Glenn Reynolds: Liberty on Earth or Homesteading on Mars? 

Glenn Reynolds: Liberty on Earth or Homesteading on Mars?

Mickey Kaus now provides usable links!

I haven't read Glenn Reynolds' book, and there's a good chance I never will.

Kaus emphasizes two somewhat distinct themes in the book. On the one hand, the Internet along with other recent developments provides evidence for what might be called a libertarian thesis: a large number of individuals, freely pursuing innovations that benefit themselves and others, can advance society better than a centrally planned or controlled "program"--perhaps especially one from government, but even from a large corporation, the main-stream media--any of the famous bloated dinosaurs. Free yet networked individuals might even do a better job of national security--often considered the one job that only government can do.

I was never certain what "a pack not a herd" meant; now I know. (It means defending against terrorism with self-organizing networks of empowered individuals rather than government bureaucracies ordering people around).

The other theme is that no matter what happens, we are all very vulnerable to one nut using disease or nukes. In a way this danger is made worse by technology, just as many positive developments are made possible. Technology is truly a double-edged sword. I'm still not sure bird flu is that big a deal. Is it likely to kill proportionally as many people as the 1919 epidemic did, given that in 1919, as Reynolds has said, it was largely secondary infections, many of which are now treated with antibiotics, that killed people? Aren't there indications that chemical and biological weapons are likely to do limited damage, and are likely to harm their users as much as the intended victims? Isn't that why there have been so few attacks? Don't we have the means to be more sophisticated than our ancestors, even if millions are killed?

At any rate, Reynolds' "optimism" about empowered individuals, making decisions without any central direction, gives way to a kind of pessimism which then leads to specific hopes:

[blockquote][Kaus quotes Reynolds] In the short term, prevention and defense strategies make sense. But such strategies take you only so far. As Robert Heinlein once said, Earth is too fragile a basket to hold all of our eggs. We need to diversify, to create more baskets. Colonies on the moon, on Mars, in orbit, perhaps on asteroids and beyond ...[/blockquote]

Reynolds has said before that the human race will benefit if we are forced back into a kind of frontier existence of hard work, and limited time for reflection, brooding, or destructive self-centeredness. This is a funny combination of nostalgia for a fairly recent American past, and a goofy hopefulness that everything will work out as long as a hardy or lucky few can climb into a spaceship and escape to Mars. The longing for a frontier life is like wishing we could all lose 20 or 30 points of IQ.

If there is an "old Adam" in human beings that will keep coming out, then having 12 or 6 or 4 people fly to Mars won't avoid the problem. I believe there are many science fiction stories to that effect. On the other hand, if we have some resources to survive catastrophes, as human beings have done many times, then I would say the more people, the better.

Libertarian hopefulness, like a common type of American hopefulness, may be a surface on a deep pessimism--that there is something deeply screwed up about human history in general, and we have to do something dramatic to fix it. Flying to Mars, now that's (supposedly) dramatic. This is lacking a more old-fashioned, I would say philosophic hopefulness--that human life is probably about as good as we can expect. Of course, crazy things happen--the whole place may even correspond, more or less, to a lunatic asylum. But there are good things to be had and enjoyed, and those good things are often threatened by dramatic dreams and plans.

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Comment when you say it like that it makes a lot of sense

Wed Apr 5, 2006 2:18 pm MST by bob stevens

Comment when you say it like that it makes a lot of sense

Wed Apr 5, 2006 1:53 pm MST by bob stevens

Comment I know I'm off topic but today is the best day as she has said

Mon Apr 3, 2006 3:45 pm MST by tim smith

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