Saturday, September 17, 2005

The unspeakable oath.

"We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
No you don't. You're a child without the right or ability to pledge allegiance. Allegiance to a flag is a promise to enter into military conflict on it's behalf should that be neccesary. It is not as Barbara Dietrich pretends in a promise "to be a good friend.". This might be it's meaning in a social context. We are however talking about a political context because the pledge is to a flag. In a political context allegiance means exactly that. It means that if the entity you pledged allegiance to is in a fight then you have to join in. No ifs, ands or buts. That's what it means, a promise to murder the State's enermies, regardless of wether said enemies are acting against you or even in a way you admire and/or benefit from. To require children to do this is both impractical and horrifyingly immoral. Does anyone believe that any of the 12 years olds that are forced to recite this pledge would make effective killers? Does anyone doubt they'd be dosed to the eyeballs with Ritalin if they showed any sign they would be?*
In addition to being stupid it's also rubbish as an oath. No judge would hold a child liable for a contract to buy a car, rent a house or procure the services of a prostitute, but the State wants them to swear to kill somebody. Why would anyone wish someone to swear an oath they did not expect to keep? At least not until they become adults.
When they mature this puts the swearer in a strange situation. If they've sworn as a child do they publically renounce their oath? If they do they face official suspicion and the condemnation of their neighbours. If they do not they are faced with the official and public presumption that they intend to keep the oath. But the oath was non-binding and obliges them to do things that may be against their conscience. On the other hand it is also (hopefully) against their conscience to go against their sworn oath. Either way they are forced to do something that they feel morally uncomfortable with.
Nor is this solely a problem with people who reject military service in general or a specific conflict in particular. By extracting the oath before their majority the State has removed from people the ability to make the committment when they are morally capable of doing so. Like someone forced to pay $100 to relieve the victims of Hurricane Katrina they no longer have the option to do so by their own free will.
Many people praise the oath on the grounds that it is a promise to do something that is noble and good. If that were so why extract such a promise before it can be legitimately made? If the cause is worth defending why not rely on the free will of the nation's citizens to defend it? If a cause does not to attract enough volunteers to defend it then might it be a bad cause to begin with? If it is a good cause and it does not attract enough volunteers to defend it is that not a sign the nation is doomed anyway? Either way a good cause doesn't need or cannot use the forced extraction of oaths, forced by violence or by preying on the vulnerability of children.
Even if the cause in which children swore was good it would still not be good to make them swear to do so. A child by definition doesn't have the capacity to swear binding oaths. They are not mature enough to realise the consequences of their actions. If someone told you that a six year old sold one of their kidneys for a years supply of ice-cream and chocolate you'd be horrified. You would think (rightly) that an adult took advantage of a child's ignorance and shortsightedness in an immoral fashion. So much more so for a child that sells his whole life potentially in this oath of "allegiance", for nothing more than a teacher's approval. Moral adults (by which I mean those whose morals have achieved maturity and also adults who are moral) don't trick children into making promises.
Now on to the practical aspects of taking the oath. A child of Ayn Rand (spiritiually of course) might ask "What's in it for me?". Only a fool gives their alliegance without something in return. But the State gives nothing to these children. Not even a promise they don't intend to keep. A medieval lord, arrogant in his power and ruthless in it's exercise, would not dare to make someone swear allegiance without offering protection in return. A vassal's oath was always accompanied by a lord's. Each promised to protect the other. But the State promises nothing. It's not "selfish" to insist on something from the State in response to the State getting you to swear to commit the most foul murders and take the greatest risks. It's entirely reasonable and neccesary if you are to look to your families interest. Most people regard looking to such interest as not only morally allowable but morally imperative. If you die in a foreign field that will be forever (fill in nation) without getting some benefit for your family to compensate for the risk and/or loss then you've let done your kin and should be ashamed.
Then there's the obscene assertion "one nation, indivisible". It is self-evident crap. A nation is made up of people associated, and what is formed by agreement can be disolved by agreement. This is obvious legally and morally because each member has the right of self-ownership. This right includes the right to leave associations subject only to the insistance of others that you keep contracts. If each self-owner withdraws his insistance the association has nothing left in it that can legally or morally compel you to stay. Of course the United States was not actually formed by agreement. So much the better for my argument, for to argue that those forced into an association can't leave it but those who chose it can is rediculous. Those forced into an association have all the rights to leave of willing participants, and more. If the "form of government" becomes a hinderance rather than a help to exercising your rights you have every right to abolish it. If you do not then the United States of America ought not to exist and pledging to it is both wrong and futile. If the "form" of the government is that it stretches over a large geographical area and that makes it harder to exercise your rights you are just as right to break it up into a number of smaller governments as you are to change anything else about it.
The pledge of alligance is not a morally uplifting and harmless exercise. It is a deceptively gained promise to defend regardless of the worth of that being defended. A promise to violate the rights of one's fellow citizens to seccession. A promise to do so in causes you have no idea you might have to support and which would horrify you if you did. It's wrong to do this to your children.

* Not that that would neccesarily hinder them in becoming such.

Security and why to reject it.

We are often told that various government actions, laws, policies etc. are neccesary for security. Whenever this justification is heard it's a signal that the proposed action is morally wrong and probably counterproductive. This essay explains why.
When a policy is justified on the grounds that it will deliver a tangible benefit, e.g. better phone service for the bush, greater economic egalitarianism, better education, reduced budget deficiets, the outcome can be judged. It's not always easy to do so but it's always potentially possible. "Security" however consists of things not happening that might not happen anyway. The difference between an excellent security system that is never challenged and a horrible one that is never challenged is almost impossible to detect. A consequence of this is that changes that increase security and decrease it are almost indistinguishable. Therefore each change in policy for "security" must simulate visible significantly increased security. This means that the changes must be dramatic and even radical even when the actual solution is inconspicuous and incremental. In addition because of the difficulty of identifying changes that increase security a lot of changes bad for security have been passed. To avoid these changes being seen as bad for security any further changes must be in the same direction, even if that is the wrong direction.
But security laws always seem to decrease freeedom. This is not explained by the above rationales. If new laws to increase security have to be dramatic and highly visible, why can't they be dramatically and visibly pro-freedom? The reason is simple, every security law needs not just a justification of it's existance but a justification of it's timing. Why wasn't the law passed before the horrible thing that made it apparently neccesary? Due to the fundamental nature of security in justifying the State the usual excuses (cost, difficulty of implementation, the previous government etc.) won't wash. Security is supposedly the primary reason why we have a State. It's not like prosperity or "freedom" an alleged side benefit, it's the main game. So to justify not previously bringing in these neccesary changes the government must find an artificial barrier, something that stopped them before but that they are gamely now trying to overcome. The most obvious scapegoats are "civil libertarians" by which they mean everyone who thinks that something less than absolute slavery is desireable. By opposing previous and proposed increases in government power they allow the government to point to them and say "We wanted to do the neccesary thing but were constrained by these namby-pamby weak on terrorist types.". They may even make the conflict seem internal; "I would have pushed through these neccesary laws but was contrained by civil liberty concerns", concerns that they now abandon when convenient.
Since every "security" law must be justified by a process like this every security" law is a blow against liberty. And a blow against liberty is in the end a
blow against security. Because only the free can have the information, the arms and the adaptability of action to ensure their own security. Only they will have the strength of character to protect themselves.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The compulsorary community.

This entry is a response to the Ross Gittins article "Let's not turn unis into shopping centres"

"Well we could start with the question of whether a university constitutes a 'community' with obligations to correct disadvantage for particular members - we could but we're not going to appearantly. In your entire article you don't provide a single iota of evidence that universities in general or in a particular case are, were or ought to be communities with such obligations. Since the implication they should is a large part of your article this ommission is either stupid or dishonest and you're not stupid. In fact there are several reasons why they shouldn't be.

1) Very few people in universities are related by blood, adoption or even marriage so one powerful aid to strong communities is missing.
2) Secondly universities have high turnover rates and thus few people with the ability to form long term relationships and trust neccessary for communities to function. It's true that relationships formed in university can last for decades and help form a community, but it's one that forms _outside_ the university.
3) Thirdly university students don't live in the same place thus making it harder to organise community events.
4) Universities have far more people in them than an individual could know. Even with an excellent memory and social skills one could have a moderately close relationship with only small percentage of the university staff and students.
5) Students already have large demands on their time and resources because they are heavily investing in human capital and thus have little left either to form a community or to provide for the "disadvantaged". Universities are supposed to encourage diversity because differing viewpoints are vital to developing new ideas and differing backgrounds help provide this. This diversity makes it harder to form relationships and agreements or get people to help each other since people are both more willing to and better at helping people like themselves. For agreements where diversity is sought the additional difficulty is a worthwhile expense. But I don't see any evidence that childcare is one of those, nor counselling. For I could not advise a Catholic who was having a crisis of faith, because I have no idea what a crisis of religious faith implies. I could learn but why should I when there are plenty of catholics who already know and are both willing and able to help? It's a bad use of resources even though the goal is worthwhile.
6) Universities are engaged in a complex task requiring specialist skills. Such tasks are usually best handled by organisations dedicated to those tasks alone to allow division of labour. This is not always the case but often. Pediatric Cardic units don't generally also perform earthquake relief.
7) The biggest argument against regarding universtities as being "communities" in your sense is the simpliest one, if they had to pay for it, people wouldn't do it. I;m not arguing that people won't provide counselling or child-care to the "disadvantaged" if given the choice, I'm arguing that they wouldn't do it through their universtity. Free market economics applies just as much to the production of communities as it does to the production of cheese, Nintendo machines, economics articles in the Sydney Morning Herald. If people want a community they are more than capable of constructing one without government coercion. Why it should suddenly be neccesary to give them free tertiary education to get them to do something they did for free for 5,000 years is beyond me. As is why a free counselling service availible only to students would have a comparative advantage over other free counselling services. Why discriminate on the basis of university entrance? From the point of view of "helping the disadvantaged" this doesn't make a lot of sense. The most in need of counselling are farmers and other people in professions with a high risk of suicide. It should be noted they are mostly male and university students mostly female. I don't say this is evidence of sexism in the provision of counselling services, but reading "The myth of male power" got me thinking in that direction.

You stated that "We happily define countries, states and council areas as communities and give them the power to tax.". Everything in that sentence is untrue. First of all I hate to speak for a minority I'm not a member of but "Who's we white man?". Before Australia was "defined as a community" there were plenty of people quite happily living in the communities they defined. They were far from happy with being included in the new institution without their foreknowledge or consent. By the way the institution is a nation-state not a community. There's an easy test, if a group is formed and maintained by violence then it's a State (capital s) if it's formed and maintained by consent it's a community. I would not be at all happy to define something as a State even if I had the opportunity (which neither I nor anyone I know ever will). Drawing a line on one side of which one group of thugs rules and on the other another is not work for which I have the talent or taste. Of course since the State was defined decades prior to my birth the point is moot. Then there's the phrase "give them the power to tax". It was given? That's strange I thought William the Bastard and his heirs and successors just took the damn thing. My memory of history is vague but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the Consultation of Hastings in 1066.

You ask if what universities do is "all that different" from what employers do. It is. Employers don't do it with my money but with their own. Employers bear the economic consequences of their economic decisions. Universities bear the economy consequences of the governments political decisions. Students don't choose universities on the basis of the student union but on how good the taxpayer funded education is. In effect taxpayers who never set foot in the universtity subsidise student union activities over which they have zero democratic control. Students not taxpayers in general decide how much is spent on maintaining "campus life" but taxpayers fund the benefit sold below cost to provide it. If government wants to fund some bizare, amoral, wasteful, homicidal and/or counterproductive enterprise* I can vote against them next election (and that's the plan). I cannot do the same for student unions.

You argue for "Ramsey pricing" but that's not what universities are doing.
The claim that voluntary student unionism will push up costs assumes that, by some economic miracle unknown in the history of the science government policy hit on exactly the right economics of scale. We don't and can't know what the results of free choice are. If we could we'd have exploited it and be millionaires, until we tried to do it again and stuffed up. As for reducing the choices availible that's what all taxes do. The difference between what is seen and unseen is that while the decrease in choice due to tax is invisible in this context the choices provided by the tax are not. To assert that there is a net loss of positive externalities is simply to assume away theose that would arise from students persuing the same goals different ways. Why is it that only goals persued with other people's money are said to have positive externalities? The arguement "the market will always undersupply positive externailities" is irrevelent unless someone else will do a better job of supplying them. It's also hardly a proven point. Markets have plenty of ways of supplying positive externalities, for instance mutual societies, charities, social pressure, business sponsorship of sporting teams etc. To argue that the market "always" undersupplies them is brave. Want to bet I can find a case where they don't? It is the statists who have a primitive, reductionist economic theory that ignores how positive externalities operate. In any case if university administrators believed that funding such activities would provide more benefits to their students or attract more full fee payers they can continue to fund them out of general revenue. This opposed by students because they have little faith that the benefits really justify the cost.

The arguement that universtities ought to be centres of "informal" learning is perhaps the weakest argument for CSU. Everywhere ought to be a centre for infromal learning, that doesn''t mean that taking money from another accomplishes that goal. In fact the net effect of subsiding such activiteis is to take away time (from people who have to workharder to pay taxes ) and people who are interested in these activities from the non-university sector. These are the two things most needed for informal learning. You haven't shown any increase in "informal learning" merely a transfer of such learning from most people to university students.

This explains why so many are fighting so that government by the uni students, of the uni students, for the uni students shall not perish from this land. It's an elitist fantasy that what is good for the chosen few benefit all. It's another that only people with degrees have something to contribute. Centreing the informal learning in university student societies feeds both myths and they feed it and all feed an elitist and centralist agenda. It is no coincidence that student societies are generally pro-centralisation. Even the so called "free market" advocates are the sort that suggest a freer market can best achieve government goals. Ironically however if I were to believe your contentions that a) university students gain most from extraciricula activities and b) most won't fund them I would have to believe they were kinda thick. Which demolishes the idea that it's a good thing to spend money teaching them anything. I do not believe that this is true (in general).

Of course the idea that we should thank CSU for all the poiticians, activists and sports stars depends on their services being worth of thanks. In the case of sports stars (you thought I was going for politicians didn't you?) I say it sin't. National sporting success creates national unity and identity, very bad and dangerous things. A collection of honest rational people is neither identical nor unified. Such qualities are only useful to tie us all to the same yoke. If you truly love your country you must prey for the defeat of it's athletes not just it's soldiers. If however you just like your sport then arranging sponsorship is (as I said previously) not hard.

The results of newspapermen being disproportionately from universities might be even more dangerous. Diversity of opinon is vital to democracy, so how many of these student editors or journos will come out for VSU? Or anything that tends to undermine the power of universities? Please don't misunderstand me, I suggest no conspiracy. I just think they (you) will act to secure that which helped them (you) , thinking that since it helped them it is generally helpful. It is impossible to know if it is without knowing what use would have been made of resources if they didn't go to universities. That which is seen and unseen agains comes into view.
The same thing that I've said about journos goes for actiivists and politicians too. Having them disproportionately come from taxpayer funded institutions distorts the debate on those institutions and probably all other taxpayer funded institutions as well.

There is a myth invented by arrogant thugs to perpetuate their rule that communities needs government help. In fact it's not even clear they need a government to exist. The ide athat the individualist philosophy is a threat to community ignores the fact that individuals created the communities in the first place for individualistic purposes. What these purposes is hazy, varied and diverse, but they had goals best satsified by the creation of a community so they made one. Groups formed by government don't tend to become communities to any great extent. Walk through a housing estate if you doubt me. To limit individual freedom for the sake of the community is self-defeating because the community interest is only a collection of private itnerests so limiting the freedom of members arbitrarily cannot serve it. It is of course possible for a net benefit to arise out of some limitations (e.g. prohibitions on alcohol in muslim communities or "dry camps", prohibitions on having girlfriends in a monastry). There is no reason to expect that government or other outside planners are better at spotting such opportunites than the community members themselves. They certainly has less motive to do so. The free market is better at creating communities just like it's better at creating for-profit firms, and for the same reason. We are better at judging our own interests than government.

* I am not refering here to the war in Iraq. Why would you think I was?