A chaos spawned by America

I think this sums up everything pretty nicely:

Isis

After having read that, is your head spinning?

If not, what would be the best therapy for mine?

I guess it’s a better feeling than giving in to the thought that Islam (with a capital “I”) might not be the explanation for the horrendous tragedies taking place there.

My own point is that terrorism is an extremely complex phenomenon with multiple causes.I’m irritated by people saying it is a logical consequence of Islam even if many Islamic confessions reject it.Denying Western responsibility in what is happening is as irrational as saying that noxious religious ideologies play no role.

36 thoughts on “A chaos spawned by America

  1. This reminds me of some things Peter Berger says about ‘revolution’ in Facing Up to Modernity. Being a sociologist means that you figure out fictions in society which are only ‘facts’ because enough people believe them. And so, one is tempted to rebel against the bad ‘facts’, to get rid of them. But being a sociologist also means that you see how society is held together, which produces a conservative impulse. I found this tidbit particularly interesting:

    The left, by and large, understands that all social order is precarious. It generally failed to understand that, just because of this precariousness, societies will react with almost instinctive violence to any fundamental or long-lasting threat to their order. (xv)

    I recall a youtube clip where Steven Pinker argued that modernism acted like a memetic virus which the Middle East was fighting off with a fundamentalist immune system. I’m not sure that ‘memetics’ actually adds anything, but the phenomenology he identified seems to match what Berger describes. Modernism is a threat to traditional ways of life in the Middle East, and not all of them bad. More and more, we’re seeing that rapid modernization and rapid industrialization actually screw up countries; the US was incredibly well-blessed to experience both processes gradually.

    Given the above, the emphasis on gentleness in the NT takes on a whole new light. The idea is that if one pushes too much to effect change, one only causes breaks and fractures which screw things up more. It is my suspicion that this is precisely why the NT does not come out more harshly against slavery; a fourth Servile War would not have accomplished anything positive. Instead, I would argue that the NT subverts the institution of slavery, by undermining the very causes for its existence.

    The need for gentleness can also be seen on a personal level: if you push yourself too hard, the pushing can be useless or even harmful. People can only change/improve so much at once. Push someone too hard, and you might just get a nervous breakdown. (This isn’t to say one cannot increase the amount by which one can be pushed.) I have quite a bit of experience with good and bad pushing, both internally and between me and friends. I have to believe there is psychological data to support the above; some day I’ll try and find it.

    Returning to the Middle East, it would be nice if the US could understand how to apply the right kind of pressures on the Middle East. I have to believe some folks have pretty good ideas on the matter, but are not being listened to. Maybe if we stopped depending on Middle East oil, we could be more effective? There is the bit about “If I were hungry I would not tell you” in Ps 50:12; the fact that the Israelites had no way to manipulate God seems like it could be quite important.

  2. It is understandable that the US doesn’t want an IS in Iraq or Syria.
    After Afghanistan I can see their point.
    The military intervention is to stop IS gaining power.

    • Of course! But they should not forget that they bear a huge responsibility in what is happening now.

      People shouldn’t be allowed to overlook that it is the war on Iraq which made all this shit possible.

      Otherwise, mistakes are doomed to be repeated over and over again.

      • People shouldn’t be allowed to overlook that it is the war on Iraq which made all this shit possible.

        And not be allowed to overlook that Saddam Hussein was an ally (“lapdog” is a better term) of the US, provided with money and weapons and encouraged to attack Iran and steal their oil. Which itself happened because they previously supported a fascist dictator in Iran who suppressed his own people so violently that a revolution led by a religious extremist (Ayatollah Khomeini) changed Iran from ally to enemy.
        The USA is also responsible for this asshole Assad being in charge in Syria:
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/the_baby_and_the_baath_water
        This shit goes way back to the 1940ties and the only responsible thing for the americans to do is apologize, gtfo and never come back.

      • What about intervening with stuff like the Rwandan Genocide?

        Are you asking whether that would have been the right thing to do or whether that would have been profitable for the relevant people (those that actually make the decision of whether to intervene or not)? The answers would be “yes” and “no” respectively.

        • Heh. I’ve been increasingly thinking that the importance of not relying in Middle East oil is greater for their own welfare, than the environment needing it or whatever else. Although, having a well-developed set of green technologies will be good for Moon/Mars colonization.

      • Heh. I’ve been increasingly thinking that the importance of not relying in Middle East oil is greater for their own welfare, than the environment needing it or whatever else.

        It´s not just about oil, the “profit” part is also about weapon deals, political capital, influence etc.pp.

        • I’ve never seen an estimate of how important that stuff is compared to oil, especially with the Cold War over. Although, I suppose with the path Russia is currently on, some of those old concerns might arise once again?

          • I’ve never seen an estimate of how important that stuff is compared to oil, especially with the Cold War over.

            Why would you think that the end of the cold war changed anything in this respect? The relationships between legislators, the armed forces and the arms industry (aka the military-industrial complex) is still there and the vast majority of politicians are still tend to do whatever leads to a net-gain of political capital, no matter how immoral that would be.

          • Without the Cold War and a domino theory, there would be fewer valid political reasons, which would allow forces opposing so much investment in the Middle East to gain traction. Or, so goes my reasoning. I’m currently reading Jacques Ellul’s The Political Illusion; it’s quite eye-opening. I look forward to trying to pattern-match his descriptions onto American politics.

          • Without the Cold War and a domino theory, there would be fewer valid political reasons, which would allow forces opposing so much investment in the Middle East to gain traction. Or, so goes my reasoning.

            “Fewer” – probably. But not zero / none beyond oil. Imagine a period of prolonged peace (say, two decades), at some point, the ridiculously overblown defense (lol) budget would become impossible to justify, and many important people do not want that, and don´t forget that the weapons that are delivered to whoever we whimsically decide to be our allies for the moment have to come from somewhere, they are not free gifts of the arms industry. Or imagine the likely consequences for the government (“consequences” in terms of political capital only) of ignoring IS and contrast it to what happened when the government ignored and keeps ignoring Boko Haram (i.e. no consequences in terms of political capital at all).

      • So, I get what you say in theory, but do you have suggested reading on working out the actual mechanics, seeing how various factors play off each other, which are major and which are minor, etc.?

        I´m not aware of a good ressource that discusses the relative strengths of the various factors at play, but regarding the military-industrial complex, I can recommend this:
        http://www.amazon.com/Prophets-War-Lockheed-Military-Industrial-Complex/dp/B0057DC37I
        followed by this:
        http://www.amazon.com/The-Arms-Krupp-Industrial-Dynasty/dp/0316529400 (very long but also very interesting and well written).
        And regarding the political capital factor, Noam Chomsky is the first source that comes to mind. Or pick up a biography of Henry Kissinger – Kissinger is great in this respect because he never made any efforts to hide or sugarcoat his intentions and motivations.

        • Thanks; I’ve watched a few youtube videos of Noam Chomsky and read some of his articles. What I’d love to see is a drawn-out, well-cited debate between various viewpoints on the whole “military–industrial complex” idea. Have you read any compelling ideas on how to weaken said complex? Those who can accurately describe how it was built ought to have some compelling ideas on how to un-build it, I claim.

      • Those who can accurately describe how it was built ought to have some compelling ideas on how to un-build it, I claim.

        I don´t think that this is the case. Lets look at a simpler example – the war on drugs. One of the consequences of the war on drugs was an explosion of the american prison population which led to the emergence of a flourishing private prison industry, this industry *needs* as many prisoners as possible to stay profitable and they have powerful lobbyists and created thousands of jobs. Now, stopping the war on drugs inevitably means that the private prison industry would be fucked, the jobs that they created would be gone and the campaign donations they provide would be gone as well. If you want to end the war on drugs, you have to deal with shit like that (and this is just one example of the shit you would have to deal with). It is trivial to understand how such a fucked up situation came to be, but that doesn´t mean that you also have a good idea of how to un-build this fucked up system.

        The best proposed solutions that I´ve ever seen to stop the racket that is war would be those:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket#Recommendations
        => But this happening is about as likely as hell freezing over.

        • To your drugs example, I would argue the problem is the demand for drugs—undermine that, and you’ll achieve success. You simply didn’t trace all the way back to the cause of the symptoms.

          With respect to war, I don’t see any option other than people caring more (and I meant that only as a necessary condition), which would mean reversing what Jacques Ellul observes in The Political Illusion:

              This autonomy [of politics] has yet another source. Let us recall the state’s claim that it solves all problems and the concomitant, inveterate belief on the part of most citizens that it is indeed the state’s function to solve all problems. This attitude of man toward the state is even more apparent if one considers that man’s intentions and desires have changed.[3] He is much less sensitive and receptive to the many problems (over which he could try to exercise some influence); rather he demands the total and complete guarantee of his private existence. He demands assured income and assured consumption. He insists on an existence of complete security, refusing to take any responsibility for himself. But all this, as he well knows, can be assured only by the state organization. As a result, whatever a citizen’s “political” opinion may be, his appeals to the state spring from sources much more profound than ideology; they spring from his very participation and place in society. It is no longer true that the better part of all questions facing a society is not political. And even if a question is in no way political it becomes political and looks to the state for an answer. It is wrong to say that politics is everything, but it is a fact that in our society everything has become political, and that the decision, for example, to plant one crop intend of another has become a political matter (see Nikita Khrushchev’s speech of December 23, 1961). (78)

          But to pretend that justice and truth are given their due is only a raid and a form of hypocrisy. Those who claim to do justice by condemning a man to death deserve the same accusation of hypocrisy that Jesus leveled at the Pharisees. What we find here is an ideological construct that man builds to justify his acts: these acts are useful so that society can function and survive. Bruckerberger’s argument was: If we pardon murderers, our society is done for. It is useful for the survival of a group to eliminate the nonconformists, the fools, the anarchists, the maladjusted, the criminals; and it is legitimate that the group should react in this fashion through its judges, its soldiers, its political men. It is the very role of politics to make this reaction more easily possible, for it is under such conditions that no one individual or group has to bear the responsibility. (90)

          Only reduction in politization will work: people doing more of what the State does, outside of political means. That is: people working cooperatively without the need to use laws, etc. to coerce each other. Or so goes Ellul’s argument; I see it as quite compelling.

      • To your drugs example, I would argue the problem is the demand for drugs—undermine that, and you’ll achieve success. You simply didn’t trace all the way back to the cause of the symptoms.

        Some countries successfully did that (the prime example is Portugal), they stopped treating substance abuse as a criminal issue and started treating it as a health problem – meaning a complete decriminalization of the consumer side and offering consumers free healthcare options to deal with their issues (if they actually have some – smoking a joint once in a while doesn´t count as having a problem anymore than having a glass of wine once in a while counts as a problem) instead of locking them up and turning them into career criminals. The problem wrt the USA would be that what I just described – what demonstrably did and does work (and spectacularly so) – requires an end of the insanity that is the war on drugs *first*.

        • The problem wrt the USA would be that what I just described – what demonstrably did and does work (and spectacularly so) – requires an end of the insanity that is the war on drugs *first*.

          Why is it predicated upon said end, *first*?

      • Only reduction in politization will work: people doing more of what the State does, outside of political means. That is: people working cooperatively without the need to use laws, etc. to coerce each other.

        What exactly is that supposed to mean? Can you give a specific example for that?

        • Ellul did in the bit I quoted:

          to plant one crop intend of another has become a political matter (see Nikita Khrushchev’s speech of December 23, 1961).

          From the translator’s introduction:

              The first great evil from which most other evils spring is politization (the act of suffusing everything with politics and dragging it into the political arena). In our modern world, contrary to what so a the rule in all previous ages, everything is politized: men seek political solutions for everything, whether the problem be freedom or justice or peace or prosperity or happiness. (vii-viii)

              What is the solution? To depolitize? On the contrary, Ellul says. Too many people already have abdicated their political heritage and, by doing so, have committed the inexcusable political act of giving the state even more power. Depolitization is merely an escape brought about by indolence or cowardice. The only possible course to take is, first of all, to demythologize politics and put it into its proper, limited place. For that we must reject modern—particularly American—attempts to “adjust” the individual through psychological means to a situation against which he would do better to rebel if he wants to maintain or attain his freedom and fulfill himself as an individual. On the contrary, strong and productive tensions (by which Ellul means foci of strong interest and concern) must be built up or be permitted to build up, springing from adherence to genuine values and convictions, and faith must be restored in other avenues of human effectiveness than the illusory means of what nowadays goes by the name of political action and engagement. These tensions might be genuine tensions between church and state, or labor and state, or the military and civilians, rather than peaceful cooperation at the top in the face of illusory tensions below. (x)

          I can probably get you more examples if you like from James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, if you’d like. James Davison Hunter:

          is an American sociologist who is the LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia. Hunter is a prominent figure in the sociology of religion and the sociology of culture, with much of his work dedicated to the study of evangelicalism and cultural change.[1][2][3] He is also notable for popularizing the term culture war[4].

          From what I can tell—I’ve read about 1/3 of the book—he’s generally aligned with Ellul’s conception of politics needing to be much less pervasive than it is, now. The principle of subsidiarity is related to all this, although precisely how (especially: how would it not be ‘politized’?) I’m not yet sure. In general I don’t know much about politics; I hope to change that, but I have no delusions about not passing through any delusions on the way to knowing a decent amount.

      • Why is it predicated upon said end, *first*?

        Didn´t you notice the “decriminalization” part in my comment? It doesn´t work any other way – locking up consumers makes the problem much worse in every respect, it is not a coincidence that the substance abuse rates in the USA are astronomically high and increased during the war on drugs instead of decreasing.

      • I can probably get you more examples if you like…

        But there were no examples in what you quote – it´s all abstract with no concrete examples of what that would mean in practice. What I´m asking is what a specific example would be of something that the state (which cannot be completely seperated from the people in a democracy, even in an extremely inefficient democracy, the people still have at least some say in what the state does) is currently doing that you (or Ellul) think should be done differently and what “differently” means *in practice*.

        • Planting one crop vs. another was politicized, instead of being chosen by individuals according to e.g. market forces. The difference between market forces and political forces can be very large! I suppose this isn’t non-abstract enough?

          An example would be taking care of the homeless: is it better done by the State, or by volunteer organizations which take charitable donations? The very rough idea I get here is that while once in a while volunteer organizations do better, frequently they don’t and thus people fall through the cracks and thus the State must waltz in to the rescue. Hence, you replace humans having compassion for humans with a big impersonal state ‘solving’ the problem with a lot of red tape and plenty of failure. Whether it’s more failure than that of volunteer organizations? I think history shows that it’s less, but less in a certain way: a general level of care well below the best volunteer organizations is maintained. However, that’s only a rough impression.

          The idea I get is that politicization replaces genuine human compassion with coercion, dressed up in emotional appeals and whatnot. Compare a single mother on welfare being visited by social workers, vs. being taken care of by a church or other volunteer organization. I can only see the “State” version being better once the amount of (i) genuine compassion; and/or (ii) competence at caring drops below some threshold. In other words: the State is better once the human condition becomes sufficiently shitty.

          For more, I’ll have to get back to you once I read further into Political Illusion, To Change the World, and perhaps some other books. The general idea seems clear enough: for humans to voluntarily give of themselves to others, becoming closely acquainted with the problems of others and drawing on a wealth of resources to help resolve those problems. As far as I know, the State simply cannot become “closely acquainted”. The State cannot show compassion. The State is a machine, not a person. The more efficient (rule-bound) it becomes, the more machine-like it makes those persons who work for it.

      • Planting one crop vs. another was politicized, instead of being chosen by individuals according to e.g. market forces.

        Are you talking about the soviet union or about some state that actually exists now? For a US farmer, it very much is his choice what he does or does not plant – the non-market forces that play a role here would be things like state subsidies for certain crops for example, but as long as you are not intending to grow opium poppies on your land, you can plant whatever you want or can´t you? Also, there is a huge difference between a) letting the free market rule and b) shutting the state out completely / no state regulations whatsoever, not even to prevent the formation of monopolies or stuff like that – the latter means that the result will be everything but a free market and companies like Monsanto (which, unlike politicians, cannot be voted out of office) get to call all the shots while the customers have no say and no choice what-so-ever.

        An example would be taking care of the homeless: is it better done by the State, or by volunteer organizations which take charitable donations? The very rough idea I get here is that while once in a while volunteer organizations do better, frequently they don’t and thus people fall through the cracks and thus the State must waltz in to the rescue. Hence, you replace humans having compassion for humans with a big impersonal state ‘solving’ the problem with a lot of red tape and plenty of failure.

        The idea I get is that politicization replaces genuine human compassion with coercion, dressed up in emotional appeals and whatnot. Compare a single mother on welfare being visited by social workers, vs. being taken care of by a church or other volunteer organization. I can only see the “State” version being better once the amount of (i) genuine compassion; and/or (ii) competence at caring drops below some threshold. In other words: the State is better once the human condition becomes sufficiently shitty.

        Imagine you get very sick and lose your job, imagine that this situation persists for a few months and you don´t have enough savings to make it through this time of hardship on your own. Now, would you prefer a) begging for charity, knowing that you might not get the help you need no matter how much you beg for it or b) getting the help you need to make it through this time of hardship definitely, with the only cost being that you had to pay a small part of your income into a shared social security insurance? I strongly prefer b.
        Also, to actually get the job done, private organizations that rely on donations have to hire at least some people who do this work as a *job*, you can have some volunteers as well, sure, but you have to hire at least some people who do this professionally or you will never get this job done. And a social worker who is employed by the state can be a very compassionate person or a complete dick – but the same seems to be true for a priest.

        • Are you talking about the soviet union or about some state that actually exists now?

          I was talking about what I specifically quoted, first in a big block and then all by itself; search for “Khrushchev”.

          Also, there is a huge difference between a) letting the free market rule and b) shutting the state out completely / no state regulations whatsoever, not even to prevent the formation of monopolies or stuff like that – the latter means that the result will be everything but a free market and companies like Monsanto (which, unlike politicians, cannot be voted out of office) get to call all the shots while the customers have no say and no choice what-so-ever.

          Here, I would want to get into some F.A. Hayek, and talk about the difference between imposing general principles vs. drafting law with particulars. We could do that, but I’d need to revisit bits of F.A. Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason and perhaps read further than I have so far.

          I agree that it’s not super cut-and-dried, but what I mean to do here is more of establishing two firm poles, so that we recognize that some problems really do not need the state; compare this to Ellul describing the French as bringing more and more activities under the domain of the State.

          Imagine you get very sick and lose your job, imagine that this situation persists for a few months and you don´t have enough savings to make it through this time of hardship on your own. Now, would you prefer a) begging for charity, knowing that you might not get the help you need no matter how much you beg for it or b) getting the help you need to make it through this time of hardship definitely, with the only cost being that you had to pay a small part of your income into a shared social security insurance? I strongly prefer b.

          This seems to critically depend on the strength of communal ties. If you attempt to only answer this from within a very individualistic context, then of course b) is preferable! However, that is not the only possible context; it is not the only way one can form society. This is a huge point MacIntyre makes in After Virtue: we tend to assume a form of individualism so deeply that we unwittingly use it as a norm for judging, instead of recognizing that it is actually an optional presupposition.

          N.B. I am not unaware of the problems which can arise in tight-knit communities. Nothing has convinced me that these are terrible enough to make the kind of individualism the West currently operates under, the best option.

          Also, to actually get the job done, private organizations that rely on donations have to hire at least some people who do this work as a *job*, you can have some volunteers as well, sure, but you have to hire at least some people who do this professionally or you will never get this job done.

          Sure, but what you describe does not constitute politization.

          And a social worker who is employed by the state can be a very compassionate person or a complete dick – but the same seems to be true for a priest.

          True, but we oughtn’t simply look at possibilities, we ought to look at probabilities, comparing the distributions. I argued that the State, in pursuing the goals of efficiency, will tend to apply rules more rigorously, which necessarily will have a machine-conforming effect on those who work for the State. It will make them more machine-like. This is not to say that they will become machines, but merely that the selection pressures on them are different from those on e.g. the priest. Furthermore, the priest can succumb to political forces himself/herself!

      • I was talking about what I specifically quoted, first in a big block and then all by itself; search for “Khrushchev”.

        Cool, but what does this have to do with any state that actually still exists? If you have some farmland, who tells you which crops you can or cannot plant on it?

        I agree that it’s not super cut-and-dried, but what I mean to do here is more of establishing two firm poles, so that we recognize that some problems really do not need the state; compare this to Ellul describing the French as bringing more and more activities under the domain of the State.

        Oh I don´t doubt that some countries assign some activities to state agencies which could be done better privately, but it is also sometimes the other way around, some activities have been privatized that really should never have been privatized – some european states for example started privatizing water supply works, which was an absolutely terrible idea and led to higher prices, lower water quality and a decaying water supply infrastructure (the profit margin has to come from somewhere…).
        IMO, its a question of whether the activity in question could use innovation and competition, if the answer is “no” (e.g. water supply), then the state will most likely do a better job than private companies would (because the state doesn´t need to have a positive profit margin while doing it), and if the answer would be “yes” (e.g. telecommunication) then private companies would most likely do a better job than the state would.

        This seems to critically depend on the strength of communal ties. If you attempt to only answer this from within a very individualistic context, then of course b) is preferable! However, that is not the only possible context; it is not the only way one can form society. This is a huge point MacIntyre makes in After Virtue: we tend to assume a form of individualism so deeply that we unwittingly use it as a norm for judging, instead of recognizing that it is actually an optional presupposition.

        N.B. I am not unaware of the problems which can arise in tight-knit communities. Nothing has convinced me that these are terrible enough to make the kind of individualism the West currently operates under, the best option.

        You are talking about structures that have grown over generations or even centuries in some cases, structures that cannot be changed overnight – I´m not sure what kind of community you would have in mind exactly (are there examples in history for what you have in mind?), but this is not going to affect you or me either way, even if you knew a realistic way for how to create such communities, this would still take generations to pull off.

        True, but we oughtn’t simply look at possibilities, we ought to look at probabilities, comparing the distributions. I argued that the State, in pursuing the goals of efficiency, will tend to apply rules more rigorously, which necessarily will have a machine-conforming effect on those who work for the State. It will make them more machine-like. This is not to say that they will become machines, but merely that the selection pressures on them are different from those on e.g. the priest.

        I´m not sure that this is true, I think it could well be the other way around. When I get sick and / or lose my job, the state helps me out – no questions asked and no quid pro quo expected. When I ask for comparable help from a private group, like a church for example, I cannot be so sure – maybe they do expect something in return, maybe they do expect me to join their club, or maybe they won´t help me at all if I don´t join their club first (this is not purely hypothetical, for some church groups it clearly is the case that helping others is at best of secondary importance and proselytization is what they truly care about: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/10/23/south-carolina-soup-kitchen-director-bans-atheist-volunteers-saying-they-would-be-a-disservice-to-this-community/ )

        • Cool, but what does this have to do with any state that actually still exists? If you have some farmland, who tells you which crops you can or cannot plant on it?

          Oh, no state that I know does this, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens now in China. That doesn’t mean that the spirit behind that doesn’t still exist, though. I’ve argued this with The Thinker on a different matter: the mere fact that Western intellectuals were so willing to be deluded about the true nature of Soviet Communism means that there is some underlying tendency which was not necessarily squashed when they stopped being deluded about that particular issue.

          Oh I don´t doubt that some countries assign some activities to state agencies which could be done better privately, but it is also sometimes the other way around, some activities have been privatized that really should never have been privatized – some european states for example started privatizing water supply works, which was an absolutely terrible idea and led to higher prices, lower water quality and a decaying water supply infrastructure (the profit margin has to come from somewhere…).

          The badness here seems predicated upon failure of long-term reputation to matter to companies. It seems predicated upon the shrinking memory which seems to characterize people in the West these days. Now, I’m not saying we should pretend that things are otherwise, but I want to establish why privatization was a bad idea, and question whether it is a necessity of what I will call “permanent human nature”, vs. “conditioned human nature”.

          A historian friend of mine claims that Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben encountered an interesting phenomenon when training American Revolutionary War troops: when he gave a command, they would ask why. If he gave them a good answer, they would happily do this. He compared this to German soldiers, who merely did as they were told. If this story is true, it means that there really is quite a bit of flexibility in human nature, such that e.g. the Milgram experiment could produce very different results in different regions of spacetime.

          IMO, its a question of whether the activity in question could use innovation and competition, if the answer is “no” (e.g. water supply), then the state will most likely do a better job than private companies would (because the state doesn´t need to have a positive profit margin while doing it), and if the answer would be “yes” (e.g. telecommunication) then private companies would most likely do a better job than the state would.

          Who says the water supply can’t use innovation and competition? Los Angeles, for example, has experienced several serious water main breaks, in the midst of a severe drought. Is it really the case that they are doing better than a private company would? We must compare real-world government with real-world private companies; idealizations spoil any possibility of practical discussion. I don’t know the answer here, but it seems you are much more confident than I am in the answer, and that makes me curious.

          You are talking about structures that have grown over generations or even centuries in some cases, structures that cannot be changed overnight – I´m not sure what kind of community you would have in mind exactly (are there examples in history for what you have in mind?), but this is not going to affect you or me either way, even if you knew a realistic way for how to create such communities, this would still take generations to pull off.

          I have no disagreements with what you say, here. As to examples, most are fuzzy; I am aware of different times and places where Christians were famously generous and charitable in ways that seem like they could surpass the average State-provided entitlements. My point is more to understand whether another way than the State really would be better, and if so, how to chart a course to that way and push toward it. Now, as foreshadowed above, this would require people to care more, to have longer-term planning horizons and memories.

          I´m not sure that this is true, I think it could well be the other way around. When I get sick and / or lose my job, the state helps me out – no questions asked and no quid pro quo expected. When I ask for comparable help from a private group, like a church for example, I cannot be so sure – maybe they do expect something in return, maybe they do expect me to join their club, or maybe they won´t help me at all if I don´t join their club first […]

          There’s no quid pro quo expected because you paid up front to an insurance, or at least it is anticipated that you will in the future. But didn’t we recently participate in a discussion thread where someone described the UK government being a dick to those on the lower rungs of society, in how it forces them to take jobs, screws them over if they have an interview during the required check-in date and time, etc.? If we don’t take a properly holistic view, we’re screwed.

          What you seem to be saying here is that you can trust the State more than you can trust a church. Would that be a fair analysis? I can see this as contingently true, but it would take some convincing for me to believe that it is necessarily true.

      • The badness here seems predicated upon failure of long-term reputation to matter to companies. It seems predicated upon the shrinking memory which seems to characterize people in the West these days. Now, I’m not saying we should pretend that things are otherwise, but I want to establish why privatization was a bad idea, and question whether it is a necessity of what I will call “permanent human nature”, vs. “conditioned human nature”.

        It´s very simple really – there are services and goods that are a) basic necessities (meaning that practically everyone has to buy them, whether they want to or not) and / or b) cannot be easily offered by more than one provider to people in a specific region (meaning that it in practice virtually always is about a monopoly and / or c) not subject to optimization and innovation or only so to a very limited degree. If all of those factors are given (they are obviously not binary but rather exist in varying degrees), then privatization is almost inevitably bad for the customer – because the provider has little or no options to optimize his profit margin beyond raising prices and / or decreasing the quality of the service / good. Long-term reputation rarely is an issue here – the water supply works of Berlin are owned by unknown investors via a holding in the UK, if we knew who these assholes are, we would be pissed off at them, but we don´t even know that. Quote from wikipedia:
        “In some cases, where access is already universal and service quality is good, fiscal motives dominate, as it was the case in Berlin, Germany, and in Chile. In Berlin the state government sold a 49.9% share of its water utility in 1999 for 1.69bn Euros in exchange for a guaranteed profit for the private shareholders amounting to the interest rate on 10-year government bonds plus 2 percent, as specified in a contract that was kept confidential until the state government was forced by a referendum to make it public. As a result, tariffs increased (15% in 2004 alone) and the state government’s revenues from the company declined compared to the situation before privatization (168m Euro profit for the state in 1997 compared to a 10m Euro loss in 2003).[19] In Chile, where no wastewater treatment plants existed prior to privatization, the government’s desire to finance their construction off-budget drove privatization in 1998.”

        Who says the water supply can’t use innovation and competition? Los Angeles, for example, has experienced several serious water main breaks, in the midst of a severe drought. Is it really the case that they are doing better than a private company would?

        I used the examples of telecommunication vs water supply because it very nicely illustrates this. You probably have at least a vague idea of what your internet / telephone service provider does and you also probably have at least a vague idea of where your tap water comes from. It´s pretty easy to see how you have plenty of potential for optimization and innovation when it comes to telecommunication, it´s also easy to see how you have plenty of alternatives and choices and how easy it would be (and most likely is where you live) for more than one company to provide roughly equivalent services in parallel. None of this is possible for water supply, you don´t have plenty of choices where the water can potentially come from and the technology involved has virtually no potential for optimization and innovation (we had water that was as clean and cheap as anyone could reasonably want it fifty years ago, and now we use the exact same technology but the water quality has significantly decreased and the price has skyrocketed because the anonymous assholes that bought this technology want to optimize their profit margin and the only way to do this was to raise prices and invest as little as possible for maintenance of the pipes).

        What you seem to be saying here is that you can trust the State more than you can trust a church. Would that be a fair analysis?

        Not really, rather that trust is not an issue when it comes to this specific issue. I am paying into a social security fund as I am obliged to by law (or “coerced” if you prefer) and I will get money back from this fund if I lose my job and do not immediately find new employment – no trust involved (well, no trust beyond trusting that the people involved will actually follow the law). For a church, I would first of all have to beg (because they do not legally owe me anything) and second I would have no idea whether they help me or not and if they do expect something in return or not.

        • It´s very simple really – there are services and goods that are a) basic necessities (meaning that practically everyone has to buy them, whether they want to or not) and / or b) cannot be easily offered by more than one provider to people in a specific region (meaning that it in practice virtually always is about a monopoly and / or c) not subject to optimization and innovation or only so to a very limited degree. If all of those factors are given (they are obviously not binary but rather exist in varying degrees), then privatization is almost inevitably bad for the customer – because the provider has little or no options to optimize his profit margin beyond raising prices and / or decreasing the quality of the service / good. Long-term reputation rarely is an issue here – the water supply works of Berlin are owned by unknown investors via a holding in the UK, if we knew who these assholes are, we would be pissed off at them, but we don´t even know that.

          What if you have multiple different companies providing utilities to different parts of the country, with the option for residents to compare and contrast their experiences? Then, a system could be instituted for transferring company operation from one company to another, based on public choice. This actually only seems quasi-free-market, but it provides for more choices than merely having the government operate said utilities. Furthermore, this provides motive for utilities to research better ways to do what they do and serve their customers, and lets different utilities try out different strategies, which increases the possibility space which is searched.

          I do think you’ve pointed out a problem with the “unknown investors via a holding in the UK”, but I don’t see allowing that as necessary. If the public has a vested interest in being able to damage the lives of those who damage their own (politics is about power and coercion), then this style of foreign ownership ought to be made illegal.

          None of this is possible for water supply, you don´t have plenty of choices where the water can potentially come from and the technology involved has virtually no potential for optimization and innovation (we had water that was as clean and cheap as anyone could reasonably want it fifty years ago, and now we use the exact same technology but the water quality has significantly decreased and the price has skyrocketed because the anonymous assholes that bought this technology want to optimize their profit margin and the only way to do this was to raise prices and invest as little as possible for maintenance of the pipes).

          I disagree. There are choices to be made as to when to repair old water mains, there are choices to be made as to whether to e.g. build up desalinization reserves (California should probably do this), there are choices as to how easy you make it for customers to see their water usage over time, pay their bills, etc. There are still many choices.

          I am paying into a social security fund as I am obliged to by law (or “coerced” if you prefer) and I will get money back from this fund if I lose my job and do not immediately find new employment – no trust involved (well, no trust beyond trusting that the people involved will actually follow the law)

          There is still trust that enough people will work hard enough to keep the insurance in the green. Has this always been the case?

          For a church, I would first of all have to beg (because they do not legally owe me anything) and second I would have no idea whether they help me or not and if they do expect something in return or not.

          Do you beg from family? From friends? Your use of ‘beg’, with all its attendant connotations, really colors this discussion. Friends who need money from me don’t need to ‘beg’—that is completely the wrong word to use. Distributing a fixed amount of money is more efficient if you have people of excellent moral character distributing it more effectively than State instruments can. Of course, this depends precisely on “excellent moral character”, which may be [much] less trustworthy than it has been in the past: The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil, Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?.

      • I disagree. There are choices to be made as to when to repair old water mains, there are choices to be made as to whether to e.g. build up desalinization reserves (California should probably do this), there are choices as to how easy you make it for customers to see their water usage over time, pay their bills, etc. There are still many choices.

        It´s not binary, the potential for optimization, innovation and competition is not absolutely zero but extremely close to that compared to an example like telecommunication. What needs to be explained is why privatization of some services or goods virtually always tend to lead to better products and prices for the customers while privatizing other things virtually always has the opposite effect – and that doesn´t seem to be mysterious at all to me for the reasons I´ve laid out previously. If you have a better explanation, I´m all ears.

        There is still trust that enough people will work hard enough to keep the insurance in the green. Has this always been the case?

        Yup. This idea that a social safety net leads to people becoming lazy is pure fearmongering – there is zero empirical evidence to support it and plenty empirical evidence to refute it (Germany might be the prime example – during the time of the german “Wirtschaftswunder” where Germany maintained a status close to full employment for many years (we actually had to import hundreds of thousands of guest workers from southern europe to get all the shit done), the social safety net was much more comfortable and generous than it is nowadays over here – and that didn´t stop anyone from working their asses of).

        Do you beg from family? From friends? Your use of ‘beg’, with all its attendant connotations, really colors this discussion.

        No, but I´d have to beg when I ask complete strangers. Also, the income of your friends and family usually is correlated to your own, particularly in countries with low class mobility. Which means that if you do not make enough money to accumulate enough savings to make it through a time of hardship, it is not unlikely that your parents and friends also don´t have plenty of cash lying around.

        Distributing a fixed amount of money is more efficient if you have people of excellent moral character distributing it more effectively than State instruments can.

        Let x be the fraction of people among your immediate family and close friends who have a) no savings to speak of and b) have an income below median – how big is x for you? 50%? 10%? Maybe 0%? If it is 0% or close to that, you might want to check your privilege here (I know that you hate that line, but you should still do it)

  3. Oh, right; for some reason, when I think of “war on drugs” I think operations in Mexico and catching smugglers’ subs, and not incarceration of non-distributors.

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