Arthur, you explain a puzzle

Arthur B writes:

Thus, they [socialists] would believe that a capitalist seastead cannot be tolerated as it produces poverty in the socialist seasteads. (And since poverty is relative to them, they'll even be right)

Arthur, you explain a puzzle.

I found myself puzzled by the time I reached the last paragraph of Mieville's article. Mieville writes:

It is a small schadenfreude to know that these dreams will never come true. There are dangerous enemies, and then there are jokes of history. The libertarian seasteaders are a joke. The pitiful, incoherent and cowardly utopia they pine for is a spoilt child’s autarky, an imperialism of outsourcing, a very petty fascism played as maritime farce: Pinochet of Penzance.

Which raises the obvious question, if "the libertarian seasteaders are a joke", if they are ineffectual, why did Mieville go to the trouble of writing about them? If you look at political writing, one of the unmistakable trends is that political writing is about stuff that scares the writer. Whatever his surface attitude, he is worried. Maybe he has intellectual contempt for his enemies, but he's worried because he sees they have met with some success and may meet with more. It's easy to come up with examples for myself. I'm worried that health care may be further socialized, and not liberalized. I'm somewhat worried that Marxists like Mieville will manage to live down or disassociate themselves from the catastrophic failure of Marxism's vision and get a chance to try again. And I see the same pattern everywhere: people write about what worries them.

Mieville brings up, pretty much out of the blue, Pinochet. Pinochet was many things but one thing he was, was a political disaster for the Marxists. Yes, he was a murderer and notable on that account, but we don't see Marxists endlessly bringing up every mass murderer in history (and there were much bigger ones than Pinochet even in very recent memory). They care about Pinochet because he killed their political dreams for Chile and, by extension, for Latin America and, by extension, the world. Of course he didn't really do all that by himself, but his overthrow of the Marxist Salvador Allende marks a turning point in the aspiration of Marxists, their desire to roll over the whole world. To most people, Pinochet was one mass murdering dictator among all too many, a footnote in history, but to Marxists he was much more than that. He was their Waterloo. This is why you see Marxists like Mieville repeatedly bring him up in totally unrelated contexts like the context of seasteading, of all things. The bizarrerie of bringing up the name of Pinochet here is thus explained. The Marxists, that superstitious lot, are still exorcising their demons. By bringing up Pinochet here of all places, by flashing back to that really bad experience shared by all Marxists, Mieville inadvertently reveals a discomfort.

So, I asked, why does he write about libertarian seasteaders if he thinks they are a joke? But the answer is staring me in the face. He's writing about them because he cares, and he cares because he actually does find them threatening for some reason he's buried. He's writing to comfort his ideological allies (he's certainly not writing to convince anyone else). You've mentioned one reason why they might threaten him.

China Mieville is fascinated by the idea of a floating polity. It captivates his imagination. The evidence is in the novel that he wrote about a floating city. The novel is The Scar. Admittedly, I didn't read it, it's still way back in my to-read list. I trust the descriptions. Amazon has one:

But her voyage to the colony of Nova Esperium is cut short when she is shanghaied and stranded on Armada, a legendary floating pirate city. Bellis becomes the reader's unbelieving eyes as she reluctantly learns to live on the gargantuan flotilla of stolen ships populated by a rabble of pirates, mercenaries, and press-ganged refugees.

It's not all that surprising that China Mieville, who is largely known for writing a handful of books, one of which is about a floating city, would feel threatened by competing visions of floating cities and seek to discredit them. There is probably more to it but this stands out.

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I enjoyed this post.

I enjoyed this post.

"This is why you see

"This is why you see Marxists like Mieville repeatedly bring him [Pinochet] up in totally unrelated contexts like the context of seasteading, of all things."
I can think of another (apalling) reason why he'd bring him up.

The usual?

I assume you're talking about the usual? Milton Friedman, the Chicago school? I've addressed this so many times that the topic bores me. What I wanted to do here was bring up an aspect of the Marxist obsession with Pinochet that I haven't seen get enough attention. I wanted to point out the elephant in the room, so to speak.

you'd be surprised

but in France, the minute you mention classic liberalism, Pinochet will come up. It's just not about Allende anymore - almost no one knows about him - it has just become a pavlovian socialist reflex. Then you hear the usual trash about MF or Thatcher...

Really!

That's disappointing - to hear that about French intellectual life. I do get something of a sense of European intellectual life indirectly through the Germany-watching blog Davids Medienkritik and the France-watching blog No Pasaran, so I'm not entirely surprised.

As a matter of history, however, I do believe that Pinochet is infamous among the left because of the trauma of the overthrow of Salvador Allende. It may very well be that the name Pinochet has been passed down from the old left to the new left without the old left passing down the memory of the trauma that caused the name to rise to infamy among the left in the first place. If this is the case, then in a way the leftists who despise Pinochet don't really know why they despise Pinochet (as opposed to any other of the hundreds of possible candidates).

I lived through the time. Pinochet was hated with a passion before anyone had ever heard of Milton Friedman, who did not show up on the scene immediately. That hatred lasts, even if the reason for it is - as it seems to be now - forgotten.

 

Arthur, you explain a puzzle

I lived through the time. Pinochet was hated with a passion before anyone had ever heard of Milton Friedman, who did not show up on the scene immediately. That hatred lasts, even if the reason for it is - as it seems to be now - forgotten.

Not forgotten.

Pinochet existed before Pinochet existed. Allende's government was a disaster, requiring increasingly forceful and undemocratic measures, and before any leftist had heard of Pinochet, they already felt they were under attack by some evil force, were already rewriting history to turn all the bad consequences of Allende's regime in to an evil outside attack by evil outsiders, rewriting history even before it happened, preparing in advance justifications for failure.

In memory, Allende was a huge economic success, and Pinochet ruined everything, was an economic disaster, and this recollection was being prepared, was already being remembered, even before anyone had heard of Pinochet.

A few things - In my

A few things

- In my confucian quest to rectify names, please don't use "undemocratic" as a quasi-synonym of "bad". Freedom is undemocratic, individual sovereignty is undemocratic, secession is etc. "undemocracy" is also the scapegoat of socialists and communists for justifying their ex-post lack of support to the murderous communists regimes around the world.

The story of Allende and Pinochet makes you wish it were possible to repeat experiments in history... see what happens with Augusto, see what happens with Salvador. North vs South Korea is great for this matter, it almost looks like a controlled study.

This is the kind of argument brought by Patri that motivated my reply that motivated this blog post... it's also a good argument for secession... if we had had North Chile vs South Chile with Allende and Pinochet we could point out the differences.

But even that is not enough for the socialists will always rely on ex post justifications... In this imaginary case you'd hear "Allende was after all undemocratic" or "the military threat of South Chile to North Chile hampered its development", or "the US embargo..." etc.

This is why it is important to force socialists to commit to their ex ante judgement of socialist regime. Support for Chavez which was overwhelming (in the French left at least) is quickly turning but it is still time to ask them to commit, to make predictions about the future developpment, to take bets.

You sure?

please don't use "undemocratic" as a quasi-synonym of "bad".

Why do you assume that he was? Before complaining about the misuse of language, why not entertain the possibility that the language was not misused? See for example:

Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile’s Democracy

I am assuming he was because

I am assuming he was because he said

Allende's government was a disaster, requiring increasingly forceful and undemocratic measure.

I am not saying Allenda was not undemocratic and that it is not an accurate description of his short-lived regime. There is no need to convince me about that. However, I am saying that in the sentence context, "undemocratic" was used as a negativism in an attempt to provide a list of bad things associated with Allende's government. This is also why I said quasi-synonym and not synonym: the meaning is different, but the underlying idea (bad bad bad) is the same.

You might then say that I was attempting to correct a political belief and not mere semantics as I claimed I was by referring to Confucius. You'd be right, this was not an accurate introduction to my criticism. I confess it was more intented to be an entertaining tongue-in-cheek opener.

Note that I could argue that a government brought to power by democracy but taking undemocratic measures is still being democratic, but...

...please can we move on?

Seriously?

...please can we move on?

A post filled with you stubbornly insisting that you were right, and failing to do so convincingly, is not exactly an inducement to "moving on".

However, I am saying that in the sentence context, "undemocratic" was
used as a negativism in an attempt to provide a list of bad things
associated with Allende's government.

First of all, the forceful and undemocratic measures that Allende took were bad and were bad partially on account of being undemocratic and forceful. There is nothing wrong with arguing that they are bad on that account.

It is true that someone can be "forceful" without doing anything wrong. A person can "forcefully" defend his home, for example. But James was not describing a man defending his home forcefully. He was describing a government acting forcefully. And this does argue that it is bad. It does not conclusively prove that it is bad, but it makes it much more likely, because government generally does bad things, so if it starts doing things more forcefully, then that's generally even worse. So, that it does things more forcefully is generally a bad thing.

Similar point can be made about "undemocratic". There is nothing wrong there either.

Second of all, that isn't even what James was saying. I've been defending, not James, but your straw man of his statement. Now, setting the straw man aside, let's look at what James actually says:

Allende's government was a disaster, requiring increasingly forceful and undemocratic measures

Compare: he was filthy, requiring a thorough cleaning.

Does this treat "a thorough cleaning" as a quasi-synonym of "filthy"? No. In this sentence, it's actually the opposite. Two opposites fit quite comfortably in that grammatical structure, linked by the word "requiring".

Maybe this similar statement will make things more clear to you:

"Hurricane Katrina was a disaster, requiring emergency measures."

One can imagine a disaster - maybe natural, maybe political or economic - that requires some kind of emergency measure. Depending on the disaster, such a measure might even be forceful. It might even be undemocratic.

Now, I can't guarantee that that's what James meant. Maybe he meant what you think he meant. All I can do is explain what he actually said, and I am as much an authority on what he said as he is, since what someone actually says is a public fact, not dependent on what they were trying to say.

did not

You're wrong, I did not stubbornly insist that I was right, I did acknowledge that my introduction was inaccurate and wrong. (that's meta-being-stubborn, it's a joke)

Now I do not believe that "undemocratic" was used in the sense that: "these measures were so bad that even democracy would not let them happen" - although it crossed my mind - but rather as a normative judgement on said measures. I may be wrong but this is how I interpreted the comment and my response was based on that interpretation. As you point out this is not the only possible interpretation and I may have been wrong about it. This is an ambiguity only the original poster might resolve.

Now, I can't guarantee that that's what James meant. Maybe he meant
what you think he meant. All I can do is explain what he actually said,
and I am as much an authority on what he said as he is, since what
someone actually says is a public fact, not dependent on what they were
trying to say.

What he said is just a collection of letters, it is meaningless if we don't try to assume what he meant by arranging these letters. The english language is vague enough to allow for multiple assumptions. I think mine is likely as very often some normative emphasis on democracy itself involved when the word undemocratic is used. Even if mine were not the most likely, it is in my opinion likely enough to make the expected cost of misinterpretation lower than the expected gain in fighting the normative aura around democracy.

It is also arguable that the decisions of a democratic government are either automatically democratic (since the population "democraticaly" commited to this ruler) or undemocratic (since the population is not consulted for the decision). This is explored by Rothbard in Power and Market, chapter 5, section 5.

 

 

 

Slight disagreement on a point

What he said is just a collection of letters, it is meaningless if we
don't try to assume what he meant by arranging these letters.

I think your dichotomy is too crude. On the one side you put the "just a collection of letters", and on the other side you put "what he meant". These are not the only things.

This is closely related to the matter of function (end/goal/purpose). This, we can divide into at least three parts. First, there is the realm of "just a collection of atoms". Second, there is the realm of the goals of intending, purposing, sentient beings - what they want, what they mean to do (or say). But third, there is the realm of biological function. The heart in my chest has certain biological functions independently of whether I, myself, as a sentient self or mind, desire or intend those functions.

I would argue that language also has at least three aspects closely related to the three above divisions. There is the "just a collection of letters" (or phonemes or whatever). There is what people intend to say. And finally, there is the realm of what they actually say, regardless of what they intend to say. This is related to personal intention but is not reducible to it. If anything, it is the other way around. (I would similarly argue that personal intention is derived from biological function rather than existing as a separate phenomenon.)

For this reason, I maintain, contrary to your position, that we can meaningfully talk about what James actually says (i.e., not "just a collection of letters") independently of what he meant to say.

I agree with you but is it

I agree with you but is it relevant to talk about what he actually said (according to some accepted standard of language) when we know that what he meant may be different and that the canonical interpretation might not even be the most likely representation of what he actually meant ?

If I say: "The best way to fight government is to expatiate.", would you think it is preferable to discuss on what I probably meant : "to expatriate" and analyse the effects of emmigration on state policies, or to discuss on what I actually said and wonder how it is possible that detailed speech can fight governement power. 

 

What he meant versus what he said

I agree with you but is it relevant to talk about what he actually said
(according to some accepted standard of language) when we know that
what he meant may be different and that the canonical interpretation
might not even be the most likely representation of what he actually
meant ?

It might not be, but you should at least give it a shot. It is after all key evidence as to what he meant. I would argue that it actually makes a lot of sense in this case, and since it does, there is little cause for trying to go beyond it.

If I say: "The best way to fight government is to expatiate.", would you think it is preferable to discuss on what I probably meant : "to expatriate" and analyse the effects of emmigration on state policies, or to discuss on what I actually said and wonder how it is possible that detailed speech can fight governement power.

The former, but notice that here you are error-correcting. But in the current case you are doing the opposite. You are taking an important point about hardline socialism (it does, in fact, require harsh and dictatorial measures to make it work, and this is exemplified by Allende, as the Declaration witnesses), ignoring it or just not seeing it, and replacing it with an intellectually flaccid list of bad things to say about Allende. Your interpretation removed key intellectual content about the true nature of socialism and replaced it with a mindless list of feel-bad terms.

My guess is that if there is an important point embedded in what someone actually says, chances are rather small that it got there by accident.

Easy Target

More likely he just saw an easy target, a soft spot, on the Libertarian underbelly. He might be frightened of Libertarians but I doubt he's frightened of this sea colony stuff.

Pinochet and the Left

I have another theory on the left's obsession with Pinochet: He's the only arrow in their quiver. The socialist left has a long and shameful history of rooting for revolutionaries whose regimes turned out to be humanitarian disasters. Pinochet's the closest thing there is to a capitalist Lenin or Mao. Not very close, mind you--the connection is tenuous, the body count is orders of magnitude lower, and he didn't run the economy into the ground--but you make do with what you have, and he's all they have.

Pinochet and Friedman

I saw a documentary (I use the word lightly) on Pinochet recently which mentioned Milton Friedman, who offered economic advice for Chile.
Friedman was identified only as "the creator of America's failed trickle-down policy".
I burst out laughing.