Walls and Bridges, Bridges and Walls 1

Fenster writes:

Number of Google hits for the phrase “walls not bridges”: around 5,000.

Number of Google hits for the phrase “bridges not walls”: around a half-million.

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Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Elysium Now!

Fenster writes:

So Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, wants humans to live in floating space cities.

(W)ith bucolic, futuristic illustrations, Bezos publicly broadcasted his affinity for O’Neill colonies, a hypothetical megaproject, first theorized by physicist Gerard O’Neill, that envisions enormous manufactured worlds inside of a rotating cylinder in space.

“These are very large structures, miles on end. They would hold a million people or more each,” explained Bezos to a quiet audience made up of supporters, media, and elementary school robotic students.

He went on to show images of cities, parks, mountains, and waterfalls all in a self-contained rotating space cylinder. He talked about how they could differ in gravity, perhaps affording humans an opportunity to become birds.

“You could have a recreational [colony] that has zero Gs so that you can go flying,” Bezos said dramatically pausing, “With your own wings.”

I find this distasteful if a pipe dream and scary if a real possibility.

For one the concept ignores the irascible nature of real humans, at least in their current version (on which more below).

Bezos set out his utopian vision. Humans will live peacefully together among the stars in these contained O’Neill colonies rather than spreading to inhospitable worlds like Mars.

Peace?  Possible . . .  but the price?  More below.

The idea is radically anti-nature.

“This is Maui on its best day all year long; no rain, no storms, no earthquakes,” he said, “People are going to want to live here.”

Except it is not Maui.  It is artificial.

And then there are the reasons Bezos cites for why the Earth simply won’t do in the future.

. . . energy consumption, increasing population, resource depletion, and climate change . . .

Climate change will render the earth uninhabitable?  Where will the resources have to come from to build, maintain and refresh the artificial environment in space?  If we have depleted non-renewable sources of energy and have failed to create new energy sources on earth how will energy be supplied to the floating cities?  And then the argument about too many people on Earth, redolent of Yogi Berra’s crack about a New York restaurant: “nobody goes there any more.  It’s too crowded.”

To me this is a hugely pessimistic idea dolled up as optimistic futurism.  It tells me that the world’s richest man thinks things are going to go haywire on planet Earth, and that it is time for those who can afford it to take to the skies, and to get away.

It is not good if the world’s richest man thinks this way.  For one, his sentiment could be a tell-tale in the wind as far as our elites are concerned.  Get out while the getting is good.  Even if the space cities are a fantasy the idea of elite secession, even just to underground bunkers in New Zealand, is hardly a comforting thought.

And then there is the tremendous misallocation of resources if the world’s richest man decides on a whim to spend untold billions on an impossible vanity project.  One of the problems of the extraordinary level of inequality in our current society is that civil society is hijacked by the wealthy.  Granted, government should not be in charge of every project with public benefits.  Private spending with public aims, as with philanthropy, is generally to be admired.  But when great wealth essentially determines large public outcomes we are, so to speak, in another world altogether.

Worst of all: what if the project is feasible?  Who goes?  Who stays?  How do you avoid a situation like that dramatized in Neil Bloemkamp’s film Elysium,

a film which depicts the “haves” living in a paradise-like space colony and the “have-nots” stuck on Earth dealing with a planet ravaged by climate change and centuries of pollution.

Indeed, is it not likely that at base this is probably what the idea is mostly about in the first place?  If Earth is going to pieces the space city can only be seen for what it is: a redoubt.

Indeed, the pessimistic Elysium view is likely the only way one can come to some optimism about the project itself.

Yes, a parasitic space colony could well draw enough resources from a mother planet to survive.  And yes one could colonize it with Earth’s better people, more likely to behave in civilized ways.

But that probably would not be enough.  For the project to work one would need at least two other preconditions to be met, neither impossible in the long run.

First, the privatization of the concept would need to be mirrored in the privatization of public life in space.  Public life would cease to have its current meaning.  We would all be wards of Bezos.  Ironically the reverse would also be true.  Our own “private lives” would vanish and we would all be part of a large corporate public realm.

Second, human nature will have to change.  Some may doubt this.

While we could one day change where we live, there’s one thing that cannot be changed—and that’s human nature.

But why be so pessimistic about changing human nature?  We may be uncomfortable with the implications of the surveillance state but maybe . . .  we can get over it?  Past utopias failed mostly on the question of human nature.  But if that nature is malleable, and able to be directed?  Perhaps it won’t take too many generations of genetic tinkering to brew up with a bunch of settlers who truly love Big Bezos.


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Juxtaposin’: Rage

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

Rage–Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.

Homer, The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles

The special counsel investigation that threatened Donald Trump’s presidency was born of the commander-in-chief’s rage.
In his first months in office, Trump had seethed over FBI director James B. Comey’s refusal to tell the world that the president was not being scrutinized personally as part of the bureau’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential race.
On May 9, 2017, Trump snapped. In a sharp break from Washington norms that afford FBI directors ten-year terms to give the bureau independence from politics, the president unceremoniously fired Comey. He conveyed the news in a terse letter, hand-delivered to FBI headquarters by his former personal bodyguard.
Trump’s closest aides had warned him that the move could trigger a political uproar and lead to an expansion of the Russia inquiry—and it did.

Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky, The Washington Post edition of the Mueller Report

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Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Is Platform Access a Civil Right?

Fenster writes:

In the newly-resuscitated online journal Human Events, Will Chamberlain asserts that platform access is a civil right, and makes a modest proposal regarding how government can play a positive role in furthering those rights and the benefits he believes will flow from such action.

Platform access is a civil right.

You should now have the same right to speak on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that you do in a public park.

This is not the current state of the law. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment does not prevent private actors from restricting speech, except in rare circumstances. And no current legislation recognizes platform access as a civil right.

At this early stage in Chamberlain’s argument I was having my doubts.  I tend to instinctively recoil at arguments made in “rights” terms.  Many goods that government may choose to provide–or not–are often championed as being necessary to further this or that “right” (see, for instance, this list of 3.8 million Google hits for the phrase “right to higher education”).

My skepticism does not arise from a right-wing aversion to government.  In fact it arises from something of the opposite: I generally feel that subject to self-made boundaries like constitutional ones government is sovereign and ought to be able to do what it likes in furtherance of the public interest.

Do we choose to provide free higher education to all?  I may not agree with that policy prescription (and I do not) but if we choose to do so–fine, let us do so.  But that is a choice not an instance of our having to follow the demands of a newly-discovered “right” to higher education.  And in my own view of the world, which partakes of New England pragmatism, this would be a choice even if proponents,  in the securing of some invented right, relied on the Platonic version.

But there is more than one way of making an argument based on rights.  The weaker way, per the above, presumes a commandment of some sort based on a Writ of Heaven, a newly-found emanation/penumbra from the Constitution or just passion and interest passing itself off as self-evident compelled virtue.

By contrast the stronger way accepts that humans are in the main responsible for figuring out how they wish to order the world in which they live, and that the establishment of rights—by humans, by consent—is a perfectly acceptable way to do that.

Yes, the constellation of rights we take to be American are rooted in a Constitutional vision that was in its own way influenced by natural rights arguments.  But just as courts should not be overly active in extending rights via emanations and penumbras so too should legislators refrain from a too-zealous assertion that some abstract non-existent right compels a given outcome.

Perhaps you think my two paths represent a distinction without a difference.  Granted, a right asserted to have prior existence may be revealed on close examination as simply a contrivance we’ve invented because we favor the outcome it may secure.  But there is a distinction, I believe, and a valid one, when one considers the process of government.

We take ourselves to be a republic.  That is a form of self-government, one that relies on subtle virtues that appear in short supply.  My distinction turns more on those virtues than on the nature of the right itself.

Haven’t we already lost too many habits of self-government?  The assertion that we are compelled to an outcome because of a right risks more self-enervation when we plainly need less.  The growth of the administrative state is in large part a result of the legislative branch losing its nerve.  Better we should have lawmakers willing to play the difficult cards the Constitution has dealt them, and to face issues squarely.

The good news relative to the article is that as Chamberlain goes on it becomes apparent that he is advancing his rights-based argument more on the latter approach than the former one.  He does not assert that we are compelled to act on abstract principle.  The gist of his argument is that government has an obligation to create a world that its citizens find satisfactory, and that the nation will be better off by extending free speech into the ostensibly private realms of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It is true that he uses something of the emanations and penumbra approach: the new public forum is not the same as the old public square but there is a more than a hint of it in there.  True, the First Amendment may not apply to Facebook.  But would it be better if we opted to extend its general embrace of free speech by law in this particular case at this particular time?  His answer is yes.

Free Speech is more than the First Amendment, which only protects you from the government infringing on your rights. In 2019, that is woefully inadequate. Access to the large social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – is a prerequisite to meaningful free speech in 2019.

While jurists should be reluctant to extend rights that plainly are not in the Constitution there is nothing wrong with legislation that reasons from Constitutional principles in making arguments for measures where values found in the Constitution are at stake.  That is in fact what legislatures should do.

So Chamberlain makes a modest proposal—an honestly modest one, not of the Swiftian variety.

Conservatives should focus on passing legislation – at BOTH the state and federal levels – that protects all citizens’ access to large social media platforms on civil rights grounds. Access should be forfeitable only if one engages in unlawful speech on a platform.

If a large social media company wrongfully denies you access to or removes you from their platform or, you should be able to walk into court, get an injunction against the company that forces them to restore your account, and be awarded substantial statutory damages.

Under this view, government would not attempt to set itself up as a censor or anti-censor of actual content.  The path would be simpler than that: extend to internet platforms by legislation the free speech requirements set forth in the Constitution relative to public actors.

Not all conservatives like government playing a role.  A conservative Washington Examiner columnist grouses as follows:

what do you do when the GOP loses control of the White House & Congress? That day will come, even if only temporarily. When it does, do you want President AOC appointing the regulators?

Chamberlain rightly dismisses that as facile if government’s role is limited to the protection of speech, not regulating it directly.  Courts, not regulators, would adjudicate complaints relative to platform denial, and would use whatever standards the legislation laid out.  That could be as straightforward as a mandate to follow Constitutional interpretation as to what constitutes free speech in a First Amendment context.

Private property rights are great. But that does not mean that we, as a society, had to let private restaurant owners and private hotel managers turn away customers because they were black. We didn’t have to accept a world in which black people had to defecate on the side of the road because they weren’t allowed to use a privately-owned restroom.

We, as a society, do not have to allow private companies to violate Americans’ civil rights.

Chamberlain’s idea that the new public square requires a reconsideration of the scope of free speech is not a new one.  Framing it clearly in policy terms amenable to immediate legislative consideration is somewhat new, and as far as I am concerned let’s have more of it.


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I am Spartacus! Meme Set

Fenster writes:

New!  I am Spartacus! Meme Set, updated for 2019.

Recently Updated10-001

Currently available: Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson, Tommy Robinson.


Sean Hannity   May 7, 2019

Sharyl Atkisson   May 12, 2019

Kimberly Strassel, Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan    May 15, 2019

Noam Chomsky, Paul Mate, Jimmy Dore     May 22, 2019

Jordan Peterson, Pewdiepie, Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, Diamond & Silk, Mike Rowe, Dr. Phil, Candace Owens, Kanye West, Devin Nunes    May 25, 2019

Collect the whole set!

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