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Saturday, September 21, 2002

Defeating Hussein Without Government:

The aftermath of 9/11 is a hard time to be an anarchist.

For many years before the WTC came down I believed that America could be better defended by have no government than by the system we have now, I imagined a nation of heavily armed militias, without the power-projection capabilities of a conventional military but with the capability to inflict a world of grief on an invader -- and with nobody having the authority to tell them to surrender. We could have a home defense better than Switzerland's, our larger population and longer distances doing for us what mountainous terrain does for the Swiss.

There would still be a place in an anarchist America for professional soldiers -- not many, but a few heavy troop formations would be kept on retainer by consortia of insurance companies. Yes, I said insurance companies, that's because how free markets socialize shared risks. Normal law enforcement would be funded by pools set up by vendors of crime insurance looking to reduce their payouts; national defense and overseas power projection (to the extent the term still had meaning in a stateless society) would be funded by people who bought war insurance (say, businesses with overseas assets to protect).

These measures, I was and am convinced, would stop conventional wars of conquest dead in their tracks. Invade a nation of 350,000,000 libertarians, most of them routinely armed? Yeah. Right. Any War-College-trained military officer will tell you that urban warfare against guerrillas on their home ground chews up armies faster than anything else. Witness Stalingrad.

Without a government, many of the reasons people might go to war against America would also vanish. No entangling alliances, no foreign policy to object to. Conventional terrorism would become a lot dicier proposition in a libertarian anarchy, too -- as in Israel, where armed civilians have on numerous occasions thwarted attempted massacres by shooting back. And, of course, the WTC would probably still be standing if the passengers had been armed...

I grew up in the shadow of the Soviet threat. Theirs was an evil, evil system, but they were at bottom geopolitically rational. They calculated their chances very cold-bloodedly, and never pushed the big red button. An ungoverned America would have stood them off, I believe, long enough for the inevitable Hayekian collapse to remove the problem.

But now we face the prospect of weapons of mass destruction dropping into the hands of people who are behaviorally indistinguishable from stone psychotics. That prospect poses problems of a different nature than Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union ever did. Because what Al-Qaeda wants is not driven or constrained by geopolitics, by pragmatism, by a rational estimation of risk and reward. They have no population to answer to even in the limited sense that Hitler and Stalin did. They were madmen, but they were constrained by the necessities of leading a country.

Under the present system, I see no alternative to state action as a way to suppress this threat, up to and including conventional warfare and the proconsular occupation of significant parts of the Arab world. I am not happy with this evaluation; war is the health of the State, and statism is the most lethal enemy humanity will ever know short of a giant meteor strike (those who think this statement hyperbolic are recommended to read Robert Conquest's "The Great Terror"). The question that drives this essay is whether, supposing the U.S. were to become a market anarchy, there would be other means to the same end.

It's a tough case. Al-Qaeda would not hate us any less; it is not, at bottom, U.S. policy that enrages them, it is the fact of our wealth and freedom and refusal to submit to the One True Way of Allah. An ungoverned America, more wealthy and more free by the exact measure that its productive capacity is spent efficiently on a network of security agencies and judicial associations rather than being wasted on the support of parasitic government, would hardly enrage them less.

Al-Qaeda in itself is not an exceptional threat; in a properly armed society the 9/11 hijackers would never even have tried their stunt, because they would known that the certain outcome was death in a hail of civilian bullets. It is the combination of Al-Qaeda-like suicidal fanaticism with state sponsorship (specifically the ability to produce chemical/biological/nuclear weapons) that strains the anarcho-libertarian theory of national self-defense, It does so by dramatically lowering the cost of aggression for both sets of bad guys; the fanatics get the capability to strike a hammer-blow at the Great Satan, and their state sponsors get deniable cat's paws.

It is worth pointing out, however, that it strains the statist theory of self-defense almost as badly. A governed U.S. has the neo-imperialist option (conquer Iraq, install Colin Powell as miltary governor, and try to transform the place as we transformed Japan), and that may even appear to be the option with the lowest odds of catastrophic failure, but we don't actually have any clue whether this will actually work -- Al-Qaeda might well be able to get their bombs from the failing states of former-Soviet Central Asia, or from North Korea. The historical situation is truly unprecedented.

Harder than the theoretical problem, perhaps, is the practical one. How to oppose that expansion of state power without acting as an unwilling enabler for the terrorists? In some ways that's easy; pushing to abolish all the police-state bullshit at airports is a no-brainer, since tiger-team tests of the system consistently show that none of it has made smuggling weapons on board more difficult (now, as before 9/11, approximately 30% of attempts succeed).

In a wider sense, though, it's a very difficult question. One I will be thinking about -- and possibly writing about -- in the coming months.

posted by Eric at 11:17 PM          

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Imperialists by necessity?

Steven den Beste wrote a long, intelligent and insightful essay on who the enemy is. I think he is right to see Afghanistan, Iraq, and the suppression of Al-Qaeda as phases of longer, wider war — a clash of civilizations driven by the failure of Islamic/Arab culture (though I would stress the problem of the Islamic commandment to jihad more than he does). I think he is also right to say that our long-term objective must be to break, crush and eventually destroy this culture, because we can't live on the same planet with people who both carry those memes and have access to weapons of mass destruction. They will hate us and seek to destroy us not for what we've done but for what we are.

I wonder if Steve sees what this implies in the longer time horizon, though? The cultures that produced Al-Qaeda, despite swimming in oil wealth that should have made it easy, have failed in all essential ways to join the modern world. They mutilate the genitalia of the female half of their population, they educate only a vanishingly small number of scientists and engineers, and their politics is a perpetual brawl conducted by tribes with flags. Their capability to get with even the 20th century on their own has been tested and found wanting, let alone the 21st.

Steve may well be right that the only solution to a festering boil like Iraq or Saudi Arabia starts with military defeat, Western occupation, and a forced restructuring of society along the lines of what Douglas MacArthur did to the Japanese after 1945.

I used to think we could corrupt Islamism out of existence, make it fat and lazy with cheap consumer goods and seduce it with porn. Maybe that would be the best way to go if we had two generations to solve the problem. But if the likes of Hussein is breeding botulism and about to get his hands on nukes, we've run out of time. We can't afford the soft option if the price of futzing around might be a mushroom cloud over Manhattan, or over Tel Aviv.

We must win. And we must impose our will and our culture on the losers, not for old-fashioned reasons like gold or oil or craving conquest, but because the likely alternative is nuclear megadeath, plague in our home cities, and the smell of Sarin in the morning. Is there anyone left who doubts that Saddam Hussein, who nerve-gassed Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s, would use nukes if he had them?

There's a word for the process of conquering a third-world pesthole and imposing your culture on it. It's called imperialism.

In the 19th century, the Western powers built empires for prestige and economic advantage. In the 21st century, we may be discovering that we need to get back into the imperialism business as a matter of survival. It may turn out that the 20th century was an interlude doomed to end as cheap transportation made the world smaller and improving weapons technology made large-scale destruction inexpensive even for barbarian thugs like Saddam Hussein.

Envy the British of Sir Richard Burton's time. They could conquer half the world for simple gain without worrying about the Fuzzy-Wuzzies or the Ndebele aerosol-dropping pasteurella pestis on Knightsbridge. We -- and I mean specifically the U.S. now -- may have to conquer the Islamic world a second time, simply because the risks of war and the moral hazards of imperialism are less threatening than the prospect of some Allah-crazed Islamofascist detonating a knapsack nuke on the Smithsonian Mall.

I'm not joking about the moral hazards of imperialism, either. They may be a more serious danger to a free society than the short-term exigencies of war. Witness the fact that I, a radical libertarian anarchist for more than twenty years, find myself arguing for a position not all that easy to distinguish from reactionary military expansionism. Urgent survival threats make strange bedfellows. And it is all too plausible that. if we take this path, we might degenerate from imperialists by necessity to imperialists by habit and predilection.

Still. Reality is what it is. If there's no way short of straight-up imperialism and nation-building all over the Islamic world to prevent a holocaust on American or European soil that would make 9/11 look like a garden party, then that's what we're going to have to do -- civilize the barbarians at the point of a gun.

There is precedent; the British did a pretty good job of civilizing India and we did a spectacularly effective one on Japan. And the U.S. would be well equipped to do it again; our economy is now so large that we could run a globe-spanning empire from the petty-cash drawer. Seriously. The U.S, a hyperpower so dominant that no imaginable coalition of other nations could defeat it at conventional warfare, spends a ridiculously low percentage of GNP (3%) on its military.

Civilizing the barbarians needn't even be a bloody process if you start the job right after their will has been smashed by a major defeat in war. The U.S. burned essentially every major Japanese city except Kyoto to the ground with incendiaries during World War Two and then atom-bombed two of them. This seemed to help. It would be nice if we didn't have to get so drastic this time, but it might come to that yet; judging by measures like relative GDP and number of Nobel prizes earned, the Arab/Islamic world is actually further behind the civilization curve than the Japanese were in their militarist phase. They may need to be smashed flatter before a latter-day MacArthur will be able to do anything with them.

Some of my readers will be screaming in horror. Imperialism? Barbarians? How dare I use such language? How dare I argue that the U.S. has the right to commit deliberate cultural genocide?

There's a big hole in the ground in Manhattan. That's my argument.

If Pearl Harbor was good enough reason for us to conquer Japan and run it like a proconsulate until the Japanese learned manners, then 9/11 was damn good and sufficient reason for us to do the same number on the Islamists. That meant Afghanistan, it means Iraq, and down the road it may mean Saudi Arabia as well.

History is not over.

posted by Eric at 3:02 AM          

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

So, Howell Raines Isn't a complete waste of air:

The NYT ran a pro-Linux editorial today.

That's good. They had to slip their "communitarian" spin in there, though, as if Linux hackers are all a bunch of PBS-worshiping Mother Jones readers and natural suckers for the fuzzy-sweater cause of the week.

Hah. If they only knew. I'm not going to say my gun-toting red-meat libertarianism is typical, because it isn't. Actually the mass centroid of hackers' politics is a lot like the blogosphere's, a sort of soft-libertarianism-leaning-towards-conservatism or vice-versa (the centroid used to be further left but a lot has changed in the last decade). Much less radical than me, but still enough to give the likes of Raines a bad case of the vapors.

But let's keep that our little secret, OK? If Raines wants to believe that open-source people are some kind of cross between Greenpeace and the Ethical Culture Society, that's just fine. We'll take the Gray Lady's backing. It's another small step on the road to world domination.

The day will come when we will be the guys running the world's entire digital infrastructure (not such a stretch; we already run the Internet). Our example will teach Howell's kids stuff about the power of decentralization and voluntary cooperation, all the things leftists pay lip-service to until the last second before they'd have to actually apply them. And the world will change out from under him. Subtly. Powerfully. And in ways he can't guess at yet.

It should be a fun ride.

posted by Eric at 10:44 PM          

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Living With Microsoft:

In today's episode of the Microsoft follies, we learned that Media Player 9 is un-uninstallable. Deliberately.

A Microsoft spokesthing confirmed that Media Player 9 is so deeply integrated into the operating system that it cannot be removed without doing a `system restore'. Which, incidentally, will wipe out your Office installation.

It's at times like this that, contemplating Microsoft users, one feels as though one is wandering among people lashing themselves with stinging nettles until blood runs off them in rivulets. One wants to know why they don't just stop. One is told "But it's the standard!"

One shakes one's head bemusedly.

They pay heavily for the privilege of lashing themselves, too. Except for those blessed, blissful occasions on which they pay still more, grease themselves, bend over, and prepare to be buggered by a chainsaw. That's called a "System Upgrade".

One contemplates the uptime figures on one's Linux box and feels — admit it! — a bit smug.

posted by Eric at 3:37 AM