No Really, Civil Libertarians Overreacted

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In “Civil Libertarians Overreact to Boston Lockdown“, I criticize what I call “the knee jerk reaction to police action,” and with it, Anthony Gregory’s suggestion that Boston was brought to its knees under the weight of the police state, in “What Is the Threshold for Martial Law”. From what I saw in Boston last week, Bostonians wanted to catch the suspect, and they saw themselves doing so coming out strong. I concluded that by not being sensitive to those most affected and by using the crisis to soapbox, we come across as out of touch. Keeping events in context is ultimately a more effective strategy for communicating the need to safeguard civil liberty in times of crisis.

Anthony Gregory replies in “Boston Police Overreacted, Not Libertarians” that the Boston lockdown was appalling, set a frightening precedent, and justifies an impassioned response by civil libertarians. He writes that my response “urging libertarians to calm down, misfires.”

I am not, however, urging libertarians to calm down. Nor am I arguing the stay-in-place advisory or the door-to-door searches were efficient, necessary, or anything other than a dangerous precedent. My issue is with nonconstructive criticism of police action, not keeping criticism in context or sensitive to those most affected. My issue is with hyperbole, in disconnecting the analysis from the events.

There is no disagreement here on the need to shift the debate, but what is lost with a more nuanced response to crisis? Civil libertarians will lose little by keeping the crisis in context when opposing the ludicrous idea of a war on terror, the growth of the national security state, and the militarization of the police. Sensitivity does not compromise adherence to our beliefs, or our internal consistency. Although, it is not like civil libertarians are ever criticized for not being rigid enough, or internally consistent enough. Quite to the contrary, libertarians are often criticized as unyielding and insensitive, and not just in the positions they advocate, but the way they do it.

Anthony Gregory argues that:

“Adopting a position because it belongs to the majority, whose poor stewardship of liberty has brought us to the current dismal state, does not shift the debate. It surrenders the debate.”

This misrepresents my position. I am not suggesting civil libertarians should adopt the position of the majority. I am advocating respect for police action. A consistent libertarian position is that if the residents wished to comply with the stay-in-place advisory or with the door-to-door searches, then they should have the liberty to do so. Respect for police action, by civil libertarian critics, means recognizing that Bostonians overwhelmingly wanted to get “the shithead.”

In “Civil Libertarians Appalled by Tsarnaev Manhunt, Boston Residents Thrilled,” Garrett Quinn wrote for Reason.com that he was unable to locate a single Watertown resident that admitted to being uncomfortable with the shelter-in-place advisory or the 9,000 armed police.

The debate on civil liberties won’t shift at all if we are not sensitive to these most affected. We are trying to persuade people, but how are we supposed to convince Bostonians to safeguard their civil liberties when we suggest Boston was brought to its knees under the weight of the police state or that Bostonians are not libertarian enough? This kind of rhetoric effectively surrenders the debate. It rallies the people that already agree, but distances us from the very people we are trying to convince.

Let me reiterate, the real issue here is not whether the lockdown was anathema to the cause of liberty or whether we should be less steadfast in defending civil liberties. The issue is how to shift the debate on safeguarding civil liberty, and it should be clear that hyperbole is not going to win anyone over but those already in the camp.

Paper on Feminist International Relations Theory

I critique non-essentialist feminist international relations (IR) theory for making an idealized construct for the behavior of women in power, and go on to argue that there would be no qualitative difference in a matriarchal world order from one characterized by male hegemony.

You can access the paper here.

I state that feminist IR theory is useful as a meta-theoretical tool for bringing attention to marginalized women globally, but lacks policy prescriptions and falls through in its critique of male domination of international leadership. I suggest what we should strive for is equal opportunity and equal access to power, not equality per se.

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Paper on Relief in the Nigerian Civil War

In a class on U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa taught by Ambassador David Shinn, we were assigned to write a white paper on a historic topic of our choosing. Ambassador David Shinn served Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritania, Cameroon, Sudan, and as ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. I chose to write on U.S. policy options around the relief effort during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970).

You can access the paper here.

I used State Department archives of correspondence between National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, declassified CIA reports, and reports by the State Department to try to make it as realistic as possible, It introduces the conflict and should be informative even for those unfamiliar with the conflict.

 

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Is Nation-building a PAP Ploy?

This post is from a series prompted from a course on Nation-building in Singapore at the National University of Singapore:

In my coursework I was given a prompt that deserved some thought:

The ‘imagined’ Singapore nation is an institutional construct that has little basis in history or relevance in an increasingly globalized world. The belated initiatives of the ruling PAP government to inspire a Singaporean nationalism should be seen, not as a reactive response to preserve indigenous identity and culture, but as a rear-guard attempt to insure the government’s ongoing hegemony over the state.”

The two premises of this prompt are (a) that the concept of the Singaporean nation is imagined, without basis in history, or relevance to the future of globalization, and (b), that nationalism is more adeptly understood as a means of the state to maintain sovereignty, rather than an attempt to preserve identity or culture. Though the analysis of nationalism as a vehicle of the government is an interesting take, the picture is incomplete, largely because of a faulty first premise, that the concept of the Singaporean nation is imagined. The struggle to peg down nationalism in all its forms relative to the structure of political society does not support the view that there is no inherent Singaporean nation. Rather, it demonstrates the necessity to focus on nationalism as a function of political society, rather than in the context of political societal structure. Stressing the political culture aspect of nationalism does not preclude nationalism being a vehicle of the government in its ends, but does raise a very critical question: to what extent nationalism can be function of political culture only, or of government policy?

The case for nationalism as a function of political society comes from an understanding first and foremost, that political society is nothing more than a sum of its parts, individuals, their interactions, and the institutions that those interactions constitute. In this structural-functional analytical framework, nationalism only has a place in the framework as a part of political culture. In public policy, the regime can effect nationalist sentiment, and may have motive for one reason or another, but does not plan nationalism any more than it would emerge from political culture only.

Now that the first premise has been deconstructed, and the the “imagined” Singaporean nation is put in the context of a figment of political culture and not a structure of political society, the second premise may be addressed. In the readings, a quote by politician S. Rajaratnam gives strong support to the thesis that regime has in fact motivated nationalist sentiment as early as 1959, before either the merger or independence from Malaysia: “designed to combat the chauvinism of the different ethnic groups in Singapore as part of PAP’s campaign against communal politics.” The same source later describes how Singapore sought to emulate the Israeli Defense Force, as they “had used military service to help create an Israeli identity in their own small country”. From this evidence, it is clear the PAP was motivated to instil nationalist sentiment in Singaporeans, and towards the end of consolidating social cohesion, though this does not prove that any national sentiments were necessarily the consequence of those policies.

Thus, inquiry from this prompt does show that nationalism in the context of Singapore has had more to do with state building rather than the preservation of identity or culture, but does not show that nationalism is a vehicle of the state. Nationalism can be pursued as a policy, but its existence is not dependent on the fact that the PAP willed it.

National Day Parade from a Critical Eye

Went to the National Day Parade with a project to photograph the most clear expression of Singaporean national unity in diversity. In doing so I took in the National Day Parade, or NDP, from a more critical angle than the average spectator — though I have never seen so many amateur photographers or DSLRs in one place at one time.

The NDP was set in the heart of downtown Singapore, situated between the Central Business District, the touristy Boat Quay, and the Marina Bay Sands Resort. A stage and grandstand was set up for the celebration on one side of the marina, but for a kilometer in any direction the whole of Singapore came out for the celebration.

The whole event really did bring the country together. Since I arrived in Singapore, I’ve been open minded, but also mindful of my sensitivities to national hubris, yet I was happy to find everything in taste. Paratroopers parachuted trailing lines of red smoke, jets flew above, chinook and apache helicopters swept down just above where I was standing.

The People’s Action Party, Singapore’s ruling party for thirty years running, even had a contingent march in their characteristic white uniforms, yet, somehow, it was all in context. Think children painting their faces with Singaporean flags, not grown men dressing in Uncle Sam costumes singing “God Bless America”.

Singaporeans love that their country works. They won’t be driving with country music blaring and over sized flags fluttering, but they are not going to have a 14% approval rating of their legislature either.

Bikeabout

Bought a Aleoca Trizion with a Shimano 18 Speed shifter, Alloy rim and V brake today, and consequently rode twelve miles across Singapore guessing my way home. The public transit in Singapore is so comprehensive and taxis are relatively so inexpensive I was concerned I wasn’t going to see enough of Singapore block by block.

Bicycles are not allowed on public transit in Singapore, except for a contraption that comes across as uniquely Singaporean — the folding bicycle. I was not bold enough to buy one, besides having a bike that could be brought on the MRT or bus system would kind of side step my initial reason for a bicycle. Since I couldn’t carry my bicycle on public transit, I took the opportunity to ride the sucker home. Totally happy with the decision.

 Lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay.

Porn Paper Published

My paper On Liberty, Community Standards, and Porn just got published in the Journal of Liberty & Society. The Journal of Liberty & Society is a project of Students for Liberty. Here is a link to the publication. Below is the abstract of the paper. Enjoy.

The defense of liberty does not necessarily mean the defense of the libertine. When the libertine does not, however, infringe on the actions of others, classical liberals have a commitment to defend them, if not as acceptable, then as permissible. The following essay provides a defense for the permissibility of pornography. In doing so, it strives to prove a larger point on the liberty of action and community standards. The defense incorporates the writing of John Stuart Mill, showing the proper reading of his work supports the permissibility of pornography. Lastly, the relevant legal precedent is discussed.

 

Speak right, lah.

Singapore is a language connoisseur’s fine Belgian chocolate shoppe, expect far less delicate and far more rich. Though close to 75% ethnically Chinese Singapore does not have only one national language, but four. Additionally, the language preferred for government and commerce, English, is casually spoken in a creole — a language born of two or more parent languages — called Singlish. Bring in expatriates, international students, and guest workers to the mix and you have a spoken experience like none other.

The four national languages of Singapore are English, Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Malayu, and Tamil. Chinese being widely spoken among the super majority of the population. Bahasa Malayu being the ethnic language of the country on the other side of the Johor Straits, Malaysia. Tamil the language spoken by the Indian minority brought to Singapore by the colonial British, but now citizens of Singapore. And lastly, English which was chosen as the language preferred for government and commerce as a neutral tongue for all of the different ethnicities in Singapore. While I am in Singapore, I will be undertaking coursework in Bahasa Indonesia — which is closely related with Bahasa Malayu — and in Mandarin Chinese.

Wa lau eh, Singlish damn cool, lah. I have only just been introduced to the local English creole in Singapore, Singlish, but it is damn cool. It combines vocabulary mostly from Hokkien Chinese, Malay, and English. Its grammatical structure is more like Chinese than English. I will have more posts in the future as I get more of a grasp of the language, but for now, I can say already that it is a blast to learn. Haven’t gotten the accent down straight yet though, a couple of Singaporeans have asked if I am Hawaiian when I have tried out what I learned so far.

Lion City

Singapore gets its name from the Malay Singapura, or Lion City, and at first impression, the name is fitting. I am told this city has only been on a substantial growth track since 1965, yet at first impression it is as modern and clean as any city I have ever been in, and is booming. In fact, official figures claim it grew at almost 15% in 201o. That number can not be explained as catch up either, Singapore surpassed the United States in Gross Domestic Product per capita last decade. Something is going right here and I am honored to be here to study and research that question. I will be conducting research over the next year in the Political Science Department of the National University of Singapore on the extent Asian identity and values has played a role in the policy and development of Singapore.

Air China over Kamchatka

Got into Changi Airport yesterday and am moved into my residence at the National University of Singapore. I flew Air China and got this shot flying over the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia on a Boeing 747:

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