Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why should you support libertarians

Vote libertarian November 7

Put pressure on those in power

The main political reason that you will ask for is that of necessity of putting pressure on those in power. The Reps or Dems in Washington or elsewhere are entrenched in their limiting ideology and somewhat comfortable in their opposition where they know what to expect. America has been founded on the principle of sacredness of individual rights and freedoms. The Reps and Dems are currently espousing ideologies that are either disciplinarian, the former, or communitarian, the latter. Even if the libertarians don't win many seats in the legislatures - those elected will feel the pressure of the founding ideology of freedom that is so deeply American.

And here is what libertarians profess:

Libertarians believe that the government has no right to forbid anything that honest and peaceful people do among themselves. This is includes transactions, organizations, for-profit businesses of any nature - material production, services, medical, psychological, sexual or educational. The idea that most things should not be forbidden admits exceptions of course - such where exercising certain liberties would create dangerous confusion (e.g. dressing up in a cop's uniform), harm (exposure of minors to adult situations or reckless behavior on the road) . The only behaviors and transactions between mature adults that could be forbidden are those that involve violence and dishonesty.

The basis for this ideology is deeply moral because it vests the individual with the decision of what his world should be, which he or she can freely organize with cooperation with others - cooperation that will, of course, test his power against the power of others. But the power match, by the libertarian principles, is to be fair - because it must not be carried out by invocation of someone's subjective concept of eternal and absolute rules and principles, but by a struggle among individuals equipped with their skills and means. Much of this struggle would be carried out on the free market - where goods and services are exchanged and financial means acquired and disposed of. The market functions as a paradigm of peaceful power struggle where under the conditions of honesty the price of always right and the match is even.

Questions are often raised against libertarians about the fate of the least powerful, who would be typically destined to be poor. Another very important question is whether the market is a suitable instrument for managing resources that are limited - such as land and water. The answers that I find among libertarians on those issues are not quite satisfactory and will be properly addressed in the future. Libertarians show good signs of pragmatism advocating programs for the underprivileged and access to medical insurance and health care - while they may differ from the left by proposing non-governmental solutions the goal is the same - social safety net that prevents people from falling into misery.

Monday, October 02, 2006

After the summer and the Israeli-Arab war

Yes - I neglected this blog while being distracted by the wonders of summer in the moderate climate of the US Northwest. While so many of us enjoyed ourselves in the warmth of the sun and in cheerful company of people free of religious fanaticism the Jews and Arabs kept killing each other in Palestine.

The state of Israel exists in the Middle East as a result of international support through the United Nations fostered by arrangements begun long time ago between the so-called superpowers. As such Israel exists legally by the mandate of the world. As such Israel has every right to defend its security and its actions to respond with force to violations of its borders are completely justified. Also justified are actions of world powers, UN and military organizations, to help Israel. Yet it is hard to imagine a situation where it will have no mortal enemies bent on its annihilation. Despite the continued support of the world it seems that Israel is destined to be surrounded by enemies.

In prewar Poland Jews constituted around 10% of the population. This was the result of long tradition of tolerance which allowed Jews to practice their traditions and religion with minimal harassment. Unlike in Western Europe where Jews had to appear like everybody else, be assimilated, in order t o advance their life and career. The haven for Jews that existed in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland, became their downfall. Jews were easy to find for their Nazi persecutors, easy to identify and kill.

I cannot escape the thought that the state of Israel similarly concentrates Jews into a global ghetto located amidst their enemies. Of course the world supports the right of Israel to exist and it seems like the right thing. But the right thing at some point may become impossible to carry out. Arab and other Muslim countries around Israel are undergoing a crisis whose depth is hard to predict and may become the source of a violent eruption of unpredictable magnitude. It is hardly doubtful that the Islamic countries will go through significant violence in resolving their crisis. It is also hardly doubtful that much of that violence will be directed at Israel at which point that country will require help from the world led by Europe and America whose powers are waning now in favor of the new powers of Asia. Either Europe and America will involve themselves in a ruinous struggle for survival of Israel or they will abandon it.

I think the second scenario is more likely. The war in Iraq has exposed the limits of American power and exposed the truth that nations should not always do what is right but merely what is possible and in their own interest. Europe and America, former colonial powers, are powerless to get significantly involved in the crisis of the Islamic world. They would risk too much.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Seneca's Oedipus by Akropolis Labs

Yesterday (June 3) I had the privilege to attend a performance by Akropolis Performance Labs in Seattle presenting a rendition of Oedipus by Seneca. I am greatly impressed by this theater group and find much very right with their artistic method which follows the precepts of Grotowski.

The foremost element of the act is the actor - the speaking, singing, moving and dancing body. Other elements of the stage are more marginal and only involved part of the time - cart full of shoes, a cane, two chairs. This method calls for unity of action which concerns itself with a single issue. It is served very well by the ancient material of Greek and Latin drama.

The actors deliver their lines while being involved in intense physical movement - not necessarily a dance but often an action that adds significance to the spoken word. For example, at one point Oedipus prays to the gods while grasping a hook in the ceiling with his cane and lifting himself up. In "Oedipus" actors also do certain portions of action in the nude - and it does add gravity to the grave material. Nudity is also given without strip-tease - ie without the superfluously distracting manipulation of fabrics on stage.

The actors also sing and play some string instruments - in this show they sing multi-part arrangements of Eastern European devotional music - with Latin lyrics. This is simple singing but truly it is another aspect of physicality on stage - filling the room with sound.

I'd like also to share a reflection about the significance of ancient literature to our times. It seems that the ancients were principally fearful of the chaos and pessimistic about the possibility of a future of their civilization. All seemed to be destined to be consumed by the gaping abyss of chaos possibly represented by the barbarians. The Oedipus story reflects this fear by showing the unknowable nature of the encroaching chaos, and the unknowability of the consequences of one's actions. And it adds the tremendous moral burden on those in power. I think humanity has learned something over the ages since antiquity and we no longer should fear chaos. I think we don't because in history we went through chaos, horror it was, but we came back. The main modern anxiety is about something else - the lack of meaning. That may propel us toward fanatical religiosity, while the fear of chaos pushed the ancients toward imperialism.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

English as the Windows(TM) of languages

It only happened recently, maybe four years ago, that I started liking the language of my adopted country - English. Before that time I spent nearly 20 years in the US hating the language. Well - English is hard to learn, hard to pronounce, has a voluminous dictionary of words borrowed from all over and is full of idiosyncratic usage. Foreigners have trouble with all those elements.

Hard to pronounce - large set of vowel sounds and very specific articulation of many consonants make the phonetics a large part of the learning process. Foreigners have to make an enormous effort to control their speaking habits in order to approximate English sounds reasonably. Americans for that matter have trouble speaking standard English and love retaining their regional (Southern, New York, etc) speaking habits. Additionally, native English speakers have trouble learning other common world languages.

The large volume of adopted vocabulary - I think above 500k of words - is more than twice as large as the standard French dictionary. This is due to voracious adoption of foreign words that are used to designate very specific objects - for example seller, vendor or merchant - are really all synonyms but practice assigns them very specific differing semantics.

This leads to the problem of idiosyncratic usage. Words appearing as synonyms cannot be substituted one for another - they function correctly only in their environment designed by the intractable minds of native speakers. For example: airtime - functions correctly only when referring to mobile phone usage although it could mean a variety of things.

All those factors make English very hard to learn by non-native speakers and really a poor candidate for a lingua franca of the world which it has unfortunately become. There must be something else that propelled this language toward this function. I don't know what but its career is similar to that of Microsoft operating software known as Windows. Programming for that system is also full of inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies and forces one to guess around badly formulated paradigms that fail to express what the system does. Nevertheless that operating system and programming for it has become a dominant aspect of software usage in much of the world. Grappling with semantics filled with specificity and failing to plainly express the logical structure of concepts and operations has now become a fate of all of us.

Of course those who are native English speakers have the upper hand - just like those laptop computers where Windows is already preinstalled and preconfigured. There will be surprises and unpleasant discoveries but having English preinstalled in your head by your mother and your organs of speech pretrained gets you certain commercial advantages - like being an English tutor for those of us where the symbolic system does not run with native smoothness. Additionally a certain aristocratic aura surrounding the native English speaker tends to draw attention away from cultural and intellectual contributions expressed in other languages. It puts the center of the world in the US and British Isles.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Relationship to time

The most important factor in psychological health (=happiness?) of a person is the relationship to time. That is what someone told me in a recent conversation. I always hated the problem of time as pursued by certain Polish writers - and yes by Chekhov too - the most boring of playwrights.

But for some time now I have been thinking about time as the psychological experience of the flow of the future through the present moment which consumes all the possibilities of the future and leaves behind a hardened rock of the past. The present moment is the locus of emotional life. How we handle the flushing of the future into the past determines the basic emotional traits of our character. There seem to be three methods: rational, hedonistic and mystical.
  • In the most common rational way of handling time one makes the future in the form of the past. The past is built up of hardened artifacts of our facts and knowledge which are applied to making a plan for the future, a plan based on the past. If the future is normalized so to speak and made in the image of the past, the flow of time through the present moment is least disturbing. Emotional life of a rational person is calm.
  • Hedonistic life is one that seeks to erase, or at least parenthesize, the future and the past and live in the present. In that situation the present obviously expands and a hedonist is happy at the cost of possibly losing some of the intellectual and spiritual life that comes about from dealing with past and future. The term "hedonism" is used here quite broadly and tries to subsume more than just pleasure seeking. However, just as many a religion exhort us to submit to suffering and learn from it - let us propose that we also can get transfigured by pleasure.
  • Mystical life is where you trust that some spiritual authority pulls in the past and future into the "now". A mystical person hands over his individual life into the management by an authority - such as a monastery or some religious order, or perhaps dedicates himself to a government service. The time line "future-present-past" of a mystical person becomes immersed in the timeline of a larger entity and his/hers whole life appears again as an "eternal now". Again the term "mystical" may not be the best.
Two comments. Firstly, he three methods follow quite logically from the view of the flow of time and are rather unrelated to the much repeated four temperaments. Secondly, mystical and hedonistic methods share their manner of reduction of the experience of time.

As the premise of this post indicates a challenge for modern man is to work out a manner of reconciliation of these methods of dealing with time as we function differently for example in professional day jobs and during evening entertainment.

But here is Miłosz, who really was the one who introduced me to William Blake in his esoteric essay "Land of Ulro" - published in Polish around 1976. The title of the book is truly from Blake whose oeuvre is one great prescient spiritual pursuit rooted in the conflicts of the Enlightenment - the Romantic conflicts - reason versus feeling, determinism versus individual will. Miłosz's poetry always seemed to me quite intellectual, filled with a superiority of a being endowed with understanding and abstract thought looking down on those afflicted with and overtaken by base experience. Miłosz often is present in the world with his mind only - although the underlying intensity of his emotional experience is felt very strongly - it is always subservient to what he considers the higher mental functions.

Interestingly in his "Land of Ulro" Miłosz studies Blake and compares him with Dostoevsky. The four main characters in Blake's divine drama are compared and set in parallel to the four Karamazovs. There is quite likely a relevance here to the topic of the relationship to time into which I will dig in again.

Monday, May 01, 2006

American economic insecurity

It is a commonly accepted view that the American upward mobility and economic opportunity is partly the result of self-reliant attitude of individuals. Such individuals do not look for help or safety of social arrangements but boldly go and carve out a piece of the frontier for themselves. Such is the cursory view of the American ethic. Many of those individuals are characteristically immigrants - more or less unattached to the country where they have arrived.

In the times of the actual frontier there were truly numerous independent entrepreneurs uprooted from the old country that no longer would provide anything for them. In a way these people were emancipated from old dependencies. They were actual risk takers. The success of the few was as usual ransomed by the failure of the many. Rules of the game - one would say - romanticizing the harsh American reality of a chance of success without the safety net.

But that raw social reality is long gone. Everybody wants some social safety net - the citizens and the immigrants. However flimsy that social security net is for the citizens they fight for refusing access to it for immigrants - legal or illegal. The current immigrants are the lower-economic underclass that is somewhat deprived of social services in the host country, but since they maintain ties to the country of origin and families there, send them money - they somehow pay for a social safety structure, unofficial but real, that would protect them in case of failure in the land of opportunity. Perhaps it is even possible that the American land of opportunity is subsidized from abroad - as the immigrant workers can accept low-wage work as a result of protections that are extended to them from foreign societies.

These are thoughts shared by a friend and coworker at the occasion of a collapse of an American startup enterprise where the disgruntled workers asked themselves if their medical insurance is still in force or not. Foreign readers of this blog may not realize that for most American workers their medical insurance is chosen and purchased by their employer. So much for the former great self-reliant risk taker.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Europeans stand up for freedom of speech

And now the Danish embassy in Beirut is burning.

As we all know a bunch of cartoons offensive to Muslims (and first published in September 2005 in Denmark) are now being reprinted by other European media. Muslims are demanding apologies and censorship while European governments defend their citizens right to free speech and the US government sympathizes with the Muslim religious sentiment.

Does the freedom of speech include the right to criticize religions? Yes it does and this right will be used by a free society with varying degree of good taste. There will be people offended. Still this should not stop us from using this right lest we stall the progress of spiritual life in our culture. Presently in the US it seems we are hostages of fundamentalist judeo-christianity, as it is the ruling party, but still I can pick up a paper filled with anti-christian "blasphemy". Criticism of religious beliefs must be allowed but must be coupled with respect for people professing those beliefs. Europeans are way ahead of US - ahead in liberating themselves from archaic religions and progressing toward a renewal of their spirituality.

What about the respect for religious persons who are offended? Do we sympathize with their indignation and suffering? Yes. But the offense is their problem as it stems from their own psychological conditioning that often translates offense into harm. It works like this:

Someone offends me (objective), I am hurt(subjective), I suffer(subjective), I may be harmed(subjective) - then I claim objective harm. But the fault is within my own psyche and I should seek help or stay away from certain type of libertine offenders.

Yes. I am in some sense blaming the victim and it is right to do so. But people with susceptible psychological setup (like religious believers) should realize that in a free society and in a free world they should become hardened against free-thinkers. Or stay in their parish rather than try to propagate their mentality across the world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gore's historic MLK 2006 speech

Gore's historic speech attacking Bush administration for an unprecedented abuse and expansion of executive power. Read or watch!!! This may finally move Americans to action.

===== Below Quoting Liberty Coalition website - organization that hosted this Jan 16 2006 event in Washington DC
We have posted the full text of Mr. Gore's speech to our website. It was
an interesting address that put current abuses in context with history,
such has Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and the Lyndon Johnson
administration's lies about the Gulf of Tonkin. You can find the full
text here: Gore speech text

If you have RealPlayer, you can paste this address in (Ctrl+O , Ctrl+V) to
get C-SPAN's video archive of Gore's speech (sadly missing
Ostrolenk's introduction):

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Privacy rights?

Protagonists of privacy rights should think about this:

If we are identifiable by registration numbers on the cars we drive every day then we could be identifiable by imprinted bar codes or fingerprints anywhere by any agent - store merchant, another fellow passer by. Well that could be made illegal - no - that would be an abridgment of liberty. Fortunately quick identification by barcode, registration plate, fingerprint or DNA trace is still a bit technologically out of reach.

But one day it will be feasible, one day it will be possible to identify a person by facial features as quickly and surely as is done by passport agents at the border. Will you want to hide your face from the world and other people among which there will be masses of robotic paparazzi documenting your whereabouts. I think you will want to appear to the world with your face boldly uncovered. How otherwise would you be free?

So the issue of privacy is not central here because we cannot prevent our private lives to be broken into. The treasure to protect is our safety from unjust prosecution for the lives that we will have to lead in the open. And our lives will be led in the open and not in "undisclosed locations" because our thirst for liberty will demand that. So we guard against the expansion of prosecutorial powers in a world where technology will make us lead completely documented lives. We should be able to say to that - so what?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Decline of the West - with honesty and courage

I am greatly impressed and moved by Michel Houellebecq's novel "Platform". He has the courage to speak his mind, which has the scale of an average European white collar worker, and his words reach obvious but hardly ever spoken truths.

This is a story of a personally unattached European bureaucrat, who professionally deals with government sponsorship of modern art, for which he feels a tolerant contempt, and who gets involved in sex-tourism initiatives through a young woman to whom he becomes deeply attached. Their story is played out, like a truly romantic story, on the frontlines of a clash of civilizations - Christian West cooperating with Buddhist Far East against the monotheistic Middle East. It culminates in prescient depiction of a terrorist attack on Western tourists in Thailand.

The novel takes us through accounts of difficulties of Westerners of making intimate or at leastc close contacts with each other - absorbed in work, sacrifice for the good of the family, immersed in meaninglessness of entertainment and of modern art alike, people lose sight of the value of pleasure - carnal and sexual pleasure which can lead to deep emotional connections and love. On social scale sexual relations lead to cultural assimilation. The epitome of this loss is the image of Paris sex clubs - dominated by S&M practices, which the author considers a dehumanized form of sexuality. The other side is the culture clash between the poor, mostly Islamic immigrants of the suburbs and a bit richer, but more secure in their position, native French. The French, and the West in general, is unable to accept the influx of the immigrants flowing in prinicipally under the symbols of the repressive religion of Islam.

The author speaks his mind about world religion through the mouth of one of his characters. Islam and Judaism are the most inhuman religions because they are monotheistic with no easy mediation between man and God, whereas Christianity and Buddhism allow a variety of middling deities that allow these faiths to be more accepting of human desire for earthly paradise. The novel is pessimistic not only because it ends in an Islamic slaughter of Western tourists traveling to Thailand to purchase safely quality sex services. It also shows how the West has abrogated its hedonistic pursuits, by condemning the purpose of tours to South East Asia, and resigning itself to S&M, capitulating to the Abrahamic wing of Christianity.

The West is indeed decadent, in the writer's view, but still has something to offer in its dying days. Probably the money of Europe could be an ally of the hedonistically inclined places in Asia, Africa and South America. What about the money of America? I am afraid it will want to join the Abrahamic phalanges.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Construct meaning

Lawrence Lessig in his newest book "Free culture" makes arguments for the importance of intellectual creative content being freely available for reuse via the internet and other media. At least a large part of it should be freely or easily possible to copy with or without modification lest we fall into the trap of surrendering our culture to large entities that can afford to navigate the complex legal framework guarding intellectual "property". Ordinary people would be dispossessed of their culture.

And here is why it is important. The author asks a professional pedagogue or educationist about what it is that people do creating blogs, presentations, collages of music, images - nowadays much of it from the material borrowed/copied form the net. The answer is that they need to "construct meaning" for their lives in the world. This is a very deep statement about the role of culture which was always true but may be even more true in the current post-modern situation of man, in the age where we mostly produce and create abstractions no longer directly interacting with the material world. The modern world gives us more trouble with finding meaning, the sense of doubt about the significance of our actions is pervasive. Construction of meaning, or generation of culture, is a sort of necessary social psychotherapy and the common man cannot be deprived of the right to it giving it up to corporations, experts, governments.

Also note that the word here is construct and not create. I think actually creating a new content is beyond the capabilities of common man but constructing it is a necessary function.