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The Sadness of a Border “Emergency”

I got stuck watching a bit of Fox News a month or so ago. One of the things that really struck me was how quickly it became clear that its target audience is terrified, and of very nearly everything. In the world of Fox News, blacks are protesting not to prevent police violence, but to overthrow the very order of law itself. America’s young adults are brainwashed into Marxist zombies who want nothing more than to tear down everything good about this country, live off the livelihoods of hard working people like Fox News viewers, and banish Christianity from the national scene and polite company. Immigrants are flooding into our nation, every last one of them looking for a good, hard working white person to rob or rape or kill.

It’s a laughably inaccurate portrait of America, yes, and a thoroughly disgusting one. To believe it, you’d have to put real effort into ignoring all of the evidence around you, and assume everyone outside of your ideological bubble was lying to you, all of the time. And you’d also have to think, deep in your heart, that anyone who isn’t just like you–in your religion, your culture, your social status, your tastes, your values, and often your race–is at best a dangerous rogue, and at worst only a threatening beast.

But most of all, you’d have to see the world exclusively through a miasma of fear and anger and resentment. I just can’t imagine how terrible it must be to live that way. How small and powerless it must make you feel. How penned in and thrown off balance.

I was reminded of that Fox New viewing and my reaction to it when I saw today that Trump had declared his emergency at the border. Of course there’s no emergency at the border. No serious person with any experience of the world and any grasp of the evidence would think so. But if you’re terrified, all the time, and of everything, then the whole world, every bit of it outside your door, is an emergency, and it is only through extreme measures that we can push back on this ongoing catastrophe of otherness.

What an awful, damaging, depressing, and profoundly sad way to live.

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On racists in government and sunlight as a disinfectant

Rep. Steve King of Iowa said some pretty racist things. Again. This time, though, they were both shockingly unambiguous and came after a midterm election where the GOP got shellacked, and where its only hope to regain ground is in appealing to the kinds of people who don’t find racism all that appealing. So his congressional colleagues aren’t just ignoring it like they’ve done so often before. They’re taking action, albeit well short of expelling him.

What struck me about the resulting national conversation is the assumption, sometimes made explicit, that Steve King can’t keep going on like this, not if he wants to maintain his job come the next election cycle. Surely, the reason the fine folks of Iowa’s 4th District have been sending him back to Washington as their representative every other year since 2003 is that they just aren’t aware of how thoroughly he despises anyone who doesn’t look as lily white as they do. (The district is 95.8% white and 0.8% black.) If only the media would make it clearer, or if only they heard about it from other lawmakers in their party, they’d recoil from the man and kick his ass out.

Except I’m not convinced. We like to think America’s mostly moved on from its profoundly racist past, and that, while racism lingers, it’s at the very least underground or confined to tiki torch weirdos or the most thuggish of cops. Systemic racism, structural racism, those remain more widespread, but Steve King’s brand of actually expressed white supremacy, that’s on the outs.

But that would be very odd if true. We’re only a generation or so removed from outright segregation, after all. Only a generation away from lynchings held like festival events, with crowds cheering the strangulation or immolation of innocent blacks. To think racism as consciously believed white supremacy would just not be a thing a mere four or five decades later, when some of the perpetrators of those horrors are still alive, is, well, naive. There are lots of Americans who, while they might not shout it from the rooftops, are still kind of convinced that blacks just aren’t as good–innately, intellectually, morally–as whites, or that people from those odd places outside our borders can’t possibly “share our values” and so are always and everywhere a threat to good white stock.

This is why I suspect that for a critical mass of voters in Iowa’s 4th, Steve King’s racism is a feature, not a bug. They might not admit it, but they’re pretty okay with the stuff he says, even the stuff that appalls the rest of us. I think it’s just too soon to believe otherwise, to believe people like King aren’t expressing the views of a rather large portion of the electorate.

Thus sunlight can’t really disinfect, because for too many Americans, what Steve King–or Donald Trump in more veiled ways–is saying just doesn’t need disinfecting. He could tone it down, but he’s expressing all too widely held beliefs.

We’re just going to have to wait. Racism is in retreat. Racists are in decline. But we’ve still got a long way to go, and racism lives on in our elected bodies because racism–real, unapologetic racism–lives on, probably more than we want to admit, in our electorate.

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Abortion and the Law’s Control of Bodies

In yesterday’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Senator Kamala Harris of California, a likely presidential candidate in 2020, asked a perplexing question, and Kavanaugh provided an even more perplexing answer.

Kamala Harris: “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?”

Brett Kavanaugh: “I’m not… I’m not thinking of any right now, Senator.”

I say “perplexing” because every law, with the exception of thought crimes, makes decisions about bodies, because every law, with the exception of thought crimes, is about telling us what actions we can, can’t, or must take.

Take speed limits. The law says I can’t drive faster than 65 miles per hour on this stretch of freeway. In practice, what this means is that the lawmakers have decided that I cannot use my body to accelerate a car above 65 miles per hour. If I fail to follow the law — if I do use my body to press the gas pedal such that the car goes above 65 — I will be punished, assuming I’m caught.

We can tell the same story for any other law you might think of. The simple fact is that law is always and only about setting up a system of rules that “make decisions” about permissible actions. Thus Harris’s question is perplexing and so is Kavanaugh’s stumbling for an answer, because the answer is obvious. Are there laws that make decisions about the male body? Yes, basically all of them. Except for laws that can only possibly ever apply to women’s bodies. (There are, obviously, laws that are just as biologically limited in their reach, but on the male side. The law requiring all men to register for the military draft is one.)

Of course, Harris isn’t interested in laws generally. She’s interested in Kavanaugh’s views on abortion. She, like many other Democrats is worried that Kavanaugh will some day, if confirmed, vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. And, like many pro-choice Americans, she’s framed the issue of abortion as one of “controlling women’s bodies.” That why she asked Kavanaugh if he could think of any laws restricting the male body in such a way. But her question is confused, as we can see by seeking to clarify it in two possible ways.

The first would be rephrase it as “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body [in precisely the way ani-abortion laws make decisions about the female body]?” Answering the question interpreted this way, however, exposes it as terribly uninteresting, so uninteresting it wasn’t worth asking in the first place: “No, I can’t think of a law that gives the government power to make decisions about the male body in the way an anti-abortion law would regarding the female body because, by simple biology, only women can have abortions.” (We needn’t get into the application of this to trans men here.)

Alternatively, we can interpret the question as asking, “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body [analogous to an anti-abortion law saying a woman cannot act in such a way as to cause the death of a fetus]?” This is a much more interesting take on the question, but it is also one that exposes what strikes me as an obvious mistake in the way the pro-choice side articulates their dispute with the pro-life side. Namely, pro-lifers frequently act as if the question of the moral status of the fetus is obvious and settled, and then assume — or act as if they assume — that pro-choicers must be building their case on some other grounds.

To unpack this, look at it not from Harris’s perspective but from the perspective of someone who believes abortion is wrong and ought to be illegal. For them, outlawing abortion is no more motivated only or chiefly by a desire to control women’s bodies as the military draft is about controlling men’s bodies. That country is an outcome of the law, yes, but it’s not the motivating aim of the law. In the mind of a pro-lifer, a fetus is a person, people have rights, and one of those is the right not to be killed. Pro-choicers accept parts two and three of this without objection, or otherwise they’d be against murder laws. The difference is only with part one. Pro-lifers believe a fetus is the kind of thing we call a person with rights, and that the right against being killed while innocent is absolute. (The “while innocent” part is important, because otherwise it would be impermissible to kill in war, or as part of a death penalty. We might have reasons to think both of those are wrong, of course, but that’s a distinct matter from the particular question at hand here.) Pro-choicers, on the other hand, believe either that the fetus is not the kind of thing we call a human with a right to life or that it is, but its right to life is not as absolute as that of other types of humans, and so can be overridden by the mother’s wishes or desires.

Thus if we take a charitable view of the pro-life position — and we should, because charity is a virtue, and strawmanning is wrong — an anti-abortion law is no more and no less about controlling women’s bodies as the law that say I can’t kill my children is about controlling my body.

By assuming this not to be the case, by believe that pro-lifers want to control women as opposed to wanting to prevent the deaths of what they see to be humans with absolute rights, Harris and others sharing her position end up in confused positions like the one on display in her questioning of Kavanaugh, and so accomplish little in resolving — politically, ethically, morally — this supremely important question in American law.

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Loyalty versus Obsequiousness Through the Lens of Donald Trump


A loyal person is never an obsequious person.

Donald Trump demands loyalty from those around him. It’s why he fired James Comey, why he’s mad at Jeff Sessions, and why he pulled John Brennan’s security clearance. He makes everyone passing through his orbit sign non-disclosure agreements, a kind of explicit loyalty oath by way of legal documents. Even his kids get in on it.

Yet, for someone so concerned with loyalty, Donald Trump doesn’t know quite what loyalty is. I don’t just mean in the sense that he believes loyalty to be unilateral. For Trump, you are loyal to him. But he is never loyal to you. It’s not clear he understands what bilateral loyalty would entail.

No, the real problem with Trump’s notion of loyalty is that he’s confused the term with obsequiousness. The former is a virtue, the latter a vice. Loyalty is earned, and continues through a relationship of respect. I am loyal to you because you deserve my loyalty through your continuing demonstration of the characteristics that earned it in the first place.

Obsequiousness, on the other hand, is evidence of a failure of character on the part of the obsequious. Where loyalty comes from a recognition of the worthy traits of another, obsequiousness comes from an internalized sense of servility. Loyalty is about me recognizing your lofty traits. Obsequiousness is instead about me not having strong and worthy traits of my own.

That Trump in fact demands the latter is a telling condemnation of both his personal character and his abilities as a leader. It is a sign of the deep insecurity that is perhaps the president’s single most defining trait. A loyal friend remains loyal in part by holding you to the standards that earned you his loyalty in the first place. Loyalty elevates both sides in the relationship. But Trump sees no need to be elevated, because he desperately wants to see himself as the best there’s ever been, while at the same time harboring constant and crippling doubts about the truth of that belief.

That’s why he instead demands obsequiousness. He needs his underlings to praise him, to always remain supine. Deviation must be punished, harshly and thoroughly and without remission until the offender resumes his groveling posture and empty flattery. To allow anything else would be to admit that loyalty is contingent on quality, and that Trump is maybe not as quality as his fragile ego has convinced himself he is.

Donald Trump is a failure of a man. He has worldly success, yes, but as a person, as a moral being, as a figure to be admired, he falls breathtakingly short. His confusion of loyalty for obsequiousness is but one piece of evidence that deep down, wherever a tiny remnant of his humanity might be found, he recognizes that truth.

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On Civility in Politics


Shunning is sometimes appropriate, and politics shouldn’t change that.

Should we shun political opponents? Should we refuse to associate with them, or to serve them in our businesses? The matter with Sarah Sanders getting kicked out of a restaurant has a lot of people staking out what strike me as poorly examined positions on these questions, positions rooted in the silly notion that “we shouldn’t let politics come between us.”

The short answers to the above questions is, yes, of course we should shun political opponents — when their behavior or beliefs are of the sort worthy of shunning. And, yes, we should refuse to associate with them or serve them in our businesses — when their behavior or beliefs are of the sort worthy of such refusal. That their behavior or beliefs are motivated by politics, as opposed to some other value system or ideology or motivation, is immaterial, and arguments to the contrary merely grant ugly political beliefs an unearned and dangerous buffer from the kind of moral opprobrium we find perfectly acceptable when applied to ugly beliefs of other origins.

It is, of course, possible for political disagreement to exist without it stemming from shun-worthy beliefs, and this fact is too often ignored by partisans. But that doesn’t mean that all political disagreement is of an honest and respectable sort. Sometimes people are bad people and their bad people-ness is reflected in the political views they hold. In such instances, we should still treat them as bad people.

If you think it’s okay to kick someone out of a restaurant who holds racist beliefs, because you don’t want to associate with someone so morally repugnant, then you should also think it’s okay to kick someone out who channels those racist beliefs or anti-immigrant beliefs through politics. If you think it’s okay to refuse to associate with someone you know to be morally corrupt and dishonest, you should also think it’s okay to refuse to associate with someone who puts their moral corruption and dishonesty to use defending the actions and policies of the morally corrupt and dishonest.

I wouldn’t want Sanders in my house. I wouldn’t be friendly to her if I met her. She’s a morally corrupt and fundamentally dishonest person. She’s exactly the kind of person I choose not to associate with and teach my children not to associate with. That she was kicked out of a private business instead of a house changes none of that.

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An open letter to alt-right, paleo-libertarian, “cultural Marxism”-hating, red-pill-popping dudes.


Hi.

It’s come to my attention that you’re worried about the direction of this country. Specifically, you’re worried that America’s culture is shifting in ways you see as anathema to America’s values, by which you mean your values. The values of white men of a certain sort.

And I hear you. You’re upset, and you’re pretty sure you have reason to be upset, and that reason has something to do with women and the Jews and political correctness, maybe? Anyway, I want to let you in on something the rest of us, who don’t so much share your concerns, are already aware of, but you appear not to be.

Here goes.

America is not abandoning your culture, or what you imagine to be your culture, or what you imagine to be the true American culture, because of some Jewish or black or gay or feminist conspiracy, nor is it because of women or the feminization of men or social justice warriors or atheism or people eating soy.

American is abandoning your values and your culture because your values and your culture kind of suck, aren’t terribly appealing, don’t contribute much to the world, don’t lead to much in the way of happiness and satisfaction but instead to resentment and rage and cultural and social impotence, and are, frankly, just really, really boring.

America is over you. Deal with it.

Aaron

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What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

I was recently asked on Twitter whether my libertarianism is of the consequentialist or deontological variety. For those not hip to the terminology, the question is about what sort of moral theory underpins my political theory. Those two — consequentialism and deontology — are, for many, the default choices when it comes to libertarianism. You can believe in political liberty because free people in free markets lead to the most wealth and happiness — and so liberty is valuable because of that, in which case you’re a consequentialist. Or you believe that there exist hard and fast, unavoidable moral rules — about obligations or prohibitions or rights — that we must respect, and doing so demands, at least in part, respecting the liberty of individuals. If that’s your line of thinking, you’re a deontologist.

My answer to the question-as-framed is “Neither.” I’m not a consequentialist, nor am I a deontologist. I believe, of course, that the consequences of actions and of political systems matter a great deal. But I don’t believe that consequences are all that matters in moral or political considerations. And I believe, of course, that we live with certain obligations towards others, among these a respect for rights. But I don’t believe that articulating a set of rules and then following them is the most fruitful or psychologically authentic way to think about morality.

If a consequentialist believes that what matters when faced with a moral choice is which option creates the best consequences or results in the most overall happiness, and a deontologist believes that the correct action is the one that follows from a set of moral rules, a virtue ethicist says the right action is whatever a truly virtuous person would do when faced with a similar choice.

What, then, is a virtuous person? It’s a person who has cultivated and possesses the traits of virtuous character. She’s honest, benevolent, generous, courageous, has great integrity and wisdom, and so on. She is, in other words, the best person you can imagine, the kind of person you ought to strive to be yourself.

As such, virtue ethics is less focused on how to decide the right action at any given time — though of course it cares about that — and instead looks to what sort of traits a virtuous person possesses, and how we can develop those traits in ourselves. In a sense, once we are virtuous, the moral choices will take care of themselves. We’ll do what’s right, and we’ll do it naturally.

The Aristotelian portion of my answer speaks to the kind of virtue ethics I find most appealing, namely one grounded in the ideas of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and having to do with the relationship between virtue and eudaimonia, or the sort of happiness and flourishing we imagine when we think of “a good life.” The intuitionist tendencies are about the fact that I think our moral intuitions are an important source of knowledge in filling out the content of the virtues and their application.

My libertarianism, with its virtue ethical foundations, thus boils down to a deep conviction that good people, acting out of virtue, will treat each other will kindness, benevolence, respect, and so on. They will seek to engage each other through our most human of faculties, namely conversation and persuasion, and will not seek to get their way as animals do, with violence and threats. A political system built on that will be one of liberty, not coercion. That’s the kind of libertarian I am.

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“Should Twitter Ban Donald Trump?” is Really a Question About Government Legitimacy

Donald Trump has, on more than one occasion, used his Twitter account to threaten violence on a scale the rest of us, not being presidents ourselves, can never hope to achieve. You and I don’t have a nuclear button on our desks — even a very small one. Even when he’s not telling North Korea how close he is to incinerating them, however, he’s making explicit threats against political rivals, threats his position in the chain of command and his access to men with guns make a good deal more credible than when an angry video gamer all-caps shouts at a female Twitter celebrity.

In light of all this, many have pointed out that, well, Twitter has a policy against such behavior. In fact, Twitter routinely bans users for making far more minor and far less credible threats than those ejaculated daily, 280 characters at a time, by our president. Yet his account persists.

Why?

Why does Donald Trump get away with threatening violence, while we don’t? Why does he suffer no consequences for his actions, while you or I would be swiftly banned? Why, in short, does President Donald Trump of the United States live by a different set of rules than the rest of us?

The first, and easiest, answer is “Because Twitter says so.” It’s their platform, they can police it as they like, and in December, Twitter updated its terms of service to include a specific carve out in its “Violence and Physical Harm” policies for “military or government entities.” Trump, as the head of the Executive Branch, is exempt from Twitter’s rules regarding threats.

But that’s too easy an answer, and not just because the “military and government entities” exemption didn’t exist before December 2017. No, it’s too easy because this isn’t a question about Donald Trump and Twitter, but one muchbigger, about the very nature of the state itself.

Put simply, the state is, by definition, an organization that claims a geographic monopoly on the right to make threats and carry out violence. Law, written into regulations, legislation, and court decisions, is nothing more than a command and a threat to carry out violence against those who disobey. Without violence, you don’t have a state. Without threats of violence, you don’t have governments in any recognizable form. Donald Trump’s Twitter account is only an avatar of this most basic principle.

Thus the real question when we argue about whether Trump should get to make threats the rest of us can’t is whether that geographic monopoly on such behavior is permissible in the first place. Whether there’s something different about the state — and its agents — that allows it to legitimately and morally engage in behavior that would be seen as immoral, even monstrous, if any of us did the same.

That’s not a question to brush aside. The answer isn’t obvious, especially if you take the position that state violence is okay. It’s a question I’ve writtenand talked about at length here on Libertarianism.org. I believe the answer is “No.” No, we can’t meaningfully justify a special exemption from basic morality for state violence. No, it’s not okay for agents of government to behave in ways impermissible for the rest of us. It’s a deep, and difficult, aspect of thinking about government, and one we ignore at our peril.

If you genuinely believe Donald Trump’s threats of violence should be treated like any other threats of violence, and that threats of violence are never permissible, then congratulations, you’re an anarchist. But if you think it’s not okay for the president to threaten violence on Twitter, but it is okay for him to threaten and carry out violence via diplomatic channels, signed legislation, drone strikes, SWAT teams, ICE agents pounding on doors, business regulations, minimum wage laws, or IRS agents demanding jail time unless we hand over cash for the welfare state, then it’s likely you don’t have a realistic understanding of just what government is, or how its very existence depends on the threat and exercise of violence.

Originally published on Libertarianism.org.

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Decentralization and privacy are inevitable — in tech and in government.

Decentralization and encryption/privacy are good principles for digital technology.

They’re also pretty good principles for effective, fair, and just government.

Those two principles are becoming more widespread within digital technology, and trend will only accelerate as more of our lives, interactions, transactions, and work move into the digital realm.

This will have inevitable, positive effects on political liberty and human flourishing.

The positive effects result from the fact that digital decentralization and encryption make it harder for the government to employ the tools it has to enable further centralization and to breach our privacy.

Centralized, large, and intrusive states require our lives — our communications, interactions, and economic transactions — to be legible. They have to know what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and what resources we’re acquiring and using to facilitate it.

“Require” here should be read in two ways.

First, states “require” legibility because it’s necessary to their functioning. Without making its citizenry legible, the modern, officious nation state simply cannot operate in the way it has. It cannot dictate anywhere near as much of our lives as it currently does, because to dictate our lives, it must know our lives.

Second, states “require” legibility in the sense that they demand it of us. Governments believe they have the right to make us legible by watching what we do, looking into our records, making us transact and interact via systems the state can surveil, and otherwise prohibit our own efforts to make ourselves illegible. States believe we are required to — have an obligation to — make ourselves legible to our rulers.

As technology makes us illegible to the state, the state will lose its power over us. Government is well-aware it requires legibility in both senses of the term. Moving to a decentralized, encrypted, peer-to-peer communication infrastructure and economy will mean the state will find it impossible to continue to regulate us, tax us, monitor us, and punish us to anywhere near the degree it’s become accustomed to.

The state will fight back, of course. It will seek to ban technology. It will try to scare us with stories of how our technology enables terrorism and crime. It will threaten innovators and entrepreneurs and pass laws with the aim to slow the development and adoption of strong encryption, cryptocurrencies, and surveillance-proof networks.

It will try all these things, and it may even succeed, occasionally and for a time. But progress — and math — are on our side. We know that a good government is a less intrusive government, that decentralization — through federalism or just smaller states — is the key to peace and prosperity, that every person has a right to be as legible or illegible as she chooses.

And we know that this genie is very much out of the bottle. There’s no going back, no stopping it, no reversing technological progress so the state can win the war for mass surveillance and so maintain our legibility.

The emancipated individual — and the thriving communities she chooses to cultivate and participate in — win in the end.

Originally published on Libertarianism.org.

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Technology, Radical Liberty, and Freedom Without Permission

Decentralization will bring about a radically freer and more dynamic world, and without waiting for the blessing of government.

Decentralized, DIY Beginnings

I got my start when I was 14, dialing into local BBSes to play text games, post to FidoNet, and download warez. This would’ve been 1993. For those of you born about that time, these just someone’s personal computer, running software like Tag or Renegade, and plugged into a phone line via a modem. They’d sit waiting for guys like me to dial in when our parents were out of the house or asleep, because a parent picking up the phone would sever the connection.

So much cooler than Facebook.

More centralized, “professional” online services existed, which is why everything anyone ever bought at that time included an AOL CD. But, to be honest, they offered little of interest over the BBS scene, with its uncensored message boards, pirated softwares downloads, and low res pornographic images.

I grew up, then, with a decentralized network. Even as the early web became more widespread, this decentralization persisted. Websites were personal. If you wanted one, you either bought space on a server and uploaded HTML and Perl scripts. Or you went to Geocities, and that place was basically the Wild West.

Centralization vs. Political Liberty

Centralization displaced this delightful chaos in stages. Even as AOL was dying, ICQ came along, and we moved our communication from distributed email servers to a single service. Blogs got eaten up by Blogger. Then came the social networks, and before we knew it, only businesses and the hardcore ran their own websites or hosted their own communications tech. Everyone else — which amounted to very nearly everyone — moved to AIM, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else the kids are into these days.

ICQ

Of course, centralization brings benefits. The services do more, are more reliable, and the barrier to entry way lower. But they also hold us at their mercy. Innovation slows because you have to wait for them to decide something’s a good idea, and a profitable one, too. Your data belongs to them, which means they can do what they want with it, but also they can give it, or be compelled to give it, to people we’d rather not have it, like agents of government who’d like to be sure we’re not up to subversive activities.

From the perspective of an advocate for radical political liberty, this is troubling, to say the least. For the same reasons it’s bad to turn over increasing power to the state, and to shift more and more of our economy from free market dynamism to nationalized services, it’s bad to do the same to Facebook et al, though in less acute ways. The digital world increasingly simply is the world. We exist within it, communicate through it, engage each other in exchange for goods and services via it, define ourselves and create and grow through use of its tools. If Hayek was right about the problems of centralization in government, we ought to at the least be somewhat concerned about problems of centralization in tech, and for the same reasons.

This is not to ignore a difference between Facebook and the state. The state, as Max Weber noted, gets to use coercive physical force, and claims a monopoly on legitimately doing so. Facebook can make it hard for you to delete your account, but it can’t hold a gun to your head and pull the trigger if you persist. That’s a big deal. Those on the political left too easily believe corporations are as powerful as governments, and so to treat them as just as much of a threat — or as threats that can only be reined in by giving government (i.e., the guys with the actual guns) even more power. At the same time, however, if the state gets its way and these centralized services become every more heavily regulated, ever more burdened with requirements of cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, or even nationalized outright, the lines will blur or disappear entirely. The digital world enables many amazing things but, particularly when as centralized as it is today, it also enables many awful things because it makes so much of what we do scrutable and legible to those who want more and more control over our lives.

Reclaiming Our Freedom

That’s why I’m so excited about all these emerging techs that point the way to a return to a decentralized internet. We’re fast approaching a point where the benefits of the centralized services aren’t as unique to their particular architecture as they once were, and where decentralization can bring us more security and more innovation, with fewer trade-offs.

Senator Al Franken recently gave a speech calling for more direct government regulation of social media. These companies are too big to be left to their own devices, he said.

“Everyone is rightfully focused on Russian manipulation of social media, but as lawmakers it is incumbent on us to ask the broader questions: How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives?” Franken asked in a speech to a Washington think tank. A handful of companies decide what Americans “see, read, and buy,” dominating access to information and facilitating the spread of disinformation, he added.

Of course, as someone rather less sanguine about government’s motives and abilities when it come to “protecting” us from disinformation, it’s easy wonder whether some of Franken’s frustration comes from his belief that Facebook is muscling in on the state’s turf. Governments love to control most aspects of their subjects’ lives, and we need only look as far back as the Citizens United Supreme Court case to see the federal government arguing it ought to be able to decide what, to use Franken’s words, we “see, read, and buy.”

That’s why decentralization, blockchains, and strong encryption are so exciting. Yes, they will enable new avenues of economic growth and new ways for people to earn a living. Yes, they will enable us to experiment more and innovate faster. But this emerging tech will also allow us to more easily and safely ignore people like Al Franken, and get on with the business of communicating, exploring, learning, buying, selling, organizing, and self-defining, free from the possibility of officious or authoritarian interference.


Bitcoin gives us money without the state, and sidechains and level 2 tech will help us make that money more efficient and more private. Filecoin and IPFS will enable us to keep our data private, secure, and inaccessible to regimes who want to see what we’re up to and want to punish us if we don’t toe their line. The Orchid Protocol promises to hide all of this activity behind a distributed VPN, making it not only invisible to snooping eyes, but also unblockable unless a state takes the drastic step of turning off the Internet entirely. We’ll soon have distributed organizations that can self-govern and pay contributors, without the need to let the state in on any of it. We’ll be able to ditch centrally run social media networks, replace them with encrypted peer-to-peer services, and not have to worry about whether the feds can force Facebook and Twitter to turn over our data.

The result will be a freer, more dynamic, wealthier, and safer world.

Technology and Our Libertarian Future

It will also be a world truer to the principles I’ve built my Cato Institute career championing, and which provide the mission for Libertarianism.org. Our statement of principles on the site reads,

Liberty. It’s a simple idea and the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. They’re called libertarians.

Permissionless innovation matters, not just because it’s what gave us Uber, but because it’s what will give us our freedom from unnecessarily large and unjustifiably intrusive governments. Unbreachable privacy matters, not just because it means we can talk to each other without fear of embarrassment, but because it will let us think thoughts and exchange ideas that will become the foundation of a radically better world, without the crippling worry that governments opposed to that world will hunt us down and punish us to silence our voices.

This is not to say technology is always good, always a force for freedom. It’s clearly not, and we can go wrong with it in countless ways. But the technologies of encryption and decentralization and private exchange of ideas and resources put a heavy thumb on the right side of the scale. We need to work to ensure that the people developing and deploying those technologies do so consciously, with virtue, and a healthy respect for human dignity and rights. That’s why I’ll keep doing the moral and political philosophy work I do at Libertarianism.org. But I have faith in the technology community, and I’m more hopeful about humanity’s future than I’ve been in a long, long time.

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