Tag Archives: zenpundit


A friend from the Chicago Boyz has informed me of The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. The general theme of the book parallels my series, Jesusism-Paulism, in viewing Christianity as a liberating movement that offered love and worth to all humans (a radical new concept at the time). I unknowingly paralleled his work in the earlier posts of my series (parts I, II, and III) and I will put Rodney on my reading list. While he is relatively silent on the Christian conquest of Rome and the early Islamic wars, we seemed to share a very similar view of the rise of Christianity. Touchstone’s interview and Father McCloskey’s review are particularly good sources of information on the question.


A quick review of Dr. Stark’s academic writings show a lot of wisdom. He argues that religiosity is a consequence of city life (painfully obvious in the increasingly radicalized and urbanized Arab world, but denied for centuries by an intellectual elite) and that Europe’s “secularization” is a consequence of its regulated state (and not the future of all soceities, as parroted for decades by an intellectual elite). Despite being a sociologist, Dr. Stark is a great fan of rational choice theory, and he has applied it in interesting and new ways to the study of Christianity.

Likewise, his (and Alan Miller’s) work on sex and religiosity is worth reading. After attacking gendered/socialization theories of why women are more “religious” than men, the authors write:

One possibility we did not explore is the degree to which risk preference, and by extension the relationship between gender and religiousness, might be physiologically based. While it is still possible that gender differences in risk preference are due to differential socialization, a growing literature suggests otherwise. Furthermore, our results strongly suggest this is not the case. Since general measures of differential socialization are unrelated to religiosity, one would have to propose that risk preference is somehow different: that it alone influences gender differences in religiousness and not other forms of differential socialization, and that it is taught uniformly to all females. Such a proposal, to say the least, is unlikely.

So the more I read of Rodney Stark (including articles such as Hellfire and Delinquency and Becoming a World-saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective) the more excited about The Rise of Christianity I became.

Thanks for the tip!

Related Post: Economic Man vs. Primary Loyalties by Zenpundit at Chicago Boyz.

Gentleman Don’t Read Each Other’s Mail. Warriors Do.

Warrantless Searches and the Parameters of Presidential War Powers,” by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 21 December 2005, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/12/warrantless-searches-and-parameters-of.html.

Hitler on Line One: There’s a Long History of Intercepting Foreign Communications, and Some of It May Have Been Legal,” by Robert X. Cringely, I, Cringely, 19 January 2006, http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20060119.html (from Slashdot).

Google shares fall nearly 8 percent,” by Eric Auchard, Reuters, 20 January 2006, http://today.reuters.com/investing/financeArticle.aspx?type=hotStocksNews&storyID=2006-01-20T194115Z_01_N20177562_RTRUKOC_0_US-GOOGLE-STOCKS.xml (from Slashdot).

In spite of the Justice Department, we may still win the Global War on Terrorism. Somehow.

Not a Joke

Two news items, which demonstrate how President Bush’s wise counter-terrorism measures continue to be undercut by his Attorney General.

Robert X. Cringley is a highly respected technology columnist. Famous for a history of the early PC industry, he takes a long view and is able to see trend lines much better than most.

Therefore, Cringley’s explanation of President Bush’s anti-terror espionage is important.

After giving a technical analysis of different methods of eavesdropping, and saying that he doesn’t know whether to be outraged or bored, Cringley notes

Given that this is all about National Security, we’ll probably never know the full answer. Even if the proper research is conducted and answers obtained, they won’t be shared with you or me. But here’s a hint from a lawyer who used to be in charge of exactly these compliance issues for one of the largest RBOCs: “While it is true the FISA court approves nearly all applications submitted to it, this is due primarily to the close vetting the DOJ attorneys give to applications before they are submitted to the court. In fact, the FISA appellate court noted that the DOJ standards had been higher than the statute required. I am unaware that the court has ‘retroactively’ approved any electronic surveillance that was not conducted in an emergency situation. There are four emergency situations enumerated in the statute. Even in an emergency, the government has to apply for approval of what they have already started or in some case finished and these applications have to meet the same strict standards as any other application.”

So the probable answer is that the several hundred NSA communication intercepts wouldn’t have qualified for submission by the DoJ to the FISA court, and some of those might not have qualified for FISA court orders even if they had been submitted. It looks like the difference between using a rifle or a shotgun, with the Bush Administration clearly preferring the shotgun approach. Only time will tell, though, if what they are doing is legal.

The criticism of the wiretapping is mostly legalistic anti-Bushism wrapped up in a Constitution dress. The precise, technical method that we get information on al Qaeda doesn’t matter. That we get it matters. We face a huge problem, of both terrorists and terrorist-sympathizers, and the dynamic wiretaps are a way to help fix it.

These concerns aren’t academic. Important American institutions have been subverted by our enemies. The Communist subversion of many American institutions is well known. But even the Nazis made real headway

The computer monitoring of cell phone conversations pales in both scale and significance. One fun fact from that monitoring: The CEO of International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) reportedly spoke with Adolf Hitler on the phone from New York City every week of the war. According to the book The Sovereign State of ITT, the call was placed from New York to South America, and then used a cable from South America to Berlin. Key companies that maintained the German telephone network were ITT subsidiaries at that time, and communications were obviously of strategic importance for Germany; thus Hitler needed to speak with the CEO every week. ITT never stopped running the German phones during the war and were evidently allowed to continue doing so to gather just this sort of intelligence (that’s me putting a positive spin on a disturbingly ambiguous relationship). So information technology’s ability to eliminate borders in warfare is nothing new, even though it seemed to take the New York Times by surprise!

We can lose this Global War on Terrorism. Terrorists can blend into our society. We must know where potential terrorists and collaborators are, and what they are doing, even when they are inside our borders.

Eavesdropping is important. It can be vital to national interest. Which is why stories like Justice Department strong-arming of Google are so alarming:

Another issue is the brewing controversy between Google and the U.S. Justice Department. Google is resisting a request by the government for Web search data to help the United States make its case in support of a federal online pornography law.

“There are potentially concerns that Google could be in the cross-hairs of the Justice Department,” Kessler said.

I won’t address the legitimacy of a national government concerned about whose reading Slustler from Second Life, Sociolotron, or even playmate kajirae.

Not a Reason to Spy

Instead, I will quickly quote Mark Safranski of ZenPundit

The American people want to hear that warrantless surveillance is an action the Federal government takes only in extremis to prevent acts of catastrophic terrorism and to prosecute the war against al Qaida- any appearance of lazy and unjustifiable” fishing expeditions” will – correctly in my view- raise a political firestorm. Absent the need to protect exceptionally delicate sources or methods or stop an imminent disaster, going to the FISA court should be the first choice because of the political and moral dividends of being able to point to a systemic check and balance on such an awesome power.

I disagreed with Mark on whether or not warrantless searches hurt the will of the American people, but the essential point is that it is vital not to undermine our war effort by disillusioning the American people.

The distinction between spying on terrorists and spying on civilians is critical — court order or not. As Attorney General John Ashcroft once said, we need to run interference against the terrorists — make every little thing harder for them. But when the government seeks expanded powers both against terrorists and against Americans, the State runs interference on itself — makes every little thing that much morally harder on it and the American people.

George Bush is right to spy on terrorists. The American people will rally behind any leader who fights terrorists.

But the Justice Department is wrong to try to spy on the search records American civilians. The American people will reject any leader who once to make them live morally — who wants to socialize virtue.

We can not risk rejection of our leadership because its Justice Department insists on carrying out a virtue crusade. States should avoid criminalizing as much as possible, because the more friction we generate nickle-and-dimeing social policy, the more heat we get in trying to stop a threat to our civilization.

Win the Global War on Terrorism. Spy to stop terrorism. Not to spread “virtue.”


A Positively Gorewellian ,” by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 6 October 2005, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/10/positively-gorewellian-speech-at-time.html.

Republican Relaxation,” by Michael Forbush, Dr. Forbush Thinks, 6 October 2005, http://drforbush.blogspirit.com/archive/2005/10/06/republican-relaxation.html.

Two recent examples of Democrat partisans fighting in the logosphere — attempting to win by changing the meaning of words.

First, Mark from ZenPundit fisks l Gore, who wants to redefine “marketplace of ideas” to “what Washington bureaucrats approve.” The first part is by the former Vice President, the latter by the blogger:

“So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television’s domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that – at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no “meritocracy of ideas” on television. To the extent that there is a “marketplace” of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened as “the refeudalization of the public sphere.” That may sound like gobbledygook, but it’s a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, “no nation can be free.”

As a result of these fears, safeguards were enacted in the U.S. — including the Public Interest Standard, the Equal Time Provision, and the Fairness Doctrine – though a half century later, in 1987, they were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.”

Seldom has liberal nostalgia for indirect government and big corporation censorship of news and political debate been so brazenly portrayed as an argument for a free exchange of ideas. This is really something out of Orwell.

Mr. Gore is lamenting the Reagan-era repeal of ” The Fairness Doctrine” and related legal strictures that gave the Democratic Party and the Eastern Establishment elite interests ironclad control over public debate. And well he should, as the Fairness Doctrine was a tremendous built-in advantage for people like himself to dictate the parameters of acceptable public discourse free from any effective competition whatsoever.

Once upon a time ABC, CBS and NBC had an actual oligopoly on television news coverage in the United States, which as I mentioned earlier usually accepted a similar editorial frame for the news as the NYT, sometimes taking a leaf from the Washington Post or a major news magazine like TIME. This stance, which certainly communicated a partisan worldview along with factual news content, was legally defined as being objectively neutral under the Fairness Doctrine. You did not see or hear ” hate -mongers”[ sic] like Rush Limbaugh giving alternative views because a conservative or pro-Republican viewpoint was legally defined as being subjective and partisan, requiring that a station affiliate provide free ” equal time” to “the other side”. TV and radio stations prosper by selling commercials, not by giving free air time to amateur cranks to rebut the hosts of their scheduled programs. Thus there was an enormous financial incentive to muzzle conservative commentary and content. So you didn’t see guys like Rush in the media unless you counted the two minutes of Paul Harvey at 4 a.m. after the morning hog report.

And these corporate behemoths were supplemented by government funded entities like PBS and NPR. High quality broadcasts, certainly. Objective, hardly. Public broadcasting is even further to the Left than the networks despite the fact that a majority of the American public is to the Right of their tax dollar supported news programs.

These old glory days for which Mr. Gore so obviously pines can be described as many things but a “marketplace of ideas” isn’t one of them. Unless your idea of a marketplace is the old Soviet GUM department store. Returning the FCC to a role of a media GOSPLAN would be a utopia for Gore and Al Franken – who can’t seem to make their dream of an all-liberal station format competitive with Rush Limbaugh without the heavy hand of the state to tip the scales.

What Gore seems not to realize is that this media echo chamber he lauds fatally undermined the ability of the Democratic Party to actually wage a battle of ideas the same way having the ref on your side undermines the playing skills of a basketball team. The intellectual edge is dulled by a recourse to shutting up opponents instead of debating them. The information feedback loop is corrupted which is why liberals who won’t read anything to the Right of Paul Krugman wake up dazed on election day to find Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush re-elected and their guy rejected by an enormous geographic swath of the nation. Deliberately cultivating cognitive dissonance is a dumb political survival strategy

My own contribution is much shorter, because I do not have Mark’s powers of concentration or logic. Fellow blogspiriter “Dr. Forbush ” and have been having a conversation over the meaning of security. Like many in the Democrat Party, he shies away from national security and attempts to talk about some broader form of “security” which involves Hurricane relief. But the Orwellian bit still stands out:

So, to make things clear here, when I advocate for the poor to have a safety net for when they loose their jobs and are inflicted with an illness I am advocating “relaxation and ignorance.” But when the wealthy want to make sure that their ignorant friends get plum jobs with high pay and low skills required that “relaxation and ignorance” should be ignored.

But, this was in response to the idea of security being a feeling of being safe without fear. And to this I also received a comment saying “Security as a feeling is useless!” I have updated my post to include the definition of security for those who are only familiar with the financial market definitions of the word.

My dictionary says that security means:

1) Freedom from risk or danger; safety.
2) Freedom from doubt, anxiety, or fear; confidence.

To this I need to reply, Security is only a feeling. Either you feel secure, or you do not. The absence of security is fear. When you feel fear, then you take measures to change that which results in a feeling of security. For those who hold the narrow definition of security to imply military might equals security I believe that your fear must be focused on the world powers being out to get us. Or, if police security is your focus you must be overly concerned with the criminals taking over the city. The wealthy have every right to think this, because the top 1% of the wealthy control 80% of the worlds wealth they pass that wealth down to their children and grandchildren and there is little hope that the majority of people will ever break into that top 1%. The American idea of meritocracy is a good talk, but it doesn’t play out in real life. Just look at the extensive cronyism in the Republican Party. If the majority of the worlds population actually realizes this they may use force to rebel like they did in Russia and China. However, if a more peaceful and political way to alleviate these inequalities through a true meritocracy actually come to fruition more of the poor will find their way to wealth and the wealthy will actually need to work to support their lifestyle.

Security is only a feeling? Forbush is citing a secondary definition while ignoring the first. More importantly, he warps language.

Since coming to UNL, I have met many people, including

  • At least one lost a family member killed by Communist terrorists
  • At least one who lost a family member killed by anti-Communist terrorists
  • At least one who lost personal friends to al Qaeda/anti-American attacks
  • At least one who lost a colleague to an al Qaeda in Iraq/anti-UN attacks
  • At least one who lost family members to Nazi concentration camps
  • At least one who lost family members to Soviet concentration camps

At its heart, security is not a feeling: security is not dying.

When Mayor Bloomberg has New Yorkers watch out for terrorists on the subway, he is increasing security (by reducing the chance of death), not decrease it (by increasing alertness).

When Forbush says “security is only a feeling,” and the rest of his logospheric spiel, he is saying that in a choice between two worlds

World A:
Those people are still alive, and Those people are not about to be killed
We worry about their safety

World B:
Those people are dead or about to be killed
We don’t worry about their safety

Forbush would say World B is more “secure,” because it has the “feeling of security.”


Politely Criticizing Zen Pundit on Rule Sets

Rules, Rule Sets, and Social Systems,” by Mark Safranski, Rule Set Reset, February 2005, ppg 9-10, .

When I was in high school, a science teacher gave me Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions to read. Kuhn broke down science into “normal science” – the boring yet important work or improving the precision of theories, and “revolutionary science” – the creation of new theories that change the “paradigm.” I was unimpressed, and handed in a review that attacked Kuhn on point after point. A few words in response by my instructor, and I was converted. I saw the book in an entirely new light, and often rely on it for philosophy-of-science arguments.

Similarly, a recent comment by Larry made me look at Mark Safranski’s article for the first Rule Set Reset in a new way. When I first read it, I agreed with all of it. But Larry’s remark made me read deeper and see much more meaning.

Thanking Larry for his comment, and Mark for writing in the first place, I offer my humble critique of Safranski’s “Rules, Rule Sets, and Social Systems: The Goldfish Bowl In Which We Swim.” Because his work is important, I am quoting his entire article and making comments where appropriate

Few of us would be comfortable living in a society without rules. Have you dealt with an incorrigibly antisocial colleague or attempted to control the actions of a two-year old? You might have caught yourself wishing you could create a few new rules of your own!

Taken together, the rules that govern a situation are known as a “rule set.” In human society, so powerful is the sense of psychological security provided by rule sets, so useful are they in creating predictable outcomes, that when we find ourselves societally adrift, like Robinson Crusoe, we quickly invent new ones.

Whether we’re talking about a nation-state or a family unit, societal rule sets function to structure a system, defining proper procedures and their anticipated outcomes. The rule set is a system’s “genetic code” that transfers a system’s characteristics and its values to its constituents. Understanding societal rule sets, therefore, is fundamental to understanding a social system.

My first comment is just an aside. When I wrote the simulation for my thesis, A Computer Model of National Behavior, I assigned genetic code to nations. However, I used the more simplistic categories of “aggressiveness,” “health,” and so on. Modeling genetic rule-sets would be fascinating.

How clearly a human society communicates its expectations to its members, in terms of procedures and core values, is measured by its place on an articulation continuum. On this continuum, rule sets can be explicit or implicit. In a complex system, just as in a nation-state, explicit and implicit rule sets coexist.

Explicit rule-set systems are highly formal, emphasizing uniformity of procedure, objectivity, neutrality, and attention to precedent. Literacy is a prerequisite for explicit, objective rules. The emergence of explicit rule sets like the Code of Hammurabi had to wait until a societal elite mastered the art of writing. Explicit rule sets are often the province of the State through the many organizations – unions, churches, professional groups, schools, corporations, fraternal orders, and so forth – that maintain codes of conduct and bylaws.

I’m not sure why Mark says explicit rule sets have to be written. “Explicit” means “said,” and it seems tht any rule that has to be “said” would qualify as “explicit.”

By making literacy a requirement for explicit rule sets, Mark rules them out for most of the human experience. For example, Islamic Sharia is a very explicit rule set that normally is strongest where literacy is weakest. Other tribes can have very specific memorized sets of rules without the benefit of writing.

Implicit rule-set systems are older, subtler, and often more powerful than explicit rule-set systems. They are subjective, intuitively understood, flexible, vaguely defined, and opaque to outsiders and novices alike. Unwritten and often unspoken as well, implicit rule sets may deal with status, tradition, group affinity, and personal identification.

A problem with this definition is that it doesn’t fully complement the definition of explicit. What to make of a new, glaring, and weak unwritten rule? What to make of an old, subtle, and powerful written rule? Much of Jewish law would be in the latter category, many “PC” restrictions on speech are in the former.

Japanese corporations, for example, may have ultramodern quality control and finance procedures, but deference to age and seniority play enormous parts in the interpersonal dynamics of Japanese management. From the depth of one’s bow to the order in which participants engage in a discussion, senior-junior obligation relationships are governed by the implicit rule-set of Japanese culture. Even newer institutions with a younger heritage will develop a particular outlook and habits of mind not to be challenged lightly. It means something to be a Marine or a Rhodes Scholar, a Harvard man or a Teamster: at the level of personal identify, each adheres to a different implicit rule set. Yet all adhere to higher-level rule sets, also, as – in this case – Americans. Individuals are subject to and sustain multiple rule sets as part of their complex identities.

An aside: Mark’s definition of “rule sets” seem very close to my definitions of “controls.” Thoughts?

The danger of “value rivalry” threatens explicit rule sets. An explicit rule set can be undermined by implicit rules and values that are antithetical, that encourage destructive behavior. Nowhere in Enron’s official corporate policies were theft, lying, and financial fraud formally endorsed – in fact, they were probably decried in its official documents – but Enron’s implicit rule-set rewarded hyper-aggressive executives and punished those who played by the explicit rules. Such a conflict is typical of a dysfunctional rule set that characterizes a system at risk of decline.

Does it also characterize changing, dynamic systems? Perhaps such conflicts are typical of all rule sets (“controls”) in systems that are in a hyper-competitive environment rather than just those at risk of decline.

The degree to which a system can ensure compliance with its rule sets, by administering consequences, we call the enforcement continuum. On this continuum, enforcement of rule sets can be classified as strong or weak.

Here’s an interesting distinction between Mark’s “rule-sets” and my “controls.” I said that controls themselves can be strong or weak, while Mark talks about the enforcement of controls being strong or weak. Interesting.

When they challenge implicit or explicit rules, rule-breakers face consequences. Systems featuring strong enforcement respond immediately to rule-set infractions with severe punishments of reasonable certainty.

Not proportionate punishments of reasonable certainty? The Eisenhower administration developed a national defense based on severe retaliation. After the publication of The Uncertain Trumpet, however, Kennedy developed a system of proportionate response. The shift was because mandated severe retaliation was unworkable, because it would strain the “enforcer” too much.

Those with weak enforcement do not respond to infractions or do so incompetently. Either the system itself is sick and stretched thin by too many competing claims, or it has made a deliberate policy choice. To intentionally ignore criminal behavior as defined by law, to appease enemies, to fail to maintain order in the face of gross violations or violence, may be a partial repudiation of a prevailing rule set by the system’s own leaders.

In what way can a system be “deliberate”? I do not know if Mark is suggesting intelligent control of the system, or if the system reacts as if it is intelligent.

Arrayed in a 2 x 2 matrix, these continuums create social systems we may call Totalitarian (Strong-Explicit), Communal (Strong-Implicit), Individualist (Weak-Explicit), and Anarchic (Weak-Implicit). Social systems are dynamic and over time a particular system may shift position within a quadrant.

Using somewhat different concepts, I looked at horizontal and vertical controls and horizontal and vertical freedom. The major difference between us seems to be in shades. Specifically, Mark’s “individualist” shouldn’t be confused with one allowing for the most individual freedom. Because so many of its rules are implicit, communal societies give more vertical freedom to individuals than individualist ones. Therefore, a libertarian paradise would be a communal society.

Individualist social systems like the United States function relatively well with minimalist sets of rules with a high degree of legitimacy (“buy-in”): many aspects of the rule set are actually self-enforcing. Their constraints appeal to mutual self-interest. Traffic laws are an example of a simple rule set with high voluntary compliance. An Individualist system produces a highly economical social order. In the few instances where the U.S. has deviated from this model (e.g., Prohibition in the 1920s and the “war on drugs” today), the results have been disastrous. Buy-in has been lacking. Failed attempts at overly strong enforcement only make the infractions more attractive and profitable.

An aside: a reason that traffic laws have such high voluntary compliance is that they are (to an extent) also horizontal controls — they are also in the horizontal rule set. Just as driving 100 km/h in the wrong lane is illegal (against vertical control), it is also viewed as “strange” (against horizontal control).

Communal and Totalitarian systems differ primarily in their reliance on violence to enforce rule sets. Communal systems, like Afghanistan’s, are often bound by horizontal rule sets: tribal societies operating within the implicit rule set have a high degree of legitimacy. Shared values are maintained by socially approved acts of private violence against transgressors. Black markets among organized crime syndicates are another example of the Communal model. A more benevolent variant is European social democracy and especially Scandinavian culture, which encourages and rewards commendable, socially beneficial behavior with quiet but pervasive social approval.

This is a case of an overarching horizontal society possessing many miniature vertical societies. In Afghanistan pre-modern political networks are vertical — they use violence to function. So even though “Afghan culture” is horizontal, the families, clans, and tribes are vertical.

Mb to enforce rule sets that cover most spheres of public life. Unlike Communal societies, which are stable and admit little change over centuries, Totalitarian systems are unstable, rigid, and economically wasteful.

What about cultures like North Korea, which (according to reports) are descending into gang-lawlessness with the army removing itself from police work and focusing on political enemies? Pyongyang is very totalitarian, but does not possess a monopoly on violence.

The Soviet Union lasted only three generations; Maoist China, only two; and the Third Reich and the Qin dynasty’s Legalist regime, only one. It’s a common tenet among political scientists that authority vanishes the moment it’s used. Totalitarian systems collapse inherently, but if their implicit rule sets compensate, they can endure over time, as did the Roman Empire.

My knowledge of legalism is laughably small — about everything comes from its parable in Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. In my understanding, legalism was defined by a fanatical belief in the rule of law. Is that not an opposite of totalitarianism?

I’m not sure that the Roman Empire was totalitarian. Because of the limited communication system, regional governors and commanders exercised broad control. At what point was the Roman Empire “totalitarian”?

Anarchic systems are significant in failed states and among lynch mobs. The State is incapable of protecting itself, much less enforcing rule sets, as the very mores of society disintegrate. Anarchy represents the failure of rule sets.

Special-pleading claims by parties protecting self-interest or seeking advantage occur in every system. The consistency with which such biased appeals are rejected is a good indicator of a social system’s rule-set stability and its health. When a system begins to cater to illegitimate demands, openly or in secret, the system is in decline.

Bribery is an old method of horizontal control. Special-pleading complements a system’s power when its rejection or acceptance is defined by the power and nature of the special pleaders, and not their “legitimacy.”

Who defines legitimacy? How do we characterize warring social rule sets? Legitimacy, in a Lockean vein, derives from the consent of the governed, expressed in a variety of ways: consensus and voluntary obedience, formal procedures to ratify societal approval, and acceptance of the moral/ethical premises of the prevailing rule sets in everyday, informal situations. Special-pleading claims are judged illegitimate because they seek to carve out illogical exceptions to the rule-set in contrast with what are perceived to be logical, necessary, and ethically harmonious exceptions. Warring social rule sets produce a dysfunctional state of affairs.

Do any Afghan warlords possess legitimacy? Mark’s argument implies not.

Rule sets often (some would say, always) outlive the era for which they were created and no longer fit current conditions. Instead of regulating the system, the rule set’s effects are to multiply or worsen problems. It is then time to “Reset the Rule Set” via evolution or revolution. The United States reset the global rule set after WWII by creating the UN, Bretton Woods, NATO, and the IMF to replace the former systems of protectionism and imperialism that resulted in two cycles of economic gyrations and world wars.

This made me wonder the manner in which rule sets evolve. If they evolve as described by Darwin, evolution is constant and a rule-set cannot be “reset” by evolution alone. On the other hand, if rule-sets evolved in punctuated equilibria, the comment is more accurate.

There is a personal dimension to rule sets. If the society in which one lives is following its normal procedures, yet its outcomes are perceived to be meaningless or counterproductive, then the rule set probably must go. This may be one of those times.

Thanks for the fantastic article, Mark! Sorry it took so long to understand it!

Pat Robertson Right, dKos Wrong, on Vertical and Horizontal Perturbations

New Rules for a New Crisis,” by Thomas Barnett Deleted Scenes, 2004, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/delscenes/scene22.htm.

Reviewing Deleted Scenes Part III,” by Mark Safranski, Zen Pundit, 23 October 2004, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2004/10/reviewing-deleted-scene-part-iii-to.html.

crazy Pat: Judges worse than 9-11
,” by kos, Daily Kos, 2 May 2005, http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/5/2/13442/06486.

Boy, the dude is off his rockers.

Federal judges are a more serious threat to America than Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 terrorists, the Rev. Pat Robertson claimed yesterday.

“Over 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that’s held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings,” Robertson said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“I think we have controlled Al Qaeda,” the 700 Club host said, but warned of “erosion at home” and said judges were creating a “tyranny of oligarchy.”

Confronted by Stephanopoulos on his claims that an out-of-control liberal judiciary is the worst threat America has faced in 400 years – worse than Nazi Germany, Japan and the Civil War – Robertson didn’t
back down

“Yes, I really believe that,” he said. “I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together.”

It used to be that “9-11 changed everything”, but apparently that pales in comparison to the horrors of 7 filibustered judges and the whole of the Republican-dominated judiciary.


Robert’s an easy target, but he is right here. Given that Pat Robertson naturally believes the judges issues is very important, the issue comes down to what is more important: horizontal scenarios or vertical scenarios . That is, what are more harmful to American society: “bolts from the blue” or “long, drawn-out attacks”?

Robertson’s views are not extreme. The esteemed Mark Safranski calls the consequences overrestrictive visa policies potentially worse than 9/11 economically

When budding scientists and mathematicians from India, China, South Korea, Russia- many of whom after studying in American universities decide to stay here permanently and contribute to our economic and technological preeminence – decide a U.S. visa isn’t worth the security restrictions hassle, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Somehow I think we can take precautions to screen out young Islamist males belonging to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaida without targeting 180 I.Q. Asian physicists and genetic engineers. Long term this trend represents an economic disaster far worse than 9/11 – we depend on foreigners to fill about half of our annual hard science Ph.d slots – there are no ” substitute goods ” for these kinds of brains. If they aren’t here, they’re not here and critical opportunities simply get lost.

While Grand Strategist Thomas PM Barnett says that horizontal scenarios harm horizontal systems (like American society) more than vertical scenarios:

Rule #6: Vertical scenarios harm vertical systems more, while horizontal scenarios harm horizontal systems more. This rule simply says that Rule #5 is basically wrong, despite what people in both systems tend to believe. In reality, vertical strikes can do little damage to truly distributed systems. If someone wipes out the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court one afternoon, nothing would really change in our country in terms of our ability to maintain rule. Yes, it would be a huge shock, but it would not be hard to replace all those leaders rather quickly. I could find you 535 ex-senators and representatives living within a ten-mile radius of the Capitol itself who could easily step back into rule, tell me how hard it would be to find nine lawyers in Washington who think they are smart enough to sit on the Supreme Court! But even beyond those facile examples lies the reality that we have 50 “farm teams” around the country, each complete with their own set of executives, supreme courts, and legislative branches. You if you wipe out our national leadership you do not really kill our capacity for leadership, because we have got more political leaders than we can count! What really stresses out horizontal systems like the U.S. are the horizontal scenarios that never seem to end, like a Great Depression, which really only ended when the vertical shock of Pearl Harbor put the country on another pathway. In contrast, vertical systems like Saddam Hussein’s regime can really be dismembered quite profoundly simply by taking out the leadership. Remember the “most wanted” deck of cards? That said we really needed to nail only about 50 bad actors in Iraq and we would have eliminated the bulk of the Baath party rule.

One may agree or disagree with Mr. Robertson’s concern about activist judges. But it is not extreme to say a “boring” long-running trend may be much worse than 9/11.

Update: America Blog, Dada Head, Escaton, Supreme Irony miss the point

Update 2: Larwyn wrote to say that Ed at Captain’s Quarters picked up the story. He’s wrong too. At least Riehl World gets it.

The Secret Lives of Dade County Poll Watches

Druze Warlord Turns Neocon?,” by Mark Safranski, Zen Pundit, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/02/druze-warlord-turns-neocon-walid.html, 23 February 2005.

More flower children of Baghdad Spring

Walid Jumblatt, the canny survivor and leader of the ferocious Druze militia during Lebanon’s civil war, had some kind words for George Bush:

“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” explains Jumblatt. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

Recalling Jumblatt’s activities twenty years ago, this is kind of like finding out that Daniel Ortega had emigrated to the States and was last seen as a Republican poll watcher in Dade county.