The Libertarian Internet: Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay

The recent kerfuffle over SOPA got me thinking again about how relatively free the Internet is–not in terms of cost, but as a beacon of freedom.

Consider three of the online world’s greatest success stories, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay.  Each exists with minimal interference by the managing authority–those who run each site merely set up the forum and restrain abuse (in Wikipedia’s case, by checking edits to articles for accuracy; in Cragslist’s and Ebay’s by monitoring legality and honesty of postings).  Other than that, users are free to participate and contract with each other as they will.  The managing authorities of each site generally stay out of people’s way and let them live.

Isn’t that how government should work?  Maintain a framework for successful societal operations, as per the constitution, but otherwise stay out of the way?

If someone points out problems with these sites (like a Craigslist killer), I’d respond that punitive regulation causes more problems than it solves (OSHA, anyone?).  The freest society is the one that causes the fewest problems.

Truly, the Internet’s success is due to the unfettered innovation of individuals (Facebook, anyone?).  I think it would be hilarious to see a satire of what Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay would look like if they were run by liberal governing ideals.  Does anyone really think that heavy-handed interference and proscription would make them better?

Philosophy Classic On Tolerating Stupid But Harmless “Mormonites”

One of my favorite books is John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, a mid-19th century British work of political philosophy, and still an influential classic of libertarian thought.  This very short book is really just an extended essay showing how government authority can only be exercised when people’s actions harm the safety or property of others. 

Right at the end of chapter four of this five chapter work, Mill gives a fascinating example of what he’s talking about: consider the Mormons.  Deluded practitioners of an intellectually baseless religion (Mill says), they are nonetheless hurting nobody other than themselves, and that voluntarily.  His dismissal is pretty funny in its absolute sanctimony; alas, more than a century and a half of further history has failed to train otherwise bright and fair people to analyze religion objectively.  Anyway, to Mill, “Mormonites” are exactly the kind of problem that regulation-happy do-gooders would love to rush in and solve by government fiat, but Mill says that this is precisely the sort of stupid but harmless thing (to society in general) that we need to tolerate. 

Here’s the paragraph in question, and I’ve highlighted some passages I think are especially intriguing, and added one critical thought.  I also split it up into several smaller paragraphs–in Mill’s text, this as all together.  Besides the grotesque illustration of a solid principle–allowing Mormons the freedom of individual liberty–there’s another great idea here: at the end of the passage, Mill warns about the attitude that many conservative commentators say we are now seeing, and which Mark Steyn has dubbed “civilizational exhaustion,” the collective lack of will to preserve that body of identity that has always been called “civilization,” resulting in the slow erosion of that identity by, as Mill puts it, “energetic barbarians.” 

I cannot refrain from adding to these examples of the little account commonly made of human liberty, the language of downright persecution which breaks out from the press of this country, whenever it feels called on to notice the remarkable phenomenon of Mormonism. Much might be said on the unexpected and instructive fact, that an alleged new revelation, and a religion founded on it, the product of palpable imposture, not even supported by the prestige of extraordinary qualities in its founder, is believed by hundreds of thousands, and has been made the foundation of a society, in the age of newspapers, railways, and the electric telegraph.  [So this religion is so obviously wrong that it doesn’t even warrant explaining why it’s so obviously wrong.  Nice.  What makes it even worse, apparently, is the rise of such a religion in our modern age, when we’re supposed to be too evolved and refined for such crude crap.]  Continue reading

Truth Is Stranger Than Science Fiction

I’m reading Robert A. Heinlein’s 1966 masterpiece, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.  The premise here is very clever: the historical outlines of the American Revolution have been transplanted to 2076, where a rag-tag group of outsiders colonizing the moon throws off the overbearing bureaucracy that has burdened them from Earth.  In this scene, the Russian-speaking narrator observes an informal new congress debating what the new government should look like, with some suggesting laws just as onerously regulatory as what they’ve gotten rid of:

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please.  Rules, laws–always for other fellow.  A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up.  Because not one of those people said: “Please pass this so that I won’t be able to do something I know I should stop.”  Nyet, tovarischee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing.  Stop them “for their own good”–not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it. 

 Did you know that in New York it is now illegal for resturants to cook with trans fats?

The Atlas Shrugged Quote Book

Recently I talked with someone who would love Ayn Rand’s prophetic dystopian classic, Atlas Shrugged, but she was daunted by its immense size.  That’s unfortunate, and it made me want to do this as a teaser to invite people in.  By no means is this a “condensed” summary of the novel, but it is a collection of my favorite, representative quotes. 

I went through my copy of the book, and I typed up the passages I’d marked which were short and especially relevant.  I had to skip ones that were long (though I did include one whole paragraph below), and items that were simply examples of excellent writing.  My choices focus on the life-affirming aspects of the text, its insistence on patriotism and how Rand’s vision brings joy to life.  Most of the quotes about music, education, and political criticism had to be left out–I wanted my collection to be no more than three pages long, and that’s what it is.  This collection represents about a quarter of what I have marked in my copy. 

The page numbers refer to the mass market paperback edition, which I believe is still the current edition in print. 

Enjoy this introduction to the awesome world of Atlas Shrugged

**********

“We who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?” (69)

“The reason my family has lasted for such a long time is that none of us has ever been permitted to think he is born a d’Anconia. We are expected to become one.” (89)

“Francisco, what’s the most depraved type of human being?”

“The man without a purpose.” (98)

“One is not supposed to be intellectual at a ball. One is simply supposed to be gay.”

“How? By being stupid?” (102)

“Then why do you want to struggle for years, squeezing out your gains in the form of pennies per ton–rather than accept a fortune for Rearden Metal? Why?”

“Because it’s mine.” (172)

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” (188)

“He’s the looter who thinks that his end justifies his seizure of my means.” (189, first appearance of term “looter” in text)

Continue reading

Defending Ayn Rand

atlasPoor Ayn Rand.  She’s taken her licks lately in the Bloggernacle, getting excoriated at By Common Consent.  Some have stepped up to defend her honor, conservative gentlemen they are, but there are still some important points to be made that I don’t think anybody has explained yet. 

Rand is criticized for three main things: that her philosophy promotes greed and selfishness, that she was militantly anti-religion, and that her writing is poor.  I’ll address each:

1.  On the title page of my personal copy of Atlas Shrugged, I copied this famous quote from Book IV, chapter 2 of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

Every individual…generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it…he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention….By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more efficiently than when he really intends to promote it. 

Meaning, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism may seem selfish and greedy…but it results in a better world for all, a world more just, more prosperous, and more fair than any other system.  Continue reading

Book Review: Wizard’s First Rule

19315199A preview of the new series Legend of the Seeker on TV last Fall got me to finally pick up Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, the novel upon which the first season of the show is based. 

Wizard’s First Rule is long and detailed, but not really epic: it concerns a fairly small cast moving in a linear plot line with only a handful of major episodes.  Reading it, one gets whisked away and wonders how the book doesn’t get bogged down when it lovingly explores every nook and cranny of a scene, for chapters at a time.  But, magically, it doesn’t.

Although sometimes the magic wanes and it does get a bit slow.  One long sequence in the middle, about the two main heroes sojourning with an indigenous tribe, goes on too long.  It presents the reader with some excellent daring-do, but we must wade through quite a bit of exposition to be so rewarded. 

Still, despite the occasional speed bump, Wizard’s First Rule engages us and invents far more than enough originality to make the slow patrs worth it.  However, (he said, reversing himself again), on the subject of originality, I must add that some parts of the book are poor copies of the genre classics.  The obvious example here is a creature called Samuel, whose every single characteristic is exactly like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  Goodkind clearly doesn’t need to crib ideas from anyone; why not write Samuel differently?

But the best part of Wizard’s First Rule is its unabashed politics.  That’s right; this is a very political novel.  Continue reading