Anti-Socialist Tendencies

Thursday, July 31, 2003

There are certain topics I strive to avoid in my blogging: long-standing hot-button issues that are fueled mainly by emotion on both sides, and about which truly substantive debate is hard to come by. Unless I'm sure I can provide part of the latter, I just don't see the point.

Gay marriage is certainly one of these incendiary topics, and thus far I've decided to remain silent on it despite its current prominence in the blogosphere. I've decided to break my blogging silence on this, however, because I keep seeing muddled thinking on the subject everywhere, which ultimately serves only the interests of ideologues. Although what I write here will come mainly at the expense of its supporters, keep in mind that accepting these clarifications does not entail having to reject gay marriage -- they simply serve to clarify exactly what is being considered.

Equal Access Vs. Redefinition

The first example of fuzzy thinking deals with the nature of gay marriage vis a vis traditional marriage. Both sides in the debate seem to visualize the issue as a matter of the denial of access of homosexuals to traditional marriage. In a sense, this is an uncritical application of the template of historical civil rights arguments: a clearly defined subgroup is denied equal access to something which is open to citizens at large. This is an entirely wrong model. The simple fact is that homosexuals already have complete, unfettered access to marriage: any gay man is entirely free to marry a woman, and any lesbian is entirely free to marry a man. Allowing gay marriage should be seen instead as either a redefinition of or an addition to traditional marriage. It is either the creation of a second type of marriage alongside the traditional one, or a redefinition of traditional marriage from the union of two adults of opposite sex to the union of two adults of whatever sex. Which of these two models one adopts is not important -- the outcome is the same in either case -- but both are a far more accurate description than the misused civil rights template.

I suspect this recasting will not be eagerly adopted by gay marriage proponents, since at least over the short term the muddled visualization is more tactically useful through its drawing on accepted civil rights rhetoric. There is no legitimate reason, however, why one must automatically reject gay marriage when accepting this clarified model. Acknowledging that it is a redefinition of marriage ultimately says nothing about whether or not it should occur.

On Arbitrary Limits

The second example of fuzzy thinking deals with the casual dismissals of the "then we'll have polygamous/incestuous/bestial unions too!" type of argument. Regardless of how ridiculously these arguments might be delivered, their point is legitimate and disregarding them will in the end only be to the detriment of gay marriage supporters. The issue, after all, lies at the heart of the most common argument for gay marriage. This is essentially the claim that the requirement of couples to be of opposite sex is an arbitrary one resulting more from traditional prejudices then any substantive rationale, and thus must be removed. This may get them what they want, but by employing it proponents will have set in motion a relentless logic that threatens almost any limitation on marriage. If a limitation on the sex of the couple is "arbitrary," how less arbitrary is a limitation on the number of people involved? (Go on, find a good justification of limiting it to 2 people using their logic, I challenge you.) It's an easy exercise to continue on in this vein ad absurdum. Proponents may not bother to think beyond their issue, or perhaps have but don't personally care if the limits keep getting pushed like this. Regardless, many who must be won over have thought about it and are concerned. To be assured success, proponents must take this head on and come up with a justification for why limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is arbitrary, but limiting it to two non-incestuously related adults is not.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Again and again in the blogosphere I come across claims that Islam is unreformable, that it is inherently bloody-minded and destructive of civilization and can never be anything more. (This often crops up in the comments section of Little Green Footballs, for example.) If there is an awareness of the difference between Islam and Islamism it seems to be considered a meaningless distinction.

Well, Varenius ain't buying it.

The Islamic Golden Age would never have happened were Islam poisonous to civilization. Yes, I know Muslims (understandably) and anti-Western Westerners (despicably) overinflate its achievements. But exaggerated or not, achievements there were, and these would not have come about if Islam did not have something enriching to, or at least protective of, culture in it. Likewise, even if we take into consideration the fact that many of these were achieved by non-Arab and non-Muslim subjects rather than their Arabic overlords, this still testifies to the valuing of these positive cultural traits in the Islamic milieu. Thus to say there is nothing upon which Muslims can draw from their tradition to help in setting up societies more nurturing of civilization is groundless.

The same case can be made in the purely theological realm. Yes, there is much negative religious material in the inheritance of today's Islam. Given the faith's bloody birth and equally violent expansion combined with the frequently explicit scriptural justification for this barbarism, Islam has a far more challenging obstacle to overcome than either Judaism and Christianity (or any other major religion) has faced in dealing with their dark patches. Although their histories and scriptures have fewer reprehensible things to deal with, the fact that its fellow Abrahamic faiths have successfully done so gives one hope that Islam can do the same. If I, a non-Muslim, have been able to quickly sketch possible answers to problematic Qu'ranic verses off the cuff, then surely earnest Muslim theologians who have immersed themselves in the offerings of centuries of Muslim thinkers can work out substantive and robust ones. Here too, I see no reason to think that Islam cannot be reformed in a more positive direction.

What has occasioned my thoughts is a remarkable piece in Reason entitled Revealed Libertarianism. It's an interview with Imad A. Ahmad, president and director of Minaret of Freedom, a Muslim organization dedicated to promoting "Libertarianism" as an expression of Islamic values. (I think "classical liberalism" is a better description, since the ideas involved are not narrowly libertarian.) Ahmad states that free-market capitalism and Western-style civil rights are not only compatible with Islam, but are in fact fully supported by it. I cannot judge how valid this position is, but simply that one like it is being voiced and specifically backed up with Islam is very heartening. As more of these alternative visions of Islam come forth and spread, the birth of a reformed and revitalized Islam inhospitable to destructive traits becomes ever more likely.

Athanasius: Architect of the Dark Ages?

In the course of the interview, Ahmad makes this curious statement:

If you look at western history, the establishment of Athanasian Christianity in Europe coincided with the advent of the Dark Ages. Protestantism was part of the transition out of the Dark Ages and into modernity. It was Islam itself that had the same effect on the Arab world, which had been in an age of ignorance.

More than one criticism could easily be made of this, but what has me scratching my head is his singling out of Athanasian Christianity as the apparent instigator of the "Dark Ages." Why Athanasius' ideas??? I'm at a loss here. The only possibility that occurs to me is that it has to do with the Athanasian defense of the Trinity, which Ahmad perhaps sees as a "pagan" takeover of what was before a basically "Islamic" Christianity (though this would not explain why Protestantism was an escape from "ignorance" considering that most Protestants affirm the Trinity).

Any ideas, readers?


It's time once again to see how our friend President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil is doing. Bill King at Enter Stage Right gives us an update on Lula's fortunes. Lula has thus far managed to continue on his promised prudent course:

Since taking office though, Lula has thankfully not lived up to the expectations of the loony left. Instead he's so far acted, to the surprise of many, with a good deal of moderation and maturity. He has largely continued the economic policies of his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and through his choice of ministers as well as his moderate statements he has restored the confidence of international investors in Brazilian markets. To a certain degree, Lula has even served as a moderating influence on Venezuela's Chavez, and has begun cooperating with Colombia's Alvaro Uribe in attempts to curb the expansionist terrorism of that country's main guerrilla outfit, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

But trouble is brewing over President da Silva's continuing attempts to reform the country's lavish public pension system. In a situation parallel to similar attempts going on in France, opposition to reforms by its beneficiaries threatens to be a political death-dealer, and is creating the potential for internecine fighting within the President's party:

The main opposition to Lula's plan for pension reform has come from individuals on the left-wing of the PT [Workers Party, of which da Silva is part], public sector unions, and from the largest of the many Trotskyist groups in Brazil, the Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU).... Inside the PT, the tension is mounting. Four representatives from the party's left-wing, including a senator and three from congress, have balked at backing the proposed pension reform as well as virtually every other step taken by the new government.

King concludes that Lula's administration may be at a turning point:

The next few weeks will be crucial for Brazil. If Lula can succeed in the difficult task of isolating and defeating the radicals, and maintaining and implementing his reform agenda, then things could actually begin to look up for a country that has incredible potential. But if the rising tensions inside the ruling party explode into full blown inter-party warfare, and if the far left is successful in aggravating strife among the unions and in the countryside, the result could be a weakened Lula and an increasing paralysis of his government in the face of widespread social conflict. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

(Previous entry in this series)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Well, I've passed the one-year mark here at Anti-Socialist Tendencies, believe it or not. To commemorate the occasion, here's a flashback to some of my favorite entries spanning the past year:

* ParEcon Doesn't Need Socialism!: Wherein I discuss the importance of butt fortitude in syndicalist economic schemes.

* The X-Files & Spiritual Dilettantes

* Dystopia in One Easy Step: The one human trait that fates all attempts at creating Utopia to end up creating a Hell instead.

* Anti-War Campus Follies: The Ridiculous, the Reasonable, and a Followup.

* The Raelian Cloning Fantasy: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

* Mortality Makes Meaning?: Does death give an atheist's life meaning?

* Green Party Growth: Voter protest, not endorsement.

* Relativism Merely Scolded: I guess even philosophy profs can be slackers!

And finally:


Thanks to all my readers through the past year, regulars and occasional visitors alike!

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

An absolutely outstanding piece on the Leftist myths surrounding the Allende regime in Chile and its overthrow by Pinochet appears over at Val e-diction. Especially noteworthy are its detailing of the dramatically destructive effects of Allende's policies on the Chilean economy and the negligible role of the CIA in the coup against him. I'm thrilled that Val has posted this since I've been wanting to write something like it for months, and he has done a far more masterful job of it than I would have.

Stafford Beer & Allende's Cybernetic Dreams

Some years back, I came across an interesting bit of trivia about Allende in the first edition of Theodore Roszak's The Cult of Information (I don't know if it is in the current edition). Allende had hired British "cyberneticist" Stafford Beer to design a near-real time information system for detailed, systematic monitoring and modeling of the Chilean national economy. According to Roszak it was (ironically) nicknamed the "Liberty Machine." Andrew Pickering [HTML | DOC] describes the project thusly:

Only on one major occasion did Beer have to chance to implement [his concepts] from the ground up -- when he was invited to help design and implement a control system for the entire economy of Chile, under the newly elected Marxist regime led by Salvador Allende. From 1971 to 1973 Beer threw himself into Project Cybersyn as it was called (for 'cybernetic synergy')...

By requisitioning [nationalizing?] telex facilities, a real-time communication network called Cybernet was established, linking much of Chile's industrial base to computers in Santiago. A set of programs called Cyberstride were written to process and filter the incoming data at the System Three level, and another program, CHECO, was written to simulate the overall behaviour of the Chilean economy at the System Four level. The System Four operations room [think Bond villian HQ] was also getting into shape by 1973... This cybernetisation of the Chilean economy was an extremely ambitious project which, alas, never had chance to go into full operation [due to Pinochet's coup].

Another online author claims that "By the time of the CIA sponsored [sic] coup on September 11, 1973, seventy-five per cent of nationalized industry was brought into the system with economic information not more than a day out of date."

Whatever the actual promise of this system, however, one can certainly be forgiven for skepticism regarding its usefulness given the spectacular train-wreck that the regime's approach had already made of Chile's economy.

UPDATE: Catallarchy has some interesting points regarding Allende and Pinochet as well.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Fitting alongside evidence that fluctuations in solar activity are a major factor in climate change is new research suggesting a role for cosmic rays in global warming:

The research... indicates that Earth's climate is profoundly affected by cosmic rays.... [which] have a cooling effect on the Earth's surface, by causing increased low-level cloud formation. However, heightened solar activity diminishes the cosmic rays reaching Earth. According to Shaviv and Veizer, this blocking of cosmic rays has been the dominant cause of global warming during the past century.

In an article in the July issue of GSA Today, a publication of the Geological Society of America, the scientists correlate cosmic ray flux with Earth's climate history over the past 550 million years. They conclude that cosmic ray changes account for at least 66 percent of the temperature variation during that period. Indeed, there is a correlation between ice ages on Earth and the passage of our solar system through our galaxy's spiral arms, where the sources of cosmic rays are congregated. Such a passage occurs roughly every 135 million years.

Yet more evidence that climate change is far more complex than previously imagined.


What more can possibly be said after reading this article?

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Late Medieval Scholasticism might seem to us moderns an unlikely place to find sophisticated economic insight, but unlikely or not it is indeed there, as Stephen Carson discusses in this book review. Carson's opinion of the thinkers involved is stunning:

Their brilliant economic analysis earns them a place as founders of economics. One might be tempted to call them the true "Adam Smiths" except that their economic analysis was superior to the confused Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations.

The article briefly outlines their views on private property, public finance, money, international trade, value and price, and profit -- all of which remarkably foreshadow what are usually considered "modern" ideas.

(Via Cella's Review)

Friday, July 11, 2003

The two most potent post-war orthodoxies -- socialist politics and modernist art -- have at least one feature in common: they are both forms of snobbery, the anti-bourgeois snobbery of people convinced of their right to dictate to the common man in the name of the common man.

--- Roger Scruton, "In Praise of Bourgeois Art"

To the biologist the problem of socialism appears largely as a problem of size. The extreme socialists desire to run every nation as a single business concern. I do not suppose that Henry Ford would find much difficulty in running Andorra or Luxembourg on a socialistic basis. He has already more men on his pay-roll than their population. It is conceivable that a syndicate of Fords, if we could find them, would make Belgium Ltd. or Denmark Inc. pay their way. But while nationalization of certain industries is an obvious possibility in the largest of states, I find it no easier to picture a completely socialized British Empire or United States than an elephant turning somersaults or a hippopotamus jumping a hedge.

--- J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds

I nearly always find, when I ask a vegetarian if he is a socialist, or a socialist if he is a vegetarian, that the answer is in the affirmative.

--- Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Modes and Morals

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Here's an interesting piece on a fellow geography grad student whose GIS on weaknesses in national infrastructure is making the security establishment nervous. He should certainly be thanked rather than condemned, because he is merely bringing attention to something that already exists rather than creating it himself -- these data and tools are out there right now and those with ill intent are no doubt already aware of them.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

As part of the new austerity program here at Anti-Socialist Tendencies, I will now be implementing recycling measures. For example, rather than writing a lengthy discussion of A. James Gregor's The Faces of Janus as I might have previously, I will simply post a comments page exchange over this entry by Josh Claybourn at his blog in which I refer to Gregor:

Isaac, Ann Coulter is nowhere close to being a "Nazi." If you seriously think she is, then you badly need to educate yourself about the ideological tenets of fascism. Try reading something by A. James Gregor.

Posted by: Varenius on July 5, 2003 08:20 PM

Ann Coulter doesn't believe in the freedom of speech. Ann Coulter believes that anyone who expresses an opinion other than her own is a criminal. Ann Coulter said that JFK and Harry Truman should have been tried for treason. Ann Coulter called me, my girlfriend, my mom, my dad, my brother, and my sister traitors. Nazi is perhaps too nice a word to use to describe Ann Coulter. That is all I wish to say regarding the likes of Ann Coulter.

Posted by: Isaac Johnson on July 5, 2003 10:42 PM

So when did she call for your arrest and execution? Don't you realize you are insulting every person who suffered under the real Nazis with your cavalier trivialization of that label? Call her "despotic" or "dictatorial" if you like (though that's still a stretch!), but don't show a combination of naivete and callousness by calling her "Nazi" or "fascist."

Posted by: Varenius on July 5, 2003 11:19 PM

The "real" Nazis? That's an odd way to put it. I assume you mean the Nazi party of 1930s and 1940s Germany, but all Nazis are "real" Nazis. I never said she had anything to do with the holocaust. I think you're somewhat confused. The Nazi party does exist today and you should not assume that when someone uses that word that they are referring to Adolf Hitler and his friends. That's like saying if someone's a German, they are also a part of Hilter's regime. I was simply using the term in a modern sense, and in its most basic sense. The terms you suggested, despotic and dictorial, are worthy synonyms, but don't quite pack the punch. Pesonally, I think you're just looking for something to complain about. And one more thing, how can you be so sure of how a generation of Europeans would feel toward my comment? And remember, Varenius, you, yourself, do not constitute a generation.

Posted by: Isaac Johnson on July 6, 2003 09:14 AM

Isaac, I do know exactly how a generation of Europeans would feel about your comments, because my own mother and her extended family suffered under the Nazis (and then the Soviets) and the sense of insult I mentioned is indeed what they and those who shared the experience feel over the casual use of the term.

I think you've missed my point here. My complaint is essentially the same as yours against Coulter. I'm no fan of hers myself -- she is essentially the right-wing equivalent of Michael Moore, more interested in inflammatory rhetorical point-scoring than substantive debate. If she did indeed brand all Democrats as traitors, for example, she will only get condemnation for that from me. However, for the same reason, I equally oppose any who casually slap the label "Nazi" or "fascist" on opponents for rhetorical impact when the term is totally inappropriate. It's no different than if I were to label you a "Stalinist" simply because you appear to be left-leaning.

In addition to its being pointlessly inflammatory, using "Nazi" this way bespeaks a serious ignorance of historical fascism. Fascism is not merely a synonym for despotism or dictatorship -- these can easily exist without the slightest trace of fascist ideology. Moreover, strictly speaking Fascism is not a right-wing ideology -- it is neither Left nor Right, and in fact shows how the Left/Right political framework only functions when considering a very narrow range of politics. Fascism is essentially a pragmatic form of Marxism, which fuses expansionistic nationalism and socialism in a program of rapid national development (thus the Nazis' full name of National Socialist German Workers Party). Fascism is marked not merely by political dictatorship but a true totalitarianism which also extends over its syndicalist economy. (I will leave it at that for now, but encourage you to check out the works of A. James Gregor, a scholar of Fascism, if you want to learn more.) All of this is totally sidestepped whenever "Nazi" or "fascist" is used as a catch-all swear word to smear a conservative. Go ahead and use it that way if you like, but don't expect people to take you any more seriously than you do Coulter.

You seem like a sincere, serious-minded, and fair guy -- prove it by giving up cheap rhetorical clubs in favor of intellectual integrity.

Posted by: Varenius on July 6, 2003 11:32 PM

O.K. :)
I apologize if my comparison of Coulter to a Nazi (or close to being one, as I actually said) offended you or anyone else for that matter. I'm not usually careless in regards to sensitive subjects such as this one, but I guess it was just a combination of a long-simmering sense of outrage over the Bush administration's policy of silencing or even condemning opposition for the Iraq war, mixed in with a couple of interviews with your and my favorite author :) ,and topped off with a very recent debate over, what I felt was an unjustified, back-handed bashing of a President who I feel was the greatest of our nation's history on the eve of the 4th of July. Whew!
Now back, for one last time to Coulter. I just honestly hope that the freedom to express one's own opinion, especially in matters as grave as war, does not become popularly unpatriotic. If it was just her, there would be no problem. But it's not. Plenty of people around this country share her oppressive beliefs and words like "traitor" and even "Communist" were uttered on more than one occasion, referring to those opposed to the attack on Iraq during the months leading up to the eventual conflict. I chose, perhaps unwisely and recklessly, the word Nazi, because I feel that the driving force behind the Jewish holocaust was Hitler's idea of purity, everyone being the same, everyone conforming to what he believed to be right. And though I know that we are far from ever seeing anything like that take place in our country, I don't think anyone should contribute to an acceleration of any such nightmare. As Bush says, we are at a pivotal stage in American history. I'm just hoping we don't pivot in the wrong direction.

Posted by: Isaac Johnson on July 7, 2003 12:13 PM

A very gentlemanly final reply, Isaac! ;-)

Sunday, July 06, 2003

It may be said that European Humanism found its term in Nietzsche... There was a great difference between him and Dostoevsky, who, before him, had shown that the loss of man by the way of self-deification was the inevitable goal of Humanism. Dostoevsky recognized that this deification is illusory; he explored the vagaries of self-will in every direction, and he had another source of knowledge -- he saw the light of Christ: he was a prophet of the Spirit. Nietzsche, on the contrary, was dominated by his idea of the superman and it killed the idea of real man in him.... The human essence presupposes the divine essence; kill God, and at the same time you kill man, and on the grave of these two supreme ideas of God and of man is set up a monstrous image -- the image of the man who wants to be God, of the superman in action, of antichrist. For Nietzsche there was neither God nor man but only this unknown man-god. For Dostoevsky there was both God and man: the God who does not devour man and the man who is not dissolved in God but remains himself throughout all eternity. It is there that Dostoevsky shows himself to be a Christian in the deepest sense of the word.

--- Nicholas Berdyaev, Dostoevsky


Due to the outcry among people with inexplicable taste in blogs my loyal fans, I thought I should clarify what's going on with this blog: It's not dead -- it's merely been econo-sized.

For several months now I've been wanting to put more energy into this blog, but realistically just couldn't do it. My earlier post was basically an admission of this -- one mainly to myself -- so that I wouldn't have the feeling of there being an obligation I wasn't meeting. However, I am not planning to give it up completely. I will probably be posting with about the same (in)frequency, but the entries will be scaled down a bit -- more of the "Hey, go look at this!" variety than the extended essays that I would prefer to write. Hopefully I can return to more of the latter in the future.

Seriously, my heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who wrote urging me to stick with the blog. I'm touched to know that there are people who find the bits and pieces I offer here interesting and worthwhile.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

In contrast to our silly friend Bronski, TIME Magazine has a balanced piece on Evangelical missions to the Muslim world: Should Christians Convert Muslims?

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

If you haven't guessed already by the infrequent posting here of late, I don't have much time for blogging these days, and that isn't likely to change soon. So I'm posting this announcement both as a courtesy to my readers and, more importantly, as a way of giving myself permission to take the blog off my mental "to do" list. I may post occasionally here in the next few months, but I don't plan to do anything extensive until I can devote sufficient time to make this blog the more substantial resource I originally envisioned.

Thanks for your continued readership throughout the past year. Enjoy the summer!

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Want a role in plotting the future imperial conquests of the International Jewish Conspiracy Neoconservative Cabal? Then get on board for the Project for a New American Century Cruise! Meet all those hot neocon babes you've been dreaming about while scheming up new ways to oppress little brown people across the globe. Who knew serving the Bushitler could be such a blast?