Archive | May 13, 2011

Wichita = Gallifrey?

Randall Holcombe, discussing the FSU funding flap, writes (inter alia) that “Charles Koch is well-known for supporting libertarian causes.”

That wording tickled my funny bone, because of its similarity to a Doctor Who villain’s famous reference to “the Doctor’s long association with libertarian causes.”

[To the humour-challenged: No, I am not making either a pro-Koch or an anti-Koch point in this post. Sometimes a joke is just a joke.]

To Serve and Protect

Okay, time for the big contest. How can private property be protected? Who can help Sean Power recover his stolen laptop?

cop versus doughnut

In this corner we have the universally hailed champion, a vertically-structured coercive institution known as the Police.

In the other corner we have the challenger, a horizontally-structured voluntary institution known as the Internet.

The clock has started! The race is on! And okay, I’m mixing boxing with racing metaphors, but whatever. Which of these contenders will resolve Sean’s problem first?

Right now the champion is just sitting there. And … still sitting there. Is he formulating a strategy? No, he seems to be … eating a doughnut.

What about the challenger? Oh, look. (CHT Charles.)

The Only and His Own?

Steven Horwitz argues that libertarians’ “leave us alone” rhetoric can be harmful. (CHT Charles.) Although Steve’s explicit focus is on how such rhetoric can mislead nonlibertarians, I think there’s also an implicit concern about the ways in which it can likewise distort our own self-understanding as libertarians.

Anti-Americanism As an Anti-Concept

Just as some questions (e.g., “Have you stopped bleating at your wife?”) carry false presuppositions and so can’t rationally be answered either yes or no, so some terms build false presuppositions into their meanings, making it impossible to use the term (at least in its ordinary sense) without signing on to the presupposition. (Racial and otherwise bigoted epithets are an obvious case.)


Rand used the term “anti-concept” to denote “an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept”; her favourite examples fall into the category of “a ‘package-deal’ of two meanings, with the proper meaning serving to cover and to smuggle the improper one into people’s minds.”

I think I use the term slightly differently from the way Rand did; for one thing, I don’t necessarily assume that such terms are always part of a purposeful “design” to corrupt thought and language. (I don’t deny that they sometimes are; but I don’t think Rand fully appreciated the power of spontaneous order, including malign spontaneous order – on which see Charles’ “Women and the Invisible Fist” and my “Invisible Hands and Incantations.”)

Rand identified “isolationism” and “extremism” (inter alia) as examples of anti-concepts; I’ve argued elsewhere that two of Rand’s own favourite virtue-terms – “selfishness” and “capitalism” – should likewise be treated, by her own standards, as anti-concepts.

Here’s another I’d like to add to the list: “anti-Americanism.” What is it to be an anti-American? It might mean any of at least four things: a) hostility to the American people and their interests, or b) hostility to the American government and its policies, especially its foreign policy and world role, or c) hostility to the founding principles of the u.s., most notably those embodied in the Declaration; or d) hostility to American culture and values.

Atlas Peacenik

Obviously there’s no necessity for these four types of anti-Americanism to go together; on the contrary, they pull in different directions. I’m pro-American in senses (a) and (c); and for precisely that reason I’m anti-American in sense (b). As for sense (d), I’m pro-American in some respects and anti-American in others, just as I would favour some aspects and oppose other aspects of just about any culture.

So what’s the false presupposition, the package deal, in “anti-Americanism”? It’s the tacit – and illicit – assumption that any person or position that is anti-American in sense (b) must also be anti-American in senses (a), (c), and (d). That’s how the term works; it builds into its very meaning a smear against critics of u.s. foreign policy. When people use it, call them on it!

Deep Threat

I have no problem believing that bin Laden was a hypocrite. But I also have no problem believing that the u.s. government is a liar. Hence I have no opinion one war or ’tother as to the existence of bin Laden’s alleged porn collection.

Last Night I Dreamt of San Pedro

I don’t think I’ve told this story from my Roatán trip yet. So:

Yo Amo San Pedro Sula

Delta offers direct flights between Atlanta and Roatán on weekends, but during the week one must connect through San Pedro Sula on the Honduras mainland. (That may change if the current attempts to touristicise Roatán succeed.) So while I’d flown directly on my way in, I had to go through SPS on my return. Delta had booked me a fairly tight connection; but the SPS airport is quite small, so as long as my incoming flight was on time – which it was – there should have been no problem making my connection.

Well, the connection was indeed physically quite possible to make; but it turned out to be legally impossible. Apparently u.s. law requires incoming flights from Honduras to close an hour before takeoff. So although my plane to Atlanta was sitting right there with my reserved seat empty and waiting, I wasn’t allowed to board it. The gate agent told me: “I don’t know why Delta keeps booking people on these connections when they know we can’t let them through.” And of course there was no other flight until the next day.

So I and three other attendees ended up spending 24 hours in SPS instead of the expected 40 minutes. Delta, acknowledging their screwup, paid us for a hotel and transportation thereto, as well as (partially) for meals. So I got to see a side of Honduras I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Roatán is a tropical paradise. San Pedro Sula, not so much. It has a reputation of high levels of violent crime – including gangs attacking buses traveling from the airport to hotels, as I cheerfully recalled while traveling from the airport to my hotel. (I gather that the situation has improved a bit in recent years, however.)

Coca-Cola sign above San Pedro Sula

From what I could see, the city is mostly a vast slum stretching for miles. Streets were lined with piles of garbage, and every once in a while a uniformed man with a rifle just standing there. Signs of desperate poverty were everywhere. (I’ve looked up photos of SPS online, but they all look much nicer than what I saw.) Nearly every car was dented – no mystery when one sees how they’re driven, at top speed with literally no more than a couple of inches’ space between one bumper and the next. Despite this, beggars – one with part of her face missing – were wandering in and out of traffic as the cars flowed like water around them. I saw a wagon bearing an enormous tower of junk and scrap, pulled by a sad-looking horse; traffic flowed expertly around this also. Above and around all this misery towered beautiful rolling green mountains, their tops lost in mist – and marred only by an enormous Coca-Cola sign looming above the city.

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