Sunday, April 9, 2017

Time for a Digital Galt's Gulch?

Galt's Gulch

In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the "creative" people of the world go on strike and retire to a hidden valley called Galt's Gulch. A real world version of Atlas shrugging is pretty unlikely. The people who would go there have corner offices and flunkies fawning over them. And loads of power sex. What are these people going to do in Galt's Gulch? Sit on the porch and whittle? And even if they do drop out, there are a hundred equally capable people waiting in line behind them eager to take their jobs. They won't be missed. And that, as much as anything, will deter them from dropping out - their superfluity will be starkly revealed.

The really creative people will go on working in their labs and computer terminals and machine shops. Because what motivates creative people is the chance to do something creative. They'll probably be happier than ever when all the self-described "creative" people move to Galt's Gulch.

On the other hand, a digital Galt's Gulch might be just what the world needs to clean up the Augean Stables of the internet. A separate internet, which anyone can view but where the ability to contribute to it is strictly controlled. Anyone with privileges on the new internet can still post on the old one. Call them Internet 1 and Internet 2. If the Dark Net can run on the same system as everything else but be hard to access, there's no reason we can't build an Internet 2 the same way.

Paying For It

Obviously any such Internet 2 will cost money. There are a lot of reasons it should be on a subscription basis. Independent funding would help keep it free of government meddling. Much more importantly, it would be possible to ban advertising. Most important of all, having to have some serious skin it the game would help deter the denizens of the slimier corners of the internet. For openers, I suggest $100 per year. 

Remember, there will still be an Internet 1. Anyone who can't afford to get onto Internet 2 can still post their rants and cat videos on Internet 1.

There is, of course, a lot of money to be made by allowing "trusted advertisers" to have access to the net, or purchase user information. So the by-laws have to specify in exquisite detail that no such practices are permitted, as well as making modification or repeal of the restrictions all but impossible. A super-majority of all users might be one way. Every subscriber gets a non-transferrable vote.


Well, this one is simple. None. Every post identifies the real name of the author. If you want to create a dozen accounts, subscribe a dozen times. But every account will identify you by name.

This isn't Tor. If you want to take down a regime from within, stick to Internet 1. If you want to be snarky about your boss or neighbor, Internet 1. If you want to post something controversial, well, if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. But, we also need very strict rules about abuse, retaliation, threats and so on. Any action that contributes to retaliation beyond the confines of Internet 2 costs you your privileges. Send a nasty personal e-mail, bye-bye. 

Any attempt to use Tor or other re-routing systems to conceal your identity gets you banned. Any spoofing gets you banned.


Since there's no anonymity, no report of abuse is anonymous, either. Strict due process. If you report someone for abuse, you'd better be prepared to describe, explicitly and in detail, what's abusive about it. And if it's frivolous or retaliatory, you will be held accountable.

Who Can Join?

One place to start is that any member of a professional organization can join. A good practice would be to make subscribing to Internet 2 a regular part of the organizational dues. In addition to selecting various journals, members can also select a subscription to Internet 2.

All material posted to academic or government sites should automatically be archived on Internet 2. All tax-supported research should be archived as well.

After that, anyone else who agrees to the terms of service and pays for a subscription is in.


This point pertains to advertising as well, but since it's a security issue, too, no pop-up ads, and no content whatsoever that restricts the user's ability to view the page. No fade-outs, no queries about using ad blockers, no banners blocking the view, none of it. No insertion of anything onto a user's computer.

No release of personal data. None. No site on Internet 2 may require users to create an account. The only information Internet 2 should have are your identity plus some minimal authentication information, and of course, whatever you publish on your own.

No probing any site to see what a user is running. 


This one is easy. A professional organization can advertise its meetings and publications on its pages. A private author can plug his book. But no third party advertising of any sort. All income from third-party advertising (and any spam that leaks through) belongs to Internet 2.

Businesses? Why not? Tell us all about your new cars, your computer, your software, your dog food, your latest movie. On your own site. You just can't splash it onto someone else's pages.

Also, every page that invites a user to subscribe to a service must include a buttton on that page that allows the user to unsubscribe. Click and you're done. No ifs, ands or buts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump, Fascism and Democracy

100 per cent agreement, he’s a fascist.

Is Trump a danger to democracy? From your point of view, maybe. But to his supporters, they finally have a politician who is doing what he said he would. Up until 1925, the Supreme Court had held that the Bill of Rights applied only to Federal actions. That year, in Gitlow v. New York, the Court began ruling that the Bill of Rights protections extended to state and local government. Up until then, reactionaries had complete control over local affairs. And they want it back. Now, for the first time in their lives, they have a real shot at it. From their perspective, Trump (and even more so, Pence, if Trump is removed) is a triumph of democracy. They always had to settle for the “least worst” alternatives. Now have finally gotten what they were voting for all these years.

Gotta say I have scant sympathy for liberals (and I voted Obama in 2012 and Clinton this time). The anger on the Right has been building for decades and there has been no shortage of commentary explaining it. Liberals never bothered reading it, and if a hard line conservative popped up on a site they did read, they blew him off as a troll or racist, and very likely flagged and banned him. None of that “free speech” or “challenge viewpoints” stuff here, thank you. Well, ignore a problem and it will go away. Then it will come up behind you and have you for lunch. So now you have Trump. Was it really worth going to court to get that Nativity scene out of the city park, or hassling that bakery that refused to do a gay wedding cake? How many Trump voters did you create? Well, now they’ve voted to smack you down. Oppression to you, democracy at its finest to them.

Hitler never received a majority of the vote. But he did get a large minority, from people who wanted what he was selling.

Remember Star Wars?. When Vader and Obi-Wan face off, Obi-Wan tells Vader “Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Now imagine the roles reversed and Vader saying it. Strike Trump down in court, but remember he has one Court vacancy to fill, and probably one or two more in the future. And he’ll have Sessions for AG. And he can play to his base. He won’t be politely critical like Obama (one of the things that infuriated Obama’s opponents was precisely his discipline). He’ll rage against the Liberal Machine. His supporters will change the voting rules in Congress (killing the filibuster is long overdue — it has has a shameful history of stifling constructive legislation — how ironic that Trump’s minions may kill it.) Look up something called “jurisdiction stripping.” He doesn’t feel any need to be deferential or reverent toward the courts. And his base will lap it up. They’ve been frustrated for years at seeing laws they support, and in many cases voted for as referenda, struck down by non-elected judges at the behest of a handful of opponents. Strike them down now, and they will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

Trump’s hard core followers despise the courts. From their perspective, the courts rubber-stamp regulations on the responsible and productive, while protecting criminals, sociopaths and social deviants. You may be horrified, but they will be deliriously happy to see a President rip into the Supreme Court.

Three things you need to look up
  1. Barron v. Baltimore 1833. The Supreme Court ruling that ruled the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal Government
  2. Incorporation Doctrine. The principle that the “rights and immunities” clause of the 14th amendment extended Bill of Rights protections to the State and local level. Not all at once, but only as relevant cases arose, because that’s how the legal system rolls.
  3. Jurisdiction stripping. The power granted by Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution for Congress to limit jurisdiction of the courts. The most telling, to me, is the legislation authorizing the Alaska Pipeline that said, in effect, “We’ve reviewed this every which way. There will be no further litigation.”
The Constitution. Read it, people. Sheesh. It says what it says, not what you think it should say.

Don't Even Think About Going There

A piece on The Establishment is titled "Why Punching Nazis Is Not Only Ethical, But Imperative." They don't have a comments section, making me wonder how likely they will be to confront fascists physically if they don't dare confront them verbally. Anyway, the following is offered as a public service.

You. Do. Not. Want. To. Go. There. For reasons:
  1. History. When leftists and fascists mixed it up in 1930's Italy and Germany, who won all the fights? The only fascist I know of who got killed was Horst Wessel, who was actually killed by his girl friend's former(?) pimp. Fascists have a far greater psychological willingness to inflict violence.
  2. Who has all the guns? Not the ACLU or English professors with tweed jackets and patches on their sleeves. Much more likely they're owned by fascists and their wannabes. If attacking them becomes routine, expect them to bring guns to a fist fight.
  3. Stand Your Ground. If you sucker punch a fascist, and he comes back with far greater force, then claims self defense, well, two words: Treyvon Martin.
  4. It doesn't work in reverse. If you attack someone, and he retaliates, don't expect to claim self defense. You don't get to claim self defense if you provoke the fight, especially if he's done nothing to provoke it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wall to Wall Denial Games

Here's how to get banned from Wonkette. Post this (a bit modified in light of later events). To an article titled "F*** you America." And it's only been two months. I'm sure they'll answer my query eventually. 

Consider the irony. In response to an article where roughly every third word was a f-bomb, I point out that Trump's opponents are hip-deep in denial games - and get banned for it. Could they possibly prove my point more vividly?


Everything I’m seeing is wall to wall denial games. Trump’s supporters are racist. They’re deplorable. Trump appealed to the worst in people. They hated a black president and the idea of a woman president. They voted against their “best interests” - look for an uptick in sales of What’s the Matter with Kansas? (Samuel L. Jackson has “snakes on a plane,” Schwartzenegger has “Hasta la vista, baby” and Frank has “voting against their best interests.” Nobody seems to be wondering what they did to cause this.Well, it’s not really hard. Go to all the right wing sites and look at posts from before the election. Read what people were angry about. Then stop doing that stuff. 

Quit the juvenile attacks on religion. If you want a religious establishment issue, look into the obstruction of observatories on Mauna Kea because some groups arbitrarily declare the mountain “sacred.” Quit speaking for terrorists (Noam Chomsky) and criminals (Making of a Murderer, anyone?) Quit solving social problems, like gun violence, by taking rights away from everyone else. 

Quit the petty bureaucratic micromanagement. Here's a local item from Seattle from just the other day. The city bought data from some demographics firm, pulled out all the information on people buying pet supplies, matched it to the dog license list, and sent people notices that they'd be fined if they didn't register their dogs. Does it get any more petty than this? First of all, why does any city even NEED to license animals? These days, with chipping, returning lost pets isn't that much of a problem. How much money is involved? It's chump change. No, it's all about enforcing petty micromanagement on everything. Tell me again why I should be so worried about the NSA when local governments pull this crap.

Another example: The tragic fire in Oakland California in December 2016 that killed 36 people. The building was almost literally connected by an extension cord (the only non-literal aspect is they probably used actual cable) and run off the meter of an adjacent building.
The building was a maze of safety hazards but hadn't been inspected in 30 years. Now, in those thirty years, how many homeowners in Oakland got citations for petty issues like peeling paint or having their garbage cans in the wrong place. Hundreds? Thousands?

Yet another example. In January, 2016, Kansas game wardens shot a deer that had become something of a family pet. "It might have had chronic wasting disease" was one excuse, though it was hardly more likely to be sick than any other deer. It's fascinating that, despite all we hear about how much Brownback's policies have devastated Kansas, Kansas still has money to keep idiots on the payroll. 

[Note to the "citations" crowd. All of these episodes got mainstream news coverage. If you're as informed as you pretend to be, you'd know about them already. And if you don't, you're unqualified to be in this discussion.]

A few years ago my street was torn up to replace sewers. I watched the work avidly. It was carefully planned and well done, and they kept obstructions to a minimum. It cost me $1500 and I think it was good value. The curb-laying machine that extrudes the curb like Play-Doh was amazing. And hitherto, sump pumps had been haphazard. Now everyone had to have a line to the storm sewers. It didn't take much to make me decide having someone dig the trench was the way to go. The trencher is like a chain saw on steroids, and the $300 was worth it.Now somebody explain what I got for the $600 for the permit. I watched the work and it was well done. Nobody from the city came by. The permit did me absolutely no good whatsoever. I didn't need it. It was purely a ripoff. They need the money to fund the inspection office? Let them hold a bake sale or take a second job if they think it's that vital.What’s driving Trump supporters more than anything else (and I voted for Clinton) is the desire for what Justice Lewis Brandeis called “the right to be let alone.” If people are not harming anyone else, they believe they have no obligation whatsoever to report or justify their activities to the government, get a permit or license, or have their rights circumscribed for the sake of the sociopathic. Oh, if you really want to drive people to the right, make voting mandatory. Get millions of people angry about government mandates, and send them to the polls.The denial games seem to come in three types:
  • We weren’t liberal enough. Need more cowbell. Sorry, I mean more Bernie Sanders.
  • Things will be okay once we enlighten the rubes. Teach them not to be racist, sexist, etc. It reminds me a bit of all the Hitler rant parodies. In the real movie, Hitler says everything will be all right once a counterattack begins. Then someone says there will be no counterattack because the general doesn’t have enough men, and Hitler loses it. (“Mein Fuehrer, the rubes are still racist and deplorable.” “DAS WAR EIN BEFEHL!!!”)
  • Denial squared. Yes, they are racist and deplorable, I don’t care what they think, screw them. Than you for proving my point.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Time to call B.S. on Private Censorship

Public and Private Censorship

The Constitution applies, for the most part, only to government. It's illegal to hold someone as a slave, but that's because there are laws specifically forbidding it, laws passed under the authority of the Constitution. It can be illegal to search someone's locker. Schools are bound by the law because they're government institutions, and employers may be bound by union contracts to observe due process. You can't be arrested or fined for just saying something, but very often you can be fired for posting something or banned from a Web site. 

Web site operators accused of censorship fall back on the idea that the Web site is their private property and they have a right to ban anyone they choose from using it. Many of them would froth at the mouth if someone else tried to defend barring gays or minorities from their business on the grounds of private property.

It's time to call B.S. Private censorship is still censorship. A public blog is a public accommodation every bit as much as a motel or gas station, and it should be subject to the same civil rights laws.

Suppression of Public Speech

This one is so obvious as to need little comment. Interfering with someone's ability to speak, or someone else's ability to hear him, by shouting the speaker down, is a violation of their civil rights, and should be punishable the same way any other violation of civil rights are punishable.

The same applies to barring someone from going where they have a right to go. Sit-ins that blocked access to buildings, so popular in the 1960's, were violations of the civil rights of people who were barred from going about their  business. Anti-abortionists who tried it at abortion clinics were slapped with RICO prosecutions. Any obstruction of people's movements is a violation of their Federal civil rights and should be punished at the Federal level.

In many cases, high profile events set up "free speech" zones where protestors can congregate. Activists object that the zones keep them out of public view. But anyone who wants to hear what they have to say (and that would be just about nobody) can easily go and hear them. If you want to object to someone, wear a T-shirt, carry a placard, but when they're talking, SHUT UP.


Content on blogs brings the free speech rights of the blog owner into conflict with those of the poster. 

A site doesn't have to invite comments. More and more sites don't, and while I may find that slightly disappointing at times, I absolutely understand why. This site doesn't, for example, and for a very simple reason. I just don't give a flying firetruck what you think. If you don't like my content, go someplace else.

And if the owner of the site decides to delete a comment as inappropriate or offensive, or simply irrelevant, they have a right to control the expression of their site. But few sites have such a small volume of traffic that they can be individually moderated.

Complete lack of moderation is not an option. There are places that go that route and they're widely regarded, except by the denizens of those sites, as the septic tank of the internet.

No, the real problem is sites that simply delegate moderation to readers and self-appointed content flaggers. And there have been myriad cases where that capability has been systematically abused. Repressive regimes have hired writers to blitz pieces by authors hostile to the regime. In some cases, those writers open dozens of dummy accounts to multiply their impact. On some sites, merely casting a large enough number of downvotes is enough to get a piece pulled or a writer banned. Recently, far rightists have gone to book sites and systematically downvoted any books by authors they find offensive.

The solution is relatively simple: due process. Any time someone is banned from a site, they must be told what specific post led to the ban, and told in detail what specific aspects of the post violated policy and why. And there must be a process of appeal. And the response must be prompt and timely.

And there need to be sanctions for people who file frivolous objections to posts. If they flag a post and their objection is overturned, they lose their flagging and voting privileges, maybe even get banned themselves. Better would be to not extend those privileges at all until the reader has a substantial  track record of responsible commentary.

Social Media

There have been tons of cases of people being fired for what they post on social media. Unless the person specifically identifies their employer (cops or other employees in uniform, the workplace clearly identifiable in the video, or whatever) this practice needs to be flatly banned. Your kid's English teacher has a lingerie ad on line, but she's not wearing school colors? Tough. Lucky kid.  None of your business. Your local dog catcher posts a politically incorrect rant, but he's off duty and wearing civilian clothes? First Amendment. Someone recognizes him as the dog catcher. So what? If the post doesn't otherwise violate any laws, like incitement to violence or treason, and the person's institutional connections aren't evident in the medium itself, social media should be absolutely immune from adverse actions. Especially, people should be absolutely immune to adverse actions for anything they posted before being hired.

Lots of people have posted approval of people getting fired for saying things on line, saying that the freedom to say things doesn't guarantee immunity from consequences. Well, ma'am, there's a new sheriff in town. See how you like it when people start getting fired for expressing sentiments you approve of.

Free Market, Free Speech?

"We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
- Thomas Jefferson writing to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820
Jefferson's vision of free speech was basically a free market of ideas where ideas lacking merit would be driven out of the intellectual marketplace. Unfortunately, "reason was free to combat" error only as long as it took someone to file a libel suit against someone who criticized him. 

Long before the internet, I had noted that crank movements tended to live in a self-contained bubble. In those days, the "information" circulated as Xeroxed pamphlets and pulp magazines. Believers in a young earth or massive UFO visitations never encountered any real counter-evidence. Nowadays, keeping track of cranks is like mopping up a tsunami with a Q-Tip. And the internet is a completely solipsistic world, where each bubble concocts its own facts.

Maybe the ultimate solution is a kind of digital Galt's Gulch, a new and restrictive internet open only to people with real credentials. Anyone can read it, but the vetting process for contributing to it is severely strict.

The Courts

As the comment below notes:
It's already been ruled unconstitutional to force other people to publish your speech, see Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo, 1974.
Ignoring for the moment the near universal confusion between the Constitution and what the courts say about it, that's not exactly what the ruling says. The case challenged a Florida law that required newspapers to provide equal space for rebuttals of political editorials. The court ruled that, since newspapers are limited resources, requiring a paper to provide free space for rebuttals might discourage papers from printing editorials, the so-called "chilling effect." (The idea that the "chilling effect" is one of the stupidest legal concepts around is left for another essay. In fact, Jefferson's quote above makes it clear that free speech can only be effective in the presence of a "chilling effect.")

Interestingly, in cases involving broadcast media, the courts have used the very same scarcity argument to compel broadcasters to grant access to people who want to rebut opinion pieces. In those cases, the argument has been that the broadcast spectrum is a finite resource belonging to the public, that broadcasters are merely licensed to use part of it, and the government has the right to impose requirements on licensees. With cable and internet media, the limited resource argument isn't as critical.

The reality is that it has not been ruled unconstitutional to force other people to publish your speech. The Department of Labor site on Workplace Posters ( has a long list of government-mandated posters that employers must post, whether they agree with them or not. They include posters on the Federal minimum wage, equal opportunity, OSHA rules on workplace safety, and labor relations. Not surprisingly, a number of these rules have been challenged as "compelled speech." So far none have reached the Supreme Court.

Sooner or later, anti-gay rights activists will quit using the doomed argument of "religious rights" (Which was demolished by Reynolds v. United States (1878). The Court upheld a bigamy conviction, saying that beliefs were inviolate but actions could be punished). It will be interesting to see what will happen when someone argues that being forced to provide a service for a gay wedding amounts to "forced expression."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Would a Conservative Star Wars Look Like?

The new Star Wars installment in the canon, The Force Awakens, Rolls Over, and Hits the Snooze Bar, drew the ire of some on the Right for having a woman heroine and a black Storm Trooper. The spin-off, Rogue One, generates more of the same because it's even more ethnically diverse. (Not to be confused with the film about the Mary Kay lady who goes over to the Dark Side, Rouge One.)

Since a lot of the themes in Star Wars, like the notion of heroic resistance trying to overthrow an oppressive empire, lend themselves to liberal political themes, the suspicion has arisen that Star Wars is essentially liberal propaganda. So what would a conservative Star Wars look like?

The Empire are the Good Guys

There's an alternative Lord of the Rings story, The Last Ringbearer, originally written in Russian by Kiril Eskov, that posits that Mordor was the civilized part of Middle Earth and that its overthrow represented the triumph of the superstitious, ignorant and backward outer world. Think about it. All we know about Middle Earth is what the trilogy tells us, and history is written by the victors. What if it's all Elvish and Gondorian propaganda? What if the "cleansing of the Shire" (an add-on mercifully left out of the already ponderous films) was actually a last gallant attempt by Saruman to establish an outpost to preserve a remnant of civilization?

So turning Star Wars on its head makes sense. All we know is what the Rebels have told us in the films. What if they lied? What if it's all Rebel propaganda? Remember how Obi-Wan described Mos Eisley as "a wretched hive of scum and villainy?" What if that describes, not just one backwater spaceport, but the whole of the Galaxy? Here are a few scenarios in which the Empire might be the good side. Note that these aren't mutually exclusive.

The Empire is Bringing Civilization to a Backward Galaxy

Early in A New Hope, Luke grumbles about being stuck at his uncle's farm instead of being able to enroll at The Academy. Exactly what Academy isn't made clear, but it's obvious that on these backwater worlds, chances for advancement are slim. (We ought to bear issues of scale in mind. A well-developed planet would be richer and more advanced than Earth, and probably quite capable of having its own MIT or Harvard.)

We could picture the Empire as a sci-fi British Empire, deposing corrupt local governments or co-opting them, imposing the rule of law and civilized customs. Naturally, die-hard adherents of the old regime seek refuge outside Empire-controlled space. They might engage in guerrilla raids for revenge, for profit, or as part of a larger strategy to recapture their homelands. Needless to say, the Empire would have to, er, strike back. And in a modern twist, we might find anti-colonialists opposing the Empire simply for being an Empire.

The Empire is Stamping Out Criminal Warlords

Two words: Jabba the Hutt. What? You want to count "the" as a word, too? Okay, fine, whatever, pedant. Jabba pretty much runs Tatooine. So we've got a planet under the thumb of a criminal overlord. Now multiply Tatooine by however many other planets in the Galaxy and you can see what the Empire is up against.

Law and Order: Galaxy. Courageous Imperial expeditionary forces swoop down on criminal lairs, rescuing hostages, freeing slaves, and wiping out criminal gangs. Or the SVU version, where we see the breakup of rings trafficking in sexy alien slave girls. No Miranda, no lawyering up, and they do have ways of making you talk. Sure, a civilization advanced enough to have star ships should also be capable of getting information by brain scans or really effective drugs, but the rough trade is more fun.

The Empire is Fighting Murderous Religious Fanatics

The Jedi base everything on the religion of the Force, and they slice and dice people handily with light sabers. Sounds a lot like ISIS. Also the Jedi don't convert everyone but keep their secrets among a select elite. So it's a cult, too. Ferreting out covert Jedi agents would make for some good plot lines. The Jedi don't marry, so we can imagine they'd impose a pretty puritanical society, ruled by embittered and sexually frustrated Jedi. Sounds more and more like ISIS all the time.

Now portraying the Empire as agnostic or even secular wouldn't be conservative enough. They need a religion more palatable to American tastes. It would have to believe in a Supreme Being and would have to reinforce what conservatives view as acceptable conduct. Picture something like the 1966 film Khartoum, where Victorian Brits face a fanatical army led by the self-styled Mahdi.

The Empire is Breaking up an Ossified Bureaucracy

Look at episodes II and III, where we get a serious look at Coruscant. The entire planet is a city. A breeding ground for crime and government handouts. 

Check out this dialog from A New Hope:

Governor Tarkin:

The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

General Tagge:

But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?
Governor Tarkin:
The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
How libertarian can you get? We need a bureaucracy to govern. No we don't. We just let local government run everything. Billions of bureaucrats are thrown out of work. Many, embittered, join rebellions.

Maybe There's Something Worse than the Empire

The Yuuzhan Vong, for example. This was an extragalactic race that revered pain and death and hated mechanical technology. All their own technology was biological. Their professed reverence for life didn't stop them from killing 365 trillion sentient life forms when they invaded the Star Wars galaxy. (A semi-canon race: see Wookieepedia)

You can pretty much see that willy-nilly destroying all the inorganic technology on a planet would condemn most of that planet's population to death. Taken to its logical conclusion, even a stone scraper would be forbidden.

On the other hand, imagine collaborationist movements yearning for a return to an imaginary pre-technological Eden. You'd have the collaborationists and the Yuuzhan Vong spouting the most chiched eco-babble, all the while merrily slaughtering all opposition. And the Empire would be the Good Guys in this war, while defending against extremist environmentalists.

The Empire are the Bad Guys

Face it, it's always more fun rooting for the underdog, plus we're so used to seeing the Empire portrayed as evil that it would be a serious shock to start thinking of them as good. So have no fear, there are ways to make the Empire evil but liberal.

The Empire is Communism Resurgent

Communism managed to roll up everything conservatives abhor, like opposition to private property, opposition to religion, stifling dissent, and bureaucracy, plus elevating groups that were considered inferior. So all that really needs to be done is spin the Empire as standing for those things. Make it sound as if there's some grand theory behind the Empire to make it clearer just what the Empire is. As one Marxist advised, screenwriters should try to get a few minutes' good Marxist content into each film. Well, that can work both ways. Portray the Empire at its most ruthless, and "get a few minutes' good Marxist content" in as well to drive the point home. They're not incinerating Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru because they're mean, but because Owen and Beru are reactionary, revanchist, anti-social elements. Uncle Owen's moisture farm is taken over and run as a collective. (And eventually wrecked, since ideological correctness takes precedence over technical competence and nobody is accountable for damages.)

Coruscant, once hub of a prosperous Republic, now becomes a grim Marxist prison state, permeated by a secret police, its proud buildings crumbling under neglect and inefficiency. Innovation and scientific inquiry are stifled, with researchers blacklisted if they fail to follow party orthodoxy with sufficient fervor. 

The unifying philosophy of the Empire might be the Sith, now out in the open and preaching some mishmash of pseudo-populist and social welfare notions. Recruits who actually have The Force are trained as Sith, those who don't become informants, secret police or privileged party functionaries.

The Republic (and the Empire) are Bureaucratic Morasses

The Republic ruled everything from Coruscant, and its fall was merely the inevitable result of a bloated government collapsing under its own weight. The Empire broke up the central bureaucracy, throwing billions of bureaucrats out of work. What happens to them? Maybe they starve because the Empire lacks resources or the interest to save them. Maybe vast areas of Coruscant become shanty towns, or once occupied government buildings are taken over by squatters. Maybe they're sold as slaves, or just dumped on some empty planet someplace.

Meanwhile, the Empire, somewhat leaner but still just as mean, continues to run things business as usual. Planets as populous as Earth are still run the way the Republic ran them. So the outlying planets are free of Coruscant but still as bureaucratic as ever. Picture an episode where a colonist is expelled from his land because he can't pay his taxes, meet some regulatory standard, or maybe some protected species lives there. With his life's work stolen from him, he joins the Rebellion. Or he objects to the way the Empire educates his children and flees with his family to an outlying, Rebel-controlled system.

So the "separatist movements" in The Clone Wars are really the Good Guys. They're not interested in toppling the Empire, but merely in being left alone.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Why do some conservatives hate liberals so much? What horrible things did we ever do to them?

This is how to get an answer banned by Quora. I submitted this as an answer to the question in the title and it was banned for violating their "Be Nice, Be Respectful" policy. "Be Nice, Be Respectful" apparently doesn't include responding to questions about what, specifically, violated the policy. (Quora did reinstate my privileges after review, but they never did answer what was supposedly wrong about it).


Oh yeah! This is the question Thomas Frank should have asked in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” He had enough page space to write about some guy who pretends to be Pope Pius XIII, but he never got around to this one.

So let’s call this “What’s the Matter with ’What’s the Matter with Kansas?’?” Also, let’s agree that many, probably most liberals, do not do these things. So in case I forget to qualify with “many,” “most,” “a whole bunch,” etc., bear that in mind. Let’s simplify and just abbreviate “Far too many liberals” as “FTML.”

What Frank should have asked is, “What did FTML do to alienate the working class?” And the answer is, what didn’t they do?

Let’s go back to the Sixties. FTML openly cheered for the enemy during wartime. Geez, what else do you need?

FTML backed corrupt labor unions that threatened workers, killed reformers, and pushed rules that defended the laziest and most incompetent workers. Just read up on the futile efforts of the NYC school system to get rid of bad teachers.

FTML push for laws and regulations that conservatives neither want nor need.

FTML want to usurp control over private property. They see the way to address injustice as stripping rights away from everyone.

Gun control. Again, fixing a social problem by stripping rights from the law abiding.

FTML side with criminals instead of civilization. Want to reduce wrongful convictions? Reform the justice system to focus solely on guilt or innocence instead of procedure.

FTML have never seen a regulation or tax they didn’t like.

FTML ridicule the patriotism and religion of conservatives and stereotype them in a way they’d never tolerate with regard to minorities.

In short, conservatives see FTML as a threat to their property and liberty, and as gratuitously insulting. And uninformed, because the things FTML say about them show that they’ve never seriously read a conservative opinion in their life.

However, I also have a post on what conservatives need to do to recapture the center, and it’s not gentle. Consider this a companion piece. And frankly, I don’t see a single thing conservatives are doing these days to protect my freedom. Attack net neutrality? You seriously expect any computer-literate person to support you? So I will suppress my gag reflex and vote for Hillary.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Star Trek and What (Some) Conservatives Mean By Socialism

In a very revealing piece on the site Learn Liberty, Ilya Somin posts a piece called "Star Trek Is Far from Libertarian – Here’s Why." It's revealing because I think it offers clues to what many conservatives mean by "socialism." Seriously, how can there be a debate about whether something is libertarian or socialist? That's like arguing whether an animal is a walrus or a kangaroo.

Note: in keeping with standard Star Trek notation, TOS refers to The Original Series, TNG to The Next Generation and DS9 to Deep Space 9
But at least from a libertarian perspective, the otherwise appealing ideological vision of Star Trek is compromised by its commitment to socialism.
The Federation isn’t just socialist in the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist. It’s socialist in the literal sense that the government has near-total control over the economy and the means of production. Especially by the period portrayed in The Next Generation, the government seems to control all major economic enterprises, and there do not seem to be any significant private businesses controlled by humans in Federation territory. Star Fleet characters, such as Captain Picard, boast that the Federation has no currency and that humans are no longer motivated by material gain and do not engage in capitalist economic transactions.
That last quote is probably based on the following dialog from the TNG (The Next Generation) episode "The Neutral Zone" where the Enterprise picks up three cryogenically frozen humans. One, Ralph Offenhouse, a 20th century financier, is concerned over losing his wealth.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy. 
Ralph Offenhouse: You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Power to do what?
Ralph Offenhouse: To control your life, your destiny.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: That kind of control is an illusion.
Ralph Offenhouse: Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: This is the 24th century. Material needs no longer exist. 
Ralph Offenhouse: Then what's the challenge? 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich yourself. Enjoy it.
But where, exactly, is the evidence that the Federation government controls everything? True, we don't see any corporate logos. The premise that humans have given up cupidity or corporate corruption in favor of altruism is far-fetched but scarcely more than the idea we have given up warfare. Still, there are episodes - lots of them - where people seek self advantage through unethical means. In the TNG episode "Where No One Has Gone Before," a Starfleet engineer arrives with a companion to "improve" the ship's warp drives. Although the engineer thinks he really has discovered ways to improve the engines, (and makes himself obnoxious by boasting about it) in reality he's been duped by his companion, an alien intent on exploring the universe in his own way. So the engineer wasn't really trying to pull a con, but he was certainly all too eager to believe he was a genius. In fact, almost all the instances in Star Trek of some human character behaving unethically, it's to gain power or rank, not material possessions. 

It's by no means clear that the Federation lacks private corporations. Several TNG episodes refer to the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, and there's no mention of who runs them. And even a U.S. Navy shipyard has lots of private contractors. It's like arguing that World War II America was socialist because we don't see private corporations figuring prominently in The Longest Day or Tota, Tota, ToraI.

Remember, Above All, Star Trek is Science Fiction

Science fiction is also social fiction, a platform where alternative societies can be explored. The "science" part is getting there, to some distant planet, the past or future, or some alternate time line. In a lot of "science" fiction, the science is almost entirely secondary to the social part. In the episode "A Piece of the Action (TOS)," the only science-related components were the Enterprise visiting a planet and then discovering that a previous ship had accidentally left a book about Chicago gangsters behind. The people of that planet, mistakenly thinking that was how advanced societies worked, modeled their society on gangland Chicago. The action in the episode revolved entirely around Kirk and Spock trying to survive and get control of the situation. And the majority of Star Trek episodes are of the form "Enterprise arrives at X, finds weird or dangerous society on X, tries to relate or escape."

Also, science fiction in print can afford to be a little more independent because the audience is smaller and advertisers know what they're getting into. But Star Trek was a TV show, and a risky one at that. The producers were risking a lot of money and the advertisers a lot of consumer good will. Unlike the Irwin Allen potboiler Lost in Space, which aired at the same time and which was campy, predictable, safe fluff, Star Trek dealt with things that were fairly edgy at the time. There were lots of things that viewers and sponsors wouldn't have accepted. The pilot episode had a female captain. That was taboo. Uhura and Kirk's interracial kiss launched many viewers into near apoplexy. Gay characters would have meant ratings and sponsorship death. Not mentioning religion explicitly didn't ruffle many feathers, and reference to bizarre alien religions has earth parallels, but if the series had treated Christianity as extinct, or as superstition, viewers would have gone ballistic. By the later series, it was possible to be a little more frank, especially about sex. In "Up the Long Ladder (TNG)," a female member of one colony seduces Riker rather blatantly, then the colony is told that to have sufficient genetic diversity, each woman will need to have children by at least three males, which Riker's seducer finds intriguing. That would certainly not have gotten past network censors a decade earlier.

Diversity and Conflict

Somin laments:
The Federation’s Diversity Turns Out to be Only Skin Deep
The uncritical acceptance of socialism may be a manifestation of the Federation’s more general troubling ideological homogeneity. Especially among the human characters, there seems to be remarkably little disagreement over ideological and religious issues. With one important exception (discussed below), few human characters oppose the official Federation ideology, and those few are generally portrayed as fools, villains, or both.
The Federation is a collection of racially and ethnically diverse people who all think alike, at least when it comes to the big issues. The series’ creators likely intended this as an indication of humanity’s future convergence toward the “truth.” But it is also subject to a more sinister interpretation: just as socialism tends to stifle independent economic initiative, it also undermines independent thought.
No, not "Convergence toward the truth," but merely the classic science fiction technique of projecting bizarre or unacceptable traits onto alien societies to be able to deal with them more impartially and less threateningly. For example: the episode ("Mark of Gideon" TOS) deals with a planet that is disastrously overcrowded, and Kirk is lured there because he carries a lethal virus. The leaders of the planet explain they hold procreation sacred but will allow denizens to volunteer for exposure to the virus to thin out the population. Placing the story on a future Earth would have provoked a firestorm, but placing it on an alien planet allows viewers to watch the story while being able to pretend it had nothing to do with human society. The irony here is that such an overcrowded planet would have had essentially no liberty, yet libertarians tend to dismiss discussion of overpopulation. Also, projecting a bizarre social trait onto an alien society allows it to be portrayed in a more exaggerated form. The Ferengi in DS9 and TNG are grasping capitalists and misogynists on a scale even Monty Burns on The Simpsons could hardly rival.

There's little ideological division among the humans because the real ideological divisions are between the Federation and other alien societies. Furthermore, the Prime Directive, porous as it is, creates a plot device that forces the humans in Star Trek to stand by and allow other cultures to keep their objectionable practices without interference, and also explore the limits of tolerance. For example, in "A Taste of Armageddon" (TOS), the Enterprise visits a planet that has been at war with a neighbor for centuries, but rather than actually attack each other, they had set up a system whereby computers simulated attacks and each planet then killed that number of their own people. Kirk concludes it had all become too neat and antiseptic and destroys the computer, confronting the warring planets with either real Armageddon or negotiations, which they agree to enter, mediated by the Federation.

Let's also remember that Starfleet is a self-selected society of people who commit themselves to a body of regulations that are rarely mentioned explicitly because they're internalized. You don't see people throwing trash on the floor just like you wouldn't see it on an aircraft carrier. Nor do you see a bunch of people barricading themselves in the holodeck until their demands are met. Because Starfleet still has court-martials. So, yes, in one respect Somin is right. The Enterprise is not a libertarian society, any more than its maritime ancestor was. But you can't conclude that the Enterprise's society (either one) is as authoritarian as the Enterprise itself is. And you can't conclude that the absence of private corporations on the Enterprise (again, ether one) proves their absence in the society as a whole.

There are, in fact, a vast number of things left unstated in Star Trek. Surely it would be useful for away teams to have small personal vehicles rather than having to walk everywhere they go, but we never see any such thing. Except for cases where the crew goes into the past, or to some alternate-history planet ("A Piece of the Action (TOS)," "Bread and Circuses" (TOS)) or has some adventure on the holodeck, we never see ground vehicles at all. Do Federation citizens transport everywhere? We never see aircraft. Absence of evidence in Star Trek is not evidence of absence. The vast majority of the series takes place on what is essentially a military post, completely self contained and self sufficient, and far more isolated than any naval vessel at sea. And while you'd see personal squabbles on a naval vessel, you probably wouldn't have seen people actively protesting U.S. policies, still less face-to-face with the commander. So there's no more ideological conflict on the Enterprise in space than you'd expect on the Enterprise at sea. We'd expect anyone who displayed blatant confrontation with policy on either the maritime or space Enterprise to be put off at the nearest port, probably under arrest.

Also, there were a lot of ad-hoc devices simply to move the plot along or prevent problems. Starting with the transporters themselves. Originally characters were supposed to travel by shuttlecraft, but transporters were created when the shuttlecraft set wasn't done in time. Transporters have a distance limit because, otherwise, who needs spacecraft? Replicators originally served food and only later other things. Supposedly they couldn't replicate dilithium crystals, latinum or living things. A number of plots hinged on replacing failing dilithium crystals, replicating latinum would have crashed the Ferengi economy, and replicating living things would have created some issues. Red shirts killed on an away mission? Just replicate them before they go as insurance, or store their transporter data and reproduce them later.

Incidentally, the excuse given for not replicating living things is their complexity. But given that transporters deconstruct and reconstruct people at the atomic level, that's simply an ad-hoc
device. Incidentally, even if you could store data at the atomic level, it would take as many atoms to store the data for a human being as there are atoms in a human being.

The reality is that Star Trek never says explicitly who builds warp drives or installs the view screens or the turbo-lifts or mines the ores to make all that stuff.
The problem here is not just that Star Trek embraces socialism: it’s that it does so without giving any serious consideration to the issue. For example, real-world socialist states have almost always resulted in poverty and massive political oppression, piling up body counts in the tens of millions.
Despite Somin's acknowledgement of "the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist," that's precisely what he's doing here. Just look at the piles of bodies and the concentration camps in socialist hell-holes like Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and so on.
But Star Trek gives no hint that this might be a danger, or any explanation of how the Federation avoided it. Unlike on many other issues, where the producers of the series recognize that there are multiple legitimate perspectives on a political issue, they seem almost totally oblivious to the downsides of socialism.
Now I agree 100 per cent it would be interesting to see how the Federation created a utopian economy free of want. Just as it would be interesting to see how they eliminated warfare on earth. I mean, we were still in the aftermath of global nuclear war when humans and Vulcans first met, and in the TNG episode "Encounter at Farpoint," we hear allusions to "The Post-Atomic Horror," implying that things were pretty ugly there for a while. So how exactly did we sort it out? Especially, how did we prevent would be dictators from coming to power and recruiting others to their cause?

“The love of money is the root of all evil,” from 1 Timothy 6:10 (King James Bible), is often misquoted by leaving off the first three words.  As Offenhouse said: "It has never been about possessions. It's about power." Or in Henry Kissinger's words, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." The name of the game is power, privilege, status, and comfort, and since money is the path to most of those things, unrestrained drive for its acquisition leads to all the evils we associate with economic injustice.

However, the problem is not money per se, but the greed for what it can buy, and we can see that by looking at cases where money, as the saying goes, was no object. One example was the nomenklatura, in the former Soviet Union. The nomenklatura were mid-level bureaucrats and party officials, and while they were not rich in monetary terms, they enjoyed all the advantages of wealth by being in a position to control day-to-day official decisions to their own advantage. They were the people who went to the head of the waiting list for automobiles and good apartments. They were the people whose children managed to avoid conscription into the army.

The writer C. S. Lewis described another environment where money had little importance, in these terms:
What an answer, by the by, Wyvern [College] was to those who derive all the ills of society from economics. For money had nothing to do with its class system. It was not (thank Heaven) the boys with threadbare coats who became Punts [bottom of the social order], nor the boys with plenty of pocket-money who became Bloods [the ruling class]. According to some theorists, therefore, it ought to have been entirely free from bourgeois vulgarities and iniquities. Yet I have never seen a community so competitive, so full of snobbery and flunkeyism, a ruling class so selfish and so class-conscious, or a proletariat so fawning, so lacking in all solidarity and sense of corporate honour.
Probably the starkest possible illustration was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, chronicled in the film The Killing Fields. For a time, Cambodia became the only country in recorded history to abolish money. What the Khmer Rouge did offer was access to necessities and the few comforts still available – and power - completely unlimited power over everyone else, literally including the right to kill with impunity. If one is looking for a test of the idea that “The love of money is the root of all evil,” this was a controlled experiment in which about a fourth of the country was slaughtered. 

The Post-Scarcity Society

Somin poses the question:
Does Lack of Scarcity Make Good Economics Moot?
Well, define "good economics." Considering the profligate way that some conservatives treat fossil fuels or the environment, things that they seem to believe are functionally infinite, it appears that the answer is "yes."

Defenders of the series’ portrayal of socialism claim that economic systems are no longer relevant in a “post-scarcity” society. Thanks to the remarkable technology of the replicator, Federation citizens can effortlessly produce almost anything they want, rendering the difference between socialism and capitalism meaningless.
I personally doubt that a system that gave out things, no questions asked, would work for long. The most likely outcome is that a very large number of people would settle into a vegetative, passive consumerism. The space ship in Wall-E  portrays such a society. There are plenty of science fiction stories where societies without want become dystopian through boredom or frustration. Another possible outcome is that people, freed from want, would seek stimulation by dominating others.  Probably the most important questions not answered in Star Trek are what motivates people to do anything at all, since characters in Star Trek take their jobs seriously and regularly face danger. The second, related question is, are there any negative consequences to becoming completely inert and passive? Are such people allowed to experience the negative effects of an inert lifestyle? Do they, say, have their survival needs met but no comfort needs?
But the world of Star Trek is not in fact one where the problem of scarcity has been overcome. Some crucial goods cannot be replicated. The most obvious are the replicators themselves; in all the many Star Trek TV episodes and films, we never once see them replicate a replicator! The same goes for the dilithium crystals, which power starships. Planetary real estate also apparently cannot be replicated, which is why the Federation and its rivals often fight wars over it.
It's true there are turf battles in Star Trek, but they seem to be more about controlling strategic areas and approaches, rather than the planets themselves. For example, in the TNG episode "Journey's End," a planet is colonized by Native Americans who have gone, well, native. Thanks to a truce between the Federation and the Cardassians, this planet is now part of Cardassian space. Rather than leave, the human inhabitants agree to accept Cardassian rule. There's no hint that the Cardassians plan to pave this planet over and build condos. They just seem to want jurisdiction.

In fact, the population density in the Federation seems to be very small. There are scads of habitable but uninhabited planets. Think about it. Humans have been around for roughly a million years out of 4.6 billion. The chances of a randomly selected earth-like planet having indigenous intelligent life on it is roughly one in thousands. We do occasionally hear of a planet with numerous cities, but there are also lots of planets where the only inhabitants are some hermit scientist, or some isolationist sect that's carved out a home somewhere. In "The Way to Eden" (TOS), a group of future hippies finds a planet that seems to be a Garden of Eden, apart from the acid fruit and poisonous plants. But their intent was to find a place where their group, half a dozen or so people, could settle, and be the sole inhabitants of the entire planet. And nobody seemed to think that, in itself, was impossible.

Let's also point out that with replicator technology, someone could construct a shell around a large asteroid and make it habitable. Or install artificial gravity capable of retaining an atmosphere. Or use replicators to replace a toxic atmosphere with a breathable one. Real estate would scarcely be a problem.

Star Trek Insurrection (Star Trek IX) deals with a plot by another species (the Son'a) to steal the rejuvenating radiation source from the rings of a planet occupied by a peaceful race (the Ba'ku) Because it's not real science fiction if the names don't have a ton of glottal stops. But from all appearances, the Ba'ku consist of a few hundred people. Now if there's a problem here, it's imagining a species living indefinitely in a tiny area of a planet rather than expanding. But with so few people on the planet, why not just find a nice spot a few thousand miles away, build a whole bunch of health spas, and rake in whatever the scheming aliens rake in in their economy? Or for that matter, simply build a few space stations orbiting in the ring plane. Now this is indeed a Star Trek with baffling economics. 
Just as we enjoy far greater material wealth than our ancestors, so the Star Trek universe is one with vastly greater abundance than what we have today. But that does not mean either we or they have completely overcome scarcity, and thus can ignore issues of economic organization.
Just what everyone wanted: tuning in to Star Trek for an economics lecture. This is a little like complaining that Moby Dick never talks about the U.S. economy while the Pequod  is at sea. Seriously, saying Star Trek is socialist is like saying the Pequod is socialist. Everyone gets fed, everyone has a place to sleep, everyone has shelter, everyone dies when the ship sinks. 

Well, there is an economy of sorts in Star Trek, it's just that scarcity is never a central conflict in any of the episodes, probably because it never realistically impinges on anyone's plans. We never hear, for example, that the Federation is going to mothball a quarter of the fleet because of budgetary constraints. Indeed, the fleet can take catastrophic losses, like in the Battle of Wolf 359 against the Borg, and rebuild. We never hear that some scientist can't do his research because his grant was turned down. Still, in Voyager, the energy needs of the ship lead to rationing of replicator use. This is purely a plot device to keep the dramatic tension up. Since replicators and transporters can convert mass to energy and vice versa, all Voyager would need to do is snag a small asteroid to have all the mass it needed. In the DS9 episode Homefront, cadet Sisko is in danger of using up his transporter rations by traveling home so frequently. Since this all happens on Earth, it's not clear what would limit transporter use, unless it's just a disciplinary rule of Starfleet Academy. 

Finally, there's the need to trade with non-Federation species. In the very first TNG episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," we see crew members on shore leave haggling with locals over the price of goods. The Ferengi, a caricature of capitalism at its worst, trade in some metal called "latinum," which replicator's can't reproduce, supposedly because of its extreme quantum complexity, but actually because if we could replicate latinum freely, it would destroy the Ferengi economy. Also, dilithium, the power source for starships, can't be replicated, again supposedly because of its quantum structure, but in reality as a plot device to make scarcity of dilithium a plot element.

In one TOS episode, real scarcity played a role. In "Conscience of the King," Kirk crosses paths with an actor whom he suspects of being Kodos, a mass murderer. The actor, former governor of a colony, killed 4,000 colonists when rations ran short. However, rescue arrived soon after, and the disgraced governor faked his own death in a battle. His daughter, unfortunately, knows who he is and has been killing off witnesses to the massacre. In the end, Kodos takes a phaser shot to atone for his sins and save Kirk. (Nobody explains what Kang was doing).

This criticism is actually very simple to deal with. The ideological conflicts are almost entirely with non-Federation races. Ideological conflicts among the Federation characters are mostly over how, or whether, to violate the Prime Directive. 

Socialist or Libertarian?

I'd say Trek is about as libertarian as it gets. The Federation never tries to prevent people from replicating whatever they want, apart from dangerous things like weapons or toxins, and they're free to do so without corporate opposition as well. Data's maker built humanoid androids without any kind of regulation or licensing at all. Nobody ever gets served with papers saying he can't replicate some patented item. And while there are turf battles, population density seems to be very low, and there are any number of episodes where some lone wolf scientist or recluse has a planet all to himself. People don't seem to have much trouble procuring spacecraft.

The TOS episode "The Way to Eden" illustrates spacecraft logistics nicely. The Enterprise is ordered to intercept a stolen spacecraft, which is headed toward the Romulan Neutral Zone. Stealing the ship seems to have been more a matter of convenience than poverty. The Enterprise pursues the ship because it's (a.) stolen and (b.) about to create a major armed crisis. The thieves turn out to include the son of a VIP, so they're given delicate treatment, which they reward by taking over the Enterprise, steering it to Planet Eden, and then stealing a shuttlecraft. Again, convenience, not poverty. Although there are many episodes where some Starfleet craft gets stolen or hijacked, not once is there any hint that people can't privately obtain ships. We don't see the Enterprise stop some other ship at random and say "Sorry, you're not allowed to engage in space travel."

On the holodeck, there seem to be few limits on anyone's fantasies. There are safety protocols, but they can be overridden easily, as Worf does in practicing his Klingon martial arts. Nobody ever gets censured for their sexual escapades, on the holodeck or in real life. (Except once: in the TNG episode Booby Trap, Geordi replicates design engineer Leah Brahms to help figure out how to escape a sticky situation. In Memory Alpha, the real Leah Brahms visits the Enterprise, finds Geordi's holodeck recreation, and is not amused.  Moral, wipe your browser history. Especially if you're fantasizing about a real person who might find out about it.)

It's true we don't see any explicit mention of corporations, but that's balanced by the equal lack of any interference in interstellar travel and settlement, or private consensual (or holodeck) conduct. Other things we never encounter in Star Trek are characters complaining about taxes or burdensome regulations. We never hear someone complain that he can't supply phasers because Starfleet's regulations take up all his time. There are laws. The trader in "The Trouble With Tribbles" responds to a question about tribbles being dangerous by indignantly answering that transporting dangerous species is against regulations. And in "I, Mudd," Harry Mudd is hiding on an undiscovered planet, on the lam after violating a long laundry list of laws. But if the absence of corporations in Star Trek is evidence of socialism, the absence of any mention of taxes or excessive regulation points just as strongly toward a libertarian society. 

Let's also note that the post-scarcity society brings benefits to business people as well. They never have to worry about their supply chain. They never have to worry about worker unrest because they can give their workers whatever they want at no cost (or build robots). They can simply transport their waste into deep space or use it as replicator mass to make something else. In fact a replicator would be a perpetual motion machine. Zap up a fully charged battery, then, when it runs down, zap up another. Paperwork? Fine. Hire people to do it and use your replicator to house them in a palace and feed them caviar three meals a day. Or build robots.

Actually, Star Trek never really explores the implications of robots very deeply. Actually, they're always called "androids." But since it's possible to build highly intelligent androids ("I Mudd's" mostly voluptuous female androids, Data in TNG) or wholly functional humanoid holograms (The Doctor in "Voyager."), it's curious that the Federation doesn't relegate all the work to androids. This, I submit is another plot device, since having all the bad stuff happen to non-people would eliminate all the drama.

So Why Call Star Trek "Socialist?"

The "evidence" that the Star Trek universe is socialist consists of the entirely negative line of evidence that there is no mention of private companies, plus assertions that people no longer struggle for material goods.

Wait a minute. The evidence that the Federation is socialist is based on its ability to satisfy everyone's needs and free society from want? Isn't that tantamount to saying capitalism
can't do those things? 

Furthermore, isn't that exactly what capitalism promised to do not so long ago? A car in every garage, a chicken in every pot? (Or maybe vice versa - I always get them confused) But beginning about fifty years ago, critics began pointing out the shortcomings of capitalism. It hadn't eliminated poverty, it hadn't provided health care or justice or education for all. And so we lost our blind faith in it. Capitalism may yet deliver a utopian society, but there will be reversals and a need for constant correction. And very likely, a continuing need for vigilance against the temptation to abuse the system.

Why did we stop believing blindly? Because we had enough integrity to admit our shortcomings honestly. Marxism never did that. Only under Gorbachev's glasnost', when the Soviet Union was tottering toward collapse, did the Soviet Union allow the sort of open criticism that might have saved it a couple of decades earlier. Salvador Allende never admitted his experiment in Chile had failed, nor did Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, nor Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Faced with honest criticism, Marxist societies responded with repression.

We still have faith that capitalism can produce a just and prosperous world. But it's not going to be as easy or seamless as those Norman Rockwell paintings seemed to suggest. And we're also a lot more aware of the ways it can be subverted, something else Marxism never dared face about itself.

The strongest clue as to what really makes Star Trek "socialistic" is the exchange between Captain Picard and Ralph Offenhouse: 
Ralph Offenhouse: You've got it all wrong. It has never been about possessions. It's about power. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Power to do what? 
Ralph Offenhouse: To control your life, your destiny. 
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: That kind of control is an illusion. 
Ralph Offenhouse: Really? I'm here, aren't I? I should be dead. But I'm not.
Note that Offenhouse would be dead if he hadn't been beamed aboard by an advanced spacecraft (that he did nothing to create) and then revived by advanced medicine (that he also did nothing to create). He's boasting of things he had neither a right to nor control over. Offenhouse's "control" is as pure an illusion as you can find, the living embodiment of Obama's notorious remark "You did not build this." And what does power "To control your life, your destiny" mean? A few million dollars will buy all the travel and possessions most people could ever use. Sex, too, if you don't want to face the difficult problem of actually forming a relationship. Offenhouse can already have any material good he likes. No, Offenhouse wants power over other people

The one thing replicators can't provide are services. Presumably there are robots to change adult diapers and provide therapy to the handicapped. Also one episode described the ships as "self-cleaning." Still, there seem to be lots of busy people on starships, so there must be lots of human jobs, plus people who want to do them.

The Really Weird Socialism Claim

If it's weird to claim Star Trek is socialist merely because it provides people with all their needs, that pales in comparison to the claim from some software developers that open-source software is "socialism." It's socialism for you to give away your personal intellectual property, that you created. And why? Because it interferes with somebody else selling a similar product for a profit. In other words, I have a right to withhold some service from people if they don't pay for it and you are depriving me of my "right" to dictate to other people if you offer the same product for free.

I suspect Somin and the open-source critics equate "socialism" with private individuals not having power over others. And that's the thing that grates on me with most libertarians, too. We hear all about government abuses of power, very little about private abuses. Instead of shutting down Obamacare as socialism, how about shutting down the copyright and patent offices as corporate socialism? It comes back to Offenhouse's statemet: "It has never been about possessions. It's about power."