviors, and Rick says there is no way out. Later, they find the guns in Spencer’s house, along with stolen food and liquor. Gabriel is more optimistic than Rick about their chances against the Saviors.

Spencer finds Daryl’s motorcycle and questions Rick’s leadership. Rosita kills the zombies in the area where Denise was killed. She takes a gun from one of them, but it is empty. Spencer finds and chastises her. Rosita says she is looking for guns on the (correct) assumption that Negan will disarm Alexandria.

David, a Savior, taunts Enid in a creepy, pedophilic way. Rick brings the guns from Spencer’s house to Negan. Rosita and Spencer return with Daryl’s motorcycle as Negan’s group gets ready to leave. Rick sees Michonne lurking nearby and asks Negan for a moment. Negan makes Rick ask nicely, then allows it. Rick tells Michonne that he knows about her rifle and urges her to hand it over because the Saviors will kill more people if they find an Alexandrian with a gun. Michonne surrenders it, and Rick hands it to Negan.

Rick asks if Daryl can stay in Alexandria since they obeyed Negan. Negan asks Daryl if he wants to stay, but Daryl remains silent. Dwight takes the motorcycle from Spencer and rides up to Daryl. Dwight says Daryl can have it back if he says the word. Daryl remains silent, so Dwight drives off.

Negan refuses to leave until Rick thanks him, and Rick does. A zombie approaches, and Negan kills it. Rick again grips Lucille and thinks of bashing Negan with it. Negan retrieves Lucille, then the Saviors leave.

Rick closes the gate and berates Spencer for hoarding supplies. Spencer says they should have made a deal with Negan earlier and blames Rick for the deaths of Abraham and Glenn. Rick threatens to punch Spencer if he says anything like that again.

Rosita asks Spencer why he did not mention the hidden guns, pointing out what she did to get one. Spencer says he took them because he did not trust Rick’s leadership. He says Rosita was correct about them not having to live this way. When he leaves, Rosita retrieves the gun from her car.

Rick spreads blankets on the bedroom floor because the Saviors took most of their mattresses. Michonne says they have survived because they always fight, but Rick says they lack the numbers. Rick says they must accept their situation with Negan because it is how they live now. Michonne says she will try. The next day, Michonne investigates a wisp of smoke and finds the mattresses from Alexandria smoldering on the roadside, which enrages her.

Rosita picks up an empty shell casing from Negan’s gun, approaches Eugene, and says, “Make me a bullet.”

* * * * *

In this episode, we see the disrespect that naturally comes from a conqueror toward a conquered people. The invasion of the Alexandrians’ homes and burning of their mattresses even though they set aside half of their supplies further reinforces their subjugation. Wasteful destruction is a hallmark of statism, and Negan’s apparatus is no different in this regard.

Spencer’s reaction to Negan at the beginning of the episode highlights a common problem for oppressed peoples. Those who have witnessed atrocities first-hand have a different perspective from those who only hear about them, or those who have not heard about them. Though the direct witnesses can attempt to explain, there is really no substitute for being present for an event like Negan’s murders of Abraham and Glenn. Thus, the fears, resignations, and vengeful feelings of those who directly suffer will never be fully understood by other members of the population. This will help to explain some (but not all) of Spencer’s behaviors throughout this half-season.

Negan makes Rick hold Lucille not just to taunt him with the memories of Abraham and Glenn, but to make him feel powerless by letting him hold the symbol of Negan’s power and realize that the power is not his. This is typical behavior for a cruel king to exhibit toward puppet rulers of conquered lands, at least initially.

The ultimate act of subjugation is Negan’s strict gun control policy. Like rulers in the real world, Negan knows that a disarmed population is less capable of resistance, and that if he wishes to get away with acts that he could not commit if his subjects were armed, he must take away their guns. As Toyotomi Hideyoshi decreed in 1588,

“The people of the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other types of arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues and tends to foment uprisings.”

But these acts of subjugation do not destroy the Alexandrians’ spirit, as Gabriel lies to Negan about Maggie while Rosita is determined to fight. Rosita was smart to anticipate the gun grab, but attempting to hide guns that Negan would learn about when too few are willing to resist him, as Spencer did, was a poor strategy.

Negan’s decision to spare Alexandria’s food, like most actions taken by human farmers toward human livestock, are done not for the benefit of the livestock, but so that the livestock will be more productive. Rick, to his credit, understands this better than the average citizen in the real world. However, the Alexandrians committed a major mistake by keeping an inventory after they met Negan and learned of his system. This only made it easier for Negan to know what he should take, and there is certainly no moral obligation to point a thief to one’s valuables. A cooked book or hidden supply cache could have gone a long way toward saving some of the Alexandrians’ possessions, especially their arms.

The actions of David toward Enid, as well as the general demeanor of some of Negan’s lieutenants, show that some of Negan’s followers are potentially worse than him, which provides assassination insurance in the threat of a more terrible ruler coming to power if Negan is killed. This is no different from how real-world rulers construct their inner circles, even in liberal democracies.

The treacherous nature of Spencer will be an ongoing problem, but it will not truly manifest until later. The treatment that the other vassal communities of the Saviors receive shows that his idea of appeasing them would likely not have worked out much better. People like him will be present in almost any occupied people or resistance movement, and they have to be stopped before they can destroy the group from within.

It must be noted that with some preparation on Alexandria’s part, this day could have gone very differently. Resistance to Negan in this episode was far more practical than anyone seemed to believe. Had Rick’s group returned to Alexandria and told everyone to prepare an ambush for Negan to be ready at any time during the next week, they had enough guns, rocket launchers, and ammunition to exterminate Negan and his entire party. With this in mind, Rick’s despair and resignation during the town meeting are quite misplaced. A battle almost certainly would have cost Daryl his life, and others in Alexandria might have died in the fighting, but when the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of tyrants, some patriots invariably spill theirs as well. Also, it is not as though everyone will live if Rick’s people do not rebel, as later episodes will show.

In the real world, the state’s grasp on power is far more tenuous than most people realize. If only 2 percent of the population living under a state decided to forcefully defend themselves against government agents just as they would against common criminals, the apparatus would likely collapse, to be replaced by whatever governance structure is desired by that 2 percent. Some of those 2 percent would certainly die in the fighting, but there is no guarantee that one’s life will be spared by the state even if one complies with its edicts, given that 262 million people were killed by their own governments in the 20th century.

One must wonder if Rick as he was in the video found by the Saviors might have fought Negan tooth and nail. But Rick did get softer since arriving in Alexandria, and Negan’s investment of time and effort into breaking Rick pays off, as Rick convinces his people to comply with Negan’s demands rather than offer resistance. Having dependable puppet governors like Rick in Alexandria, Gregory in Hilltop, and Ezekiel in the Kingdom makes Negan’s job much easier, and arguably make it possible.

Tax Collection, Part II

Episode 705 mostly takes place in the Hilltop Colony. We learn that Maggie has suffered from a minor pregnancy complication, but will be fine if she rests and remains in Hilltop until she gives birth. Maggie, Sasha, and Jesus visit the graves of Abraham and Glenn. Gregory arrives and asks why Maggie’s people did not finish off the Saviors and whether they know about Hilltop allying with Alexandria. He orders the Alexandrians out of Hilltop so he can have plausible deniability.

In Alexandria, Rick and Aaron go on a supply run, but Carl refuses to join. Carl finds Enid leaving for Hilltop, but cannot convince her to stay in Alexandria. Later, Carl kills a zombie that is pursuing Enid and they go together to Hilltop. Carl tells Enid that he watched Negan murder Abraham and Glenn so that he would have the memory to motivate him to kill Negan.

Sasha asks Jesus to change Gregory’s mind and offers to scavenge on Maggie’s behalf. Maggie and Sasha wake in the middle of the night to find that the Saviors have attacked Hilltop. They have opened the gates, tied the guards to the lookout platform, set fires, and driven a car with a massive sound system into Hilltop. This draws a horde of zombies toward Hilltop. Jesus and Sasha kill the zombies while Maggie organizes Hilltop’s defenses and rescues the guards. Sasha finds the car sealed off with metal grates, so Maggie drives a tractor over the car to silence its speakers.

Gregory thanks Maggie and Sasha but refuses to let them stay. As they negotiate, Saviors arrive. Gregory tells Jesus to hide Maggie and Sasha as Simon leads about twenty Saviors into Hilltop. Simon says that the Saviors unleashed zombies on Hilltop to remind them that zombies are still a threat and the Saviors provide a service by killing them. He tells Gregory of the destroyed Savior outpost from Episode 612, and Gregory pretends not to know of this. Simon says he is the new Savior liaison to Hilltop and asks if Gregory wants to tell him anything. Gregory says he does, and leads Simon to the foyer closet with the intention of handing over Maggie and Sasha. He finds boxes of scotch instead, which Simon dislikes himself but says will please Negan. Simon orders Gregory to kneel, which he does. The Saviors leave as Carl and Enid arrive. Carl plans to hide out on a Savior truck, and Enid fails to talk him out of this.

Jesus lets Maggie and Sasha out of Gregory’s bedroom closet. Gregory yells at Jesus for hiding them there instead of where the Saviors would find them, but Jesus stands up to him. He threatens to tell the Saviors of the deal with Alexandria, which would strip him of plausible deniability. Maggie punches Gregory, reaches into his pocket, and takes Glenn’s watch that Gregory stole from the graveyard. Jesus tells Maggie and Sasha that initially, he could not imagine anyone but Gregory running Hilltop, but he can now. Whether this refers to himself or Maggie is left an open question. Sasha asks Jesus to find out where Negan lives, but not to tell Maggie.

As the Saviors leave, Jesus sneaks into a truck, where he finds Carl also hitching a ride to the Saviors’ compound.

* * * * *

In any resistance movement, there will be fair weather participants. Gregory was initially on board with the plan to destroy the Saviors, but turned on the Alexandrians as soon as times got tough. This is as true of the real world as it is of The Walking Dead. In most revolutions, only a few percent of the population are on either the establishment side or the revolutionary side. The majority are either apathetic or opportunistic, intending to be on the winning side, whichever that may be. Though this makes sense in light of treason being punishable by death and supporters of losing factions being pariahs in their communities for years afterward, self-preservation is less commendable than courage.

That being said, it is important to remember that Gregory is a puppet ruler. Ultimately, he leads Hilltop because Negan wants him to, and this is no secret to Jesus, Maggie, or Sasha. Much like Alexandria, the residents of Hilltop tolerate Negan’s rule through Gregory because they believe they lack the means to do something about it, which is another parallel with real-world citizens who submit to governments. The Hilltoppers do not even have ammunition for their guns, which is why Negan did not bother disarming them. (This may not have been Negan’s brightest move, given that ammunition can be found by scavenging or manufactured oneself with the correct knowledge and tools.) But Gregory should beware, as puppets often suffer a worse fate than the rulers they serve, whether at the hands of the ruler or an angry, revolting mob.

As discussed in Part I, the use of ultraviolence can make the establishment of a governance structure easier, but it can also breed resentment. Carl’s use of the murders of Abraham and Glenn as motivation to resist and defeat Negan is an example of this.

Like many good friends and romantic partners in the real world, Enid tries to dissuade Carl from taking direct revolutionary action, citing the danger in doing so. But like all brave warriors, Carl reassures Enid and goes off to engage the enemy.

When the Saviors send zombies to attack Hilltop and say that they provide a service by killing zombies, they are causing the very problem that they claim to prevent. This is no different from government ‘protection’ services; they force their subjects to pay for service, violently suppress any competing defense service, then do whatever they feel like doing instead of trying to provide quality service at a reasonable cost. Occasionally, governments will actually cause threats to emerge in order to justify their other activities, just as the Saviors do.

Of Running, Hiding, and Fighting

In Episode 706, we find out what happened to Tara, who was also absent from the meeting with the Saviors. She washes up on a beach and is found by a previously unknown group of survivors who live in a place called Oceanside. The young girl who finds Tara intends to kill her because their orders are to kill all strangers, but Cyndie, an older girl with her, says to spare Tara.

A flashback shows Tara and Heath eating in an RV after a two-week scavenging mission. Heath wants to return to Alexandria but Tara insists on scavenging more. They agree to look for one more day. Heath laments killing everyone at the Savior outpost in Episode 612.

In the present, Cyndie returns to find Tara asleep where she left her. Cyndie leaves water, fish, and a spear for Tara, then leaves. Tara, who was pretending to sleep, follows Cyndie into some woods and eventually into a village. She thinks she is being stealthy but the women arming and organizing. Eventually, they capture Tara.

Another flashback shows Heath and Tara on a bridge blocked with containers, cars, and tarps. They manage to release a group of zombies who were trapped in a sand pile and are attacked. Tara falls and Heath appears to abandon her.

In the present, Tara is handcuffed to a radiator. She is interrogated, but lies about where she is from. She claims to be from a fishing boat, but her lack of knowledge about fishing boat terminology betrays her. Tara offers to leave, but Natania, the leader of Oceanside, worries that Tara knows too much.

At dinner, Natania invites Tara and Heath to stay in order to keep Oceanside’s location secret. Tara observes that there are no men present, and Natania says that the men were all killed by another group, after which the women decided to move and hide. Tara confesses that she comes from a community that killed a threatening group to stay alive and suggests an alliance. Natania agrees to send a guide with Tara to find Heath and meet their community.

The next day, Tara leaves Oceanside with two of their women. Tara figures out that they plan to kill her. A zombie appears and Tara volunteers to kill it in order to get an opportunity to flee. Beatrice, one of the two, catches Tara and says that the Saviors are the group they both talked about earlier. She says it is too late, that Tara’s people are dead because the station they destroyed was only one of many. Beatrice said that the Saviors lined up all of their males over age 10 and shot them in the head. Before Beartice can kill Tara, Cyndie tackles Beatrice and tells Tara to run.

Later, Cyndie catches up to Tara. Tara swears to keep Oceanside a secret. Cyndie gives Tara a backpack and guides her back to the bridge. Tara looks for Heath but cannot find him as Cyndie snipes at zombies.

In a flashback, Tara is surrounded by walkers, but Heath saves her. Heath then gets overrun, but insists that Tara escape. Zombies shove her and she falls off the bridge.

In the present, Tara gets across the bridge. She finds Heath’s broken glasses and some tire tracks, suggesting that he escaped. She returns on foot to Alexandria. Eugene greets her with a devastated expression, and Tara learns of all that has transpired, including the deaths of Denise, Abraham, and Glenn. Rosita asks if Tara knows of any guns or ammunition, but Tara keeps her promise to keep Oceanside secret.

* * * * *

This episode is mostly about the toll that war takes on people and how they react to the prospect of further hostilities. Heath’s lamentation is quite similar to the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by real-world combatants, though what one must continually do to survive in the world of The Walking Dead might make this easier to deal with, in that one never has much of a chance to return to normalcy. Meanwhile, the general mentality of most people in Oceanside is to do whatever is necessary to avoid further hostilities, up to the point of killing any stranger who might reveal their location. This is another common reaction by people who have retreated to a hidden stronghold in the hope of avoiding oppression.

As if the Saviors were not evil enough, we learn in this episode that they have put the entire male population of fighting age in Oceanside to death. Though this is an idea with a long tradition in warfare, it is commonly regarded as barbaric today, and for good reason. It is clear that Negan is determined to hang on to power by any means necessary, including exterminating entire communities. Though Oceanside is still alive and it would only take a few men to restore the long-term potential of this community, Oceanside is just a group of women waiting for death in its current state. Returning to the human farming analogy, this makes sense to Negan because he has enough livestock elsewhere to be able to lose a few who resist domestication. Furthermore, the women of Oceanside have a dark testament to tell of what happens to those who resist the Saviors, which could bring future groups who might think of resistance to heel. In this sense, ultraviolence is a measure used for foreign consumption as well as domestic consumption.

The other major theme of this episode is internal conflict in the forms of fight versus flight, false safety versus true liberty, and loyalty versus expediency. Tara wants to fight the danger of the Saviors, while Oceanside has chosen flight. Natania falsely believes that Oceanside is safe, but they can only gain true liberty by rejoining the struggle against the Saviors. Tara wrestles with whether to keep her word to the people of Oceanside or tell the truth to the Alexandrians about another armed resistance group out there. These are all internal dilemmas that a revolutionary who seeks to topple a ruler in the real world can expect to face.

Inside The Beast II

Episode 707 takes us inside the Saviors’ compound again, this time with Carl and Jesus. As they ride to the Saviors’ community, Jesus jumps out to follow on foot while Carl rides all the way there. When they arrive, Carl picks up a machine gun and kills a Savior, demanding to see Negan. He aims at Negan when he appears, as Negan hides behind another Savior. Negan calmly says, “You look adorable,” and Dwight tackles Carl after he shoots a second Savior. Daryl watches helplessly from the other side of a zombie-laced fence. Negan tells Dwight to stand down, then offers to show Carl around. Carl accepts under the threat of Daryl having his arm chopped off. Carl asks what will be done to him, and Negan tells him, “Number one: do not shatter my image of you. You’re a badass; you’re not scared of shit, don’t be scared of me. Its a disappointment.”

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron are out looking for supplies. They approach a gate with a sign that says, “Keep going, only thing here for you is trouble.” They jump over the gate, knowing that Negan is coming again the next day and will expect supplies.

From a catwalk, Negan and Carl stand above a crowd of Saviors who kneel before Negan. He announces that the Saviors secured a large load and everyone gets fresh vegetables for free, which elicits applause. Negan whispers to Carl, “You see that? Respect.”

In Alexandria, Eugene and Rosita prepare to leave for a supply run, but Rosita has no intention of finding anything for Negan. Spencer says they must produce for Negan, and compares it to paying taxes. Rosita tells him he can pay his ‘taxes’ and leaves with Eugene.

Negan introduces Carl to his harem. Negan pulls Sherry aside, who tells him that Mark, a Savior, was with Amber, one of Negan’s wives, instead of attending to his work duties. Negan admonishes Amber, who cries and says she loves Negan. Negan boasts to Sherry that he went easy on Amber. Dwight arrives with Daryl, who is carrying a snack platter for Negan.

While scavenging, Spencer complains to Gabriel that Rick is a bad leader and hopes that Rick will not return from his scavenging run. Gabriel is angered enough to get out of the car and walk back to Alexandria, leaving Spencer alone. Spencer gets out of the car, hears a zombie, and finds it stuck in a tree stand. Spencer manages to take a compound bow from the zombie.

Negan takes Carl to his apartment. He orders Carl to remove his bandage and show his shot-out eye, then mocks Carl until he cries. Negan apologizes, then tells Carl that his eye is “rad as hell” and advises him to show it off to intimidate people. Fat Joey stops by to return Lucille to Negan. He orders Carl to sing him a song, and he does after some resistance. Negan asks about Carl’s mother, who he shot to prevent her from becoming a zombie. This impresses Negan.

The Saviors gather around a furnace, where Mark is tied up for punishment. Negan reiterates the importance of rules, then buns Mark’s face with a hot iron. Mark screams and passes out from the pain.

Rosita takes Eugene to a factory he had previously found. She orders him to make her a bullet. Eugene says that a single bullet will not be sufficient, but Rosita calls him a coward and says he is only alive because people feel sorry for him. Deeply hurt, Eugene gets to work.

Dwight and Sherry smoke in a stairwell again. She says their deal with Negan was only supposed to affect them, but Dwight says that everyone who is alive is so at someone else’s expense.

In Negan’s apartment, Carl says Negan is incapable of killing him, Rick, or Daryl. Negan suggests they take a ride. As they go, Daryl warns Negan not to harm Carl, but Negan tells Dwight to put Daryl back in his cell and leaves. Jesus, who was hiding on the truck Negan and Carl got into, gets off and stays behind.

Daryl hears footsteps outside his cell. Someone slips a note under the door that says “Go now” and has a key taped to it.

Michonne makes a barricade of dead zombies and uses it to catch a Savior. She demands to be taken to Negan.

Negan and Carl knock on the door of Rick’s house. Olivia answers, telling Negan that Rick has gone scavenging. Negan mocks her for being fat until she cries. He apologizes and proposes to have sex with her while they wait for Rick. Olivia slaps him, but he laughs it off. Negan takes himself on a tour of Rick’s house and orders Olivia to make lemonade. Carl tries to keep him away from baby Judith’s room, but Negan finds her. He is delighted and takes her out of the room.

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron encounter a second warning sign that says anyone coming for the writer’s supplies will be shot. They proceed and reach a pond filled with zombies with a houseboat floating in the center.

Back near Alexandria, Rosita thanks Eugene for making a bullet and apologizes. Eugene rejects the apology, knowing she meant what she said. Spencer returns with a bounty of supplies, including a list of caches. Spencer whistles toward the gate and a Savior opens it.

Negan, Carl, and Judith are on Rick’s front porch. Negan rocks Judith as he contemplates killing Rick and Carl, as well as living in the suburbs. Negan smiles and kisses Judith’s nose.

* * * * *

The first part of the episode shows the danger of confused and insufficient resistance operations. Jesus intends a reconnaisance mission, but Carl plans to attack Negan. While a single person infiltrating an enemy base can be more effective than a large assault, Carl does not see through his mission, failing to kill Negan when he has the chance. This sort of haphazardness is far too common in the real world, leading many assassination attempts on rulers to end in failure. There is also the matter of failure to actually do the deed when the opportunity presents itself. In any sort of warfare or other resistance to a state, he who hesitates is lost.

The concept of consent under duress is explored in this episode through Negan’s interactions with Carl. Just as the social contract basis for the supposed legitimacy of governments is founded upon assumed consent that will be enforced by violence if necessary rather than actual consent, Carl’s compliance with Negan is not voluntary in nature. Negan gets Carl to comply with him by mocking him and threatening him, Rick, and Daryl. Mockery of resistance groups is a function mostly performed by the establishment press in the real world, but Negan does it himself in the smaller scale of The Walking Dead.

Negan’s focus on maintaining his image and cult of personality is shown again through his speech to his followers and the hot iron punishment. Like most real-world authoritarian rulers, Negan confuses respect with fear. Though the results may appear to be the same in the short-term, a conscious response to perceived virtue is much different from a subconscious response to perceived danger. Like many of Negan’s activities, the cultivation of fear and awe that he mislabels ‘respect’ actually breeds resentment and revolutionary thought. Negan’s insistence on strict interpretation of the rules and brutal punishments for breaking them is done not only to deprive his subjects of liberty and subordinate them to his will, but to make them dependent on him as the final arbiter of disputes, as all states claim to be.

Spencer’s direct comparison of Negan’s command to gather for him with taxation is surprising to find in a mainstream media production, but thoroughly accurate. Many modern states effectively tax productive people at rates in the neighborhood of 50 percent, as Negan claims to do, but in practice Negan takes what he wants, as states ultimately do. After all, if someone is able to take part of what one owns without penalty, one does not really have exclusive control over one’s property. Though modern states obfuscate their use of violence toward tax resisters in many cases to the point that many people can no longer see it, the threat of aggressive force still exists. Of course, Negan makes no such obfuscations, as he rules through direct fear and violence rather than a massive bureaucracy. But just like real-world governments, Negan has most people believing that “we have to produce for him, whether we like it or not.”

Spencer’s treachery continues, but will not come to a head until the next episode, so let us discuss it in the next commentary.

Rosita’s treatment of Eugene is understandable, especially given his full backstory, but insulting someone whose assistance is required is generally unwise. Though this is a different phenomenon from the work under duress that was discussed earlier, this can also lead a person to work in a contemptuous manner and produce an inferior product as a form of retribution. Whether Eugene actually does this is an open question, though events that will be discussed in Part III will raise this question.

What appears to be almost a throwaway scene actually contains one of the most important lessons in the episode. As Dwight correctly tells Sherry, everyone who is still alive is alive at someone else’s expense. This dead other need not be human, but it will always exist, down to a person’s very diet. The foods that one eats were once living beings. The broader point that one’s choices do not only affect oneself is also important, especially when a state apparatus is involved. Because the state steals, redistributes, consumes, and destroys rather than produces, it can only give one something by taking it from someone else. In other words, someone else is deliberately made worse off to a greater extent so that one can be better off to a lesser extent.

Some viewers may dismiss Carl’s taunting of Negan as typical teenage acting out and rebellion against authority, but there is something to be learned from it. In many cases, a resister will taunt the established powers, hoping either to beat them at their own game of projecting an image for public consumption or to provoke them into an overreaction that makes them look completely tyrannical. However, this tends not to work; in most cases, it simply motivates the established powers to dominate the resister. This is partly because the establishment has too many advantages in projecting an image and partly because the established powers are already tyrannical and everyone already knows it. The problem is not one of lack of information, but lack of apparent means of doing something about it. In this case, Negan dominates by taking Carl home and imposing himself into the role that Rick would normally play at home, more of which is seen in the next episode.

Speaking of mockery, this is something that comes naturally to Negan and fits into his larger persona. There is much to be said for the idea that autocratic rulers are playground bullies writ large, as the personality traits of both share important similarities, most notably an understanding of cognitive empathy coupled with a lack of emotional empathy. Belittling one’s rivals is done in both cases for the purpose of pulling oneself up at others’ expense, which is in alignment with the general nature of states to redistribute but never create. One can see this behavior even in liberal democracies, as evidenced by the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

Finally, let us discuss Negan’s treatment of Judith. Despite Negan’s psychopathic behavior in his dealings with adults, he seems to have a genuine soft spot for children, especially babies. This is not unusual in the real world. Often, people who commit atrocities in one part of their lives are perfectly capable of caring and compassion in other parts. For example, the Nazis were cruel toward Jews, but many Nazi leaders are known to have had great concern for the welfare of animals, especially Hermann Göring. An additional element that affects rulers is the knowledge that younger children are both more likely to have more years left to live and more vulnerable to indoctrination, both of which make them important to a ruler’s long-term vision. His efforts to instruct Carl in the proper use of public perception also demonstrate this. Negan has such a vision, as he declares that the purpose of the Saviors is to “bring civilization back to this world.”

The Breaking Point

In Episode 708, the tide finally begins to turn against Negan’s oppressive rule. In Hilltop, Maggie takes her post at the front gate. Gregory warns her not to let her popularity go to her head, and Maggie tells him not to let it bother her. He rubs an apple on his jacket, which irritates Eduardo, another guard. Gregory reluctantly tosses the apple to Maggie, who eats it.

In Rick’s house, Negan shaves and instructs Carl about proper shaving technique. Then, Negan cooks pasta.

At the Saviors’ compound, Daryl escapes his cell and sneaks down the hallways. He ducks into Dwight’s apartment. He eats a jar of peanut butter, changes into Dwight’s clothes, and smashes Dwight’s carved figurines. Once the Saviors he hears in the hall leave, he leaves.

Back in Alexandria, Tara hands Olivia some powdered lemonade. Olivia declines to let Tara take over, saying she promised to watch Judith. Negan tells Carl to place one more setting in case Rick returns. Olivia makes and pours lemonade for Negan.

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron find a boat full of holes. They try to reach the houseboat in it, but sink. After fighting off zombies, they manage to reach the houseboat. They look through the supplies in the houseboat and find a note that says “Congrats for winning, but you still lose” and shows a middle finger.

Negan says he is tired of waiting for Rick, so he, Carl, and Olivia have pasta and lemonade.

A Savior looks through what Spencer has collected and commends his work. A female Savior offers to show Spencer around the Saviors’ compound if he plays his cards right. She calls out Eugene for watching them.

Near the Kingdom, Carol is visited by Morgan, who brings a sack of produce. She invites him in and reveals that Ezekiel also brings her food. Richard stops by as well. Richard tells Carol and Morgan that he believes the Saviors will destroy the Kingdom and asks them to help him convince Ezekiel to attack. Carol refuses to help and insists on being left alone. Morgan does not want to disrupt the peace. Richard leaves.

Rick and Aaron move the houseboat to shore and load the truck with supplies. Rick mentions that Michonne believes this is not living, to which Aaron responds, “Your loved ones hearts are beating or they aren’t.” They finish loading and prepare to leave as someone watches them.

Michonne demands that Isabelle, the Savior she captured, drive to Negan’s compound. Michonne asks her why she was alone in the woods, but she does not respond. Later, they see hundreds of Saviors in the distance. Isabelle tells Michonne that attacking Negan would be pointless. “We’re all Negan,” she says, and advises Michonne to kill her and lose the car. Michonne does.

In Hilltop, Sasha tells Maggie that a resident’s daughter wants Maggie to lead Hilltop. Maggie asks about Jesus, and Sasha tells her that he left for a supply run. Maggie leaves to get milk. Enid calls out Sasha for lying about Jesus and guesses that Sasha plans to kill Negan. Sasha tells Enid to keep it a secret so that Maggie will not try to help, which might endanger her baby.

At the Saviors’ compound, Daryl runs down a hallway and finds a pipe. He finds Joey when he exits the building. Joey surrenders, but Daryl beats him to death with the pipe. Jesus finds Daryl as he beats Joey. Daryl takes Joey’s gun, which was originally Rick’s gun. Daryl and Jesus get on a motorcycle and escape.

In Alexandria, Gabriel urges Rosita not to attack Negan yet. Meanwhile, Spencer dresses up and rehearses in front of a mirror for a meeting with Negan. He takes a bottle of liquor and leaves his house. Spencer goes to Rosita’s house and says that he plans to get close to Negan so he can move against him in the future. Rosita agrees to a dinner date with him later. Spencer then goes to Rick’s house to meet Negan.

Rick and Aaron return to Alexandria and are surprised to find Saviors there. They inspect and unload the goods. The note with the middle finger and “congrats for winning, but you still lose” is found, which enrages the Saviors. One of them beats Aaron. Rick tries to intervene, but is stopped by two Saviors. Another Savior joins in the beating. Once the beating is done, Rick helps him up. “My heart’s still beating, right?,” he asks Rick.

Negan drinks with Spencer and wishes for a pool table. Spencer tells him where they have one. The table is set up in the middle of the street. Negan and Spencer play, and Alexandrians gather to watch. Spencer tells Negan that Rick’s ego is out of hand and informs him that before Rick came, his mother had led Alexandria and now she is dead. He proposes that Negan kill Rick and make him the new leader. Negan points out that Rick hates him, but deals with it and produces for him, which “takes guts.” Spencer, on the other hand, sneaks around instead of killing Rick himself. Negan says that Spencer has no guts as he plunges a knife into Spencer and disembowels him. “There they are. They were inside you the whole time!,” Negan jokes as Spencer’s guts spill out onto the asphalt.

Rosita loses composure, pulls her gun, and fires the homemade bullet at Negan. The bullet hits Lucille and stays in the bat, which enrages Negan. Arat tackles Rosita and holds a knife to her face. Negan picks up the casing and realizes that it is homemade. He demands to know who made it. Rosita claims to have done it and cuts her own face on Arat’s knife. Negan does not believe Rosita and orders Arat to kill somebody. Rosita screams, “It was me!,” as Arat kills Olivia. Rick arrives with Aaron. Negan says Rick should thank him for getting rid of someone who wanted to usurp his position and for getting rid of someone who must be eating a lot of food. Rick says Negan should leave, which Negan agrees to do as soon as he finds out who made the bullet. Tara falsely confesses, but Eugune admits that he did it when the Saviors point guns at Tara. Negan takes Eugune with the Saviors as they leave. Rick sees Spencer zombifying and stabs him dead again.

Michonne returns and tells Rick that there are even more Saviors, but they should fight anyway. After the events of the day, Rick agrees.

Back in Hilltop, Maggie spots Carl, Michonne, Rick, Rosita, and Tara coming to Hilltop. Rick says Maggie was right all along; they must fight. Daryl and Jesus come out to join them, and Daryl gives Rick back his gun. They all go to the mansion that serves as Hilltop’s headquarters.

Gabriel watches the Alexandria gate at night. The person who watched Rick and Aaron earlier watches him, then moves toward Alexandria.

* * * * *

Maggie’s rise in status coupled with Gregory’s loss in status could one day dislodge Gregory from power, and it is clear that Maggie would lead Hilltop should Negan lose his grip on power. She is more popular and does not have the baggage of being Negan’s puppet. Similar personalities tend to arise in puppet regimes, and whether they can mount a successful coup depends on several factors, including popularity, strength of the regime, and willingness of the puppet governor to crush opposition. The passing of the apple from Gregory to Maggie symbolizes that he is not long for his position, and perhaps for the world.

Negan shaving himself could be a mocking jesture at Rick, considering the juxtaposition of Rick in the video versus Rick now made in Episode 704. His acts of cooking, directing Carl to set the table, and then eating at the head of the table with Rick absent further symbolize that he is now in charge instead of Rick. The real-world analogy is that of the state gaining power at the expense of the family, especially by displacing the role of fathers through the welfare state and conscription into either military or civil service.

The note incident shows how oppressors can be willing to use whatever justification they can find to resort to violence. Though Aaron did nothing to deserve his beating and the Saviors might still have beaten someone in the note’s absence, it would have been wise to anticipate that a beating would come because of that note and get rid of it before the Saviors could find it.

Richard’s efforts to convince Carol and Morgan of the need to revolt are not so different from the efforts of people who advocate for revolution in the real world. He sees an oppressor who will continue committing acts of aggression unless forcibly prevented from doing so. He understands that meeting them with defensive force is the only solution, and is better done sooner while the resistance is more capable and the oppressor is less ready than might be the case at a future date. But like so many people in the real world, Carol wants no part of a violent resistance and Morgan falsely equates living under oppression with peace. Just like Carol and Morgan, most people must come to terms with the need to forcefully resist statism through bitter experience.

The Saviors lose two of their own, as Daryl kills Joey and Michonne kills Isabelle. Each event is of interest for different reasons. Daryl kills Joey in the same manner that Negan killed Abraham and Glenn, which is symbolic of taking back power that has been wrongfully taken. Another example of this is that Joey has Rick’s gun, which Daryl returns to Rick. Just as Lucille is Negan’s symbol of power, Rick’s service revolver from his days as a police officer before the zombie apocalypse is his symbol of power. Daryl’s effort to return Rick’s gun to him symbolizes the importance of teamwork and friendship in a revolutionary effort, as Daryl does what Rick could not manage to do and helps to restore Rick’s role as their leader.

Michonne’s killing of Isabelle illustrates both the degree of indoctrination in authoritarian states and the need to make hard choices in war. Isabelle says that she is Negan-and so is every other Savior-even when faced with death. She even recommends that Michonne kill her. Killing a person one-on-one, face-to-face is never easy, but Isabelle’s unflinching loyalty to Negan makes this necessary. Any resistance effort in the real world will encounter people like this, and their deaths are unfortunate but unavoidable if the revolutionaries are to be successful.

Spencer’s treachery finally comes to a head, as the female Savior’s interest in him seems to partially motivate his plan to cozy up to Negan. But Negan sees right through him, calling him out for the backbiting coward that he is. Spencer’s brutal and public execution is not so different from how his kind have been treated through most of human history, and the message is the same. Attempting to get the state to do the dirty work of killing people who are useful to those who run the state is against the rational self-interest of those who run the state. Rick serves a useful purpose for Negan in his current role, but killing Rick to put Spencer in charge would send all the wrong signals while replacing a proven leader with an unpopular coward. If one wishes to topple puppet governors, one must do so oneself, though this is likely to invite punishment as well.

The real game-changer is Rosita’s assassination attempt. She was completely justified in trying to kill Negan, just as any subject of a state would be justified in trying to kill the head of state. By leading such an organization, the head of state bears ultimate responsibility for all of the crimes committed by agents of that organization. Especially in such autocratic regimes as Negan’s, removing the head has a significant chance of killing the beast. But that which is morally justifiable can also be tactically unwise. As discussed previously, there are people worse than Negan among his lieutenants, and one of them could take power. Also, the various communities under Savior domination have yet to decide to fight, and attacking too soon plays into the establishment’s hands by giving them a pretext to crush the resistance before it is ready.

The punishment that Negan chooses in response to the assassination attempt goes back at least as far as the Roman punishment of decimation. If a Roman legion did something particularly cowardly, inept, or disastrous, they received a punishment in which a random tenth of them were put to death. Anyone could be marked for death in a decimation, which gave everyone an incentive to avoid it. Likewise, Negan makes a point to kill people who appear to be chosen at random in order to keep a group in line. The only exception appears to be Abraham, who may have been chosen for being the second in command, thus leaving Rick without a clear heir apparent or right-hand man.

What Negan decides to do with Eugene also has historical parallels. When one finds an intelligent person who innovates and manufactures for the other side in a conflict, it is better to turn that person to one’s own side than to harm them. For example, the Americans and Soviets each acquired several Nazi scientists, who would help each side in the space race of the 1950s and ’60s. The details of Eugene’s time with the Saviors will be discussed in Part III.

At long last, all of this convinces Rick to fight. He finally realizes that surviving under Negan’s system is not really living, if one even manages to survive. Negan overplays his hand, doing what successful dictators must learn not to do. He gives the people under his rule a feeling that they will suffer and die no matter what, and so they might as well get their money’s worth and make their hardships and possible deaths count for something.

Finally, a note about physics. In reality, almost any bullet would go right through any kind of wooden baseball bat, which would have thrown potentially deadly shrapnel into Negan. But then, we would have a much different story to analyze.

Conclusion

The second part of Negan’s story presents him as an authoritarian ruler who runs a regime that is not much different in principle from a real-world nation-state. Give him half your income and obey all of his rules, or you and the people you care about get hurt or killed. Resist him and he will escalate as far as he must in order to gain compliance. His crude methods would be no stranger to many historical dictators, nor would his spoils or points systems. But cracks are beginning to appear in his regime, and these will become more apparent in the second half of Season 7. In the third part, we will examine the time period following the decision to resist (Episode 709) up to the season finale (Episode 716).

Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: In Our Own Image

In Our Own Image is a book about the prospects of creating artificial intelligence as well as the cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, and political concerns about it by Greek author and scientist George Zarkadakis. The book considers the problem of AI from the perspectives of human evolution, cybernetics, neuroscience, programming, and computing power.

Zarkadakis begins by briefly speaking of his early years and doctoral research, then spends the rest of the introduction outlining what he will discuss in the rest of the book. The book proper is divided into three parts, each with five or six chapters. The first part covers the evolution of the human brain from the primate brain, especially the most recent 40,000 years. The role of language in accelerating human progress is discussed, as well as the effects of totemic thinking, story-telling, philosophical dualism, and theory of mind. The use of metaphor and narrative to understand the world is examined, along with the inaccuracies inherent in them. The invention, uses, and limitations of the Turing test are explored, as are Asimov’s laws of robotics and the role of AI in fictional stories throughout history.

The second part is about the nature of the mind. The differences in approach between dualism versus monism, rationalism versus empiricism, and materialism versus Platonism are discussed. The thought experiment of the philosophical zombie and the possibility of digital immortality are explained. On the matter of why there appears to be no other intelligent life in the cosmos, Zarkadakis shares an interesting hypothesis: science is an unnatural idea at odds with our cognitive architecture, and an intelligent alien species would be unlikely to widely adopt it. This means that the universe is likely full of Platos, as well as Ancient Greeces, Romes, Indias, Chinas, and Mayas, but is perhaps devoid of Aristotles and societies advanced beyond that of humanity in the early eighteenth century. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is overviewed, as well as the contributions of a great number of scientists to the field of cognitive psychology. Finally, the field of cybernetics and its offshoots are examined, showing that the hard problem of consciousness is actually solved with ease. The brain-in-a-vat paradigm of consciousness is shown to be insufficient by applying cybernetic theory.

Everything up to this point lays the foundation for understanding the last part of the book. The third part details the history of computers and programming, from ancient theorists to more recent mathematicians, and from punched cards to modern electronics. The limitations of symbolic logic and the implications thereof against AI in conventional computers are explored, and possible solutions in the form of new electronic components and computer architectures are explained. Charles Babbage’s inventions are discussed, as well as the lost potential of their lack of adoption in their own time. The role of computational technology during World War II is considered, along with the results of government spending on computer research at the time. The development of supercomputers, including IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, is outlined. The ‘Internet of things’ is compared and contrasted with true AI, and the possible societal impact of large-scale automation of jobs is considered. The possibility of evolving rather than creating AI is examined, as are the possible dispositions of an AI; friendly, malevolent, or apathetic. Interestingly, Zarkadakis shows that there is good reason to believe that a strong AI may exhibit autism spectrum disorders. A short epilogue that begins with a summary and then considers possible economic, political, and social implications of strong AI completes the book.

The book is well-researched and impeccably sourced, at least in its core subject matter. That being said, the book struggles to find an audience, as it can be a bit too technical for the average layperson, but does not venture deeply enough into the subjects it covers to interest a professional in AI-related fields. In other words, it is lukewarm where being either cold or hot is best. Zarkadakis also commits some ultracrepidarianism, particularly in the fields of economics and politics. He seems to believe that AI will overcome the limitations described by Hayek’s knowledge problem and Mises’s economic calculation problem, but unless AI can get inside of our heads and know us better than we know ourselves, this is impossible. In politics, he briefly mentions the possibilities of AI leading to anarchism or to neoreactionary-style absolute monarchies with computerized philosopher-kings, but does not give these possibilities the amount of consideration that they warrant. Finally, the book contains more typographical errors and grammatical abnormalities than a competent editor should fail to correct, though we may grant Zarkadakis some leeway because English is not his first language.

Overall, In Our Own Image is worth reading for those who already have some knowledge of the subject matter but would like to fill gaps in their understanding, but there is room for improvement and expansion.

Rating: 4/5

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

Felling The Oak Of Statism

Several years ago, I went on a vacation with my family to the mountains for a week. On the day before we returned home, a line of severe thunderstorms hit back home. We arrived the next day to find that a large oak tree near the house had been struck by lightning. Debris was all over the yard between the woods and the house, and huge chunks of bark that had been blasted off were looped around the branches. The strike killed the massive tree, and its continued presence posed a danger. It was large enough to fall onto the house from where it stood if left to its own devices, so it had to be felled. But due to these circumstances, it could not be cut down haphazardly and without regard for what damage might be done if it were to fall in the wrong direction. We called in professional loggers to remove the tree in such a way as to avoid hurting anyone or damaging anything. The tree was removed properly and all was well.

There is a useful lesson here for those who seek to end the state. The state is like that oak; large, weighty, and with great potential to destroy. A thunderstorm consisting of economic, social, and cultural decay masked by technological progress has come. A lightning strike of discontent with the status quo is charging up, and sooner or later the tree of statism will be fatally struck. But if we leave the tree to die and fall by its own weight and decay, immense and possibly irreparable damage may be done to the social order. Just like the oak, the method used to dismantle the state apparatus cannot be haphazard in nature.

Those who subscribe to ‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, are exhibiting a dangerous myopia that borders on political autism. There are certain aspects of government which, if abolished, would result in a potentially catastrophic outcome if other aspects were not also abolished beforehand or concurrently. There are other aspects of government which, if abolished, would leave people in a dangerous lurch in which they have neither a government monopoly nor a private alternative to provide them with service. There are also forms of privatization of state-controlled assets which could potentially be worse than leaving them in the state’s hands. Let us consider one example of each type to show what can go wrong if certain improper felling techniques are used on the oak of statism.

Improper Order

An example of abolishing government functions in the wrong order is that of open borders before welfare elimination. Many libertarians argue that state immigration controls should be completely lifted because they violate freedom of movement of immigrants, private property rights of residents, and freedom of association of both. But doing this while welfare programs are in place would encourage foreign peoples to flood a nation, displacing the native population while using the state to steal from them en masse. (Note that this also violates the private property rights and freedom of association of the native population.) The people who would be attracted to the country in this scenario would not be people who wish to be productive and make the nation better, but people who seek to exist parasitically upon those who have been forced to pay for the welfare state. Although this is a potential strategy for eliminating both state borders and welfare by using the influx of immigrants to crash the welfare state, this was originally proposed by leftists as a means of expanding the welfare state to the point of a basic income guarantee. (Notably, some people who call themselves libertarians actually want to expand the state in this way.) The likely outcome of all of this is not a freer society, but a loss of culture and identity to demographics which have a less libertarian disposition, the promotion of parasitism as a way of life, and the denigration of meritocracy.

Left in the Lurch

An example of leaving people without any kind of service would be the abolition of government militaries without any private replacement to protect people in their absence. This is the one part of the proverbial oak which is sure to fell the entire tree if it is cut, as a state without a monopoly on military force within its territory is a contradiction of terms. However, it is necessary to account for the Pax Romana problem. Students of history will be familiar with the time of relative peace and stability from the time of Augustus (r. 27 BCE-14 CE) until the time of Commodus (r. 177-192 CE). During this time, the economy, the arts, and agriculture flourished because the tribal battles that predated Roman conquests as well as the rebellions and riots that predated the Pax Romana were largely suppressed. But there was a dark side to this, particularly in parts of the empire which were much closer to the border than to Rome. With Roman forces in charge of law, order, and security, many peoples suffered losses in the ability to provide these services themselves. After all, societal organs tend to decay from disuse just as individual people do. When the Pax Romana ended, these peoples were without the stabilizing forces which they had come to rely upon and were out of practice in providing these services for themselves. The end result was that several of these peoples suffered raids, conquest, and murder at the hands of various barbarians and empires. Returning to our time, the restoration of the role of the militia in society as well as the development of privately owned military hardware (and perhaps a nuclear deterrent) are necessary prerequisites for an orderly elimination of government militaries. The only workable alternative to this (and only possibility before the aforementioned steps are accomplished) is a violent uprising by enough of the population living under a particular state so as to make that population ungovernable.

Soviet Dissolution

An example of improper privatization is that of handing control of state monopolies over to politically connected oligarchs. As Gustave de Molinari writes,

“Private property is redundant. ‘Public property’ is an oxymoron. All legit property is private. If property isn’t private it’s stolen.”

This is true, but the path from here to there matters. There are two proper methods of privatization of state-controlled property. One is to figure out the tax burden levied upon each person and distribute shares of state-controlled property accordingly. This is the most just method, as it attempts to compensate victims of state-sponsored theft for their losses. The other is for private citizens to seize control of whatever state-controlled property they can take and defend. This is not as just as attempting to return property to its rightful owners, but a person who takes property from a thief has a better claim to the property than the thief. For the state to hand over its monopoly over some good, service, or property to a particular private interest contributes to the creation of an oligarchical class which wields informal political power in promotion of its own self-interest to the detriment of everyone else, as happened in Russia during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These oligarchs can cause more damage than the state in certain situations, particularly if they use their ill-gotten gains to influence who gets to wield state power, as they invariably have throughout history.

Conclusion

As always, it is important to think strategically and play the long game. Enemies of liberty are certainly doing this, and failure to do so by libertarians needlessly puts us at a disadvantage. Considering the likely consequences of cutting one part of government before another, cutting a part of government before a private replacement is viable, or privatizing state-controlled assets in certain ways can help us to fell the oak of statism in such a way as to safeguard essential elements of the social order and avoid needless unrest.

Book Review: The Age of Jihad

The Age of Jihad is a book about political unrest in the Middle East by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn. The book is a compilation of his notes and articles over a 20-year period (1996-2016) while traveling throughout the Middle East. Cockburn did direct reporting where possible, and relied upon first-hand accounts when venturing into certain places was too dangerous.

Cockburn begins with his reporting from Afghanistan in late 2001 as the United States began its intervention to remove the Taliban from power. Next, he shares his experiences of Iraq under sanctions from 1996, 1998, and 2001, followed by his experiences there during the American occupation from 2003 to 2010. This is followed by his next forays into Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.

The next part of the book focuses on the Arab Spring and the events that followed, with particular emphasis on countries in which the rulers were not quickly deposed. Cockburn begins with the Libyan Civil War of 2011 that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power, along with the difficulties that followed. Sectarian violence in Yemen from 2009 to 2015 and the failed uprising in Bahrain in 2011 each get a chapter.

The last part of the book covers recent developments in Syria and Iraq. First, the Arab Spring in Syria and its development into the Syrian Civil War from 2011 to 2014 is discussed in two chapters. Another two chapters are devoted to the contemporaneous destabilization of Iraq. This culminates in the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Caliphate, in and near which the final four chapters take place.

The book gives important insight into just how terrible daily life is for people in war-torn lands, including the near-absence of basic utilities, shortages of essential items, rampant unemployment, and fear of mistreatment both from rebel groups and one’s own government. The book is filled with anecdotes of behavior which have not been seen since the Renaissance in the West, and knowledge of this behavior helps to explain animosity toward migrants from that region. The reader may be familiar with some of the events described, but almost anyone would find new information somewhere in the book.

One comes away from the book with a sense that both Western and regional powers had to be trying to perform so poorly. Western powers sought to punish Saddam Hussein without regard for the Iraqi people who bore the brunt of sanctions. They ignored cultural attitudes and sectarian divisions while turning a blind eye to mass corruption that greatly weakened the nation-building projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. They removed dictators who were stabilizing forces, thus creating power vacuums which were filled by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is difficult to be so maliciously incompetent without intending to do so.

Overall, Cockburn does an excellent job of conveying the reality on the ground in most of the conflicts in the War on Terrorism and the Arab Spring. The only real improvement would be to add sections on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, which only get passing mentions as sources for jihadists in other places. The Age of Jihad belongs on the bookshelf of any serious student of recent history, the Middle East, revolutions, war, and/or the effects of foreign intervention.

Rating: 5/5

The Political Autism of Anti-Protectionism

There is a certain species of policy analysis which exhibits many of the symptoms which are commonly found among high-functioning autistic people. Among these symptoms are an inability to understand context, a troubling need for routines, an obsession with particular topics, difficulty with abstract thinking, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, a lack of empathy, an inability to process social cues, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum, but it seems to come disproportionately from libertarian thinkers.

The rise of Donald Trump has brought a protectionist view of trade policy back to the forefront for the first time in decades. Naturally, this gives libertarians pause, as protectionism violates individual liberties, is economically inefficient, and gives more money and power to the state. In a textbook-style vacuum, free trade is both more libertarian and more beneficial than protectionism. But to stop there and fail to address the relevant current conditions would be politically autistic by way of context denial. Thus, it is necessary to examine how protectionist policies can make sense in certain contexts, as well as the problems with supporting a policy of free trade in all circumstances.

On January 26, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent import tariff on goods coming from Mexico as a means of funding a border wall. This prompted outrage from the establishment media, along with claims and analysis showing that Americans would pay the tariff rather than Mexico because Mexican products would be more expensive for American consumers as a result. This would be true if all else were equal, but this is not the case.

The Context

Mexico already has import tariffs which can be as high as 140.4 percent and average 13.97 percent. For Mexico to tariff US goods while the US does not tariff Mexican goods puts American companies at a disadvantage. While the libertarian may note that smuggling to evade the tariff would be a morally acceptable response, this is not feasible on the level necessary to conduct a national economy. Revolution to abolish the governments that impose the tariffs would also be morally acceptable, but this is likewise unfeasible, at least for the immediate future. Eliminating government interference in the economy that makes it harder to do business domestically is another option which is better than protective tariffs, but doing so to the extent and with the quickness which would be necessary is unlikely. The next best option, then, is for the US government to respond with an equivalent counter-tariff to attempt to even out the discrepancies caused by another state’s tariffs, with an aim toward negotiating abolition of the tariff on both sides.1 Given that 81.2 percent of Mexican exports for a worth of $309.2 billion go to the United States and 15.7 percent of US exports for $236.4 billion go to Mexico, the threat of a trade war clearly gives leverage to the United States. Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council, said as much to CNNMoney:

“The tariff is not an end game, it’s a strategy…to renegotiate trade deals. Tariffs wouldn’t put U.S. jobs at risk.”

It is important to remember that much like nuclear weapons, the primary purpose of tariffs is not to be directly utilized, but to alter the behavior of other states by serving as a deterrent. The threat of a trade war by way of tariffs and counter-tariffs helps to keep the economic peace, just as peace through mutually assured destruction does with nuclear weapons. A response to another nation’s tariff to gain leverage against it is the secondary purpose, as explained earlier. Those who fail to account for this are exhibiting political autism by engaging in context denial.

The Analysis

A 20 percent tariff would discourage Americans from buying Mexican products. This would also raise the cost of goods which are currently provided at the lowest cost by Mexicans. The increase would not necessarily be 20 percent; to illustrate this, let us consider a simple example. Suppose that avocados from Mexico currently cost $1 each, while equivalent avocados grown in California cost $1.10 each. The tariff makes it so that initially, the Mexican avocados increase to $1.20 while the California avocados remain at $1.10. Initially, the American consumer pays 10 percent more but switches to the California source as much as possible. This diversion of funds from Mexico to California allows the Californian producers to make investments to improve their techniques and expand their operations, which will lower the cost of their products over time, potentially even below the $1 level that consumers originally paid to Mexico.

Whether this is a superior outcome for the American consumer depends upon a variety of factors, such as the available farmland in each location, the weather patterns over the next several years, the intelligence of American agriculturalists versus Mexican agriculturalists, and so on. What is known is that as few Americans as possible will be paying the tariff to the US government, and as many as possible will instead pay only part of it to American producers. This will not create net jobs, but it will have influence over where jobs will be created, which will give some American consumers more money to spend. The inability to think abstractly to get beyond the basic free trade position is an example of political autism.

Rationalism, Not Empiricism

Many economists will attempt to argue for free trade on empirical grounds, but this is a flawed approach. Economics is not a science, but an a priori discipline akin to logic and mathematics. The logical truths of economics can be illustrated by using empirical examples, but the discipline itself is not data-driven.

Most empirical cases for free trade rely upon David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. But comparative advantage makes several starting assumptions which are not always true, such as non-diminishing returns, the presence of multiple trade commodities, inelastic demand, domestically mobile labor, and internationally immobile labor. Although the available evidence suggests that free trade raises living standards, increases purchasing power, and accelerates economic development, these studies suffer from both the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and the absence of counterfactuals for each case. This is not cause for dismissal, but it is cause for suspicion. A proper case for free trade must rest on logic, not observation.

Although free trade usually provides more net benefit than protectionism in the long run, people do not live in the long run; they live their lives and feel economic pain here and now. Furthermore, a net benefit does not mean that each individual person benefits; only that the sum of all benefits and malefits is greater than zero. It may be the case that a minority sees great gains while a majority suffers somewhat smaller losses, and this would explain why a democratic system would produce protectionist policies. Political autism manifests here in the form of the lack of empathy for those who are harmed by free trade in the short-term, the difficulty of understanding their perspective, and the inability to think properly about individuals versus groups.

Trump And Adaptation

The desire for protective tariffs among Trump supporters fits into a larger picture. Following Trump’s election, many leftists have criticized Trump supporters as being unwilling or unable to adapt to a changing world, and Trumpism as a reaction to that changing world. But an organism faced with a changing environment has three options: fail, adapt itself to the environment, or adapt the environment to itself. Most species are almost exclusively capable of the former two options, but humans are uniquely capable of the latter option. In seeking to reverse unfavorable societal trends, Trump supporters are doing something uniquely human and perfectly understandable. A libertarian may question their methods, but their motives make sense. Those who oppose Trump but express a desire to understand the other side would do well to consider this point.

Conclusion

There are good reasons to oppose protectionism in the abstract, but to simply state these reasons and fail to appreciate the context in which protectionism is advocated is an example of political autism. In theory, there are better courses of action, but these options are not always feasible. The threat of tariffs as a means to deter other states from imposing tariffs is an important tool for deterring trade wars, and a nation that refuses to consider such a deterrent is at a disadvantage against other nations that have no such scruples. The empirical case for free trade, while intriguing, is not true for all people in all circumstances, and does nothing to help those who have lost their livelihoods to foreign competition. In a perfect world, no protectionism would be justifiable, but that is neither this world nor the world of the immediate future.

Footnotes:

  1. Note that the use of barriers to free trade as a negotiating tactic is nothing new in US-Mexico trade relations. When Mexico tried exporting avocados to the US in the 1990s, the US government resisted at first, but gave in when Mexico started erecting barriers to US corn exports. The end result of using counter-barriers against barriers to free trade in this case was freer trade.

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

The Invention of Russia is a book about the history of the Soviet Union and the formation of modern Russia by Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. The book focuses on the time period of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Special attention is paid to the role played by the media in shaping narratives and steering the population from the Soviet era to the present.

The prologue deals with the author’s experience during and immediately after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. He briefly overviews events over the past few decades that factored into Nemtsov’s murder, and the author’s experiences through those years are also discussed.

The book proper is divided into two parts, each with five chapters. The division between the parts is roughly set at the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis. The first chapter begins with the end of the Soviet Union, then backtracks to give the reader a sense of Soviet history up to Gorbachev’s rise to power, with emphasis on the events that foreshadowed it, such as de-Stalinization and the crushing of the Prague Spring. The second chapter covers the time from Gorbachev’s appointment to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The nature of perestroika and glasnost are discussed, as well as how the Chernobyl incident affected both. Later in the chapter, Ostrovsky details the split between the liberal reformers and the Stalinist hardliners, as well as the beginnings of the privatization of state assets which formed the class of Russian oligarchs. The third chapter explores the final two years of the Soviet Union, including the economic difficulties, the rise of Yeltsin, the worries of the KGB and other elements of the Soviet power structure, the January Events in Lithuania, and the 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The fourth chapter looks at the role played by the media in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and how the generational shift from the shestidesiatniki to their children affected the changes. The Kommersant newspaper is highlighted as an example of the new Russian media, as well as one of several examples of less than honest business practices in the early 1990s, which occurred due to the moral vacuum left by communism. The fifth chapter covers the time from the end of the Soviet Union up to the 1993 crisis, with particular attention to the role of television, radio, and print media in shaping the narrative and saving Russia from another Communist takeover.

The sixth chapter continues the discussion of the 1993 crisis, then moves on to the creation of NTV, Russia’s first Western-style television station. Of course, NTV had to compete with Channel One and other state media, which caused tensions with the state when NTV covered the first Chechnya war from the Chechen point of view. The chapter concludes with the 1996 election, in which the media played an essential role in bringing Yeltsin up from single-digit polling to a victory over Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger. The seventh chapter continues with the events after the election, including a battle between oligarchs that turned into a political crisis, continued troubles with Chechnya, the search for a vision for Russia moving forward, and finally, the 1998 Russian financial crisis.The eighth chapter shows how this milieu combined with NATO airstrikes in Serbia and an overly propagandistic media was able to elevate an obscure KGB agent named Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia. The decision of most of NTV’s leadership to side against this was the beginning of the end for the station. The ninth chapter covers the time from the beginning of Putin’s rule to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including the ouster of several high-profile opponents of the regime, the bringing of NTV into the control of Gazprom and its gradual turn toward the regime, further trouble with Chechen terrorists, the Russo-Georgian War, and the activities of various media personalities. The tenth chapter looks at Putin’s rule in light of Russian popular culture, the rise of the bureaucrat-entrepreneur, the protests of 2011-13, the military operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and the use of propaganda to manufacture support for foreign aggression.

The book is excellent at face value, providing a perspective that can only come from a native person who lived through many of the events described in the book. But it is even more valuable to libertarians and reactionaries for the obvious parallels between Russian history and the current state of affairs in the West, as well as for the warnings concerning the improper dismantling of government monopolies, as happened during the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia.

To conclude, the unique explanations of historical events and the focus on the role of the media in steering the ship of state make this book an invaluable addition to the collection of any activist, analyst, historian, strategist, or student.

Rating: 5/5