Archive for October, 2012

A Scene of Social Corrosion

OR An Attempt at an Explicitly Non-Libertarian Argument for Marijuana Legalization

On my bus ride home a few days ago, a young man sitting near me was rolling a sizeable blunt on the back of his skateboard. The bus was crowded, everyone could see and smell that he was rolling weed, but of course no one said anything and most people didn’t even look twice. Despite having a huge captive audience for his crime, the man made no attempt to hide his activities. He didn’t seem furtive or ashamed, and certainly didn’t seem worried that anyone would alert the constabulary.

I think that ignored laws are dangerous things. And that the habit of legal disobedience has a generally corrosive social effect. For one thing, laws that are generally, but not always, ignored foster an air of capriciousness under which any citizen might be arrested for what is commonly accepted to be permissible behavior. This leads to situations in which, e.g., black men are arrested at much higher rates for marijuana use, despite using at roughly the same rate as white men. The laws regarding using marijuana are generally ignored and the police are free enforce the laws on disfavored people or groups or to use the law as a way of crushing dissent.

Ayn Rand was hitting on something true when she said:

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

A government that criminalizes or maintains laws against socially permissible behavior is reserving itself the right to punish people arbitrarily. It can cover itself with the figleaf of “our drug dog alerted”, when the arrest was really a naked abuse of power.

There’s another important aspect to this, though. Aside from handing the government undue power, ignored laws foster mistrust in the people which in turn corrodes the rule of law. This mistrust is due not only to the specter of arrest hanging over citizens for engaging in what they consider quotidian behavior, but also because it signals that the legal system itself cannot be trusted. After all, if The Man is lying to you about weed being evil, what else might He lying to you about.

This leads people break other laws which may have real victims and to try and avoid contact with the legal system which ostensibly exists to protect them. Living without a legal system which reliably protects one’s rights can be pretty hellish. Reliable governance and a lack of corruption, after all, is the single biggest difference between safe, prosperous countries and third-world hellholes.

Aristotle, in his Politics said that “the law has no power to command obedience except that of habit, which can only be given by time.” This habit of legal obedience is one of the many factors of good governance and there’s no surer way to break people of that habit than outlaw that which is generally accepted as being socially permissible. Once this habit breaks down, it serves as both an indicator that the law is debased and corrupt and also as an impediment to fixing the state and returning to some semblance of good governance.

Once the people mistrust the state to provide them with effective protections and sensible laws, they tend to stop trusting that the institutions can be reformed. This leads to cultural cynicism, which further fosters an acceptance and even expectation of corruption and graft (which I think is best evidenced by crony client states like Greece or some of the South American Republics). This begins to describe a negative feedback loop in which legal corruption fosters cynicism which in turn tolerates further corruption.

So what I really saw on the bus this evening was a small sign of social decline. Not because of the marijuana, but because a bus-load of presumably upstanding citizens witnessed a man break the law and didn’t even bat an eyelash. This doesn’t reflect poorly on the observers, but on the law. When the state outlaws that which civil society accepts, it aligns itself against society rather than with it and the resulting conflict can only serve to damage both institutions.

A Little Meditative Urbanism for You

Kuala Lumpur DAY-NIGHT from Rob Whitworth on Vimeo.

I love urban architecture, I think, in much the way that devout Christians love the architecture of Cathedrals. Skyscrapers and vast urban warrens of buildings are a testament to something universal and larger than myself. They evoke in me a sense of awe at our species’ power, accomplishments, and potentials. And being in the heart of cities always brings me to mind the immense creative energy of mankind and makes me hopeful for how we might harness that energy in the future.

The video above, by Singapore-based photographer Rob Whitworth does a good job of evoking that sense of frenetic energy. I’ve been planning for awhile to go with my eldest brother on an architecture tour of East Asia and Kuala Lumpur is high on the list of destinations. This video moves it up very near the top of the list.

Handy Linux Command

I don’t know why I never thought of this before.

#add current directory to $PATH
export PATH="$PATH":`pwd`

Personally, aliased to ‘pathhere’. Crazy helpful.

Kindle Now Available in Japan

Just a quick note to highlight the news that the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire HD tablets are now available for order in Japan. I’m very proud of my work on the Silk browser and the Fire tablets more generally, and it’s awesome to get to see them ship to new countries. The kindle devices are incredible pieces of technology and I hope that our Japanese customers get as much enjoyment out of them as I have gotten out of mine.

Forward Unto Dawn

Forward Unto Dawn is a live action series prequel to the upcoming Halo 4. It’s insanely well done and, with five 15-20 minute episodes planned, almost ends up being the live-action movie a lot of Halo fans have been hoping was in the works.

Halo is one of the most compelling Sci Fi franchises of the past decade and I’m stoked to see it done in live action and more over to see it done so well. The trailer’s embedded above and includes a link to the first episode in the video.

“The Virgin Mary may stay just that way through this unlucky body”

Tim Howard, AKA Soltero is one of my favorite indie musicians. Here he is doing one of my favorite songs, “I’ll Be a Writer” in what appears to be a Parisian alleyway. Video is courtesy of Le Cargo.

It’s a Free World (with Capitalism!)

To be honest, I find this video mawkish and obvious. But I think that its mawkishness is intentional homage and its obviousness is because I’m a member of the choir to which it’s preaching.

But regardless of its artistic merits, the video’s message (that Capitalism has real, positive impacts in our lives) is an important one. It serves as a necessary counterpoint to the principled, moral arguments for Capitalism and the more abstract disagreements about freedom vs. security vs. equality vs. etc. People like me, who can get tediously pedantic and philosophical at times, would do well to keep in mind the practical benefits of Capitalism when arguing its merits, and I think this video does a good job of pithily summarizing the concrete value that Capitalism has added to our lives.

After all, we live in a world where a significant number of people will say sincerely and in good faith:

We don’t want freedom any more … We want regulation. We want control

As easy as it would be to write such people off as idiots or lunatics, a number of them simply have different values and/or a deep ignorance about the practical consequences of the diminution of liberty. We probably won’t win over those that have moral objections to liberty or who subordinate it on principle to other Goods. After all, there are those who would prefer a world where everyone’s chains chafed equally to a world where everyone prospered, but some prospered more.

But what we can do is rehabilitate freedom for those who simply don’t understand the practical benefits that it brings.

After all, Capitalism is just the term we use for freedom in economic exchange. And so any argument against Capitalism is an argument against freedom, and vice versa. So in the face of outright hostility to Freedom, it can be helpful to highlight the real tangible costs of lost liberty.

Helping people to understand the real, concrete benefits of economic freedom can help win minds where abstract philosophizing can’t.

Your Logical Fallacy Is…

I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile, but my friend Heather linked me to the excellent Your Logical Fallacy Is site. It provides clear, useful descriptions of most of the common informal fallacies. Useful for linking people too in various online discussions.

My only real gripe is that it doesn’t cover formal fallacies (e.g. Affirming the Consequent), but it’s still a useful source for concise descriptions of whatever fallacy you catch yourself or an interlocutor making.

“Wait until the light comes”

Dover, “Rain of the Times”, from their excellent album Devil Came to Me.

“Politicians get in tanks; hedgehogs get in pumpkins”

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.