Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bury Marx and Hayek in the same grave

One thing you don't see a great deal of in Second Life is biblical fundamentalism. I had my fling with it, in an act of teenage rebellion I attended some bible study "classes." It lasted about two days, when they got warmed up and talked about Young Earth Creationism. My scientific soul wouldn't part with Darwin for a ham handed reading of the first chapters of a text written before people had toilet paper.

I'm not religious, though I am fascinated by mythology, however Darwin and Hubble would have to qualify as two of the people in my pantheon of prophets. Things change in an orderly way, and they are very very old. Of course, science is interconnected. The nature of change, and the age of change are like threads on a sweater, pick at them, and other things begin to unravel: physics and chemistry, biology and geology, and then the mathematics that holds them together must, in the end, be abandoned. I might give up incense and Buddha statues for Christ, but I won't give up the wondrous forms I see in the microscope, and the principles that make those forms an intrinsic expression of the nature of the universe. You can get me to believe that there is a miracle of the universe. You can't get me to believe that God is malicious about it. This may or may not be a good belief.

This is why I have to smile wickedly, and disagree vehemently with Gary Kamiya. He says that Bush has wrecked American conservatism, and he asks where is it written that conservatives have to be stupid. I will say it is written any place where it says "the bible is that absolute literal word of God." The two amount to the same thing.

He also say something remarkably foolish about the discussion:

Bush's presidency has made a shambles of real conservatism. Let's leave aside the issues on which liberals and conservatives can be expected to disagree, like his tax cuts for the rich, expansion of Medicare or his position on immigration, and focus solely on ones that should be above partisan rancor -- ones involving the Constitution and all-American values.

A tax free upper class, like Young Earth Creationism, is another place where it is written that conservatives have to be stupid. The other policies that Gary talks about, are not in isolation from this obsession:

belief in individual agency and responsibility, respect for American institutions and traditions, a resolute commitment to freedom, a willingness to take principled moral stands. It is a movement that draws its inspiration from towering figures: Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke. It stands for caution in foreign adventures, fiscal sobriety and a profound respect for tradition.

Fiscal sobriety. A very nice phrase, but as even my reflexively Republican relatives have noted, we have been in Greek Speak: "sooooooooooo drunk." If you know the joke I am talking about, you know what comes next. "I said, I am sooooooo drunk."

What conservatism has been, for my entire lifetime (I don't know about the past that people keep fighting over; I wasn't alive in either "The Great Depression" or the 1960's) has been a very Marxist/Millenairian kind of assertion: that all other philosophies lead to catastrophe, and that if the faith does not lead ot catastrophe, it is therefore proof that all is well. American conservatives are like the people who pray every day for the sun to come up, and argue that as long as the sun does come up, it is proof that their prayers are important.

The war is not in isolation from the resolute refusal to refuse to pay for it, and it is not separable from "conservatism." I know that in liberal circles right now there is an obsession of framing, and one that is very useful I think: to get libertarians to defect from the Republican coalition. The reason for this is fairly clear, libertarians, not religious conservatives, are really the abused base of the Republican Party as I see it. Thy keep voting for freedom and lower taxes. They keep not getting it. Let me take an example, because while I don't know where the buckle of the bible belt is, I will tell you that the Church of Libertarianism is as close to the state religion of Second Life as you will find. If there is a an equivalent of the Buckle Bible Belt of Libertarianism in America, Second Life is it.

Now, ask me the last time a Republican aligned member of the supreme court came out for legalization of marijuana and other currently illegal drugs. This is a belief which is endemic to the libertarians I know, whose belief on such things can be summed up in the Wiccan phrase "if it harm none, do as you will." It's no more crazy than the belief that torturing people gets anything of use out of them. When was the last time a Republican Attorney General came out for ending the war on drugs?

So, on one hand, I can see why there is a practical political engineering reason for liberals to want to tell the anti-tax-anti-government-anti-liberal-leave-us-alone coalition that the Republican Party is not for them. But I will say something relatively straight forward:

It won't work.

This is because libertarians and traditionalists both believe exactly the same thing about freedom. Certain people have unlimited freedom. Everyone else? They have to live with whatever rules are imposed on them. Let me have you read the Terms of Service for second life. Under it, though I doubt it would be enforceable in a court of law, that's why the Bragg case was settled as it was, LL can take away anything at any time for "any reason or no reason at all." It's Murphy's Golden Rule: "he who has the gold, makes the rules." And it is the rule that both the libertarian movement and the traditionalists believe in. All freedom for the people who are supposed to be free, and sweeping out the back room for the immigrants and unverifieds that aren't to be trusted with freedom. Reasonable limits on the freedoms of the wrong people.

Both wings also believe that you can quickly and easily tell the difference between people who are supposed to be free, and the ones that aren't. In the real world it is often skin color and facial features. In Second Life, it is a little box on your profile. It is the same kind of neo-racist thinking: that a simple visual test tells you enough about the state of someone's soul to tell whether or not they are trustworthy. It isn't the religious fundamentalists who have come up with this odious theory here in Second Life, it is the same business class that subscribes to being unregulated, tax-free, and all powerful with whatever they call "my property."

What keeps the current libertarian movement and the current religious extremists together, is that that they live in the same neo-feudal cave, hiding out from almost everything that has happened to the world since 1750. John Locke and Cotton Mather are both products of the same epoch. This is why you find lots of people who are both unquestioning God and Country types, and unquestioning libertarians. The failure isn't that these two ideas are irreconcilable, it is that they are both wrong and come from the same wrong idea. The internal contradictions between the two wings are really only useful when some one is trying to worm their way out of facing up the the cataclysmic failure of modern conservative ideology, because they can say that some small action or other was the heresy that doomed the whole enterprise, and their pet version of the anti-modern idea won't be disproven until it has been given unlimited power and money to invade a country and set up a new order.

What the libertarians are souring on, is the war. Or rather, the way the war was run. But they ran this war. Look at how the new Iraq Republic was supposed to be set up. No more radical libertarian enterprise can be described. Everything is in the hands of private armies. We are paying for more mercenaries in Iraq than we are soldiers. While libertarianism here is ignored in the law, in Iraq, it was put into effect, at least as far as making money is concerned. Private armies are above the law there, that's the law. No rules, just profit and fun.

What can be said without equivocation is that it has had the predictable effect: catastrophe. Not just disaster, but cat-tat-stro-phe. Iraq doesn't work as a country. It doesn't have electricity or running water. It doesn't have security. The libertarian will tell you that private anything does better than private everything. We've spent untold dollars on an experiment devoted to the conservative theory that Guns, God and Gold can run the world.

This is the same view as what Gary calls "the traditionalists." There are some people who deserve freedom, and there are most people who must obey. In Second Life, they believe that the lesser people don't even have the right to buy cloths or go to the house on land that they rent.

I invite Gary, or any liberal thinking of prying the two poles apart long term, to come to Second Life and I can show them root and branch what I mean.

But there is a second part to this. And important second part. If Libertarianism is one wing of criticism of the world the way it is, then there is another. One that is as endemic. That wing is Marxian thought. Even people who are not Marxists, are Marxians. What is the difference. A Marxists buys the whole evils of the capitalists class and eventual crisis thing. Marxian thought however is based on the assertion that cultures are dominated by the objective needs of their means of production. Second Life is as much a disproof of this notion as it is a disproof of unfettered buying and selling and dictatorship of property ownership.

I say this because Second Life is utterly disconnected from the objective means of production of food and every other necessity. There is no "media" to speak of here. If anything, second life culture should be very different from the outside world. It isn't. It has the same problems, it has the same people in it. This "new world" or "new country" looks a great deal like the old country and the old world.

Marxian thought is very appealing to a student of what could be called "social science," precisely because it offers what looks like a scientific basis for studying society. Measure the needs, count the factories, see who needs what. Then culture must follow. It is a notion so appealing that even conservatives have adopted it.

It's also, as second life proves, utterly wrong. People make the world they live in, they decide what things they can and can't put up with, and technology follows the models that people want. We have a permissions system for property on Second Life, it is horribly broken, in that it neither protects the rights of people who buy the license to use things, nor does it protect the sellers in their digital rights. But the permissions system didn't fall out of the mind of God or any natural laws I know of. It was set up by people out of their decisions as to what property looked like. There are a host of other artificial restrictions in second life, for example media streams being attached to parcels, that come, not out of the objective means of production, but the cultural and personal needs of the people who created them.

I've been meaning to write this for some time, I know it will offend many people, some of whom are dear friends. If Libertariansim and Christianism share a common cave in hating the modern world and wanting to go back to the time when every lord was his own master, then Marxian thought is an adherence to a science that is not valid, but is very convenient to laying out ideas. Like say, "Race," is a concept that was once needed for science, but is, in fact, horribly,terribly, and unworkably flawed. "objective materialism," is the race of social science: that what you can see and count is a sign of the genetic reality that predicts the future.

Second Life's value is not that it is a new world, but instead that it is a laboratory for the old world. It has measured both wings of the theory and, I use this world in quotes, "idealism," of the old world. Both are wrong, and need to be erased from our thinking. The world will not run better if some easily discoverable elite is put in charge of it. Societies are not zombie automata of the capital that produces them. More or less every word written about social culture in the 20th century is based on two flawed would be basic principles, really "meta-narratives," about how the world works.

While in the short term it might be good politics to play shell games with this, and to try and convince peoples that they are different, when they are really the same, in the long term the libertarian worshipers of dictatorship of property and the religious worshipers of a dictatorship of theocracy will form back together again, for the simple reason that property dictatorships are unnatural, and sooner or later you will need a God to say that the people who are poor and disempowered are poor and disempowered because they deserve to be poor and disempowered. I'm sitting a couple of hundred meters away from the office of a future Nobel Prize winner in economics who is working on proving that religion is the key to economic development. I can, if I walk out on to the street, see the building he has an office in. Gary, and others, can say the two are different every day for a decade, and it won't change the reality that they are the same. It isn't that the two parts are irreconcilable, it is that both are irreconcileable with reality, and the flaws in one are used to cover the flaws in the other.

While in the short term it is very comforting to tell yourself that media and holders of power and capital determine the course of the world, that physical facts dictate what is to happen in society, the reality is the reverse. We decide which physical facts we aren't willing to live with, and which ones we are wiling to die with.

It's time to bury Marx and Hayek in the same grave. And put on the gravestone: "Killed in Iraq, interred in Second Life."


  1. "I might give up incense and Buddha statues for Christ, but I won't give up the wondrous forms I see in the microscope, and the principles that make those forms an intrinsic expression of the nature of the universe."

    Christ doesn't require you to give up the wondrous forms you see in the microscope. The wondrous forms you see in the microscope proclaim his glory. :)

    The staggering complexity of a single cell testifies to the existence of a creator; it is not a coercive proof in and of itself, but it does strengthen the case.

    Science and reason are not enemies of the Christian faith, despite what some (on both sides) would have us all believe.

    Have a great day! I love your blog.

  2. Well thank you for the compliment dear, but no, "Intelligent Design" doesn't move me, it simply moves the problem from one place to another.

  3. I am a bit puzzled by some things you write here...

    "[Libertarians] ran [the war in Iraq]"? That's not consistent with what I've observed. Ron Paul, the former LP candidate for president who is now trying to get the Republican nomination, has been dead set against the war in Iraq; as far as I know, so is the Libertarian Party. Neal Boortz, a talk show host who generally takes libertarian positions, regularly berates the LP for its opposition to the war in Iraq.

    "Certain people have unlimited freedom"? Not according to libertarians, who say no one is free to initiate force or commit fraud, save to the extent (and there's plenty of debate on that extent) that government is granted the power to use force to defend its citizens.

    "...property dictatorships are unnatural..." Actually, that's close to the truth. Societies in which property rights are respected are unnatural--on one side, there are those who want to take things from you by force, and on the other are those who want government to do it for them, and the politicians who promise that service to gain power. Eternal vigilance, like the man said.

    Back to SL: LL does have the right to establish the terms under which we enter into SL. It's their sandbox, they get to set the rules, subject to the limits of the law. They, on the other hand, can't do just anything if they want to profit from SL--if they act sufficiently high-handedly, people will drop SL and go elsewhere, taking their friends with them, making for a Pyrrhic victory.

    Melissa Yeuxdoux, libertarian and atheist (but still wishing to be a friend)

  4. You need to read up on Paul Bremer and his directives. I hate to sound mean, but you wouldn't be puzzled if you had been paying attention. And it was the former follower of Rand, Alan Greenspan, who both backed the Bush tax package, and lowered interest rates through the floor so that the war could be financed with borrowing.

    Yes, some libertarians abandoned ship, and founded things like "anti-war.com" But those are the ones who were out of power, not the ones who are in power.

    I'm afraid that as a matter of realism, I only watch what people in power do. It's a matter of public record that being a free market fundamentalist was a virtual requirement for working under Bremer, it is also a matter of public record what Greenspand did.

    Those are your libertarians in power dear.

    That's the dodge that is going to be used this time. "It wasn't real liberatarians, it was those fake ones."

    The same thing happens to a group of marxists if you talk about the grotesque horrors of marxist governments. "Oh that was the Stalinsts, I'm a neo-Trotskyite follower of..."

  5. "Back to SL: LL does have the right to establish the terms under which we enter into SL."

    No. Contracts are not unlimited because they have to be enforced by the public. LL could not offer a contract that says "we can shot your rl if we don't like the way your avatar looks." Nor could LL offer a contract that discriminates between people of different races.

    There are limits to contract, precisely because it is the public that must enforce contracts, and there is a public interest in not having "unconscionable," the judge's words, contracts to enforce.