1984

[Amazon Link]

I previously read this book back in the 1960s, about 20 years before actual-1984. Not because it was assigned—it was a little racy for Omaha Public Schools back then, I would think—just on my own.

Now, 34 years after actual-1984, does it still hold up? I'd have to say "yes and no". Spoilers follow, but, c'mon, who doesn't know the story?

Winston Smith is a low-level Party schlub living in what used to be called "England", now "Airstrip One", part of the country of "Oceania". Things are totalitarian to the nth degree: telescreens are ubiquitous, propaganda is incessant, blind loyalty to the godlike leader "Big Brother" is required, paranoia is totally justified.

Winston harbors anti-Party feelings, though. At first, he restricts himself to writing things down in a secret journal. And then, he engages in an illicit affair with Julia, another rebel. Finally, he and Julia decide to join the Brotherhood, by taking up with co-worker O'Brien.

Oops.

It all comes crashing down. It turns out the Party was on to Winston all along; his friend O'Brien was actually a loyal member of the "Inner Party", and belongs to the Thought Police. And then things get very bad.

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about 1984. We could quibble about how likely it is that a population of millions could be effectively controlled by a relatively small cadre of telescreen monitors. But perhaps with sufficiently developed AI algorithms, the subjugation could all be automated.

But it's the kind of book that makes you scrutinize current events for worrisome trends. Unfortunately, those are always present, because Orwell had his eye on timeless human failings: the craving for authority, manipulation of language to disguise reality, scapegoating, invocation of external enemies to quash dissent,…

URLs du Jour

2018-07-25

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:7 is usual in once sense: it's better to be righteous than wicked. But the consequences are new:

    7 The name of the righteous is used in blessings,
        but the name of the wicked will rot.

    This presumably all happens after you've passed away. But it still might persuade some people to be nice.

    I plan to use Bastiat's name in blessings, or at least publicize his ideas, one of which is our Amazon Product du Jour.


  • You may have heard that folks running the gamut from George F. Will to James Comey want you to vote Democrat (or at least not vote Republican) in the November elections. At National Review Online, David French suggests an alternative strategy: Never-Trump Conservatives Should Vote for Good Republicans in 2018. To expand:

    I have a different strategy. Applied broadly, it’s far superior to any rule or suggestion that would compel you to vote for a person you don’t respect or policies you despise. Applied broadly, it will go farther than any single voting strategy to purge American politics of bad actors. It’s quite simply this: Vote for politicians of good character who share your political values. If they are deficient on either score, they don’t get your vote.

    Note that I did not say vote for a politician of perfect character. There is no such person. Nor do their political values have to perfectly align with yours. But with your vote you should maintain basic standards of decency while also preserving fundamental fidelity to your political priorities.

    I like David's strategy, but (in my case) it points to voting Libertarian, not Republican.


  • Sean Iling, a writer for the young-adult website Vox, belatedly interviews Jason Brennan, writer of Against Democracy. (Which I talked about here.) The interview discusses Epistocracy: a political theorist’s case for letting only the informed vote. It is shockingly fair. Excerpt:

    [Iling:] Let’s return to the “competence principle.” Why does the right to competent government trump other fundamental rights, like the right to participate in the democratic process?

    [Brennan:] I think the real question is why should we assume there’s a right to participate in democratic process? It’s actually quite weird and different from a lot of other rights we seem to have.

    We have the right to choose our partner, to choose our religion, to choose what we’re going to eat, where we live, what job we’ll do, etc. While some of these things do impose costs on others, they’re primarily about carving out a sphere of autonomy for the individual, and about preventing other people from having control over you.

    A right to participate in politics seems fundamentally different because it involves imposing your will upon other people. So I’m not sure that any of us should have that kind of right, at least not without any responsibilities.

    Provocative! As someone who's disgusted with the government that voters have given us, I'm sympathetic. But I still think it might be better to approach things on the candidate side: require that candidates take pop quizzes, IQ tests, etc. Publicize the results.


  • President Trump recently opined that "Tariffs are the greatest!" At the Federalist, David Harsanyi rebuts: No, Mr. President, Tariffs Are Not ‘The Greatest’.

    Many Trump supporters assure me that the president is only interested in brandishing the threat of tariffs as cudgel to attain fairer international trade deals. This, I’m told, is because the United States— a nation of immense wealth, whose gross domestic product is far larger than that of its closest competitor (despite a fraction of the population), and whose people enjoy the kind of high wages and living standards that allows them to buy things cheaply on the open market and, in turn, create dynamic domestic industries with the savings —is the victim of international trade.

    But there’s a real disconnect between this theory and Trump’s words and actions. What, as the president suggests, is the upside for American workers if these countries don’t agree to “fair” trade deals with the United States? How are tariffs—a tax, by definition—still “Great”? Is taxing consumers without any genuine corresponding benefit great? Is endangering businesses that rely on cheaper material to keep employment numbers up and costs down great? Is closing off American goods to markets that engage in similar counterproductive policies great?

    Spoiler alert: the answer to those questions are, respectively: none whatsoever; in no way; no; no; no.


  • And you know what else isn't great? As Patterico notes, this isn't: Trump Prepares $12 Billion Bailout of Farmers Hit by His Super-Easy and Great Trade War. Quoting a news report:

    The U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday plans to announce a $12 billion package of emergency aid for farmers caught in the midst of President Trump’s escalating trade war, two people briefed on the plan said, the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon.

    Trump ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to prepare a range of options several months ago, amid complaints from farmers that their products faced retaliatory tariffs from China and other countries. The new package of government assistance funds will be announced Tuesday and is expected to go into effect by Labor Day.

    The late Harry Browne is quoted, very relevantly:

    The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, 'See if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk.'

    Maybe Trump can follow up Obama's "Life of Julia" campaign propaganda with "Life of Farmer Joe" in 2020.