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Awesome reading for your weekend

2 October 2010

Summary:  The Internet need not be an instrument promoting ignorance and prejudice.  On it are gems, brilliant and insightful.  Here are some for your weekend reading.   All about topics often discussed on this website; links to related posts follow each excerpt.

Contents

  1. The War Addicts – 2016 and Then Some“, Tom Engelhardt, 30 September 2010
  2. What I Think About Atlas Shrugged“, John Scalzi (sci-fi writer, bio), 1 October 2010
  3. Hayek’s Zombie Idea“, John Quiggin (Professor of Economics and Political Science, U Queensland), 1 October 2010
  4. Update:  “Be very afraid – we are being fleeced by purveyors of fear“, Simon Jenkins, op-ed in The Guardian, 1 October 2010

Excerpts

(1)  “The War Addicts – 2016 and Then Some“, Tom Engelhardt, 30 September 2010 — Conclusion:

So here’s one way to think about all this: like people bingeing on anything, the present Pentagon and military cast of characters can’t stop themselves.  They really can’t.  The thought that in Afghanistan or anywhere else they might have to go on a diet, as sooner or later they will, is deeply unnerving.  Forever war is in their blood, so much so that they’re ready to face down the commander-in-chief, if necessary, to make it continue.  This is really the definition of an addiction — not to victory, but to the state of war itself.  Don’t expect them to discipline themselves. They won’t.

(2)  What I Think About Atlas Shrugged“, John Scalzi (sci-fi writer, bio), 1 October 2010 — Opening:

In the wake of the “Objectivist Jerky” crack I made earlier in the week, I was asked by a friend of mine to share my thoughts on Atlas Shrugged with the general public. 

… It has a propulsively potboilery pace so long as Ayn Rand’s not having one of her characters gout forth screeds in a sock-puppety fashion. Even when she does, after the first reading of the book, you can go, “oh, yeah, screed,” and then just sort of skim forward and get back to the parts with the train rides and motor boats and the rough sex and the collapse of civilization as Ayn Rand imagines it, which is all good clean fun. Her characters are cardboard but they’re consistent — the good guys are really good in the way Rand defines “good,” and everyone else save Eddie Willers and the picturesquely doomed Cherryl Brooks are obnoxious shitheels, so you don’t really have to worry about ambiguity getting in the way of your zooming through the pages.

… That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs. … Indeed, the enduring popularity of Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that it is nerd revenge porn — if you’re an nerd of an engineering-ish stripe who remembers all too well being slammed into your locker by a bunch of football dickheads, then the idea that people like you could make all those dickheads suffer by “going Galt” has a direct line to the pleasure centers of your brain. I’ll show you! the nerds imagine themselves crying. I’ll show you all!

… All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt. This is most obviously revealed by the fact that in Ayn Rand’s world, a man who self-righteously instigates the collapse of society, thereby inevitably killing millions if not billions of people, is portrayed as a messiah figure rather than as a genocidal prick, which is what he’d be anywhere else. Yes, he’s a genocidal prick with excellent engineering skills. Good for him. He’s still a genocidal prick.

Indeed, if John Galt were portrayed as an intelligent cup of yogurt rather than poured into human form, this would be obvious. Oh my god, that cup of yogurt wants to kill most of humanity to make a philosophical point! Somebody eat him quick! And that would be that.

For more about this see All you need to know about Ayn Rand, savior of modern conservatism.

(3)  Hayek’s Zombie Idea“, John Quiggin (Professor of Economics and Political Science, U Queensland; bio), 1 October 2010 — Opening:

I’m paying close attention to Amazon rankings just now, and it’s striking that both the #1 and #2 spots in “Economics-Theory” are held by FA Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Whatever your view of Hayek’s work in general, this is truly bizarre, and indicative of the kind of disconnection from reality going on on the political right. On the natural interpretation, shared by everyone in mainstream economics from Samuelson to Stigler, this book, which argued that the policies advocated by the British Labour Party in 1944 would lead to a totalitarian dictatorship, was a piece of misprediction comparable to Glassman and Hassett’s Dow 36000. So what is going on in the minds of the buyers? Are they crazy? Do they actually think that Hayek was proven right after all? Is there a defensible interpretation of Hayek that makes sense?

The answers are “Yes”, “Yes” and “No”. The current sales of Hayek’s book are being driven by Glenn Beck, who claims that Britain is indeed a socialist dictatorship of the kind predicted by Hayek (or was, until the recent election), and that Obama is propelling the US along the Road to Serfdom by making medical care marginally more affordable.

Until the right went completely crazy, the most common claim in support of Hayek was that his predictions had somehow been vindicated by Thatcher’s reaction against the welfare state. Leaving aside the fact that Thatcher’s remodelling of the British economy in the image of the City of London looks a lot less appealing today than it did only a few years ago, this totally misses the point of Hayek’s book. …

For more about Hayek’s forecasts see Looking at one of the most popular books in the conservative canon: The Road to Serfdom.

(4)  “Be very afraid – we are being fleeced by purveyors of fear“, Simon Jenkins, op-ed in The Guardian, 1 October 2010

Travelling on a First Great Western train nowadays is like entering Guantánamo – a cacophony of repetitive announcements telling passengers to protect their belongings at all times and inform the police if they see anything suspicious. Likewise the fatuous frisking of old ladies at airports, the half-hearted searching of bags in shops, the reams of safety literature pouring from the nation’s printers. It is the white noise of state fear.

… In the mid-1970s, the Provisional IRA staged some 50 explosions in London, subjecting the city to far greater mayhem than today. Somehow we survived without the gargantuan counter-terror apparatus in place today. The bombing campaign came nowhere near toppling the British government or infringing the liberty of the state. The chief threat to that freedom today comes not from terrorists but from the government’s response to them. Speaking in July on the fifth anniversary of the 7/7 tube attacks, the former head of the Met’s Muslim Contact Unit, Robert Lambert, commented that the then Labour government, by taking its lead from a “flawed neocon” analysis of Islam, had “not reduced but increased the chances of terrorist attacks”. The government had proclaimed that an evil ideology had entitled it “to derogate from human rights considerations” and “go to war not against terrorism but against ideas, the belief that al-Qaida was a violent end of a subversive movement”.

To see what is happening we probably need to return to the old journalistic maxim, follow the money. There is now an extensive police and industrial lobby in Britain dependent for its resources on maintaining a high level of public fear. The lobby thrives on its own failures. The incidents in America on 9/11 (2001) and in London on 7/7 (2005) saw the greatest ever peacetime growth in spending on security. Unlike most forms of public spending, this one could by its nature demand cash with menaces and with no account of value for money.

The fear must be sustained if the resources are to flow. The west has been starkly free of terrorist “attacks” over the past decade. The lobby may plead this proves the money was well spent, but the staggering cost of anti-terrorism since 9/11, including two foreign wars, must have surpassed all actuarial calculation of western lives saved thereby.

For more about this topic see About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep.

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