Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Great Ways to Troll Progressives About Colonialism

Colonialism, in the eyes of the great and the good, is responsible for all of the third world's ills.

This hypothesis is obviously absurd, but if you've ever tried to argue this with a progressive, it turns into a game of whack-a-mole. You point out that social indicators were better under colonialism, they claim that the fact that it got worse afterwards was actually due to the colonialism (how, we are never told - something about borders being too straight or something.).

This is, of course, an enormous game of shifting the goalposts. The only way to win is to pin them down about what the goalposts are ahead of time. Naturally, they will pick goalposts that they think are so narrow that you couldn't possible sneak in. Fortunately, as long as you know more about the history of a couple of what we economists call 'natural experiments', they probably won't pick small enough goalposts even under the most self-serving of definitions.

For instance:

Shylock: Let's assume that colonialism might have some negative effects that survive after it leaves. Presumably these effects don't last forever. How long is it reasonable to use that as an excuse before you have to admit that colonialism can't be the real problem? In other words, if you have a third world country that was colonised by a European power and then gets independence, how long should it be before they're able to become a functional country?

Progressive Foil: (thinking quickly about time frame of African independence, trying to come up with a number greater than the maximum period of independence). Hmm, maybe 100 years. (Thinks again, adds a margin of error). Maybe 200.

SH: Haiti has been independent for almost 225 years, and it's one of the worst places on the planet. How does that work?

PF: (if uninformed) Um...derp...
(if a bit more informed): That's different! They were slaves brought in from all sorts of places with no cultural or linguistic links.

SH: I thought diversity was our strength.

PF: Plus the US Marines occupied it for 19 years in 1914.

SH: That's fair, it's possible that the place was just about to turn the corner after a mere 125 years of dysfunctional independence, I guess we'll never know. Odd that the US occupation was surprisingly functional compared with the rest of its history.

PF: It was not! It was horribly brutal and racist.

SH: I take it you haven't read much about the administration of Papa Doc Duvalier.

PF: (flicks through Wikipedia page) Hmm. Yeah, that's not ideal. But still, you can't make the comparison.

SH: Okay, okay, fair point. Haiti isn't a perfect example. Let's try a different thought experiment. African countries are inevitably marred by their colonial occupation. If we could see what Africa would look like today if it hadn't ever been colonised, it would be a lot more peaceful, rich and stable.

PF: Absolutely.

SH: Ethiopia was never colonised.

PF: Really?

SH: Yes, and you may notice that it's not Switzerland.

PF: Okay, but it's going a lot better than its neighbours.

SH: See, at this point, I know you're just guessing. You know how I know that? Because I researched this in advance. Let's compare Ethiopia with two nearby neighbours that were colonised - Djibouti, which was colonised by the French, and Kenya, which was colonised by the British. Here's a few numbers.

Ethiopia: GDP Per Capita (Nominal) $575. Homicide Rate: 12.0 per 100,000. Life Expectancy: 64
Djibouti: GDP Per Capita (Nominal) $1692. Homicide Rate: 10.1 per 100,000. Life Expectancy: 61
Kenya: GDP Per Capita (Nominal) $1416. Homicide Rate: 6.4 per 100,000. Life Expectancy: 61.

PF: Ah ha! Their life expectancy is 3 years higher!

SH: Yes, I took a fair sampling of statistics, not just ones that support my case. But compared with its neighbours there's more murders, and they're literally one third as rich. You were the one claiming that Africa would be functional except for colonialism. A life expectancy of 64 puts it up there with paragons of civil society such as Yemen and Senegal. I'm even willing to grant you that it's broadly similar to its neighbours, but this doesn't exactly prove your case.

PF: Hmm, this is a puzzle. I'm sure I'm still right, but I need to research this more.

As Mencius Moldbug once said, I will win because I know all of his arguments and he knows none of mine.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The next progressive shoe to drop

I cannot be the only one who thinks that the pace of leftward social change seems to have increased of late.

I find it interesting to try to guess in advance what the next cause will be to be taken up by our own vanguard of the proletariat. I’m not sure anything can be done about it, but it least it’s something to ponder.

Some of the causes, except for the benefit of hindsight, appear fairly random (transvestite rights? Removing Confederate flags 150 years after the end of the war?). These are perhaps just markers by which the wrongthinkers will be encouraged to identify themselves, for the lashings of some symbolic pizza shop and the termination of employment for a few more people who made the wrong jokes to someone, somewhere.

But while the particular order of what gets targeted when may be random, the list of targets themselves for the most part is not. In particular, one way to get a sense of likely targets is to ask the following question. Suppose the American governing class were establishing a new society on Mars, and for whatever reason were not able or willing to transport everything from the current setup. What institutions and arrangements that we currently have would they no longer choose to establish?

In other words, what about current society exists only because of social inertia, but does not actually fit the modern liberal mindset? What social arrangements, if they did not already exist, would no longer be invented?

Reader, I submit that everything you would put on that list will eventually be aimed at for destruction and undermining by progressives, if it hasn’t been already.

Not all of it will be successful in the short run. Social inertia is sometimes quite powerful, and while the forces of reaction are weak and divided, they are not zero. But all of it will be aimed at.

So what current institutions populate that list?

Some of them are small. Tax exemptions for religious institutions would not be something you would think up today. At the moment, the left is mostly content to use this as a potential club to beat churches who won’t get on board with gay marriage. But at some point in the increasing bankruptcy of the west, people will start asking why we are subsidizing churches at all (supposing, as they do, that any money not confiscated is a gift from the state). Not the least since most of the elite seems to be fairly atheist. If it is unconscionable to let schools teach creationism, why subsidize Churches to teach about God at all?

As Jokeocracy noted, we would not set up separate local police forces either. Too many of them keep doing reactionary things, like arresting minorities at impolite rates. Better to put everything in the hands of the Feds, who surely will do a better job.

And then we move up to the mid-sized. The modern left would definitely not set up the second amendment. If not for political expediency, they would openly tell you that they’d rather it were repealed. Among Democrats not in the position of running for office, most would probably tell you that quite happily already.

But it’s worth noting that modern progressives would not even set up the First Amendment either. Would progressives not dearly love to set up legal prohibitions on “hate speech”, racial vilification, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism etc.? Just about every western country without a First Amendment has done this to a fair degree, and it is extremely unlikely America would be different. If the First Amendment did not already exist as a categorical guarantee, nobody would think to invent it. Sure, it’s a broadly good policy aim, but it has to be jettisoned from time to time for more important stuff. If you believe the New York Times, there are an awful lot of modern day crowded theatres about which it is deemed extremely risky to let people shout ‘fire!’. The First Amendment has become like the Turkish military in the 1990s – a pro-western, secular, mostly pragmatic military-run state was such an anachronism in the Islamic world that its days had to be numbered. Beware institutions that become anachronistic enough to attract attention.

Of course, the left will not explicitly abolish the First Amendment, probably even if they had the power to do so (though the same can’t be said of the Second). Partly this is because there is a nostalgic semi-religious attachment to certain parts of the constitution and democratic process, no matter how divorced from practicality it becomes. This is one such area. The unwillingness to explicitly target the First Amendment for destruction is not just fooling the rubes either – a lot of the people pushing for these laws will, as I’ve noted before, earnestly carve out absurd ad-hoc exceptions on the fly while claiming to maintain the principle – “I believe in free speech, but that has nothing to do with hate speech” etc. They really feel that they actually believe in free speech, even as they eviscerate it. Though of course fooling the rubes is a key component too. It is much easier to say that you’re just changing this one little bit of First Amendment jurisprudence, rather than saying that you’re junking the whole thing. The latter might give the bitter clingers the wrong idea that their government really is out to get them. The former is just one of those things that happens old chap, nothing we can do about the inscrutability of Anthony Kennedy’s decisions.

But the Mars motivating question really highlights the biggest anachronism of all – in a Martian society, there would be no countries.

There would be different regional governments, to be sure, for some purely administrative matters. But there would be no separate sovereign entities, with the power to entirely decide their own laws, admission of foreigners, and membership of other organizations. There would be no separate citizenship.

You can see this process already at work, in a piecemeal manner, in Europe. Each European country surrenders more and more of its sovereignty to the EU, and at the same time, the definition of ‘European’ keeps expanding more and more, to places of which the assertion of their fundamental Europeanness would have gotten you laughed out of Paris in the 1960s. Would you really bet that if the EU exists in 50 years time, it won’t include any African or Middle Eastern countries? I wouldn’t.

The reality is, the reasons why separate countries existed in the first place are things that nobody is willing to say publicly, and that makes their existence very highly dependent on inertia alone. Two hundred years ago, the reasons that every right-thinking person would give for the existence of separate countries would have gone without saying. They would assert that people of different nationalities are fundamentally different from each other in a variety of ways. They would assert that most people prefer to live mostly with their own ethnic group, celebrating their own culture and history, and that they are right to do so. They would note that, as a practical matter, the people living in their historical homeland will fight to defend against encroachment against their borders.

The last one, I think, people today would still state and agree with. But the first two sound strange and foreign to modern western ears, do they not? It is a case of Steve Sailer’s observation that what goes unsaid long enough eventually goes unthought.

If people believe the third premise, but not the first two, it is far easier to keep the fiction of separate countries but allow open borders (and in the case of Europe, transferal of sovereignty to supranational organizations) to erase the practical importance of them. That way, the rubes will just have a vague sense that “their country” looks very different from how it used to, but there’s no actual invasion to fight. And the young will just see the current demographics as the new normal. Hence the process proceeds without too much resistance.

If you proposed that Guyana be merged as a country with the US, provided we kept the US’s institutional arrangements, people would look at you like you’re crazy. But when it is noted that more than a quarter of the Guyanese population already lives in the US, what, exactly, would be the difference? If we imported the other three quarters, would not the change have effectively already occurred? Is there something particular to the patch of dirt that we are worried about incorporating? Is it radioactive?

The main obstacle here is a practical one. In the first place, the west simply cannot pay for western levels of welfare for the whole world, and hence can’t acknowledge that all citizens in other countries have a right to receive it. This is the Milton Friedman critique that you can either have open borders or a welfare state, but not both.

More broadly, even the most ardent multiculturalists who insist that everybody really deep down values the same thing have, so far, been unable or unwilling to put their conviction irreversibly to the test by organizing a joint democratic election of the 320 million Americans and (say) the 1.11 billion residents of Africa to see what kind of House of Representatives and policies resulted.

A lot hinges upon whether the key clause in the previous sentence is ‘unwilling’ or ‘unable’. I honestly don’t know which it is.

I used to think that you would see a sustained attack on the very concept of citizenship within our lifetimes.

I no longer think that’s true.

You don’t attack the Maginot line. You go around it.

US citizenship is an immensely important and valuable thing, both practically and symbolically. Hence, since everybody is equal, it should be open to everyone who wants to apply. We are a nation of immigrants, after all.

I suspect you will live to see it.