SF, fantasy, and libertarianism

Libertarian themes are common in science fiction. Several of Heinlein’s works have clearly libertarian ideas, and several other authors, including F. Paul Wilson, L. Neil Smith, and J. Neil Schulman (there must be a reason for the first initial-middle name pattern), have written hard-core libertarian SF. Ayn Rand’s Anthem is science fiction, and Atlas Shrugged has important SF elements.

Science fiction is about exploring alternative possibilities, and the analytic approach that’s common in SF appeals to many libertarians. There is, of course, also a lot of science fiction with clearly non-libertarian ideas, promoting socialism, scientist-kings, benevolent alien overlords, and supposedly good galactic elites that hold arbitrary powers of life and death. A genre that deals in speculation will go in all directions.

In fantasy literature, though, I can’t think of any important work that I’d call libertarian. There’s a difference between works that are specifically libertarian and ones which might be called libertarian-friendly. There’s no lack of fantasy works in which tyrants are overthrown or would-be tyrants are frustrated, but those villains are so evil that no one would support them. You don’t have to be against income taxes and for legalizing cocaine in order to hate Sauron, Lord Voldemort, or the White Witch.

Some of these works have sections with special libertarian appeal. Tolkien’s Shire has almost no government and gets along very well. Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods presents an authoritarian religious state as the villains, and even its god learns to grant people more freedom. They’re far from explicitly libertarian, though. Some people have tried to present J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World as libertarian, but the wizards have enslaved the house-elves and set up a literally soul-sucking prison.

Fantasy literature deals in magic, and it’s sympathetic to the idea that ideas can be solved literally by waving a wand. This has obvious appeal to progressives and socialists, who like to think that a sufficiently powerful government can make everyone well off in spite of the laws of economics. Libertarian ideas are built on the assumption that wealth has to be created and earned by thought and effort. Magical worlds are built on the idea that it can be created by inherent power, in effect by wishing. What you were born as often matters more than what you have made of yourself. Aragorn deserves to be king because of his ancestry. Muggles can’t levitate a peanut, no matter how much they study. Good and evil tend to be represented as cosmic forces rather than individual choices, and it’s necessary to follow the born leader in order to hold back the Forces of Darkness.

Obviously I haven’t read everything, and in fan fiction just about every possibility has been tried, so I’m sure there is libertarian fantasy out there. There are opportunities for trope-smashing stories or pushing the idea of the Promethean rebel. My filk song “De-liver Us from Evil” casts Zeus as a patent troll. Perhaps someone could do (or has done) a story of opening free trade between dwarves and elves?

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Jesus on the death penalty

A couple of weeks ago I followed a link to an article that claimed to show that Jesus was anti-gay by citing Matthew, chapter 15. The reasoning on that was a bit strained, but in re-reading that chapter, I noticed that Jesus did advocate the death penalty for speech crimes. I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed this before.

Then Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said, “Why do your disciples break away from the tradition of the elders? They eat without washing their hands.” He answered, “And why do you break away from the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother will be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If anyone says to his father or mother, Anything I might have used to help you is dedicated to God,’ he is rid of his duty to father or mother.’ In this way, you have made God’s word ineffective by means of your tradition. Hypocrites!”

There we have it: Jesus ranted at the Pharisees for not upholding the killing of people for what they say. (Just to be clear: The death penalty for “cursing” refers to pronouncing an actual malediction. “I wish you’d die” would probably count, but not an emotional “Damn it” that isn’t literally intended.) More precisely, the Gospel of Matthew claims Jesus said this. We don’t know what the person who inspired the Jesus stories really said or did; the Gospels often don’t agree with each other.

People love to grab on to words that the Bible attributes to Jesus to support anything from anti-gay legislation to the welfare state. (“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” supports the latter, I suppose.) They ignore anything that doesn’t fit the picture they’re trying to paint. Jesus was supposed to be an advocate of kindness and mercy, yet he was outraged by the Pharisees’ failure to support the death penalty for speech. And he called them hypocrites?

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A Kickstarter project to circumvent Internet censorship

The Internet lets people hear from places they otherwise couldn’t have heard of and learn things they otherwise wouldn’t have known. This is frightening to many governments, and they’ve installed all kinds of blocking to keep this from happening. They often offer phony excuses, such as national security and blocking pornography. It isn’t just countries like China and Iran that do this; the UK has imposed censorship filters which block a broad range of material. This specifically includes political censorship; Prime Minister Cameron has said that his “extremism task force” is “setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”

There are technologies that circumvent blocking, though, and it’s a constant arms race between the censors and the circumventers. One that’s being planned is Operator, a news reader that can get RSS feeds through various protocols. The aim is to let people access news feeds that are disguised as something else. Obviously this is a moving target, and new protocols will have to be developed as old ones are blocked. The application is initially aimed at OS X, with ports to other operating systems planned later.

It’s being funded through Kickstarter; I’ve pledged money to it, and I think it’s worth backing. The person behind it is Brandon Wiley, co-founder of the Freenet project. Cory Doctorow supports the project, referring to Wiley as “a P2P developer I’ve known and respected for more than a decade.”

The goal is $35,000. As I’m writing, this sentence, the amount pledged is … $3,756. Let’s make it happen!

Update: Given the theme of this blog, it’s appropriate that one of the updates for the Kickstarter project is titled “Build the world you want to live in.” That is indeed why I’m backing the project.

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Arisia’s ban on “insulting behavior”

In July I wrote a post expressing concern that SF conventions might start adopting speech codes. A lot of younger fans come from colleges where severe restrictions on both the content and manner of speech are the norm, and they can’t deal with the free-wheeling and often somewhat rude discussions at cons.

Arisia is starting to head in that direction. Its code of conduct states that “Arisia forbids abusive, insulting, harassing or intimidating behavior.” Really. Insults are banned at Arisia. In fact, insulting “behavior” is banned, so if you play it safe and refuse to talk to someone at all, your silence might be deemed insulting.

Very few people get expelled from SF conventions. It’s bad publicity. Arisia did ban one person a couple of decades ago, but they had a very good reason. Most likely one or a few people insisted on prohibiting insults, and the concom as a whole won’t actually enforce it. People can cite the ban to intimidate others, though.

Enforcement of speech codes is inevitably selective. Hopefully Arisia’s will get no enforcement at all.

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