Asymmetries: toward a balance of power

The following is an excerpt from the book linked in the previous post.  It is most relevant to today, America’s independence day.  It represents the most difficult political matter which America faces (and ignores) today: the fact that the structure of our government does not support a balance of power in the modern world.

Chapter 5

Precautions against imbalances of power in a system of government cannot be treated like any other risk. This risk is posed by the government itself, and against the rights of the people they are supposed to protect, in virtue of the structure of government. The basic problem, of course, is the potential for a top-heavy (or otherwise imbalanced) power structure, which may become more interested in protecting the elite and their interests than defending the rights of the people. Furthermore, any system which allows for such a top-heavy (or imbalanced) structure is itself a risk to its own stability through the accompanying issues of trust by the people who realize the potential imbalance. These issues must be addressed in system design.

According to Libertarian principles, we should not assume that American governance turned out uniquely correct. Nevertheless, our forefathers were well aware of the problem of asymmetric power, and for this reason, the American government is specifically constructed to prevent it. Nearly every policy which is not designed to cover a basic right is a (pragmatic) hedge against the possibility of abuse of asymmetric power, from the right to not quarter soldiers, to the right to bear arms, to the right to free association and militias, to freedom of the Press, to Representational Democracy into ’three separate but equal branches’ system of government itself.

From this list, three ’hedges’ stand out: the right to bear arms; the freedom of the Press; and Representational Democracy. In this chapter we examine these, and whether they achieve there original intent today.

5.1 Force

The right to bear arms serves two fundamental purposes. The first is the enforcement of rights in those situations where the government is not in position to provide protection. That is, it is a means to enacting your right to self-defense, which is necessary given the essential limitations of any system of law and order. The second is – in conjunction with the right to armed militias – a means of balancing power against the government itself, should the time arise where the government is not properly representing the people by protecting their rights.

For all of the issues with gun violence, it is hard to argue that basic weapons don’t serve an essential purpose of self-defense in situations where the system of law and order is doomed to fail (i.e. be too late). Outlawing guns is therefore not in the cards unless and until there is better assurance that the need for self-defense will simply not arise. It is difficult to envision a state of the world in which the need would never arise, anywhere in the country, and for now the matter of a right to hold basic arms is not on the bargaining table.1

But the right to bear arms currently fails part of its initial purpose. Initially, this right – together with the right to armed militias, not to quarter soldiers, etc. – put the citizenry on a level playing field with the government itself, technologically. This is quite clearly no longer the case. However one may argue from this to the point that one needs a right to automatic weapons or more, there will never be symmetry in this area again, de-nuclearlization or not.
More and more, therefore, the people must be assured that decision makers are protecting their rights and that they are qualified to assess risk to rights.

5.2 Information

The fundamental balance of power in America’s current age must be information. How do you know that decision makers are protecting your rights? Keep an eye on them. Press them for information. Question and analyze what you see and here. This is a freedom of the Press. But there are three fundamental problems about disclosure.

The first is that public announcements no longer simply reach an American audience. They reach the world. In some cases this means that you have pressure from the world, through the American Press, to disclose when it is detrimental to American interests. Given the current system of informing the American public on anything (i.e. public media or nothing at all) it is difficult to see how this can be prevented.

The second is that technology and the risk-to-rights from technology make it impossible to disclose much of anything. Often one cannot publicly announce that such and such is a risk from technology without giving the idea to criminals who may in turn leverage that risk. Furthermore, often the public is not in a position to understand the risks from technology without effectively understanding the technology itself. And should you explain the technology, you may only be exposing the citizenry further.2

The third is credibility. In the current state of society, it is very difficult to know where to look for valid information on the work of government and its officials. Some major media outlets still exist, but are being drown out by a cacophony in social media. This is not helped by the the problem of trust in representation (which we deal with in the next section).
Our forefathers did not and could not have anticipated the problems for disclosure posed by weapons technology in conjunction with information technology. Considerations for weapons technology were in their infancy at the time and messages were still ridden on horseback.

5.3 Trust

Given an apparently necessary asymmetry between government and its citizenry in both force and information, it would seem that our assurance against systemic risk-to-rights should have to come from the stalwart, Representational Democracy. In principle, a representative whom we trust would do their best to walk the line between informing us of what is going on in government and not disclosing what would be detrimental (at a time and place and to an audience) to American interests. At the same time, this individual would hear what the public has to say and fight for the policies, within the government decision making process, which best protect its citizen constituents’ rights. This all sounds fine, but it fails.

The fundamental problem is that if you are in the intelligence community, the best way to prevent a representative from disclosing sensitive information is not to tell them the sensitive information. There appear to be clear cases of elected officials who cannot well keep a secret. Those elected officials, naturally, would be your last choice to tell sensitive information to. This fundamental question of what the intelligence community should disclose to an elected official is a systemic problem, because our elected officials have no particular credentials to handle sensitive information.

The risks of disclosure are great. With the exception of one-on-one conversations with constituents, what a representative says to their constituents will be equally part public announcement to a connected world. But unless the representative can be trusted with information, they are in no position whatever to know and understand the risks to the citizenry of the asymmetric advantages held by government, and are not going to be an effective member in the decision making process within government.

Most representatives have no particular qualifications to handle secure information 3 The result is that elected officials often cannot, therefore, do their job of representing the people in any way, neither as liaison or representative decision maker, because they are elected to positions for which they are not qualified. This damned if you do, damned if you don’t moment is brought to you by a system of democratic representation with no credentialing.

5.4 Indirection

In the previous sections we have discussed the issue of abuse of asymmetric power as a hypothetical, but it goes without saying that the revelations on domestic spying turn that into a reality. Moreover, framing the issue as one of spying under-appreciates the problem, for where there is spying there is usually meddling. Here’s a hypothetical: if the government did target individuals for harassment, they would need to know where they are. ’Meta-data’ would help. But while we have argued that our representatives need to be better qualified, the problem neither begins nor ends with representatives who understand information technology, its potential for abuse, and are cleared to handle and discuss technological risks.

When an elected official enters office, they do so on the presumption of representing the American people and within government; but due to corporate-government collusion, we have what Eisenhower called ’The Military Industrial Complex’; it is a social network of decision makers who may seem to do what they deem fit, whether that be for America or themselves. But however they make their decisions, American’s have no assurance, in virtue of electing a public official, that this official will have any real persuasion as even a diplomat to the Military Industrial Complex, much less command over it when they enter office.

One might tend to think, but that is the military, they are people of tanks and ships and airplanes and bombs and need their industrial support to keep America safe outside of America’s view. But enter now what was called, many years ago on the Nightly News, ’The Militarization of The Intelligence Community’, and what do you get? We certainly did not elect Zuckerberg to run Facebook! And yet, he is a significant decision maker within the MICs, a person of much public persuasion, and someone who directly effects your life every day.4

The Militarization of the Intelligence Community likely resulted from 9/11 and was given the justification that America needed to be on top of any and all games of asymmetric information for the sake of managing America’s risk. It is of course important to be aware what is going to happen prior to it happening, in order to mitigate the risks to liberty. On the other hand, the Militarization of the Intelligence Community may seem largely a means of protecting the Military Industrial Complex at disrespect to the economic costs of violations to privacy, and here is the rub: The American people have no reason to trust it is more, i.e. actually protecting life at liberty, because they have no representation in the Military Industrial Complex or its expansion into the Intelligence Community.
In other words, the American people have no assurance that a game of asymmetric information5 is not being played against them by those in power. It is not unlike what Jefferson sought to defend the people against, except that in place of lies has been substituted a permanent non-disclosure; while we are placated by a relative economic prosperity, the world’s future is being decided sight unseen.

When decision making is so far removed from elected leadership on matters directly effecting the lives of current and future citizenry, how are we to trust that the citizenry are represented in the social system at all? This is the problem of indirection. Even if our elected leaders were sound, credentialed, intelligent and otherwise capable of representing their constituents – all matters which in the previous section we came to doubt – we would run into the problem that, at best, their powers are circumscribed by ’MICs’ out of their control, and at worst, the MICs control them.

5.5 Representation

In the previous sections we have reached the conclusion that in the modern age, we must more heavily rely on a system of democratic representation to find assurance that essential asymmetric advantages held by government will not be used by the government against its citizenry. We have, however, found that the current system does assure that our elected leadership can carry out their functions of liaison and representative decision maker, because they are not necessarily credentialed to handle information on technological risk-to-rights which are definitive of modern governance. It can be added here that the Intelligence Community also has no real motive to change this situation, since the current system justifies their asymmetric advantage in every regard. This is the case whether the Intelligence Community is in the business of protecting citizens rights or not, but leaves the citizenry completely without the assurance required for a stable system6 Here we ask how the system of representation could change to better represent the people, averting disaster from unstable trust.

I will not here propose an entirely new system of governance. What I want to maintain is that the people deserve leadership who are sufficiently credentialed to properly represent them on matters of risk-to-rights from technology. I tend not to believe that ordinary credentials are sufficient and that a new system of credentials is essential. I also believe that the current elected positions should not be overhauled and do serve sufficient purpose in other ways; namely, as the ’heart’ of their constituent citizenry. Nevertheless, elected information officers with required credentials should serve as their liaisons to a ’Technology Congress’; essentially making up elected members to the Intelligence Community, where matters shielded from the people are discussed openly among representatives of the people. These officials should have accessible local offices and the capacity to inform constituents of risk and policy, in a modal way, while having their ears open to new risks.

Among the capacity of such representatives would be the ability to understand models of risk7. This would require some advanced testing 8 and vetting, as well as special education. But while this may, in the end, become very technical and advanced, it is not a procedure different than other governmental qualifying exams. What would likely set it apart would be that it is very advanced and also very general, a necessity in a world in which risk cannot be silo-ed.

5.6 Environmental Policy

It is clear that the issues in this section expand beyond those of environmental policy and touch on nearly everything we know and love about America, nevertheless, we can find our footing again in the question of how we are to be assured that the current social system is not destroying the earth for future generations. The answer is that we cannot take it as an article of faith and have no real assurance as long as our elected officials do not have a watchful eye on those in industry who have a history of disregard for the environment. On the other hand, in all likelihood, our representatives have no such clearance or capacity before or after they arrive in office so the demand seems undeliverable from the start. While the trust we should put in an unelected intelligence community holding industry accountable, when they are in collusion with them (MICs), is almost zero.
I have argued here for a system of credentialing and representation which would start to fix the problem. In the next chapter, we address a matter which may seem tangential, but is actually quite central to the issues we have encountered here. The matter of educating the people and how. This is the first start toward the new system we have glimpsed above.


Grounds For An American Environmentalism

Below is an excerpt from a work I view as Libertarian, but which nevertheless provides strong support for environmental protections (as well as health care and education) within that tradition.  It is surely an idea unwelcome by some, but I consider it Jeffersonian, and it is where I stand.  grounds_for_american_environmentalism

If you are a libertarian who lives in the country and appreciates the land; who like any libertarian wonders why or if one really must pay with taxation for services which seem to have very little to do with your life; but who nevertheless wonders why or if the earth must be subject to the ravage of heavy industry, for a corporate ideology; this work is written in defense of you. I here intend to give the grounds on which a ’Country’ libertarian may defend the governments role in protecting the land, water, and air from destruction. This is no simple task.

Our forefathers, whose work is the foundation on which most American-Libertarian theory is based, were not in a position to appreciate what would become of our earth 250 years later. They were very concerned with structuring a government ’by the people, for the people’; they were very concerned to avoid a State which would infringe upon the rights of its citizens for causes which were not the people’s own; and were concerned to lay the groundwork for a free-market economy with upward mobility. It would not be until the time of Teddy Roosevelt that there would be sufficient appreciation of the destruction to the earth enabled by technology, at least among ’The White Man’, to do anything about it at all.

Despite some appreciation, little has been done on a theoretical foundation for Libertarian thought which may encompass Environmentalist ideals. Part of the problem, of course, is that the Corporate libertarian does not want to address the environmental issue, and it is the Corporate libertarian who holds the libertarian wallet. Another part of the problem is that a modern media rarely wishes to cover any position which embraces the ’L’ word. The final part of the problem, which I seek to address here, is that people are so busy fighting from what they perceive to be their interests that they rarely stop to ask whether their position is correct.


Changing the Tone

As Trump goes to the continent, these would be my recommendations.

First, he cannot show hard-line nationalist support.  If he does this during his visit to Brussels, America stands a lot to lose diplomatically.  He is not a tool of the Right, but he is likely viewed as a tool of the Right, and he has to actively work to undermine these perceptions.  He can do this by showing a commitment to civil liberties, which as a New Yorker, shouldn’t be so hard to do.

Second, he cannot show Russian support.  Not only will this inflame the current inferno, but any wink/nod that really we are all on the same team will actively undermine liberty, promote fear, and further give way to Russian-style Network-Authoritarianism on the continent.  As much as he might think he can tell Brussels one thing and America another, he can’t.  This will not appease anyone.

Third, he needs to lean on Brussels to take a lead in diplomacy with Islam, while reiterating support for NATO, especially in a war on terror, now centered on the continent.  He should also work with the Vatican in this direction, while assuring them that the crisis in the American Church is over.

Trump has been at a continuous stand-off with the press in America, but in Europe, where they more readily see him for what he is, this will not fly.  Trump never does it, but the time is now, to drop the con and speak from the heart about Liberty under God.  There may be no other way.


An American Revolution

Bernie Sanders seems like a nice man.  He is genuine, and not mean, and not dumb – and saying the three together is saying a lot.  I nevertheless think he is wrong as to the nature of the revolution which America needs.

It is the common failing of many who take a calm and reasoned approach that they think the world would best evolve with a strictly calm and reasoned approach.  The truth is, it is with liberty that the world moves forward.  It is the creators and explorers – the ones pushing the envelope and making the most of what they are given – which change the world for the better.  And if it is the job of governance to maximize anything, it should be individual liberty, rather than a preconceived notion of utility handed from on high.  Sure the people often don’t truly know what is best for them – and this is specifically true in matters of security – but it is often equally true that the people supposedly concerned for other’s well being don’t truly know what is best for the future; and this is where the creators and explorers break through.

And this is where I have to tell Americans that under socialism and it’s older sibling, there are not breakthroughs.  There are not true leaders and there are not inspirers.  There is only one of the ways that the world has always been and it is deemed, by them, to be the right way, or else.  This kind of attitude is widespread on The Continent, and surely extends to Sander’s beloved Scandinavia.  But the EU in no way ‘has it right’.  The greatest problem is that a person of exceptional talent and production does not cut through the bureaucratic morass unless they first agree to toe the line on social issue X, Y, and Z; which are – guess what – policies which on the whole further restrict the liberty which talent needs in order to break through in the future.

Socialists, on this, are of course no worse than conservatives.  But it is time for us to recognize that we are actually neither.  We are actually Libertarians.  No, not corporate Libertarians, but actual Libertarians.  People concerned to preserve individual liberty, making as few compromises for the sake of security as possible, but not willing to let the perpetual creep of fear – notorious in Europe – undermine our future with its chill.

If there is to be any revolution at all – and there should be – it will have to be an American one.

Just a Timely Observation

When you know a lot about a person, there is at least two ways you can approach them.  The first is as a human.  Compliment them on their positive qualities; compliment them on their good ideas and good actions; try to help them where they are failing, both in action and in principle; help them to help themselves with what they have to offer and by correcting where they are failing.

The second approach is to ask how a person may be used (exploited?); how can we take (steal?) from a person as much as we can while paying as little as possible; how a person can be made (coerced?) to agree; how can a person be made a non-factor by playing them against others or by stripping them of wealth, credibility, relationships, etc.

It goes without saying that a capitalism without ethics lends itself to the second approach, and breeds…

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Beyond He-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless

“He was a strange type, yet one frequently met with, precisely the type of man who is not only worthless and depraved, but muddleheaded as well – one of those muddleheaded people who still handle their own little business deals quite skillfully if nothing else. […] Again I say it was not stupidity – most of these madcaps are rather clever and shrewd – but precisely muddleheadedness, even a special national form of it.”  – Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

He who shall remain nameless has left us with some difficulty.  We must always remember the pen is mightier than the sword, but when only one person is allowed to speak and all the rest are left to react, then we are drawn into the muddleheadedness ourselves and it is better to just ignore it as best one can.  I am left to wonder what America is left with without him, and that is a great divide tilting in a distinctly un-American direction.

Cruz and Sanders represent dueling polemics and make for wonderful satirical caricatures of the positions they represent.  This leaves two sensible candidates – in principle – though one – in Kasich – who has far less backing than the other – Clinton – who despite the Clinton legacy, continues to drift toward Socialism. Clinton’s drift can be seen as a matter of positioning for the general election – in addition to stealing Sander’s thunder – but if Clinton is being forced that way in part under fear that he-who-shall-remain-nameless is a threat to her blue collar vote, and into socialist promises which she must later live up to, then the putsch on the Republican party can be seen as an eventual win for Socialism.

Socialism in Sander’s form and Conservatives in Cruz form are each equally damaging to America’s ideology in general – equally ‘un-American’ if you will.  But America must quickly become firm in its ideology or they will lose a greater war.  This may eventually entail a viable third party – properly libertarian, with a broad view of national security and broad protection of civil liberties.  For now, Kasich is the only candidate who appears firm in American ideology as long as Clinton continues to drift.

Liberty and the Environment

There is no point to assuring social stability, political security, and optimal ‘liberty’ for future generations if they are to inherit an environmental wasteland that forces their hand into cleaning up our mess.

There must be restraints on the liberties which people and institutions take with our earth, just as there are laws against theft.  In general, if a resource is both renewable and clean – with steps in place to renew it when important to do so (e.g. trees) – then there should not be restraint on industries which produce goods from these resources (e.g. paper).  But should demand outstretch renewability (e.g. paper), then alternatives to these products must be sought (e.g. go paperless), and not ones which are wasteful or promote further pollution in other directions (e.g. plastics).

On the other hand, if a resource is rare or not clean or not renewable – like many rare metals that fall into all three classes – then there ought to be restrictions on their use even if they come from land which is not public.  This reflects the importance of the issue to future liberty.  We should not pretend, for instance, that wasting rare metals and polluting with them does not constrain future capacity for free action – liberty.  It minimizes the future use of those metals and forces future action to focus on problems that were avoidable.

So much may seem acceptable for such things as Plutonium, but there remains the concern that government intervention into business practice would only hinder progress. If strong constraints were in place, after all, it would seem doubtful that such things as the iPhone would ever had seen production. The question is how to balance. This question is difficult. It is clear, however, that such products should not go to production without a plan for reuse and recycling, and for such plans to be valid, they must incorporate plans for reuse and recycling into the design of the products themselves. [1].

If it should seem that environmental concerns are directly contrary to business and therefore not libertarian concerns, consider that I am not, as a libertarian, concerned with the liberty of companies.  I am concerned with the liberties of individuals – and the accountability that comes with it.  Companies should be allowed to take risks, but those risks should not jeopardize the liberties of individuals, present and future. Again, forcing future generations into action is a reduction of liberty for society.

At the forefront of the conversation must be energy. Many issues would be solved by a viable renewable energy infrastructure. A renewable energy grid viable in fifty years time seems like so little to ask until you consider the scope of the project and the necessary war against inertia. As compromise libertarians we must tackle these problems head on, lest our future generations have constrained liberties due to our laziness.

Beyond Discrimination

When there is discrimination, there is always difficulty getting through it.  But the issue is not simply one of instilling a different mindset toward the discriminated, which is hard enough to do.  The issue also has to do with the fact that discriminators fear retribution for their actions should the discriminated get fair compensation.  This cycle of discrimination and distrust can be overcome by instilling a different mindset in the next generation, but relying on this entails no justice for the current one.  And no justice for the current generation entails slower change, if any.  This cycle can be broken, but there needs to be a perception of fair-mindedness from both sides.  In some areas progress has been made.  It is usually best made when we accept our differences as much as highlight our similarities, and each side recognizes compensation as fair.  Freedom is not Justice, but it is a healthy attitude to take…

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Leadership on Immigration

One obstacle to effective leadership in an interconnected world, is that Americans outside of leadership positions often need to be kept in the dark – to their chagrin – for the sake of more effective results; this often leads to a political backlash, although things were handled correctly from the standpoint of execution.  Secondly, also because of the interconnected world, leaders have the constant problem of integrating American way of life with the rest of the world, so that there is not a d0uble standard.  Add to this the third issue that Americans care more about their backyards than any international leadership, and international leadership on immigration when you are a country of immigrants with an immigration problem is a very difficult issue.

There will be strife, but when the dust settles, apt choices will have been made.