Sunday, 3 June 2007

Putin Threatens Europe

Putin this morning warned that, if the US builds a missile defence system in Europe Russia will target missiles on European bases. Good move? Bad move?

Certainly it's a worrying development, this sort of threat seems disturbingly reminiscent of the threats of the Cold War but maybe that isn't such a terrible thing. America's power is, currently, unchecked. They ignored the UN and seem to have global licence, any power that is willing to prevent them militarising the globe is a good thing in my eyes.

It is unlikely that the European countries that America wants to place these defence systems in would prevent them from doing so: after all, as Bush said "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror", so objecting to the missile bases would make you a terrorist, right? The worrying idea is that there are very few countries who would openly oppose the US in any of its military exploits, not because the majority of the world agrees with them, but rather because they are afraid of them.

Maybe having a significant military opponent once more will prevent the US from entering any more suspect wars. We mustn't forget, however, that playing with ICBMs is a dangerous game, and not one that will only affect the two countries involved. Certainly a stand has to be made against the Americans' militaristic inclinations but this may not be the best way to do it.

Disagree? Let me know.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Invasions of Privacy

There's been a (small) outcry about the privacy implications of photo-tagging on sites such as facebook and how these might be increased by automated face recognition software. As usual someone has decided to bring the legal aspect into the debate: should people be allowed to post these pictures?

This brings up the more fundamental issue of whether personal privacy is something that should be legislated about. Certainly I may not want to have my name attached to a photograph of me doing whatever it is I do on a Friday night published to the weird and wonderful web, but can I force people not to do it by law?

We live in a liberal society that believes, as do I, that freedom of speech and expression is very important. Posting photographs with people's names attached is simply a method of expression. The problem seems to be that photographs are trusted much more than many other methods of expression and that situations which are rarely portrayed through speech are portrayed through photographs which can, unfortunately and contrary to popular belief, lie.

Thus the problem here is that photographs are trusted beyond their veracity, not that any measures should be gone to to prevent their distribution or labelling.

Disagree? Let me know.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Who Rules? Companies or Governments?

The big news in the politics world right now is the failure of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezula, to renew the broadcast licence of the television station RCTV whose broadcasts were questioning Chavez's rule. Although there has been much debate on the topic it is still pretty clear that it is censorship of the media. However, the station has turned to YouTube to publish its views and has, so far, received over 175,000 views and is the most subscribed channel of the week.

The power of capitalism and the company is being clearly displayed. The government wants to censor RCTV but it is failing to do so. The combined power of communications technology that is making information widely available and the incentive of companies to broadcast their message has transcended the power of the government.

From my point of view it's a wonderful day: it demonstrates the supreme power of capitalism and shows how the company can dominate over governments. This is wonderful in one sense: it means that governments such as Chavez's can't enact laws that restrict freedom of speech and, theoretically, other liberties. Unfortunately, there are also downsides: if the company is more powerful than the government then we have a power ruling over us that we have not permitted to do so. The advantage of a company is that it has to be providing some benefit because it is earning money but that doesn't mean it is providing benefit to me, a company is an amoral being and so it will benefit whoever has money, with no regard as to the benefit of those without money. It is like the simple utilitarian state in that it will attempt to bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number with no regard for the minority or basic human rights.

Fortunately the powers that companies have to overrule governments at this point are limited to actions that are legal in one country but not in the one they are carried out in. To explain: what I mean is that no company is empowered by technology to do something that is illegal in all countries, they have to have a physical host somewhere and, in that country, they will be held accountable to the law. For example Pirate Bay does things that are illegal in the UK but are totally legal in Sweden, and so they can carry on their business, so long as they remain hosted in Sweden but they could not carry out fraud on their website because that is illegal in Sweden.

This, however, is not a solution to the problem, companies can still do things to me against which I cannot be protected by the laws of my country. Hence there is a power over me that I have no permitted.

Overall it's turning out great right now but empowering companies in this way could certainly have some unpleasant consequences and, from a political theory standpoint, the public is certainly in a weaker position.

Disagree? Let me know.

The Inherent Value of Capitalism

A discussion with my dad sparked off a reflection on the inherent value of capitalism. We're both fundamentally pro-capitalist but he said that capitalism wasn't inherently good, it simply worked.

It's true, it does seem to work but I was quick to point out what intrinsic value capitalism does contain, at least to me. It allows an individual to work and profit from their own labour. It allows someone to have an aspiration and, through their own efforts, achieve that goal. In this way it provides inspiration and purpose to life. Work is not simply something that has to be done in order to provide for other goals in life, it can be a goal in itself.

Capitalism has the inherent advantage that people can balance for themselves the value that their labour has for others and the value that it has to themselves. What is more, it doesn't need to be a selfless act of considered charity, it is built into our everyday lives. We work for money but money is others' gain. If someone is willing to pay for something or pay someone to do something then it is valuable to them and so, by working for them or selling something to them we are giving back to the community without ever requiring us to think in any way selflessly.

Capitalism allows us to benefit society by benefiting ourselves and so is inherently a good thing.

Disagree? Let me know.

My Right to Die - The Debatable Morality of Law

A man who was jailed for assisting in the suicide of over 130 people was released today, read the whole article on CNN here.

One of my mates was shocked that he was released after only eight years even though he still believes that what he did was right. In the discussion of it we touched on the idea that laws are based on what the community believes is wrong. It's illegal to steal things because the majority of people believe it's wrong, and also because it's detrimental for society, it undermines security and progression which we believe to be good things. But overall it's illegal simply because the majority of people think it's wrong.

So if our laws are based on what the majority of people think is wrong then surely the larger the minority who think that something is acceptable the smaller the sentence should be. It means that, at least in the eyes on the public, its morality is debatable, even if there are few individuals who are not certain of its morality or immorality. If its morality is debatable then it is a less serious moral breach and so should be a less serious crime. This only seems logical. Therefore, because assisted suicide is such a contested law (it is legal in Oregon) there is good reason for such a short sentence.

Disagree? Let me know.

Am I a sociopath?

I was having my usual political argument with my dad over the dinner table and he accused me, good-naturedly I might add, of being a sociopath. Sounded slightly harsh but I wondered if it was true so here goes:
Someone whose social behavior is extremely abnormal. Sociopaths are interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others. "sociopath." The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 01 Jun. 2007.

(Yes it's an american dictionary but I can't find my Oxford one so it'll have to do)

So basically, to be a sociopath you have to be selfish and unusual. But it's more than that, I would draw a subtle line between sociopathy and my hard-line libertarianism. I do act, in general, in my own interest but it's not because I don't care about anyone else, it's because I think it's the best way for everyone to prosper. I believe that, if society is left to it's own devices and everyone works, to a great extent, only for their own good, then work becomes valuable enough that everyone can succeed by their own labour. So no, I'm not a sociopath, just a little unusual, phew :)

Disagree? Let me know.