Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A pretty dragon

RiverCocytus brought up a piece at winds of change discussing "Basic Principles of the Islamic Worldview" by Sayyid Qutb. Here is a fragment from a quote by Qutb at the very end of the article.
Establishing the "Islamic system" to have beneficial sway over all humanity, those who embrace Islam and those who do not, does indeed require Jihad as does the liberty of men to follow their own beliefs. This goal can only be accomplished with the establishment of a virtuous authority, a virtuous law and a virtuous system that calls to account whoever attempts to attack freedom of worship and belief.
Is there anything new to say about the folly of utopian idealism? No? That's fine - I'll say something old about it. Actually I want to look more deeply at a subject I had to gloss over in a previous post. The subject is Thomas Hobbes' use of the allegorical figure of Leviathan to represent the state. It's a bit of an arcane subject but it's also an element in a broader picture I'm trying to draw in this blog, so please bear with me.

Hobbes' choice to use the biblical creature, Leviathan, in such a way represents a profound rejection of utopian thinking. The book by the same name arrives at a place that we would find familiar. The authority of the state is not based on its divine pretensions or its perfectibility, but rather on the social contract plus those expedients necessary to make up for the flaws of human nature. Those flaws are central to the understanding of this political philosophy.

OF ALL discourse governed by desire of knowledge, there is at last an end, either by attaining or by giving over. And in the chain of discourse, wheresoever it be interrupted, there is an end for that time.

If the discourse be merely mental, it consisteth of thoughts that the thing will be, and will not be; or that it has been, and has not been, alternately. So that wheresoever you break off the chain of a man's discourse, you leave him in a presumption of it will be, or, it will not be; or it has been, or, has not been. All which is opinion. And that which is alternate appetite, in deliberating concerning good and evil, the same is alternate opinion in the enquiry of the truth of past and future. And as the last appetite in deliberation is called the will, so the last opinion in search of the truth of past and future is called the judgement, or resolute and final sentence of him that discourseth. And as the whole chain of appetites alternate in the question of good or bad is called deliberation; so the whole chain of opinions alternate in the question of true or false is called doubt.
- italics are mine

Hobbes was not impressed with man, indeed no more so than the author of The Old Testament book in which Leviathan appears (the book is Job) who shows the people surrounding Job to be incapable of understanding that love and faith, not fear, is the genuine relationship to God. To Hobbes, the converse was as important a point to make, that obedience to the state should be exclusively a practical matter. There is no virtue in offering ones soul to a creature such as Leviathan (or the state!) that deserves only a mixture of fear and respect.
Job Chapter 41
1 Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?
or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest
5 Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt
thou bind him for thy maidens? (the implication
is NO, you would not dare do these things
8 Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do
no more.
10 None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then
is able to stand before me?
11 Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him?
whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.
12 I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor
his comely proportion.
14 Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth
are terrible round about.
24 His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard
as a piece of the nether millstone.
25 When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid:
by reason of breakings they purify themselves.
33 Upon earth there is not his like, who is made
without fear.
34 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over
all the children of pride.
The Children of Pride is not an image of the pious before God. The King over all the children of pride, Leviathan, is no virtuous state. Far from it. It's a state that compels obedience through force. The social contract is not a utopian vision. If it were, we wouldn't need this "King over all the children of pride" to keep us in line.

The bottom line, however, is that this anti-utopia, which is really the modern police state as we know it and live in it, when coupled with a good constitution, has proven itself to be a solid framework for the development of liberty.

The problem with most Muslim fundamentalist (yes yes, whoever they are) is that their education consists mostly of memorizing sections of the Koran. They haven't read Leviathan. This is a shame, because they're probably the only people left with a sufficient attention span to get through it.

Here's something shiny for the rest of us

A pretty dragon

Friday, October 27, 2006

Yeah, but can he hit?

We've already noted that, by virtue of being a culture that rewards risk taking, we're blessed with risk management tools and sensibilities that, to a great degree, inoculate us against totalitarian ideologies.

So what went wrong? How did the anti-globalization movement of a decade or two ago, which may have been reactionary but was at least rooted in a healthy skepticism about the nature of huge and opaque institutions, become today's paranoid anti-americanism? How do the good instincts that freedom tends to breed become confused?

The answer, or at least part of it, can be discussed with the help of something called the Sharpe ratio. I'm sticking with financial and risk management terms because they're so good at capturing social as well as market processes.

The Sharpe ratio is a ratio that measures the volatility of a series. I won't get into the math, but what it tells us in general is how well a series adheres to its own internal trend. If you have an economy that is being managed to yield 3% growth, you want that number, not 4% and not 2%. The Sharpe ratio, by measuring the stability of the series, is therefore also a measure of the refinement of the processes by which your goals are sought.

The problem, however, is that more highly refined and stable processes are more fragile when they do break down. They are less robust. In this way, refinement can be self defeating, and that is something that western societies are currently experiencing.

Just as the fed stands at the sidelines of the economy, tinkering with the few tools at its disposal in a constant effort to manage its way toward stable growth, there are similar processes that unfold in political and social arenas. Political managers, like money managers, want stability and predictability, the more the better. As a consequence they do their best to control themselves as well as us, so that everybody is always on point and on message. We do the same to them by applying normative pressures.

The polarization in national politics today is a natural result of an increasingly sophisticated political environment, filled with managed expectations and talking points. These tools were supposed to produce a more stable politics, but they really only create an illusion of stability within a narrow range.

Just beyond that range, there's nothing but a sheer cliff. The political horizon is amazingly close by, since to function politically today all you have to do is be able to stick your finger in either one nostril or the other. Once you've done that, the rest of us know what side you're on, and that's all we want to know about you anyway. As a result, everybody can pitch but nobody can hit. Everybody is a well practiced critic of the other side, but real thought is scarce. Outside the comfort zone of political identity, there's an abyss of fear and uncertainty. This helps to explain why raw emotions, hate and hero worship, are such a common feature of the political landscape now. People feel lost and helpless and they want to know who is going to save them, or at least who to blame.

The left is especially vulnerable. The key goals of the progressive movement have long ago been achieved and adopted universally. As a result, they're caught in a freefall of process and form without substance. The political tools that govern the relationship between politicians and their constituents are operating at full strength, but there's no real life purpose to guide the process and provide a reality check.

But everybody is vulnerable to some degree. To the ears of the young, in particular, a haunting moan and clatter is all they hear of political debate in America. Real debate has been managed into such oblivion that politicians themselves act surprised when it occasionally crops up. By comparison, a voice like that of Islam is clear and strong. Even if your place in the Islamic story is death or dhimmitude, at least there is a story. And behind that story, a mesmerizing and terrifying presence. You bet they have our kids attention.

These are the dangers of refinement, efficiency and overcooked risk management. They lead to stability and predictability, which are desired, but at the cost of narrowness and fragility.

So let's re-ask the opening question. How do the good instincts that freedom tends to breed become confused?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A higher purpose

Eteraz has a piece up about a letter from a man who watched his mother being stoned to death in Iran, 26 years ago.

Myself, I am always afraid to click on links in which this topic is discussed, because I don't want to see the pictures. It's not that I can't stomach them, but that some part of me rebels at the idea that, by voluntarily choosing to look at something that I don't need to see to get the point, the death of that victim becomes a matter for titillation instead of dialogue.

This is what I worry about, because it takes a choice to avoid graphic images that are potentially dehumanizing, both to the victim and to the viewer. Even a squeamish person like me is momentarily tempted by the spectacle alone.

At the same time, a publisher must publish such images in spite of concerns about exploitation. They are documentary evidence of a crime.

Further down in the post, another choice awaits the reader.
By the way, I really want to warn all of you to not use such human rights violations as a way to try and undermine Iran’s national interests. Ms. Kars seems to be opposed to that.
There's a bit of conflict here. Ms. Kars states plainly that the regime makes it all but impossible to repeal the stoning law, yet she appeals to us to not use these stonings against the regime.

We're being asked to square a circle, to act on this horror and yet avoid attacking the regime that is responsible for it. I'd like to hear suggestions.

One thing I would point out is that the letter has been posted by Eteraz at Kos and by others at sites that lean more, in fact all the way, to the right. While there was no shortage of invective against the other side of the domestic political scene in either location, there were similar and similarly sourced expressions of sympathy for the victims. Maybe it's an opportunity.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


As I was reading some comments left on this blog, my thoughts turned to the screen name of one of the commenters, Aeneas. (I don't know this person or how this screen name was chosen, so please don't take offense at what follows)

Aeneas was the founder of the city of Rome, but his key achievement was simply getting out of Troy alive when the Greek armies brutally sacked it.
And never did the Cyclops' hammers fall
On Mars's armour forged for proof eterne
With less remorse than Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.

Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,
In general synod 'take away her power;
Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
As low as to the fiends!'

'But who, O, who had seen the mobled queen--'
'Run barefoot up and down, threatening the flames
With bisson rheum; a clout upon that head
Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe,
About her lank and all o'er-teemed loins,
A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up;
Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep'd,
'Gainst Fortune's state would treason have

But if the gods themselves did see her then
When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport
In mincing with his sword her husband's limbs,
The instant burst of clamour that she made,
Unless things mortal move them not at all,
Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven,
And passion in the gods.'
Hamlet, ACT II Scene II

Aeneas didn't succeed in defending Troy, or in rebuilding it, or in preserving any part of it (Rome was culturally Greek). He succeeded only in leaving it behind.

That would seem to make him an unlikely father figure for an empire, but the theme turns out to be common enough. John Galt, Moses and Aeneas were all legendary founders whose founding act was running away. The Pilgrims offer an interesting example as well, and a contrast. Two, probably related, observations that one can make about them are that they are real, not legendary, and that there is no single hero to personify them in our minds. There are other examples, both ancient and modern, but it should be enough to point out that Aeneas is not the only hero whose epic story begins with defeat or exile.

It's much harder to understand the escape fantasies that people indulge in today. The presence of an enemy so well adapted to exploiting the weaknesses of our society does tend to focus the mind in that direction, but other than post-apocalyptic survivalist movements that arise occasionally, there are not very many models for what a 21st century epic renewal would look like.

But I can speculate. For example, how a society is organized is often an adaptation of how its military is organized. Athens was a democracy because that's how the Athenians fought. The Roman republic, Hitler's Germany and Hamas' Palestine all follow this rule. The organizing principles of the fighting class tend to determine the organizing principles of the society as a whole.

We're fighting a 5th generation war against a 5th generation enemy. On the assumption that the West will have to adapt to this method of war, presumably any newly birthed society would be so influenced as well. What does a 5th generation society look like? Is it free? Is it tribal? Is it possible to have a legal and legitimate underground economy? If we were to begin our exodus to the new world today, what would be the form of that exodus?

There is, in fact, an exodus from the MSM underway, but that's an adornment of the old regime, not the regime itself. More generally, the more I think about these questions, the more overlap I see between 5th generation concepts and those of a much more familiar political philosophy, anarchy, a notably poorly developed philosophy. From there the choices seem to be about wardrobe and whether your personal history is more filled with shotguns or video games.

I can understand the appeal of a global, extra-territorial, networked social structure that belongs to the good guys. It's harder is to be encouraged that such a structure can allay concerns such as those that drove Thomas Hobbes to seek a solution to the horrors of lawlessness in his time.

When he articulated how the state should operate and what its relationship to the individual should be, he saw that state as an assurance of liberty and as a liberation from the state of nature, which is utter insecurity. Those are big shoes for any new political philosophy to fill.

It's fascinating to contemplate new political and social forms, but it could also be an escapist daydream that leads people to neglect the defense and exercise of a system that is still living.

What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made.
Hamlet, ACT II Scene I

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The road to hell

There are two things you know about the road to hell.
1) we're on it
2) it's paved with good intentions

The second of these two things is not accidental and is not cheeky folk wisdom. It's the necessary result of a phenomenon called Moral Hazard.

This is a concept you'd better get familiar with because exploiting moral hazard is the core strategy employed by the apologists for terror and jihad.

Let's start with a simple example.
If insurance companies didn't investigate arson, there would be more fires.
This example explains both the concept and its source, as Moral Hazard is primarily an insurance and financial risk management concept. This fact is important, because it points to an underlying truth about western culture, namely, that we engage in and reward risk taking behavior. In a culture that rewards risk taking, sometimes to extreme extents, the practice of risk management also reaches high levels of refinement. You've experienced this first hand if you've ever actually read the find print on a contract.

Islamic cultures, in contrast, do not encourage risk taking (or individualism, which is just cultural risk taking). But cultures that discourage risk taking behavior also have fewer safeguards to prevent the exploitation of moral hazards. Besides being a moral hazard in itself, this fact helps to explain the heavy reliance on deception in the practice of jihad. They're used to getting away with it.


Examples of moral hazard are everywhere. The abuse of trust in a religious setting is a stark example, as is the abuse of post colonial guilt in Europe.

Good intentions, for example the desire to make amends for the exploitation of the colonial period, lead to acts of good faith (good faith gestures) which are inherently risky acts. For example, during the Oslo period, Palestinians were constantly asking for good faith gestures on Israel's part in order that she demonstrate her desire for peace. These could be prisoner releases, softening of checkpoints or other measures. The idea was to use moral pressure to compel Israel to take unnecessary risks and especially unreciprocated steps, and the idea often worked.

Good intentions lead to risk taking without the benefit of risk management, in other words to moral hazard, which is certain to be exploited. The results of Oslo are a demonstration.

To wrap this post up, I'll bet you didn't know there's actually a moral hazard factory. There really is. It's in New York. It's right on the road to hell.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Collective

your culture will adapt to service us
you will be assimilated
resistance is futile

| +++ | +++ | +++ |

Why not submit to Islam? Have you considered the benefits of membership in a global collective, acting as one, growing in strength with each new member?

If you're not impressed with that suggestion (likely), let's discuss why you're not impressed.

Going back to the ancient Greeks, the western intellectual tradition has had very specific contours. Whether or not we're aware of it, these contours continue to determine how we value and evaluate information, the way we judge what others are saying to us, and the way we behave politically. It's a tradition of radical doubt and radical individualism in which great individuals, often working centuries apart and against the current of their times, engaged in a philosophical and scientific conversation that has ultimately led to the civilization we know today.

In the last post here, I talked about everything being on the table in a way that few are prepared for. The truth, however, is that for the west that's nothing new. Everything has always been on the table, including the most sacred truths. That, in essence, is our tradition, a tradition of doubt and brutal self examination.

In action, this brilliant tradition rarely looks so brilliant. It's messy, often encumbered with self serving agendas and short sighted gatekeepers. It's also easily misunderstood as being weak.

We should let others make that mistake. We shouldn't make it ourselves.

benefits of membership: #
submit: #

Friday, October 13, 2006

Citizen action, or something. an open source model for war

Recently a group came together with some big ideas, nothing less than the proposition that people from around the world can come together, united only by a common intention, and be in a position to affect world affairs.

What took shape at the Gates of Vienna might have seemed outlandish, but in the wake of a small war last summer, and a scandal that followed, the world has changed.

Universal literacy, cheap technology and a global talent pool that guarantees an infinite supply of creativity, passion and genius have brought the world to the edge of a cultural revolution.

But this revolution may not be what you were expecting. It's personal (12 million blogs), and playful (more). That's the good news. But it's also going to put everything on the table in a way that few people are prepared for.

Participants in The 910 Group, though rooted in the counter jihad purpose that brought this particular group of people together, are also aware of themselves as being part of a larger social evolution, beginning with the premise that you don't need permission from anyone to stand up for what you care about.

Participant Christine writes:
... what I think is happening is an “open source” movement in public diplomacy – sort of like the open source software movement of the last decade, where developers decided to work together, on the Internet, voluntarily, to improve software (Linux OS resulted from open source software development).

Some things are just too important to leave in the hands of the experts, or the bureaucrats, or certainly the State Department. If, as Clausewitz said, “War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means…” , then the asymmetric warfare being waged against Western civilization requires a countering asymmetric “politics” – an internet based, “open source” movement committed counter-attack against the internet based jihadist ideologues.

Unlike the current blogosphere, open source was highly disciplined, in a kind of milling-about, “wisdom of crowds” complex system way – they did have a final product they were working towards, and everyone just kept trying to improve it and use it at the same time.
There's a paradigm shift happening. It's real. It's related in some way to Web2.0 and IVth generation warfare, but it's not simply equivalent to those things. What it ultimately means is still unclear. William Lind argues that it is premature to talk about a 5th generation, and I agree.
From what I have seen thus far, honest attempts to discover a Fifth Generation suggest that their authors have not fully grasped the vast change embodied in the Fourth Generation. The loss of the state's monopoly, not only on war but also on social organization and first loyalties, alters everything. We are only in the earliest stages of trying to understand what the Fourth Generation means in full and how it will alter - or, in too many cases, end - our lives.
The 910 Group is a worthy experiment in purpose driven social organization that might just offer a first hint at what lies beyond those first loyalties. If authoritarian societies respond to the times by becoming more ideologically radical, maybe free societies should respond by looking deeper into themselves as well.

This blog's purpose is to hold an ongoing conversationin in which group participants can take that deep look. Let's begin.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mission Statement

The 910 Group has come together because we have a similar vision -- that of ensuring that Liberty prevails worldwide. We realize it is vital to work actively for it, and to actively oppose those forces against it. Our job is to support, encourage, and inspire each other so that we may coordinate our good intentions into practical action.