Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tragedy in Norway and the assault on individual liberties

Since Anders Behring Breivik used to play Modern Warfare 2 with the intended purpose of learning military tactics, why don't we ban the game? This is pretty much the line of reasoning dozens of politicians have utilized in the wake of recent school shootings in various countries. This is the line of reasoning Finnish politicians and wannabe politicans are now utilizing to further their political agendas in the wake of the mass murder in Norway. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja, wants to put restrictions on online "hate speech", specifying hate speech as speech that encourages people to do what Breivik did. (I haven't seen such hate speech myself, kinda like I have never seen child pornography on the internet even though some politicians make it sound as if you can't get far without running into such pornography.) More specifically, he wants to restrict the use of aliases which champions of free speech have historically used in order to avoid persecution. Dissidents in China, the Middle East and so on rely on anonymity. He also wants to restrict gun ownership rights, saying that "no one needs" guns with magazine capacity at or above 30, as if it were up to him to decide what people need.

It's a disgrace that the actions of a single madman are used as a pretext to curb individual liberties, liberties that belong to everyone, liberties that the vast majority of us use in a responsible way. This is why there aren't many lessons to be learned from the massacre. Anti-immigration "racists" are no more responsible for what Breivik did than Modern Warfare 2 is. A quick look at Breivik's political positions reveals that the guy is a mess if anything, combining Christianity, liberalism (he cites classical liberals such as F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and even Ayn Rand who was a staunch atheist), conservatism, anti-Marxism, Islamophobia, nationalism etc. in his writings. None of these in particular makes him mad. Breivik was mad in believing that his actions would spark a European civil war that'd end by the year 2083. If anything, this resembles Charles Manson's reasoning (Manson believed that the murders he orchestrated would ignite a race war that'd inevitably be won by blacks) and Masonic conspiracy theories (Breivik was a Freemason). Moreover, Breivik's writing is incredibly child-like and idiotic, as revealed by the fact that he actually proposes using Modern Warfare 2 as a military simulator and World of Warcraft as a means to hide your real activities.

So, look no further than the fact that Anders Behring Breivik was both a lunatic and an idiot. You're not helping anything by attributing Breivik's behavior to video games and broken marriages like this Swedish terrorism expert does, citing video games and his parents' broken marriage as causes of his "personality disorder". Should we draw the conclusion that you belong to some kind of a risk group if 1) your parents are divorced and 2) you play Modern Warfare 2? How many millions does that make? I'm sure many of you can name a few who meet the requirements. But how many people you know who could actually start shooting kids? Our "anti-immigration" politician Timo Soini said it best: "We're talking about a single fanatic, a psychopath and the murders he committed."

We should not start restricting our liberties simply because some lunatics abuse theirs. For lunatics, any excuse will do. We just have to live with it (and punish these individuals when they do act); that's the price of liberty. Otherwise, if we do start restricting our liberties, there's nothing left to live for. This is why I'm more worried about what our politicians will do now than I'm worried about the next attack. Restricting the use of online aliases would alone be a greater tragedy than the massacre in Norway.


There's a very serious lesson to be drawn from all this and that is that the Norwegian state failed in what is the most fundamental responsibility of the state; protecting individuals from criminals. While the massacre was ongoing the local police did nothing but wait for a SWAT unit that then ran into some difficulties before finally making it to the island. It's also telling that Breivik didn't shoot himself once he was done. When news of the incident started to emerge I immediately assumed the killer had committed suicide. Then I remembered that Norway is like Finland: murderers can expect lenient sentences and prison conditions are actually quite comfortable.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

China is not a model

The Economist has another typical article that degenerates into treating China with words like "ooh" and "aah". First the article lists economic and political similarities between the US and the EU and then starts drawing comparisons to China, implying that the Chinese government (or any authoritarian regime) could cope with financial crises more effectively than "dysfunctional" democracies. Maybe, but let's not start treating China as some kind of a model until comparisons between the West and China become valid. Despite the fact that the Chinese GDP soon catches up with that of the US, their current GDP per capita is less than one tenth of that of the US. The time to start drawing comparisons is when the Communist party has made it possible for the Chinese to enjoy Western levels of prosperity. With their current political and economic system there's no chance of that happening.

There's one good point there though: "Every year China continues to grow, the case that countries need to be democracies in order to become wealthy and developed becomes more tenuous."

Of course, this is nothing new. During the Cold War many 3rd world countries adopted the Soviet system as an economic model. What failed them was not any lack of democracy but the centrally-planned economic system that China has now somewhat abandoned. Even in the West many countries were economically liberal before they were politically liberal. It was the wealth brought on by Capitalism that made people in the West demand more political liberties. This is also what makes the Chinese leadership so nervous.

It is Capitalism that brings stability in the first place because materially well-off people have a lot to lose if they resort to petty factionalism. (No wonder then that Communist revolutions took place exactly where Marx least expected them.) This is why democratic countries that have been made prosperous by Capitalism are stable while attempts to introduce democracy prior to Capitalism tend to result in failures.

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